Monday, June 25, 2007

Half-term report: Conservatives

Cameron denies drift to the right
So then, what of the Tories? Behind in the polls for the first time in over a year, riven on education, light on almost any policy area you could name, and about to be pulverised by the greatest political muscle of his generation. Or perhaps not. This is, obviously, a Conservative blog so any dispassionate analysis of the party's fortunes is likely to be less gleeful in its disparagement that for the Labour or the Lib Dems. I'll try not to pull too many punches as I explain, in as unbiased way as possible, why this the best of times for the Tories under the inspired and glorious leadership of the wonderful David Cameron.
Of all the circles of hell, I hope there is one reserved for former politicians who allow old bitterness to spill into contemporary analysis. It could be next to that for the designers of airport furniture, or the members of the County Commission that came up with Bath and North East Somerset as a snappy name for a county. Michael Portillo has written thoughtful and articulate comments on the prospects of the Labour Party, and scathing and amusing ones on the Liberal Democrats. When he writes on the Tories, he's usually wrong. Was he on Sunday when he wrote that Plan Cameron was in ruins, that the Tories were hopelessly racist and atavistic and that we're all doomed to another decade of Gordon?
Aside from channelling his inner Private Frazer, Portillo also bears a striking similarity to Saruman in the Lord of the Rings, when he advises Gandalf not to struggle, because Sauron is far too powerful. In reality, the Conservatives are still strongly placed: Cameron is and remains popular, there is a small but distinct source of promotions to come (Gove, Vaizey, Johnson etc) and, above all, there is a political fight coming up that appeals to the entire Conservative Party (more or less) and the right-wing press and which will destabilise the LAbour Party: the referendum on the EU Constitution/Treaty/Whatever.
People who worry that 'banging on' about Europe will put people off the Tories miss thye point that campaigning for a referendum avoids the shrillness associated with Euro-sceptics. Opponents sound like they distrust/dislike the electorate, especially as all three parties espoused a referendum as a manifesto commitment. The EU offers the Tories a perfect attacking point against Brown. Brown knows (presumably) that he will be unable to win a referendum, and so has to decide whether to risk unpopularity through refusing a widespread popular demand for one (88% wasn't it?) or humiliation through losing one.
In boatie terms, this is Labour's bend. The free publicity, coupled with the impression of a new start give the Labour Party the inside track. The Tories' job is to stay in touching distance so that they can capitalise when the river turns their way again.

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