Leading article

What David Cameron must do to win (properly this time)

The Prime Minister has the tools to triumph in 2015. Will he use them?

3 January 2015

9:00 AM

3 January 2015

9:00 AM

Almost exactly five years ago, the Conservatives fired the starting gun for a general election — and shot themselves in the foot. ‘We can’t go on like this,’ said the poster, next to a picture of an airbrushed David Cameron. ‘I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS.’ What on earth did it mean? No one seemed sure. As early as January 2010, it was horribly clear: here was a muddled party, preparing to fight an election campaign with a muddled message. Little wonder it ended in a muddled election result.

This time, it should be different. The Tories have a professional, Lynton Crosby, running their campaign. He should be able to point out the basics: a clear message is required, and it needs to be repeated. He is unlikely to be fooled by the received wisdom that this year’s general election will belong to the small parties. Labour and the Tories still have about two thirds of the vote, according to today’s polls, just as they did at the general election. The collapse of the Liberal Democrats has allowed peculiar phenomena such as the rise of the Greens. Overall, however, this election remains very winnable.

Anyone who believes that Ed Miliband is still cruising to victory has not kept their eye on Scotland. A Guardian/ICM poll, one of the last of 2014, suggests that Labour could lose all but three of its 41 Scottish seats to a resurgent SNP under the formidable Nicola Sturgeon. Even if she does nowhere near that well, she will still take more seats than Nigel Farage’s Ukip. The SNP already has more members than Ukip and the Liberal Democrats combined. It is Sturgeon’s party that is the new third force in British politics — and its rise comes almost exclusively at Ed Miliband’s expense.

Polls also show that Miliband is more unpopular in Scotland than elsewhere. His visits to Scotland during the referendum last year showed the sheer extent of the damage that he is capable of inflicting on his own party. All this bodes well for the Tories: David Cameron has his flaws, but he’s a good campaigner. Miliband, by contrast, can turn a bacon sandwich into a debacle.

The Tory popular vote may languish at 32 per cent in the polls, compared with 36 per cent in 2010. But support for the governing party often grows as the election draws near and the Conservatives enjoy a significant advantage on the economy, which is improving by the month. Moreover, Cameron enjoys higher personal ratings than Miliband — an advantage that can make all the difference, as when John Major unexpectedly kept out Neil Kinnock after a late swing in 1992.

If David Cameron is to remain Prime Minister, he will not do it by aping Ukip. True, Nigel Farage counts among his supporters large numbers of former Conservatives, offended in various ways by Cameron. Yet Ukip’s appeal remains as a party of protest — it offers the politics of anger. Conservatism is about the politics of answers. Do Ukip voters really want to get out of the EU? Well, Cameron’s survival is their only chance of a referendum. And Ukip’s disproportionately older voters? They should know that George Osborne has pledged (at great cost) to keep pensions high. Do they want jobs? More have been created under Cameron than under any other modern British prime minister.

Less remarked upon is that Ed Miliband’s Labour, too, has become a party of fear. The only time he has achieved real popular appeal of a level consistent with winning a majority has been with his ‘cost of living’ crisis — and he deserved credit for identifying the problem. But he has no solutions. Indeed, if Miliband has a positive message, he has not succeeded in communicating it. All he can do is shake his fist at companies, and threaten to do to them what François Hollande has done in France. We all know how well that has worked.

Elections in Britain tend to be won on the back of hope rather than fear. In spite of their battered reputation in many areas, the Tories remain the party most strongly associated with aspiration. With real incomes finally growing, it ought to be possible to concentrate minds on the prospect of self-betterment. If the Conservatives are to win, they need to be able to convince people that a Tory victory will make it more likely they will be able to buy a home of their own, afford holidays, choose a good school for their children, or have NHS services which work for them rather than the health unions.

David Cameron has every incentive, then, to go all out for a majority. He must stop pretending to have done things that he hasn’t (such as halving the deficit) and become less bashful about what his administration has done right (bringing down unemployment). The Tories do not need to resort to exaggeration or spin. Their achievements are real — though it sometimes feels as if the Prime Minister does not quite recognise them.

This election will be won or lost by David Cameron. He remains the Conservative party’s greatest asset. If he rediscovers the ability to inspire optimism that he possessed early in his leadership, there is no reason he should not lead his party to victory — a proper one, this time — in May.

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  • NBeale

    I agree with much of this. The fall in unemployment is an amazing achievement. And Ed M will probably fall apart in the campaign. But it will be hard work and anyone who wants to save the country from the disaster of Ed Miliband as PM propped up by the SNP needs to get behind Cameron now.

