Peter Hoskin

The dangers with a Tory policy blitz

The dangers with a Tory policy blitz
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Sounds like the Tories are going to go policy-heavy in the New Year.  According to this morning's Times, Team Cameron are going to publish a "draft election manifesto" around 4 January, which will – as James revealed in his political column this week – set up a "policy-a-day blitz" throughout the rest of the month.  There will also be a separate policy release "showcasing the party’s commitment to the NHS".  The thinking is that all this will regain some momentum for the party, as well as answering the charge that the Tory operation lacks substance.

Question is: will it work?  Well, we've often called for more detail from the Tory leadership – particularly when it comes to their deficit-reduction plans – so it would be wrong to dimiss the strategy out of hand.  But there are a couple of very clear dangers with this Big Bang approach.  

For starters, it could detract from the Tories' election campaign proper.  The goal for every political party is to maximise voter enthusiasm just before the polling stations open.  But setting out a draft manifesto, months before the actual manifesto, could give voters a swift case of Tory Policy Fatigue in March, May, or whenever.  Of course, the Tories will hold some stuff back – but will it be enough to avoid anticlimax?

And then there's the danger that it could all come across a bit ... well ... bitty.  The Tories' main presentational problem at the moment is that too few people understand what Cameron stands for; whether there's a "Cameronism" behind the man himself.  To my mind, this isn't because the Tories lack substantive ideas – but rather because they haven't successfully communicated them. 

The remedy for this needn't be a hundred-and-one policy announcements.  No, far better a clear account of why, say, Tory school reform is the most impressive and potentially transformative policy package in town; or of why, behind all the high-falutin' talk of a "Post-Bureaucratic Age," there's a tidal shift in relations between the state and the public.  Indeed, a raft of new policy announcements could just detract from this Bigger Picture stuff; adding more and more pieces to an, as yet, unfinished jigsaw.

Now, I'm not saying that this policy blitz will fall to these dangers – just that these dangers exist.  The Tories will, of course, be hoping that it triggers enthusiasm, rather than fatigue; that it adds up to a more coherent picture of what Cameron stands for, rather than a more fractured one.  And much of that will depend simply on what it contains and how it is framed.  The proof of this particular pudding will be in the eating, next month.