So the latest piece in the Cameron jigsaw of attracting back the centre vote is to enthuse about the merits of the public sector. As a dyed in the wool Thatcherite you might expect steam to be coming out of my ears, but it isn't and I'll tell you why. In essence I still believe that unless there is a damned good reason for something to be run by the government, it shouldn't be. However, the private sector has failed to live up to the opportunities provided by the Thatcher and Major privatisations in so many areas that it is only natural now to enter into a debate about why that was and to learn the lessons from it. There's no doubt that the cumbersome privatisation structures and ensuing regulatory framworks put some real barriers in the way of entrepreneurial initiative, but the outright greed displayed by some executives in a few of the privatised companies has done real harm to the reputation of the private sector. The private sector has also been lamentably bad at its own marketing and PR - almost as bad as the public sector.
But the other problem for Conservatives has been the language we have used in attacking public sector inefficiencies. We have made people who work in the public sector feel that we are attacking them personally rather than the system they are working within. Would you want to vote for a Party which constantly told you you were rubbish? Of course not.
None of this means we should be reticent about pointing to public sector failures where they occur, but just as we should be more open about the failures of the private sector we should also be prepared to say so when the public sector gets it right too.
If we're to win next time we need the votes of more teachers, nurses, local government workers, civil servants. David Cameron's speech won't win their support on its own, but it signals that the Conservative Party is continuing to change. And isn't that the whole point of the Cameron strategy of building the bigger tent? In six months he's already added 6-8 points onto our poll levels by attracting more support from the centre ground. There are far more votes to be harvested from the centre and I firmly believe this can be achieved without compromising our principles or philosophical heritage. It won't be achieved overnight but it's been a bloody good start. No doubt what I have said will be seen as heresy by those who belong to the scorched earth tendency in our Party, but do they really think there is an alternative? There isn't and we'd better all get used to it.