    • Peter Gardner

      Much of the increase in employment (about a third?) is taken by foreigners from the EU which depresses wages. Cameron has no policy to deal with this because he acquiesces in rule by the EU. He may call it the price of pooled sovereignty but since November 2014 there is hardly any sovereignty that has not been ‘pooled’. And we have yet to hear from Cameron, or any other party leader, how ‘pooled’ sovereignty, ie. rule by a foreign unaccountable collective, is better than sovereign parliamentary democracy. UK doesn’t even have a veto on EU regulations and directives any more. And we won’t hear it from Cameron simply because it isn’t better, everyone knows it isn’t better but cannot mention it for fear of reducing their own importance in the scheme of national governance. The only credit I can give him is that he seems to know he cannot possibly make that case.

  • Yorkieeye

    One professional, Lynton Crossby, does not make the party professional; it is anything but. This is an issue worth the Spectator’s critical gaze. It is a problem, particularly in the North.

    • Peter Gardner

      A party that is forced to hire a foreigner to help it understand its own electorate is hardly fit to be governing that electorate.

  • Richard Calhoun

    The problem for many ex tories voters like myself is we do not trust Cameron, his record on U turns leaves a feeling of ‘Can we trust anything he says? ‘

    If he puts John Major in charge of EU negotiations prior to the referendum then for many of us I suspect that will be the last straw.

    Major holds the responsibility of dividing his party, he was a weak, ineffective leader who we do wish to see again

    • tjamesjones

      the world is not perfect, and yet we must go on living.

  • tjamesjones

    amen to this.

  • Sir Trev Skint MP

    It will be won and lost on immigration.

    • FlippityGibbit

      LOST, for sure! Not just on Immigration but on the British Right to Self Determination and Sovereignty, given away without a mandate from the electorate!

  • Curmudgeon

    But many people feel that they have been betrayed and ignored on so many fronts that they are no longer willing to vote Tory as the slightly lesser of two evils. Their fatuous, head-in-sand energy policy is a prime example.

  • FlippityGibbit

    What have you all been smoking? Forget Dodgy Dave winning, you’re now in the realms of flying pigs if you think for one instant he has even a glimmer of a chance. Think rather of “The Conservative Party” winning and everyone knows that in order to win, Dodgy Dave must be fired. If you do not act now you are going into a GE with a leader NOBODY in, out, around, foreign or domestic believes, trusts or has any faith in. And if that is what the leader stands for that is what the PARTY stands for.
    Dodgy Dave will not be the cause of Labour walking into No 10 because everyone knew he was never man enough to keep them out in the first place! No, the persons to blame for handing the keys to Ed are the Conservative Party Hierarchy who treated the electorate with contempt by not giving this country a PM fit for purpose! And THAT is how Party Financial Backers are and will be looking at it!

    • Yorkieeye

      Yet in one poll after another he proves to be the most popular national leader. No, the Tories do not have the same leadership crisis as Labour, I think you might be the delusional one.

      • FlippityGibbit

        That is no indication Dodgy Dave himself is any good but merely that those you are comparing him too are even worse! Nick “The Liar” Clegg – Despised, distrusted and oblivion bound. Ed Walter Mittieband – I rest my case, but at least he’s not been proven to be a liar, YET, as the other two have been. His problem is he still believes the Labour Party can exist as a “small c” Conservative Party and his grass roots support is being swept up by UKIP!
        Dellusional, that’s your opinion but I would humbly suggest Conservative membership numbers tend to confirm what I say. But never mind, on 16th May you can remind yourself of that “delusional” character and how the Conservative Party ended up in the state they will be!

      • FlippityGibbit

        With regard to my “delusions”, I found this poll on Voting Intentions in The Mirror, not known for it’s extreme right wing stance but firmly rooted in the British Labour and Working population. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/nigel-farages-ukip-general-election-4906652
        Check out the Poll on Voting Intentions Labour 32% Cons 5% Lib Dems 1% UKIP 47% And that from the Mirror Readers!

      • Frank

        Given that they were comparing Dave to Clegg and Miliband, that it is hardly a ringing endorsement.
        Can we please just agree that the British public are being offered three incredibly weak candidates.
        Labour has the constituency boundaries advantage and a potential link-up with SNP if Labour ditch Miliband. This is balanced by the Rotherham factor.
        The Tories are stuffed unless they dump Dave, commit to an immediate referendum on the EU and an undertaking to stop all non-eu immigration the day after the election.

  • Nhs Whistleblowers

    NHS is a filthy business, in Lincoln County Hospital, three doctors were sitting at home getting their full salary for about six months while the NHS was paying £50-100 per an hour for others to cover them.

