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The shrinking Cameron project

By Tim Montgomerie
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I have never been a huge fan of Cameron. The über-modernisation. The disregard for the views of Tory MPs and grassroot members. The incompetent 2010 general election campaign. The rush to coalition, including a badly-negotiated deal on AV. The decision to backload spending cuts and frontload tax rises. The lack of a proper growth strategy. This last week has taken me to a new place, however. The shambolic handling of press regulation. The decision to offer a childcare subsidy that wasn't in the Coalition Agreement - alongside a failure to deliver a marriage tax allowance that was. And, most significantly, the Budget that gave up on deficit reduction and, in its place, announced a housing policy that may create another dangerous boom.

Cameron's leadership is indeed looking like a lost decade.

In Cameronism's first phase there was huge ambition. He was going to transform Britain and conservatism. He was going to fight climate change, protect the NHS from further reorganisation, rebuild the family, cut big business down to size and work towards a ministerial team that was one-third women.

The second more modest phase of Cameronism began when the economic crisis struck. The ambition was certainly less giddy but it wasn't unpatriotic or unworthy. The pledge was to form a government of national unity to balance the books. But we now know that the books won't be close to balanced. There has been no reimagining of the state and no grand plan for economic renewal. Our government added £120 billion to the national debt last year. It'll add another £120 billion this year and another £120 billion next. In what parallel universe does that add up to deficit reduction or fiscal responsibility?

We're now into phase three of Cameronism. Plan A for deficit reduction is on the back burner and plan B(eer) for re-election is underway. And, you know what - despite the collapse in party membership, the defection of the centre right press and the splintering of the Tory vote - it might even work. So long as Ed Miliband and Ed Balls lead the Opposition enough Britons may hold on to nurse for fear of something even worse. That might give the Coalition the opportunity to finish the good things that it has started on schools, police reform, the Universal Credit and overseas aid. But the Government wasn't primarily elected to do those things. It was elected to fix the economy but, sadly, it's all politics from now until polling day - beginning tomorrow with an immigration speech that I don't believe Cameron wants to give.

> My column for tomorrow's Times (£) examines the argument that Cameron's high personal ratings are worth very much to the party or to the country.


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