Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

David Cameron needs to wear his heart on his sleeve

Underlying this week’s media mess on the government’s energy policy was a good intentioned pitch by David Cameron to his ‘strivers’: hard-working people who struggle to make ends meet. His speech at last week’s party conference was the launchpad for this new mission, and included the Prime Minister telling members that ‘it’s not enough to know our ideas are right – we’ve got to explain why they are compassionate too’. He knows he has a tough task ahead: polling earlier this month found 28 per cent of voters believe the Conservatives ‘don’t care enough about the very poor and vulnerable’.

Cameron introduced the compassion section of last week’s speech with these words:

‘This party has a heart but we don’t like wearing it on our sleeve. Conservatives think: let’s just get on with the job and help people and not bang on about it. It’s not our style. But there’s a problem with that. It leaves a space for others to twist our ideas and distort who we are: the cartoon Conservatives who don’t care. My mission from the day I became leader was to change that.’

Cameron has indeed been driven by a desire to detoxify his party. But he often seems hamstrung, afraid of looking insincere as a man from his affluent background talking about poverty and hardship. This means he doesn’t give the fluent answers to questions about struggling families that he might wish he did. He is still afraid of wearing his heart on his sleeve.

One story that highlighted this fear far more brightly than the energy row this week was the announcement by food bank network the Trussell Trust that 100,000 people have received help from UK food banks in the last six months. The number of food banks has been growing at a steady and worrying rate since 2008 – which obviously makes it difficult to land all the blame at the feet of the current government – yet the Conservative leader always appears distinctly uncomfortable when asked about them.

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Isabel Hardman
Written by
Isabel Hardman
Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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