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Three key tests for David Cameron

  • Michael Crick
  • 8 Feb 08, 06:08 PM

cameron20330.jpgQuietly, and barely noticed, people in the political community are starting to contemplate a change of government, and to prepare for it. Government political advisers are putting out feelers for jobs in the private sector. Left-leaning think tanks, lobbyists and PR firms who’ve all thrived in the years of New Labour, are starting to re-orientate themselves, trying to recruit more staff with Conservative backgrounds, all in readiness for the day they will have to prove their worth under a Cameron regime, and show strong personal links with his likely team of ministers.

But personally I am far from convinced that David Cameron will emerge from the next election as Prime Minister – if you put a gun to my head I’d say it’s still only 50-50. Despite Gordon Brown’s troubles (and continuing gloom in the Labour ranks), I know that many leading Conservatives privately share my doubts about their prospects.

It’s that 2008 doesn’t yet have the feel of the years 1994 to 1997, when the newly elected Tony Blair inspired a genuine popular enthusiasm for New Labour, which by 1996 became a widespread assumption that Labour would return to power. Whilst many of the public have severe doubts about Gordon Brown and the Labour government, they aren’t yet convinced that David Cameron is the answer, or has the answers.

And whilst the Tories are ahead in the polls, they aren’t yet matching Tony Blair’s huge double-digit (often more than 20 per cent) leads of the mid-1990s. And remember the huge bias in the electoral system which means (depending on which analysis you trust) the Conservatives have to get between six and ten per cent head of Labour simply to win an equal number of seats.

To persuade me that David Cameron is on his way to Downing Street let me pose three tests.

Test One
The Conservatives have to win a London-wide election, in the way they often won elections for the Greater London Council in the 1960s and ‘70s. This could come as early as 1 May, of course, with the candidacy of Boris Johnson for London Mayor. Several recent polls showing Johnson has a good chance against Ken Livingstone, and various allegations surrounding the Mayor, are certainly worrying people in Downing Street. On the other hand many London Tories are deeply frustrated that Boris Johnson seems, in their view, to be running a pretty poor campaign.

Test Two
The party has to gain at least one seat in a Parliamentary by-election, something they’ve not done since Angela Rumbold won Mitcham and Morden in the early 1980s. It’s a tough test this, since by-elections are pretty rare these days, thanks to the pressure which parties put on MPs to retire early, and well before they might die in office. And the other problem the Tories often have is that the Lib Dems are the by-election kings nowadays and may easily swoop for seats which in the past the Tories would have considered easy pickings.

Test Three
The Conservative have to start attracting some high-level defections, in the way we saw defections away from John Major’s party in the mid-1990s, including Emma Nicholson, Alan Howarth and Peter Thurnham. The biggest defection to the Tories in recent years was Sajjad Karim, an obscure the Lib Dem MEP from the North West, who joined the Tories last year, in a move which was barely noticed at the time. Mr Karim doesn’t count I’m afraid; nor do the many councillors who have switched to Cameron’s party. My test requires meaty, high-rank defections - MPs or former Cabinet ministers, and preferably well-known ones. But the best known Westminster defection of recent months, Quentin Davies, was away from David Cameron’s party.

If the Conservatives can pass any two of the three above tests then I could well start thinking they’re likely to return to government. Until then, I have my doubts.

Comments  Post your comment

Never mind testing Cameron - let's test the whole charade!


In recent times we seem to have suffered from the absolute power of a Prime Minister and the absolute honour of MPs (from whose ranks the PM is distilled).
I suggest it as “all of a piece” and deserves scrutiny.
(1) Why should selection by a political party followed by quasi-endorsement at constituency level bring to the individual “rosette stand” a state of honour?
(2) Why should one so selected, when internally elevated to party leader, be able to take on feudal powers by kneeling in front of a constitutional monarch?
We have suffered a dangerously delusional Prime Minister who has now run away from what he did. Meanwhile we have a bunch of honourable fiddlers doing their best to protect their dishonourable practices.

I think you have forgotten TEST FOUR. Namely, New Tories promised to be much more representative, starting with having many more women candidates in electable seats. This was at the very start. Any mention of this initiative or any action by having more women visible in the Shadow Cabinet has evaporated totally.

In addition, the publicity given to 'Cameron kitchen cabinet' comprising of 'Eton and Oxford inner circle' whether unelected or elected simply does not broach diversity in the population at large.

Either way, they certainly have not convinced me and I should be their target living in deep Surrey and solid Tory land. My verdict is NO HOPE until there is something substantial that shows they are serious. In fact, I see exactly the opposite wit 'inside boy' Boris Johnson parachuted from out of London (Henley is not even in suburbs!) to contest London Mayor elections.

