Friday, July 06, 2007
Telegraph Column: Weathering the Brown Storm
After a fortnight of remorseless battering, Tory MPs at last have a spring in their step. Gordon Brown's lacklustre performance at PMQs on Wednesday proved to them that the new Prime Minister is far from infallible. One Tory MP walked out of the chamber clenching his fist and shouting "Game on"!
On their own, one dodgy performance by Brown and one good performance by David Cameron mean nothing, but perception is everything in politics, and if these performances are repeated in the three remaining PMQs before the summer recess, Brown's honeymoon will be over almost before it has begun.
Brown had an impressive debut week as PM. Until PMQs, he had hit the right note, both in his response to the terror attacks and his reshuffle. It wasn't until his statement on constitutional issues that the wheels started to come off, and all because he reverted to type.
Forget all the consensual, government of all the talents guff: leopards do not change their spots and politicians who try to be something they patently are not get found out. Cameron's strategy of watching with wry amusement as the New Gordon Brown was marketed to the nation was right. But now he has drawn blood, he should go in for the kill.
Just as Brown is considered a control freak, Cameron is seen to be "policy-lite". In fact, it is Cameron's biggest PR failure that he has allowed this perception to fester: there is actually a raft of policies that Cameron himself has announced.
These policies include the setting up of a pensions lifeboat fund, a 3p reduction in business taxes, the abolition of stamp duty on shares, no more closures of special schools, a Bill on NHS independence, abolishing many NHS targets, reducing carbon emissions, the abolition of ID cards, the introduction of border police, a Bill of Rights, scrapping the council tax revaluation, a referendum on the new EU treaty… you get the picture.
Next week, Iain Duncan Smith's social justice commission will publish its report and the following week David Cameron will publish the globalisation commission report while on a trip to Rwanda, while 40 Tory MPs, candidates and officials will work on 20 "social responsibility projects" throughout the country.
The public services, economic competitiveness, security and environment commissions will all report by the middle of September. Hundreds of people have been involved in working on these policy groups and they are producing work of real substance.
Over the summer, the findings of all the commissions will be analysed by Oliver Letwin's team, and the party will have the opportunity to debate them at conference. A website will contain all the policy recommendations and a forum to allow party supporters to debate the findings. In November, final decisions will be made on which policies will form the basis of a full manifesto.
An interesting, but little commented-on, aspect of David Cameron's shadow cabinet reshuffle was the appointment of William Hague and Francis Maude to roles in policy development. Maude's "enforcer" role is an important one, for it is he who will develop a strategy for implementing policy when in government.
Once Cameron has cherry-picked the recommendations, it will be Maude's job to ensure that the shadow cabinet gets to grips with them quickly.
It is clear that Cameron is gearing up for an election. Caroline Spelman's appointment shows that the role of party chairman will become more political and less organisational. This is balanced by the return of two former officials, Stephen Gilbert and Gavin Barwell.
Their re-emergence will be welcomed by party agents and campaigners. They will continue to plan the target-seats campaign with Lord Ashcroft, whose remit has also been widened to focus on building a campaigning organisation.
Normal politics won't resume until after the party conferences. By then, we will have a much better idea of the policy and election battleground.