Monday, 28 April 2008

Tories in Sunshine?

With Labour stumbling from crisis to crisis, attention is turning to the Conservatives with many pointing out the key weakness of a lack of narrative or sense of purpose about what they want to do. Its definitely not their only problem though.

Firstly they have a problem with policies. Not so much that they don’t have any, because they actually have a number of them. Their problem is that they need to communicate them clearer to the public so that the voters know straight away the aims of the Conservatives. Political anoraks like me know the policies but I would bet the average person in a pub couldn’t name 5 specific policies. Thought needs to be given to the policies as a package, which they seemed to be doing through the idea of social responsibility. However that idea seems to have been dumbed down in favour of the horribly clunky phrase “post-bureaucratic age”.

Disappointingly in some areas of policy there has been no announcement of the existence of a Conservative policy at all, for example looked after children is shadowed by Michael Gove who has never mentioned the issue in Parliament and has not brought the issue up with his team in order to discuss the Conservative position. I understand there is a review on the issue but if its anything like its report on social workers some time ago, there wont be a lot of coverage of it or discussion at any point afterwards.

Secondly, they lack depth in numbers of frontbenchers good enough to be able to be effective Cabinet Ministers. This has become very plain to see with those pushed to appear on TV and has also been evident in exchanges in Parliament. Cameron understandably doesn’t want to have to reshuffle his team but too few are on top of their briefs and have been very quiet outside of Parliament leading to very high ‘Don’t Know’ figures in surveys.

There seems to be a distinct lack of drive and energy. While Labour looks like it is losing the will to lead the country, the Conservatives don’t seem to be gunning for it, seemingly happy to wait. Tortoise tactics may well work, but given how quickly the political tide can turn, the Conservatives really need to seize the moment and explain to the public why they should give their support. Being not Labour really isn’t enough.

Self-inflicted crises still occur, from the grammar school policy farce, arguments over tax to the leadership’s policy of undermining of local Associations through preferring equality over meritocracy with regards to MEP and Parliamentary candidate selection. Cameron and Osborne’s attack on Brown and Darling over the 10p tax rate faltered when the response came “So what would you do?” helping Brown avoid a case of happy slapping at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. This is linked to the first problem. The Conservatives have had plenty of time to consider what they would do and to come up with a solid package of their own in response, but it seems at present they are more than happy to complain and shout about how bad it is but with pledged tax cuts for those who would be impacted by IHT (a number falling due to the house price falls) and those with shares, the message about helping the poor is compromised.

The chances of a Conservative victory at the next General Election are certainly on the up but there are serious questions of credibility as a Government-in-waiting hanging over them.

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