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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Italian Mixed Salad

So what do I think of David Cameron and how he's doing? Notwithstanding my non-appearance at the Tory Party Conference last week I still retain a strong desire to see New Labour torn from office and replaced with a viable alternative more in keeping with this country and its evolving traditions. But do I want this to be DC?

I have written since the eve of the last general election about how the Conservative Party must begin to reinvent itself and show itself to be more in keeping with modern Britain. I've argued many times before that we have to show we are not the party of the 90s, perceived to be selfish and incompetent, which did not care for too much of how Britain is today. I also said that I saw there to be no need for a giant shift away from the core of what it means to be a Tory.

David Cameron, since his election, has tried continuously and relentlessly to reposition the party in the perception of the public. This, distasteful as it is to much of the party, has to happen. It also has to continue. There cannot be a time when we are still in opposition when we say "enough is enough, we are modern now" because that will just be perceived and spun as the Tories reverting to type. Evolution must always continue or we shall die. Cameron and his team have had great success at this.

It is partly for this reason he has changed the emphasis of the party, he has shown how it does care about and for the environment, how healthcare is, must and shall be a vital priority and how more needs to be done to integrate all types of people within British society - and the Tory party.

At the same time there is a growing perception, picked up by Matthew Parris in today's Sunday Times, that he lacks true grit. There are attempts to spin him as all things to all men. He should continue to resist playing into his opponents hands by pandering to this. He should avoid putting out potentially ill thought through policies to pander to those who ask where his beef is. He should do all this to avoid tainting himself and ideas with an image - that of the party - which is surely worse now than it will be in a year (and it certainly was much worse a year ago). He must, however, show that he has "an irreducible core".

I commented earlier this weekend that I found the Tory reinvigoration remarkably soulless. Do those at the head of the party really care for it? I mean really care. I knew it had to happen, indeed I wanted it to happen, but I couldn't help finding it slightly depressing. Cameron is great, it is fantastic how his optimism and freshness can shine through - but I just don't ever feel his heart is really in it. I get the impression politics feels like a game to him. I don't feel it matters. He doesn't communicate the courage to fight his corner. Even when pushed on it on TV, for example over the "tax row" in the week, he smirks and explains how he's not going to be "pushed around" whilst everything about him says "push me". This isn't any Labour Clause IV. His casting for one to prove he means business just reinforces a (false) impression that he doesn't mean business at all.

Now I'm not saying Cameron should turn into a Howard-esque bruiser overnight. Far from it. That would damage his brand in all the wrong ways. What he needs to do, however, is to convince me and the electorate that his heart is in it, that politics and the fight matters to him because it can matter so much to so many. He has to show us that he knows what's right, what's important and that, most of all, he has the courage to fight for it if he has to.

As Matthew Parris wrote:
"If he is to be credited with real courage he knows how he has to be brave. He must be brave in the way Jack Straw was brave this week when he wrote what he did about the Muslim veil. He must say or do something that he genuinely believes to be important and right but which will hurt or annoy significant numbers of people, including natural supporters. These “moments” cannot be confected or precipitated by a team of professional advisers; and if anyone tries, it will show. They must come naturally. There is no such thing as a fight that carries few real risks, yet reveals the fighter to be brave."

EDITED: Apologies for the schoolboy mistake of incorrectly calling Matthew Parris, Michael. And thank you Madsen for pointing it out!

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