David Cameron’s wobble in the polls has brought calls for a return to old-fashioned ideologies of market and state. Bad ideaby Phillip Blond / March 22, 2010 / Leave a comment
These are worrying times for Tories. Their poll lead has shrunk: from 17 points in December 2009, to 12 in January, and down to merely two in a March YouGov poll of 60 marginal seats. Even if other surveys point to a less tight picture, there has clearly been a dramatic breach in support.
A battle now rages over how to explain the fall, fought between the party’s progressive and regressive wings. Stuck between them, the Tory high command is bemused. They don’t know why this haemorrhage has happened, and so they don’t know what to do. Surely, against one of the weakest governments in modern history, they should be topping 50 per cent, not dropping below 40.
The party last looked wrong-footed in the final two months of 2008, during the height of the banking crisis. But in time, as the scale of the bailout and the extent of Britain’s crisis hit home, Labour’s credibility again collapsed. Deft handling of the expenses scandal solidified David Cameron’s renewed lead. A Tory leadership confident of winning a social election had feared the change of terrain to economics, but by mid-2009 their lead was back, and all looked on course for victory. Then, perhaps in a moment of over-confidence, a fateful decision was made: Tory strategists decided that instead of reverting to their former plan of action, they would instead choose to fight the coming election on the same economic grounds they once feared—using the rising tide of national debt as blue water to separate them from Labour.
It seems this new focus on debt was, in part, driven by the recently buried yet irresistible temptation of vestigial Thatcherite instincts: an economic “back to basics” campaign. And just as suddenly, against the background of improving economic conditions and Gordon Brown’s injunction to take a “long hard look” at the Tories, voters paused and took stock. Even worse, the debt strategy began to undermine the positive elements of Cameron’s renewal. Out went optimism about the future, and concern for the struggles of ordinary people. In came Conservatives with scary talk of emergency budgets, and violent images of slashing spending. The result: a gradual re-toxification of a brand Cameron had painstakingly cleansed, and a retreat from his often visionary and transformative agenda.
Of course, Cameron hadn’t entirely ditched his better plans. In the same months the party slipped back into its old habits, it…