    The reason for suspending the first two doctors was because they blow the whistle. Instead of investigating the matter and improving it they suspended them then dismissed them !! The third one was the consultant who victimised the first two. Of course, he was stopped for six months then returned to do exactly what he was doing for the patients. Surprisingly the consultant (Mr Martin Clark) was not promoted like Andy Coulson to work in 10 Downing Street.

    The consultant was sitting at his home, getting his full salary (£200,000) a year and was doing extra money from his private work!!

    According to Mr Martin Clark, the other three consultants who covered him made lots of money as they were getting locum rate to cover him; one of them Mr Jason Niamat bought two top-of-the-range Range Rovers; one for him and one for his wife. The other consultant Mr Mark Buah got a top-of-the-range BMW. The Mr Wesam Aleid got top-of-the-range Mercedes and new home ..

    Despite the letters of complaints submitted against Mr Clark, he believes that he was intentionally suspended by the other consultants (Mr Jason Niamat, Mr Mark Buah and Mr Wesam Aleid) so they can get extra money.

    Mr Clark told one of the nurses, the next time one of them want to go in an expensive holiday, another complaint will be submitted against me and I will be suspended again!

    According to Mr Jason Niamat and Mr Wesam Aleid. Mr Martin Clark was suspended at least three times. It is claimed that Mr Clark lured one of the nurses to the hospital while they were both under the influence of alcohol and injection her with Botox. It is also claimed that Mr Clark made a wrong operation to a patient. He was supposed to remove a cancer from one side but instead he operated on the sound side of the body and left the cancer behind!

    This is not a joke .. go to http://nhs-whistleblowers.blog… or to twitter and check #ULHT and ULHT ..

    The two doctors who were dismissed went to court and the trust are now also paying to 5 barristers and 5 solicitors. Unfortunately for the trust, the whistleblowers kept tape recordings of what happened.

    This is reality .. this is where the money goes .. this was brought to the attention of Mr Jeremy Hunt, the COE of NHS confederation and the COE of the trust but nothing happened .. all covered up ..

    This is only a snapshot, from one Dep. in one hospital, in one year!!

  • Peter Gardner

    Another commentator reducing the future of the country to short term party politics. Obviously Ukip will not form a government. Equally obvious is that deriding it as a party of protest is another party’s supporter deflecting interest from what Ukip does stand for. It is not a party of fear, or protest. It represents anger, certainly but it is the only party to declare a positive argument for the return of sovereign parliamentary democracy to UK. Cameron avoids the question every time he has an opportunity to explain why government by a foreign collective in which our own representatives are a small minority and which is otherwise wholly unaccountable to the electorate of this country is a better way to govern Britain than sovereign parliamentary democracy.

    The leaderships of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist parties all want Britain to remain governed by this foreign collective that is the EU. The electorate has a right to know why, why can they no longer have sovereign parliamentary government that has done the job more than adequately for several centuries and better than any other form of government. While party leaders like Cameron remain silent about why they want Britain to be governed this way it is perfectly reasonable to expect the electorate to get angry. But it is not blind anger or blind protest. It is aimed incisively at the root cause of many of Britain’s problems and is more fundamentally important in the long term than any issue raised in this article. So let’s hear an answer on the question of why our own elected MPs should not exercise complete sovereignty over UK and why it is better that the foreign unaccountable collective that is the EU should in practice have sovereignty over us.

  • Dean Stockton

    This lot just cut the NHS not the deficit just look at the billions Osborne borrowed before saying he had cut the deficit in half there are LIES,LIES & political LIES

  • HappyNewYear

    surely it is becoming clear than no party will have an overall majority – the SNP will peel off some Labour support and UKIP will do the same to the Tories (and a bit to Labour). It will come down to who can make a decent and workable coalition – Labour and SNP or the Tories and UKIP. I see Cameron as too flawed to be a great success (eg. failed promises on immigration)

  • ScaryBiscuits

    This election will be won or lost by David Cameron. He remains the Conservative party’s greatest asset.
    Really? He has spent the last five years campaigning at public expense rather than doing his job as PM. Hardly a day seems to go buy without him photographed in a hi-vis jacket or a school or commentating on something outside his remit. And what has been the result? The Conservative polls have been flat for the last four years, they lost the local elections last year to UKIP and remain significantly down on their 2010 result. In retrospect, it would have been better if all the staff at CCHQ had taken a few months off before the last election. Yet, despite this, they have steadfastly refused to analyse why it went so wrong. Like Fraser, they cling to the hope that there is going to be some hockey stick shaped blip in support that will magic them back into Downing Street. Dream on guys.