This is my column in the Telegraph today...
Successful politicians can not only make a silk purse out of a pig's ear but can also take advantage of any unexpected opportunities which come their way. And so it has proved with the Great Grammar School Farrago, which has dominated the past week of Tory politics. The original handling of the David Willetts speech was a disaster, but better for it to happen now, at the beginning of the policy formation process, than near an election. Lessons need to be learnt to improve the media and party management of the controversial policies which will be announced over the rest of the year.
In these circumstances, political leaders usually deploy diversionary tactics to take the issue out of the headlines. Revealingly, David Cameron did the opposite. He has kept the story going for a week. By doing so he regained control of the agenda. It was an adept piece of political footwork.
The long-term effects of this row are few. David Cameron has pushed many Tories to the edge of withdrawing their support, but by doing so he has underlined his mission to modernise all aspects of Tory policy. The party grassroots know, and he knows, that it will be done his way or not at all.
The real lesson from the grammar schools issue is that it has given David Cameron yet another opportunity to emphasise the changing nature of the Tory party. I believe this will be the running theme of any policy announcements which emerge after the various policy commissions report their findings later in the year. In each policy area, Cameron will want to pick out one aspect that will reinforce his message of change. It was described to me as the "mouthwash" approach - a change in each area to eliminate the bad taste of the past.
We already know that on the economy the old Tory shibboleth of cutting taxes has been ruled out in favour of my most hated political mantra, "sharing the proceeds of growth". On the environment we're being encouraged to "Vote Blue Go Green" and will be taxed more on frequent flying. In foreign affairs there has been subtle distancing of the party from the special relationship with the US. Social mobility and social justice have overtaken economic reform in Conservative priorities.
In transport, Chris Grayling has already hinted at the joining together of the running of the tracks and trains. What better sign of change than a repudiation of this key aspect of rail privatisation?
Incredible though it may seem, health policy is an area in which the Conservatives are ahead in the polls for the first time since 1948, without actually having the benefit of any real policy. The last thing David Cameron should do is saddle himself with detailed policy in this area, two years in advance of an election. The antipathy towards Patricia Hewitt and the way the Conservative Party has supported the junior doctors recently has given Andrew Lansley a real chance to build support. For the first time in decades, many in the NHS truly believe that it can be safe in Conservative hands - a considerable achievement. This may be an area where no "mouthwash" is needed.
The only areas apparently impervious to Cameronisation - home affairs and defence - are coincidentally handled by the two most high-profile Right-wingers in the Shadow Cabinet:David Davis and Liam Fox. Davis has been given more or less a free hand to develop policy and so far Cameron's kids have kept their scooters off his lawn but, even so, he has written a pamphlet with his immigration spokesman Damian Green on the economic benefits of migration.
It is in defence where David Cameron could re-engage the supporters he has alienated in other areas. Clear commitments to increase the defence budget, to supply our troops with the equipment they need to do their jobs, to halt the decline of the Navy, Army and Air Force and to improve the quality of life of service personnel are eminently achievable. Liam Fox has already made a start with his work on the quality of housing - or lack of it - for our armed forces.
Pensions, local government and the machinery of government all provide excellent opportunities for David Cameron to demonstrate how the party has changed. But they are all equally opportunities for a row with the grassroots. The tremendous work being done by the policy commissions will present David Cameron with all sorts of policy nuggets to choose from; the lesson from the grammar schools speech is that their work must not be pre-empted.
There is no Clause 4 moment for David Cameron, but there are plenty of "mini clause 4s" which, added together, achieve the same thing.