David Cameron has lost touch with his own party
Big Society charity fiasco shows True Blues are left behind in scramble to appease the Lib Dems
More and more disgruntled Conservatives are complaining that David Cameron is leaving them behind in his effort to keep the Lib Dems sweet. We hear constantly of Nick Clegg’s struggle to keep his rank-and-file happy, but Cameron too is in danger of losing his own party as the two men become the Fudge and Mudge of British politics.
Today's Tory Party is unrecognisable from the one True Blue Tories voted for in May 2010. They voted for a promise to cut or freeze Britain's contribution to the EU budget, disengage from the hated European Convention on Human Rights, and a Conservative economic strategy to get Britain out of the mess Labour had left.
The right-wing Tory Cornerstone Group founded by John Hayes thought its time had come when the Tories landed back in power. Today, its members are now bewailing their impotence. John Redwood, a supporter of Cornerstone's aims, wrote on his blog: "To get enterprise growing, creating the many new jobs we need, and welfare reform requires, we need tax cuts."
Cameron gave a two-fingered salute to Redwood at the weekend when he told the Sunday Telegraph: "It's no good saying we're going to cut the deficit by cutting spending but then we're going to make things worse again by cutting taxes. I'm afraid it doesn't add up."
True Blue Tories - the TBT tendency - feel battered by the rebuffs from their leader. Camo's repudiation of one of the key tenets of Tory economic theory – that tax cuts are good in themselves, because they generate growth and tax receipts – was made worse by the admission last week that more middle-income earners are getting dragged into the 40p rate of tax because of the failure to raise the tax thresholds.
I understand Cameron and his top team are regrouping for a campaign to force Chancellor George Osborne – regarded by many Tories as a lightweight dilettante – to offer some Conservative measures in his otherwise Lib Dem Coalition Budget in March. Look out for cuts in the fuel duty escalator and the thresholds on tax.
But it's not just on tax cuts that the TBT tendency feel betrayed. They were told that the cuts in public spending would not lead to cuts in the front line. In other words, they were led to believe that all those useless equality and racial integration officers and so on, hired by local councils under Labour, would be sacked. Instead, they are now told that the cuts could lead to 10,000 bobbies being taken off the beat. How can a Tory Government support that?
And what about the Big Society fiasco? Steve Hilton, the nasty strategist behind Camo's cheerful front, is blamed for foisting this on the Tory party as his Big Idea. This week it was ridiculed by Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, outgoing head of Community Service Volunteers. The Tory spinners went out rubbishing her, saying she was a former Labour councillor. But that cuts no ice with Tory MPs who are getting complaints from voluntary ladies who have been manning the Citizen's Advice Bureaux now threatened with closure. Tory ladies like voluntary work, and they don't like the cuts from local councils. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
Now the privatisation of the forests has been added to the list of TBT moans. Caroline Spelman, the green-behind-the-ears minister responsible for this policy, got monstered about it at a meeting of Tory MPs last week. MPs are getting a bigger mail bag on privatising the forests than they are on cuts in the Education Maintenance Allowance. True Blue Conservatives like trees. They don't understand what Camo is on about. After all, he was the one changed the Tory logo from a torch to a bloody tree.
The policy might have a lot in theory to commend it. But that doesn't matter a damn to the TBTs. Spelman is regarded as an idiot for allowing it through. Cameron is going to ditch it, but not before he is damaged by the issue among his own people.
Fraser Nelson of the Spectator - wrongly in my view - complains that the real problem is Cameron's vacillating style of Government: "The lady wasn't for turning but the laddie is for turning."
U-turns, Nelson will discover, are all part of avoiding disaster in government. There's no merit in sailing on regardless if you are heading for the rocks. And the idea that Thatcher never performed a U-turn is laughable. Tell that to the miners who won their first strike after she U-turned, but wrecked themselves with the second after she had used the time to prepare properly.
Tim Montgomerie, editor of Conservative Home, the website for TBTs, says - rightly in my view - that Cameron has failed to learn the lesson of Thatcher - that you have to focus on key issues. "The lady wasn't for turning because she didn't try to do too much," he said. "She knew that [policies like] forestry privatisation shouldn't be pursued if they distract from central projects."
Montgomerie suggests that Cameron should bring back the 'grey beards', the former ministers who know a thing or two about running government, and consult them via 'regular outreach' meetings in Downing Street.
Certainly Lord Tebbit is one who has been most vociferous in giving Cameron the best of his advice, but it's not likely that the PM will like the message. Tebbit on behalf of millions of True Blue Tories wants Cameron to rule like a real Conservative, not a Coalition Compromiser. Fat chance.
Colin Brown is a former political correspondent for the Independent. ·
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