James Forsyth

How the Tories can break on through

How the Tories can break on through
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Northern Rock has not fatally wounded this government and Gordon Brown is slowly getting back on the front foot. The government, it appears, will not lose the next election all by itself. So how should the Tories should try and win it? Here, the divide is between the tortoises and the hares—or, the infantry and the light horse as I would put it.

Today, Iain Martin and Tim Montgomerie, the two most eloquent hares, make the case for boldness. Iain makes the crucial point that the election will likely be decided by returning voters drawn to the polls by the fact ‘their vote will matter’ for the first time in a while: turnout in 1992—the  last election where the result was in doubt on polling day—was 77.7 percent, in 2005 it was 61.4 percent. These people are clearly casual participants in politics and the Tories have yet to give them a compelling, one sentence reason to turn out and support them at the next election.

One thing that the public’s reaction to the Northern Rock crisis—with support for Labour’s economic management rising both at the time of the initial run on the bank and when the government finally decided to nationalise it—shows is that Labour really are the natural party of government now: in a crisis the electorate instinctively turns to them. This suggests that voters are unlikely to rally behind the Tories on technocratic grounds: another reason why the Tories should be bold and offer some eye-catching policies.

Many in Project Cameron worry that voters now hold politicians in such low esteem that big promises are no longer believed. Certainly, if the Tories promised to cut the basic rate of income tax by 5p in the pound while still funding public services at the current level the electorate would be sceptical, to say the least. But as Tim points out, one of the big lessons of the US primary campaigns is that voters once more want to believe in something larger than themselves. It is notable that the two candidates who exuded the most technocratic competence—Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton—have been bested by their more idealistic rivals, John McCain and Barack Obama.

The Tories have bold policies on education, welfare and police reform that would transform this country. They should begin to make the case for them in idealistic and passionate tones; they need to set out how a Cameron-led government would leave this country a better place. It is time for the Tories to show the electorate the future that they offer.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

Topics in this articlePolitics