UK Politics

Candid Cameron

Yesterday’s Times reported that the Tories have opened up a 14pt opinion poll lead over Labour, the biggest lead they’ve enjoyed since just before the 1987 General Election. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

David Cameron has promised a future Conservative government would be committed to “long-term tax reduction”.

In a speech in Birmingham, he called for the proportion of national income used for public spending to be cut “to create the space for cutting tax”.

David Cameron has been leader of the Conservatives for 2-and-a-half years. In this time, you can count the policy initiatives on one hand. And this, of course, is the luxury you enjoy as Leader of the Opposition. At least, it’s the luxury you enjoy while the next General Election is still a possible 24 months away.

David Cameron may go on to become a hugely successful politician, but until now, his solitary achievement has been to convince his own party to say very little about anything…and if it must talk, to reflect the mood rather than try to set it. The current woes endured by the Labour Party may be of a different magnitude than at any time previously since it took office in 1997 and the voter fatigue may be greater, but as much as anything, the reason why things look quite as bleak as they do for Brown is that the Tories are not simultaneously shooting themselves in the foot at every turn. Under Hague, IDS and Howard, the gaffes came so thick and fast that they almost became un-newsworthy. Cameron has changed this not by having to do anything remotely radical, but simply by convincing those around him to do and say virtually nothing.

Yesterday’s announcement is the first sign that things may be about to change. His speech is a clear indication that, after 2 years of ambiguity, the Tories remain committed to low tax as a first principle of government.  The only clue his speech gave as to how tax cuts might be funded was the usual mixture of unspecific efficiencies and reform. Which is fine. For now. And while I doubt the Tories will again make the mistake of beginning an election campaign without making at least a passable attempt to cost their tax proposals, I’m encouraged to hear that Cameron’s first stab at putting clear water between the Tories and Labour on a issue of genuine substance reads like it could have been lifted from John Major’s 1997 election manifesto.

Make no mistake, this was not a casual reference to Conservative political philosophy in the abstract; with this speech, Cameron is staking out election battleground. Expect more announcements in the coming months. The age of passivity is over for the Tories. These are dangerous times indeed, but not for Labour. The Conservatives are on the cusp of executing a strategy – the political equivalent of a baby playing with scissors. 

Hang in the there, Gordon. Things are looking up.