A precondition for victory is unity – but unity requires boldness and generosity from Cameron
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Even now, despite the economic difficulties, the Tories are still preferred to Labour on questions of economic competence. That's before any economic recovery.
More people blame the last Labour government for the deficit than blame the Coalition.
Cameron beats Ed Miliband on nearly every measure of what it takes to be Prime Minister.
Ed Miliband is not seen as a PM-in-waiting. His ratings have hardly improved since he was first elected Labour leader.
On welfare and immigration Labour is still out of touch with voters - not least in its own heartland constituencies.
Whether in London against Boris or in Scotland against Alex Salmond, Labour is struggling to win the big match ups.
Labour is refusing to give the people a referendum on Europe.
Reasons like those listed above should give Tory members hope. The next election is far from lost. It's not going to be easy for reasons that ConHome has warned about for a long time... but victory is possible. A precondition, however, is party unity and in today's Times (£) I set out two ways of achieving unity.
- The first thing David Cameron needs to do is recognise that he was wrong to frustrate the mass will of his party on Europe. He was wrong, in particular, to ignore the John Baron letter and the need to attempt to enshrine a referendum guarantee into law. The Tory Party isn't now far from a solid and winning position on Europe but a final, unifying step towards bringing the party together on the European question (at least until the election) would be to put someone like David Davis in charge of preparations for renegotiations. As a former Europe Minister Davis could coordinate the kind of renegotiations strategy that the party should pursue if it wins a majority at the next election. Davis could head a team that could include people like Bernard Jenkin, Andrea Leadsom and some backbenchers who are more positive about the EU but still recognise the need for reform. People like Laura Sandys and Robert Buckland.
- The second precondition would be to promise that should the Tories enter a second coalition, the coalition agreement won't be written by the leader's circle and then imposed on the rest of the party. Such an agreement would only be ratified after the party in the country had had an opportunity to endorse it in a nationwide ballot. The Liberal Democrats have internal democracy and it would be a good idea for the Conservative Party too. Few other initiatives would do more to reconnect Cameron with his party grassroots and could also be a launchpad for a big membership drive.
Once these two things had been done Cameron would be free to do what will be necessary to win the next election and devise policies for that group of voters that Ed Miliband correctly called the squeezed middle. If the next Tory manifesto is focused on energy prices, housing costs and consumer rights - as well as protecting the NHS and pensions, a united Eurosceptic Tory Party might just prosper.