Cameron's seven vulnerabilities: (3) People don't know what the Coalition is trying to achieve
By Tim Montgomerie
This is the third in a series looking at David Cameron's seven vulnerabilities. On Tuesday I identified Ken Clarke's prisons policy and yesterday I identified the government's squeeze on the middle classes.
When I wrote my report on the Tory General Election campaign I kept asking leading members of the Cameron operation for a summary of the message. Without hesitation they immediately gave me a message. Unfortunately the message chosen by each person was never the same.
I haven't repeated the exercise now we are in government but I fear I'd get similarly inconsistent responses. It's one of the reasons why the ConHome team, Charles Moore and Max Wind-Cowie recently attempted our own definitions.
The lack of a clear, understandable message from Downing Street means that voters haven't got a clear idea of what this government is trying to achieve - other than cutting the deficit. Cutting the deficit is a massive project but does Cameron want to be defined by cuts? No. In August he and Nick Clegg defined their government as an exercise in two things; decentralisation and long-term reform. Last week, in Birmingham, he said that deficit reduction was a necessity but fostering the Big Society was his project of choice.
Some good definitions of the Big Society have been attempted - not least by Ian Birrell in last Saturday's Guardian - but as time goes by I'm actually getting more confused. I no longer know if it's (1) a catch all description of everything the Coalition is doing (last week wealth creators were added to the Big Society) or (2) whether it's a narrower project to revive the small platoons that lie between the individual and the state - particularly charities, local schools and social enterprises. If it's the latter it is striking that there is no great reform of the ways in which the state has produced a charitable sector in its own image. Approximately a third of the voluntary sector's income comes from the state and there are huge flows of personnel between leading charities and government. This means we have a third sector that is government-directed rather than society-directed. The Coalition has no agenda to reverse this.
This is a radical government. It is reforming on almost every front. Education. Healthcare. Policing. Welfare. Universities. The leaders of the government need to knit the ideas together, however, before opponents do it for them.