Yesterday ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie wrote a thought-provoking piece for CommentIsFree on why David Cameron can't afford to alienate the Right. Tim is not pleased about the EPP announcement and regards it as a breach of promise. I decided to pen a response, which has just been put up on CommentIs Free. Do read Tim's piece HERE before you read mine. Both are attracting some interesting comments...
Tim Montgomerie is a man the Cameron leadership listens to. His ConservativeHome blog has established itself as the pre-eminent British Conservative website on the net, and his influence now extends far beyond the Conservative Christian Fellowship, with whom he was once exclusively associated. Last week, so sensitive was William Hague about the announcement on leaving the EPP, that he spent half an hour briefing Tim, knowing he was deeply sceptical about the timetable of the departure. I doubt very much whether Hague spent half an hour briefing any of the lobby journalists, but he knew that Tim Montgomerie's reaction on ConservativeHome would help shape the reaction of Party activists in general.
As it turned out, fewer toys were thrown out of the ConservativeHome pram than might have been expected, there were no histrionics from Tory MEPs like Dan Hannan, and apart from a few plaintiff squawks about "broken promises" David Cameron and William Hague can consider it a job well done. When he was leader of the opposition Hague used the phrase "concede and move on". This was a classic re-enactment.
In his article yesterday on Comment is free Tim Montgomerie took the Cameron leadership to task for its seeming unending ability to announce policies which alienate core Conservative supporters. Tim asserted that it would be impossible to win an election without them and it was about time to pay heed to what they want, as well as the tree hugging, hoodie hugging liberals who seem to be the constant target of the Cameron tanks at the moment. Tim is right, up to a point, but he's also perhaps a little too impatient.
Having been part of David Davis's leadership campaign there are few people in Conservative politics who believe me to be a natural Cameroon. And like Tim and most other Conservative activists there are things which David Cameron has announced which cause me to twitch a little. But for the most part, we keep our noses to the grindstone and don't rock the boat. Why? Because we know that it's necessary and we understand the strategy.
Right from the day he took over the leadership, David Cameron's strategy has been to make the Conservatives more attractive to the centre ground - to the 10 per cent of swing voters who will decide the result of the next election. It's no good appealing to them in the six months before an election. It had to start immediately. Much of the strategy revolves around Cameron himself - he's the key to the image of the whole party. The polls show that the strategy has been very successful and people's views of both Cameron and the Conservative Party have changed beyond recognition. All polls show the party 8-10 points above where it was a year ago, with Cameron easily outstripping both Blair and Brown in popularity.
Where Tim Montgomerie is right, is when he says that David Cameron should not see these extra supporters from the centre ground as a replacement for the 3 or 4 per cent he may lose on the right. For the Conservatives to succeed at the next election, both groups need to be wooed. So the challenge for Cameron is clear - to attract the extra 8-10% from the centre but keep the right on board too.
For let's be under no illusion, the right have other places to go. And if they see the Conservative Party abandoning them they may not just sit on their hands, they may vote for UKIP, the English Democrats or the myriad of other right of centre alternatives.
In his final paragraph Tim Montgomerie writes: "Tory strategists seeking inspiration should look at the world's most successful conservative parties. Conservatives in Australia, America and Canada have won elections by enthusing the aspirant working class voter as well as by reassuring the metropolitan Starbucks voter. David Cameron is the most charismatic politician of his generation and he has time on his side. He should use that time to forge a more balanced strategy."
Bang on. And the beauty of it is that this needn't be done using the shrill language of the last two elections. Cameron can play to his strengths and appeal right across the board in a way that neither Gordon Brown or Ming Campbell can. I hate to say it, but in this regard, David Cameron is indeed our Tony Blair. Blair managed to build a coalition of support in the last three elections from people of both sexes, across all classes and all social groups. That's David Cameron's challenge, and those of us on the right need to be a little less impatient with him as he gets on with the job and creates the new Conservative coalition.