I've written an article for COMMENT IS FREE on Lord Saatchi's lecture titled IN PRAISE OF IDEOLOGY. In the lecture he asserts that you don't win elections from the centre ground - you only do so if you have a core ideology, which you stick to.
Lord Saatchi is without doubt a man with an enormous creative mind. His pamphlets for the Centre for Policy Studies are invariably well-written, entertaining and provocative. The latest one, published this week, asserts that a political party needs to retain a sense of ideology if it is to prevail in the polls. This is a self-evident truth. Any party needs to remain true to its core roots and traditions, but that in itself does not mean that it should not embrace modernity and move with the times. Reading Lord Saatchi's lecture one gets the impression that life stopped in 1979, that no political advertising since then has been quite so on the metal.
In his lecture, Saatchi challenges what he call's today's "new myth" that "you can only win elections from the centre ground". He might want to challenge this so-called myth, but I can think of few elections that were won from anywhere else. Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 election from the centre ground, not from the hard right. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves and has never read the 1979 Conservative manifesto.
I suspect that Lord Saatchi is playing fast and loose with semantics and has created an entirely new definition of the centre ground. In his world, the centre ground is anywhere to the left of where he finds himself on the political spectrum. He is mistaken. In reality the centre ground is the common ground - the place where the majority of the British people find themselves at any particular time. It's not a fixed position and can change with the political seasons.
But wherever that common ground is, David Cameron is right to pitch his tent on it. And as I have written before, he needs to build his tent into a huge, billowing marquee. Without big tents, as Bill Clinton was keen to demonstrate, elections cannot be won. You cannot win purely with the support of your own core voters. Instead you have to appeal to a wider body. This is the lesson of the last 10 years in which the Conservatives have languished in opposition. Continually banging on about the same old message in the same old way is not going to appeal to those who find themselves disillusioned with politics and politicians.
To break out of the stranglehold of opposition the Conservatives have had to start not just a rebranding exercise, but a root and branch process of redefining Conservatism for the modern age. Labour took 15 years to realise they had to do this in the 1980s and early 1990s. I suppose we can be thankful the Conservatives have taken just over half that time.
Lord Saatchi says in his pamphlet: "Without a vision, the people perish". He concludes: "People in politics should stand for something greater than the desire to be in power." Never a truer word spoken, but to get power and achieve great things, you have to be in touch with the common ground. And judging from his pamphlet, Lord Saatchi isn't.