Conservative Diary

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If Conservatives can convince voters that we have hearts as well as brains we can dominate politics in the 21st century, as we dominated the 20th

By Tim Montgomerie

Behind The Times' paywall there's an article and video from me (£) about the Conservative Party's biggest ever defeat. I contend that it wasn't in 1945 when Churchill lost to Atlee. Nor 1997 when we lost the first of three elections to the Tory-killing Tony Blair. I argue that our biggest ever defeat has come in a battle we have never seriously joined - the battle for the moral high ground.

So long as voters see Labour as the "nice party" and Conservatives as the efficient party we are fighting every election with one arm tied behind our backs.

Lord Ashcroft's latest mega poll of 10,000+ voters confirms the problem. The biggest barrier for floating voters, wrote Ashcroft, in supporting us "is the perception (which Tories are sick of hearing about but is real nonetheless) that the Conservative Party is for the rich, not for people like them."

He produces some numbers that underline the problem:


David Cameron, like George W Bush before him, understands the need for a more compassionate conservatism. I fear, however, that in choosing the Big Society idea he has picked the wrong message. I don't question the Burkean pedigree of the idea that good (conservative) government is about empowering non-state institutions but the Big Society has not taken off as a political idea. Many people don't understand it and many others fear it - thinking it means more burdens for them in an already busy life. The Big Society should continue as a policy programme but it should no longer be front of shop.

If his government isn't to be defined by "cuts" Cameron needs a more compelling explanation of his mission and it must be an account of fairness that is superior to that of the Left. Labour currently rule the poverty-fighting debate because poverty-fighting is measured by how much a government spends on welfare. I think it should be measured by a government and society's success in helping people escape from poverty and build independent, flourishing lives. The Centre for Social Justice identified five pathways to the good life (and recently assessed the Coalition's progress in supporting them). As regular readers will know, three have always stood out to me: family, education and work. Policy Exchange's poll on attitudes to poverty-fighting suggested the British people agree.

In my piece for The Times I argue that this should be brought alive into some kind of implicit contract between the Prime Minister and the people. I'm not attached to the phrase but I call it "the British Deal"; "We, the people, commit ourselves to look after our families, acquire skills and earn a wage. In return Conservative governments will protect family life, invest in world-class education and remove barriers to job creation."

Although, as the CSJ contends, progress on strengthening the family is limited the Coalition is making good progress on delivering many components of the British Deal; it just hasn't found a way of presenting it in a way that captures the voters' imagination.


I conclude my Times article with these words:

"If Tories can become the party of economic responsibility and capture the moral imagination they will dominate the 21st century as they dominated the 20th."


> Among critical swing voters, Cameron and Osborne enjoy FORTY-EIGHT PER CENT lead over Miliband and Balls on economic trust
> If Cameron can convince on the NHS and crime he is on the road to a majority, says mega poll of 10,000 voters


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