From 1994, when Mr Blair became leader, until the 1997 election, he and his front bench worked tirelessly, as a team, to harry and discomfit John Major's ministers. They prided themselves on working through the summer recesses to keep the pressure on. We have simply not had that from the Tories. Yes, Mr Cameron has made a couple of August sallies - but where has his front bench been, other than on the beach? Most voters would be hard-pressed to name more than one or two of them. The Conservatives need to look like a government-in-waiting - it's not enough simply to have a leader who may look like a prime minister-in-waiting. When Mr Blair stands down - and most of his colleagues expect next month's party conference to be his last - his successor, Gordon Brown, will bring to Downing Street both an enviable strategic grasp and unrivalled front-line experience. He will be a truly formidable opponent, which is why the Tories have to lift their game. They have enjoyed the novelty of a charismatic new leader and reaped the political benefits. Labour is tantalisingly close to enjoying a similar leg-up. Too many Conservative politicians seem to feel the job is just about done. As they are about to find out, it is only just beginning.
So how fair is this? You can either take the point of view that even politicians deserve a holiday and the public also deserve a politics-free August, or you think that harrying the government is a twelve month, 52 week, 365 day a year job. The truth of course is somewhere in between. Of course leading politicians deserve a break, but the truth of the matter for Opposition Parties is that August is a gift of a month for them.
Political journalists have very little to write about so it's often easier to get the media to take a weak story seriously. Why do you think the media have spent so much time on trying to unzip the author of the Unzipped novel? Answer: because they've not got much more to do. Listen to the Today programme each morning and you'll see that they are struggling to fill their three hours. But this is an opportunity both for Shadow Cabinet Ministers, junior spokespeople AND Tory backbenchers.I think the Daily Telegraph has a point. This week I can recall Chris Grayling doing something on transport broken promises, Philip Hammond saying something about 9 to 5 jobs and Damian Green on immigration, but I''d be hard-pressed to think of much else this month, apart from a couple of David Cameron initiatives on candidates, Built to Last and the war on terror.
Admittedly we're only in the second year of this administration but I'd like to think that next year the Conservatives will be a little more vocal. Harrying the government is the job of the opposition. We need more backbenchers rto follow the example of John Bercow and Eric Forth in the 1997-2001 parliament. David Davies seems to be taking on their mantle but we need more of his colleagues to take up arms and lead the charge.
Sure, we've got to present oursleves as an alternative government but we have to exploit any weakness there is in the government defences. And there are so many open goals waiting to be scored. It's all very well thinking that the government are doing their best to self-destruct - and they are - but we cannot just rely on that old maxim that governments lose elections, oppositions don't win them.
The Conservatives are now 6-9 points ahead in the polls at 38-40% in virtually every poll. This is real progress indeed, but as the Telegraph points out, we cannot rely on that lead holding if Labour elect a new leader who enjoys a honeymoon period. And the trouble with a successful honeymoon is that the new leader might think that is just the time to call an election. We've always got to bear that in mind. I hope that somewhere deep in the bowels of CCHQ there is a small group of people who are planning for just that eventuality, because if not, there ought to be.
PS But if the Conservatives are accused of being invisible, just where are the LibDems? Ming seems to have vanished from sight completely. As do his colleagues. Still, I musn't complain...