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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Are the Tories getting careless?

Being ahead in the polls for so long is obviously going to the Conservative's head if their latest gaffes are to be believed. Their problem is that they do not have the sort of unassailable lead enjoyed by Tony Blair in 1997 and that any sign that they are returning to type will just reinforce the mistrust that people still feel towards them and eat into their lead. It really is the case that for David Cameron careless talk will cost votes.

Thus the Tory Leader needs reports like this one in today's Independent like a hole in the head. Talk about reversing the hunting ban, even through a free vote only really plays to the Conservative core vote. Even in the countryside there is a substantial body of opinion opposed to hunting with dogs. According to the League Against Cruel Sports 75 per cent of the public and 59 per cent of Tory voters back the hunting ban.

It may well be that the current Act needs changing to make it more workable but it is little wonder that faced with opinion polls like these the Tory leadership are keen not to be seen to be forcing through a straight repeal.

The other gaffe is a bit more serious for Cameron. Shadow Chancellor George Osborne's assertion that a future Conservative Government could scrap three year pay deals for public sector workers threatens to destabilise current agreements and lead to industrial unrest. It is little wonder that the Tories have been forced to issue a cast-iron guarantee that three-year pay deals for nurses, teachers and police would not be torn up by a Cameron administration.

The paper has a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the mixed messages currently emanating from Cameron's redoubt in Notting Hill:

Mixed messages? The Tories' clunky footwork

Inheritance tax Kenneth Clarke, the shadow Business Secretary, downgraded the Tory proposal to abolish death duties on estates worth less than £1m to an "aspiration". But David Cameron insisted it was a firm commitment for the first five years of a Tory government.

Fox hunting Edward Garnier, a shadow Justice minister, firmly backed a repeal of the 2004 Hunting Act. The party stressed the issue was not a priority – and MPs would be given a free vote.

Pay George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, said a Tory government could scrap three-year pay agreements for public sector workers. Aides had to clarify that he only meant future deals.

NHS Daniel Hannan, a Euro MP, claimed the NHS had been a "mistake for 60 years". Tory sources stressed Mr Cameron did not agree.

The only saving grace for Cameron is that Gordon Brown is doing even worse and that so far the Tory leader has not be called into the court of public opinion to account for his party's inconsistencies. Can he ride this luck into the next general election? I suspect he will not even want to try and will pressing his colleagues to rein in their excesses.
I would categorically dispute your assertion that trying to reverese the hunting back appeals only to Conservative core voters. I would point out that in a number of rural constituencies there are other voters who would never, ever vote Conservative who would wish to see hunting with dogs restored to the countryside. The hunting issue is much more of a rural versus urban issue thsan a conservative versus the rest issue.

The second point I would note is that overly heavy reliance on statistics from the League Against Cruel Sports with regard to the hunting issue is very unwise.
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