In the first of a series of exchanges between Tim Montgomerie, Editor of ConservativeHome, and Matthew d'Ancona, Editor of The Spectator, Tim suggests some first steps for Project Cameron in 'the Brown era'.
Brown has had a good few days and it's beyond doubt that he should not be underestimated. I think David Cameron should expect some tricky opinion poll ratings in the next couple of weeks. If the party can hold its nerve over the coming period, however, I am hopeful that Project Cameron can still succeed.
What should the Tories do next? First of all, I no longer think Mr Cameron should undertake a major reshuffle. I expect the 'big beasts' - Hague, Osborne and Davis - to keep their jobs. There is a case for some changes and for talent like Michael Gove to be promoted. The best course of action for David Cameron is to maximise the number of people who stay in position. Brown has undertaken a massive reshuffle in order to reinforce his change message but moving ministers and reorganising departments is distracting and not without perils. Having Tory spokesmen in command of their briefs - opposite Labour newbies could be useful. I'm hearing that the Tory reshuffle will be early next week. Have you heard the same?
My main recommendations for next steps are as straightforward as ABC...
- A is for authenticity: Labour is determined to portray Cameron as weak and superficial. Oliver Letwin's policy review process presents the party with a great opportunity to show that it, not Labour, has done the long-term thinking about Britain's deepest problems. In studying these reports David Cameron should not be afraid to embrace some tough recommendations. I'm sure he'll get them from Iain Duncan Smith on the family and John Gummer/ Zac Goldsmith on the environment. The worst position for the Conservative leader to end up in is to have said the family and the environment are important and then be afraid to adopt policies that will actually make a genuine difference. Authenticity in policy isn't enough. If David Cameron is going to insist that air travel isn't good for the planet he needs to stop taking so many domestic flights and start holidaying in Cornwall. He needs to walk the walk or at least take the train!
- B is for breadth: The need to keep the Conservative coalition together is being recognised a bit more. Many traditional Tory supporters - offended by the grammar schools row - will have been reassured by this week's clear leadership on the referendum on the EU Treaty but we need more of the same. Last night's remarks by David Cameron that he's committed to the 'And theory' and that crime, family values and Euroscepticism are as part of his mix as the NHS, greenery and tackling the causes of crime is very welcome. Again, the summer policy review should be used to prove that we are not a narrow party of the centre or of the right - but a broad party - embracing a broad coalition.
- C is for courtesy: This may seem an unimportant third point but I think it might be the most important one. A lot of traditional Tories feel quite bruised by the Cameron project. Telling supporters of grammar schools that they were "delusional" was incredibly unhelpful. I'm hearing rumblings from Ealing Southall that the local Association were hardly involved in the choice of the candidate. There are party candidates all over the country who hardly receive any information about selection processes. Quentin Davies (for whom I have zero sympathy) might - just might - not have defected if Team Cameron had spent time listening to his concerns. The Whips Office need to stop their hamfisted attempt to frustrate the work of the Cornerstone Group of Tory MPs. The circle around the leader needs to be more open and friendlier.
Anyway, that's enough for the moment. Over to you,