Monday, January 19, 2015

Cameron - The Leader and his Party

Conventional wisdom is that David Cameron is more popular with the public than his party, but that he is a largely disliked figure amongst his own MPs.  Read the different blogs and comments and you find reasons ranging from the personal - they think he's haughty and condescending towards them, when he bothers noticing them at all - to the political - most think he has no principles, and those that do think he steers too much towards the left.

Such is the antipathy towards Cameron that there have not been wanting stories over the past weeks and months detailing how, if he fails to secure a majority for the Tories come May, he's toast.  One of the reasons behind the high-energy undeclared leadership campaign is just this - that the mountain for Cameron to climb to retain his position as leader is simply too high.  After all, plenty of Tory backbenchers still charge him with a failure to properly win last time, and with having rushed into a hated coalition with the Lib Dems.  Now we could spend a lot of time discussing the very tenuous threads that bind many of these backbench complainers with reality, but if the Spectator's Isabel Hardman is to be believed (writing in today's Evening Standard) they may just be marginally re-evaluating their "Cameron must go" attitude.

Hardman notes that Tory MPs generally still don't like Cameron, but they are waking up to the fact that he has more electoral pull than they do as a party.  Which is hardly surprising, given the generally centre-ground position of most voters, and the luminously right-wing position of most Tory MPs.

Giving further credence to the need for Tories to continue sheltering behind the pragmatic fig-leaf offered by Cameron's leadership might be some recent findings about the average Conservative voters' attitude towards immigration.  Here there is a lesson for the panicky out-UKIP UKIP moves being undertaken by Cameron himself too.  The centre-right think tank "Bright Blue" has commissioned a survey which seems to suggest that most Conservative voters (as opposed to activists and MPs) have a moderate approach to immigration, wanting control of illegal immigration but accepting a need to maintain immigration flows otherwise.  The New Statesman's Staggers blog reports on the survey here.

One problem for Cameron is that to appease his backbench bloodhounds he will need to fight the election on pretty right-wing territory, a factor given added impetus by the presence of Lynton Crosby as his campaign manager.  Mr. Crosby's last national campaign for the Tories was the ill-fated "Are you thinking what we're thinking" one for Michael Howard, which revealed that no, we weren't.  But if Cameron loses through having conceded the centre ground to Ed Milliband, no-one in the parliamentary party is going to thank him for running a right-wing campaign.  They'll just tell him it wasn't right-wing enough, and look for someone else.  Ironically, it looks as if his main chance of survival if he doesn't get the coveted majority might lie in another coalition with......the Lib Dems.  

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