Conservative Diary

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Cameron should express frustration at Coalition compromises on crime, Europe, defence and the family

Tim Montgomerie

Last night I wrote about Lord Ashcroft's poll on public attitudes to law and order. It revealed a massive gap between the three main political parties and the public on attitudes to crime and punishment. Do check it out.

Of many striking findings, the polling found that 47% of the public don't think any political party has the right policies on crime. In an introduction to his report Michael Ashcroft noted the danger this presented to the Conservative brand:

"There are obvious dangers in a situation where no mainstream party is seen to represent the public view of how to deal with crime. Fringe parties, and other less savoury organisations, are quick to exploit a vacuum. Politically, the Conservative Party has the most to lose. A firm approach to law and order has been one of the few consistently positive aspects of the Tory brand. The Conservatives should not need to burnish their law and order credentials, they just need to deliver on them. Instead the party risks undermining an important part of its appeal, entirely of its own volition."

6a00d8341c61a053ef0147e06e0693970b-500wiI'm not sure I agree that the Coalition's prisons policy is the one David Cameron and George Osborne would have chosen. If we had been governing on our own my guess is that Tory MPs would have forced tougher tougher policies and it's only Lib Dem support that is keeping Ken Clarke in his job. In fact I doubt he would have got the job in a Conservative government.

Crime is the nearest thing the Conservatives have to the Lib Dem u-turn on tuition fees. Conservative voters expected Cameron to stick with Michael Howard's policy of incarcerating serious and repeat offenders. Howard's tearing up of post-war penal policy produced one of the most successful Tory policies of modern times. Perhaps because of budgetary pressures, perhaps because of the coalition, perhaps because of ideology, he hasn't. Unlike tuition fees the prisons u-turn is a slow burner. Such is the ignorance of the tuition fees policy, there's a real possibility that public opposition might reduce as the protections for lower income workers become apparent. Opposition to prisons policy will only grow, however, as The Sun, Mail and Express tell the stories of criminals reoffending while serving one of Ken Clarke's community sentences. You can be sure that Labour will also exploit this situation even though Ed Miliband has himself abandoned the Straw/ Reid/ Johnson penal policy.

We often hear calls from Lib Dem activists who want Clegg and Co to make it clearer when they disagree with their Conservative coalition partners. It would also be useful for David Cameron to express some disappointment at the compromises he is having to make. On Europe, for example, where the Lib Dems oppose any attempts to repatriate powers from Brussels or reform human rights laws. Also on the family where Coalition policy - as Jill Kirby has powerfully noted - is very weak. The scale of defence cuts is another. Would Cameron really have delayed Trident if he'd had the choice?

Conservatives need to see signs from Cameron that things would be different if we win a majority of our own, next time.


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