If any CoffeeHousers have been feeling despondent about the Tores, I have the perfect tonic: Cameron’s YouTube video
released today. In my News of the World column last week, I listed five messages I thought he should give. And he ticked all of them off - and then some. It was one of those biannual events: where Cameron gives a speech that he obviously wrote himself, and put a lot of energy into it. And the result is always great. Now, this may be a wavelength thing: some CoffeeHousers may see a whole load of cliches. But I see in here an agenda for change – plus some clever debating tactics.
He starts by doing what I’ve longed for the Tories to do: frame the debate. The choice presented to him, he says, was between going back to “the conservative comfort zones” of the right or ‘playing it safe and wait for Labour to screw up and win by default’. He has decided to do neither. But instead be modern and radical: don’t got back to the old ways, or play it safe. For the first time, he paints enemies on the right and the left of his party. And declares himself stuck in the middle with you.
1). “Today we are the party of the NHS” he says. The party of the BMA, more like, but as I said last week the Tories have come thus far with the NHS. Its a humongously expensive pledge, and they may as well get their moneys worth out of it in the campaign.
2).“We’re the party that leads the debate on the environment and poverty”.
Correct. Cameron’s green agenda has been far louder than Brown’s (or Ed Miliband’s) and Iain Duncan Smith has led the debate about poverty and how to tackle it. This is not a soundbite: it’s a strong, positive message that will resonate because it’s true.
3).“Britain has been crying out for a modern alternative to this government which has failed so badly. Crying out for a modern conservative party to bring our values, our ideas and our energy to all of the big problems that we face.”
He’s right: Conservative values. That is to say: a different take on these problems. Not the continuation of Labour’s take. New Conservative insights: that empowerment is a surer route to social justice than attempts at paternalism. There is a battle of ideas in this election, and Cameron needs to bring it out more.
4).“We need to be bold. We need to be radical... We can’t solve these problems with a little tinker here, and a small change there. There is an urgency to this work..”
Amen to that. This marks a distinction from the earlier “minimise the difference with Labour” strategy – a much-needed distinction now that Labour’s government has led to obvious calamity.
5).“We will make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe.”
This point needs to be brought out and repeated during the campaign.
6).“We need to act now to cut the deficit, keep interest rates low and get the economy moving again.”
A distinct message from Labour’s – so good.
7).“We’ll reform education, with standards and discipline for all”
- he’s right not to focus too much on Gove’s free schools, even if they are (as I think) the single best policy. It’s too late to introduce it as a campaigb theme, better to focus on school discipline instead.
8). “We need change in our politics, giving people power and control.”
Those two words actually mean something (unlike “post-bureaucratic age” or “social responsibility” and they will work because they’re backed up with real policies: Gove’s free school policy means power and control.
9). Our plans “cannot be timid if we are going to confront these problems.” He’s right there: as I said in my Keith Joseph lecture he will be radical or a failure.
10). “We’ve made our choice. The Conservative party is a modern party, and its a bold radical party. And that’s the way it’s going to stay.”
His point here is to reject the idea of a choice between being “modern” and “radical”. There was never a contradiction, but plenty refugees from the Tory wars of 2000-05 had argued otherwise. Cameron is firmly leaving that era, and its hang-ups, behind.