  • 3.
  • At 07:29 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Adam B wrote:

Well it is awfully nice of you all to decide which way we will vote.
Just make sure you let us all know about it nearer the time. Otherwise we might have to, oh I don't know, decide for ourselves.
I think the real problem that Cameron and the rest of the 'political community' have is that they spend all of their effort on wooing each other and virtually none on on the rest of us. And when almost 40 per cent of voters' choice of party at the last election was the 'none of the above' party, then you have to wonder whether the political community should stop sleepwalking into their own segregation and start spending a little bit more time talking to the rest of us.

  • 4.
  • At 08:18 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Nick Thornsby wrote:

Michael, no-one would ever hold a gun to your head!

  • 5.
  • At 08:55 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Paul D wrote:

And test 5 - of course! (Thank you Lily Evans). Are they any more fit to govern than the present bunch?

  • 6.
  • At 10:24 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Jenny wrote:

However David Cameron tries to project a fresh face of Conservatism, the insane old nasties are briefing against him all around. Unless he is a leader of hardly anyone but himself he must be presumed to approve of that. Are the old nasties re-electable with a working majority? Only if Labour let incompetence, corruption or devotion to mad projects become their overwhelming image, and the LibDems increase their following to sufficiently split the non-nasty vote, as in the '80s. Those could happen, but it would be unforgivably careless.

  • 7.
  • At 11:04 AM on 09 Feb 2008,
  • Erica Brody wrote:

Lilly Evans commnt is wide off the mark.
How could Boris Johnson have been "parachuted" into the London elections?

There was a vote by all London Conservatives to pick one of four candidates and Boris (who lives in London as well as Henley) won the vote by a huge majority.

This just goes to show that some people are prejudiced against the Tories and nothing they do will ever be good enough. This woman has just made up her own version of events and choses to run with it rather than find out the truth!

  • 8.
  • At 12:38 PM on 09 Feb 2008,
  • Martin wrote:

"Several recent polls showing Johnson has a good chance against Ken Livingstone"

You failed to mention the ITV/YOUGOV poll which showed Livingstone's lead over Johnson increased after a week of very serious allegations:

Would Kate Hoey be high profile enough for your defection to the Tories test? That wouldn't just be a coup for Cameron though - both sides would be delighted!

  • 10.
  • At 12:34 PM on 11 Feb 2008,
  • Colin S wrote:

It is rather silly of Erica Brody to draw further attention to the comments by Lily Evans on the selection of Henley MP Boris Johnson to be the Tory candidate for London Mayor. The selection timetable was repeatedly extended as the other candidates were obviously considered not to be high profile or representative enough e.g being a councillor in Kensington & Chelsea hardly prepares you for the real World. It is extraordinary that an MP representing a constituency so far outside London is the candidate but then it falls into place when one knows he went to Eton and is mates with the party leader.

  • 11.
  • At 10:01 PM on 11 Feb 2008,
  • Mike Jecks wrote:

Colin S and Lily are both guilty of thinking that the Tories are the same nasty bunch. Let's see: they proposed a minor change to the NHS. Under Gordon and Tony, that has turned into the wholesale denationalisation. Under the Tories, we had the best-funded pension schemes in the world. Now we've one of the worst, thanks to Gordon. Gordon is a king at making new rules. His "golden rules" have governed our fiscal policies. But they only worked when he changed the goalposts, altering the dates of the current financial cycle. His "prudence" is exemplified by his prudent use of management consultants in all areas of government, without penalising the ones who really muck up our systems. PFI is an unmitigated disaster. The chief beancounter, Bourne, has been forced to leave. His own department has to use external auditors to audit departments. The Gordon tripartite system for managing banks has utterly failed. And we have MPs taking on new consultancy positions worth fortunes, deriding the rules on no jobs where there could be a perception of conflicts of interest. And don't get me on to Bliar. The man who increased his own PM pension fund by, what, 600,000 pounds after the last election. The man who never won as many votes as John Major in 94? Blair saw his electorate collapse after his first period in government. Compare that with Margaret Thatcher. Who took us to war once - when our own people were attacked. Who refused to take the NHS anything like as far to privatisation as Blair. Who rejected the concept of ID cards. WHo would have gone potty over the idea of the state intervention into every aspect of private life.
And who refused to take any salary as PM, because she said she had enough money and the job was a privilege, not a means of enrich herself.
Can anyone really think Gordon's mob of unrepresentative and corrupt incompetents are at all better than the Tories?

  • 12.
  • At 06:13 AM on 12 Feb 2008,

Huulo its Feliox in India saying that according to the background of England, the shaliah Laws will be contradicting with the Britsh cultures and indeed it should not even be thought of in England.

  • 13.
  • At 03:10 AM on 14 Feb 2008,
  • Kevin wrote:

One major change since 1997 which you do not appear to consider Michael, is the SNP government in Scotland. In the next Westminster election the SNP are likely to take many seats from Labour. The Scottish seats are needed for Labour to retain their majority. Just another slant to think about.

  • 14.
  • At 11:52 PM on 20 Feb 2008,
  • Pat wrote:

what are the tory policies anyway all David Cameron does in my eyes is moan about labour but what would the tories do.

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