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Donal Blaney: Keep a secure home base

Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons' Foundation, Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell's Laws of the Public Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

This week's law has two meanings - it stresses the importance of a stable domestic life as well as the political importance of keeping core supporters onside.

The first of these two meanings is, I would hope, uncontroversial. A politician whose home life is stable is better able to perform his public role.

Occasionally there have been politicians who have been able to compartmentalize their lives, such as Bill Clinton. While Clinton's domestic arrangements and behaviour with a variety of women may have left more than a bit to be desired, it cannot be disputed that it didn't seem to do his powers of concentration any harm - indeed he seemed to thrive on the situation. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher both had strong and happy marriages that gave them strength through difficult times. Tony Blair likewise clearly benefits from a strong family. The careers and lives of both Gordon Brown and William Hague were greatly helped by their marriages.

The second meaning - namely that it is important that a politician or party keep his or its core supporters onside - is perhaps more controversial in the current political climate.

Project Cameron is often portrayed by some as an abandonment of the core vote strategy supposedly followed by Hague, IDS and Howard between 1999 and 2005. To accept this argument, however, requires that one accepts that a core vote strategy was indeed pursued.

Despite what some of David Cameron's more fervent supporters argue, I dispute that the campaigns in 2001 and 2005 - and the years leading up to those campaigns - saw the pursuit of a core vote strategy in any meaningful sense. While 2001 saw a campaign to "Save the Pound" and 2005 included the "dog whistle" issue of immigration prominently, neither issue had formed the basis of the Party's overall strategy in the months or years leading up to those two election defeats. Moreover the Party failed to make the case with any conviction for lower taxes, a smaller state, greater choice and less regulation.

George W Bush showed the importance in 2000 and 2004 of keeping a secure home base. While his campaigns - particularly 2000 - focussed on broadening his Party's appeal to the centre ground and moderate Democrats, he ensured that issues that mattered to his home base, including abortion, gay marriage and gun control, were high on his agenda. He did so in a way that was not so shrill as to scare away moderate voters but which was couched in a way that inspired millions of conservatives and soft Republican supporters to turn out on polling day.

Margaret Thatcher too recognised the importance of keeping a secure home base. Throughout her premiership she moved to ensure that hard working families - personified by "Essex Man" - remained signed up to the Thatcher Project. This was done by solid messages on defence, crime and immigration, an economic policy based on lower taxes and deregulation, vigorous Euro-scepticism and a drive to restore national pride. At no time did she take her home base for granted.

Tony Blair, on the other hand, built his electoral coalition on sand. He never secured his home base. While he certainly silenced the rabid left in the mid-1990s (and they perhaps took a vow of silence in their desperation for power) he has done little to keep his home base secure. He has thrown a bone or two to left-wing MPs obsessed about hunting and devolution but he has done little to warm the hearts of the socialist core of the Labour Party. Now that the gloss has well and truly come off the New Labour Project, he finds himself isolated. Whereas a ballot of Tory members in 1990 would probably have seen strong support for Margaret Thatcher, a ballot of Labour members in 2006 would almost certainly see very weak support for Blair.

David Cameron began his leadership with a strategy designed to move away from pursuit of core voters. In recent months, however, it would seem that he has recognised the importance of keeping his home base secure - particularly as if he does not do so, millions of votes could be lost to the BNP or UKIP or voters will simply not vote because they perceive the platforms of the two major parties as being too similar. Such has been the success of Cameron's first six months as leader that he has the credibility, if he wants to, to pursue core conservative policies on immigration, crime, taxes, choice and anything else and for his pursuit of those policies not to come across as shrill or intolerant.

Some in his kitchen cabinet will be advising him not to pursue those core policies as they might scare away moderate voters. I take a different view. I believe that he has done so well at repositioning the Party and improving its image that he can now credibly campaign on a thoroughly conservative platform in a way that does not alienate moderate opinion and yet reassures his home base. Whether he does so will be the fascinating story of the next few months.


Previous entry in this series: Better a snake in the grass than a viper in your bosom


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