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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cameron fails to convince Tories of his electability

Writing in today's Independent, Michael Brown suggests that David Cameron has failed to even convince his own team that he can win the next General Election.

The main evidence for this is the comparative inactivity of the Tory front bench with that of Labour during the summer of 1996:

The totality of that Labour campaigning summer added up to a universal impression that Labour was already prepared for a general election at any time and was desperate for office. Labour's total commitment to the goal of winning was further underlined by the absence of outside interests on its front bench.

By comparison, nearly half of today's front bench Tories has lucrative outside interests. This is all perfectly legitimate but it tells its own story as to the limits of the extent to which they are, individually, similarly desperate for office. I have no doubt that they timetable their private business arrangements in such a way that does not impinge on their front-bench duties. But whether it is two hours a day or two hours a week - maybe even confined solely to early morning, weekends or recesses - it is time not spent on the sole objective of winning office. And, even if there is absolutely no detriment to their official duties these interests tell a story that, subconsciously, they are not sure they are going to be ministers after the election.

What Mr Cameron has therefore been unable to do is to convince his own team that he is going to win. The most that can be said is that they think he "can" win. But a robust chance of winning would enable him to order that all of his team must abandon other distractions. Compulsory reading material for many Tories this summer was, allegedly, Alastair Campbell's diaries. Perhaps the most important section is the period that relates to the run-up to the 1997 general election where the ruthless collective determination of Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Straw, Cook and others to win against the demoralised Tory government shone through to friend and foe. Mr Cameron has failed to inspire a similar determination at least among his backbench troops.

Quite how the Tories have got to this point is not hard to work out. Michael Brown believes that Cameron oversold himself during the leadership election:

One fantastically well-scripted speech, learned by heart, at his leadership launch that was repeated during the October 2005 Blackpool Party conference. This made the faithful think he was the Tories' Tony Blair with the Midas touch. But Tories have a habit, like retired generals, of fighting the last war. They were looking for their own Tony Blair at the very moment that the former prime minister had already become so last century. The events surrounding Tory travails during the past three months have already been well documented. But a fundamental Tory miscalculation regarding what political life under Gordon Brown would be like will probably go down as Mr Cameron's most strategic error.

The columnist believes that the right of the party are prepared to allow Cameroonism to run its course, confident that when it fails they will be able to resume the reins. It is the early enthusiasts for the boy David who are most disappointed and who are sharpening their knives. Even so, whilst Nero fiddled as Rome burned, many Tory MPs and shadow ministers will be watching the fall of David Cameron and his new-look Tory Party from the comfort of a company boardroom.
A fascinating insightful interpretation from Michael Brown of the current state of the Tory party.
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