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Cameron's battle plan

Tim Montgomerie


In my Sunday Telegraph column I sketch out the contours of Cameron's battleplan:

There's no expectation of a quick political recovery: In his speech to Spring Forum yesterday (see my report) George Osborne talked at least twice of a long, hard journey ahead. The Tory leadership knows that unpopularity will be here to stay for some time. Walking into Spring Forum yesterday, here in Cardiff, wasn't pleasant. A long line of union members jeered at Tory delegates. Many of them were foul mouthed. Only 30% of all voters approve of the Coalition, 57% disapprove. Sayeeda Warsi warned yesterday of bad results in May's elections. The Tory leadership message is: Don't worry. We have a masterplan. Popularity will return. But two or three years of hell have to be suffered first.

Keep the Lib Dems in the Coalition: Troubles in Clegg's party will kick off after May. Jonathan Isaby and I have spent the last two days in Wales meeting Assembly members and journalists. Some think the Lib Dems will lose all six of their representatives in the Cardiff Assembly. The consensus is that they'll lose at least three AMs. The Lib Dems will also go backwards in Scotland and across local government. May 5th will provide the worst Lib Dem losses in the party's modern history. Cameron's message will be simple: Walk out of the Coalition now and face destruction. Stay the course and you'll share in the benefits of eradicating the deficit.

Dramatise the Immigration, Welfare, Pensions and Education policies: By doing so much the public isn't noticing the popular things that the Coalition is doing. The new Downing Street operation plans to put more effort into promoting things like the relinking of the basic state pension to average earnings. The Coalition is also ready to dramatise its reforms by picking fights with some enemies. Cameron will today talk about "the enemies of enterprise" and, writes Matt d'Ancona, style himself as an opponent of the bureaucracy in his own government. The Coalition will seek to capture some moral high ground by arguing that it’s morally right to cut welfare dependency, control immigration and reduce the huge perks gap between private sector workers and public sector union members.

Defeat AV and then restore law and order credentials: Heeding Paul Goodman's warning, the Tory high command has finally understood the importance of the battle to keep AV. About two weeks ago CCHQ and Downing Street flicked a switch and the money has started to come in for the campaign. Every Cabinet minister attacked AV on the platform yesterday. Cameron knows he has to keep First Past The Post or his problems with Tory backbenchers will multiply. Downing Street thinks this - more than Europe and crime - must be its short-term political priority. After May it's more May, as in Theresa May. They understand that Ken Clarke is a liability with the Tory press but the Home Secretary is increasingly seen as a no-nonsense hi-performer (she's one of the grassroots' Magnificent Seven) - getting to grips with the police and the immigration system. She'll play a bigger role in communicating that the party hasn't gone soft on law and order.

Jettison the NHS and HiSpeed rail plans: Actually this won't happen but I wish it would. Intellectually - like forestry privatisation - I support both of these projects but they are too distracting and for too little gain.

Go for Growth: This is the big part of the masterplan. Year I of Osborne's Chancellorship was about cuts. Years II, III and IV will be about growth. He can't act soon enough. Today we learn that HSBC may be moving its HQ out of London. The loss to the Exchequer may be about £500 million. I hope the banker bashers, the EU super-regulators and architects of the 50p tax band are happy. Britain faces a crisis of global competitiveness. Whether it's on tax or skills we are sliding down international league tables. George Osborne hasn't yet done anything like enough to address this. The forthcoming Budget will be the first big sign of whether he has a bold enough plan.

Look after Pensioners: Retired people were crucial to what I called the G.R.A.N.D. re-election plan. They still are. And for obvious reasons.

Hope that Ed Miliband stays as Labour leader: CCHQ research confirms what was obvious from the moment Miliband Jnr was elected by AV and his party's unions - he doesn't look prime ministerial. This hasn't changed. By opposing every spending cut Labour is increasing its popularity now but parties of protest don't usually become parties of power. By the time of the next election David Cameron will paint Ed Miliband as a man who did nothing to put Britain back on track.

The weaknesses of this battle plan are the subject for another day but that's my guide to Downing Street's current thinking.


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