How Cameron cements his legacy: a holiday to-do list

Written by George Pascoe-Watson on 3 August 2015 in Opinion
Opinion
As the PM embarks on his summer break, the time spent relaxing will be minimal as he lays out his battle plan to occupy the centre-ground

David Cameron’s got his hands full on his summer holidays: figuring out how to cement the Conservatives as THE party of government for the 21st century.

Most of us kick back when we hit the beach, put away our Blackberries and dis-engage our brains.

But the PM will be in Cornwall, Portugal and the Inner Hebrides plotting nothing short of the ultimate legacy for his party.

Mr Cameron is rightly proud of the fact that on May 7 he made the Tories re-electable after nearly 20 years of failure.

He believes his party is now seen as the credible party of government today.

But he has a huge “to do” list to govern the centre ground for a century and make it impossible for Labour to push the Tories into the margins ever again.

And that’s his ambition.

That’s his legacy.

The Premier is planning to lay out his plans in his party conference speech in early October in Manchester.

The thinking begins as he packs his swimming trunks.

There are things he must tackle to achieve this.

Between now and Christmas there’s an astonishing list of thorny problems to address, and get right.

The Labour leadership battle will conclude at the end of September.

Mr Cameron is convinced that whoever gets the job is unlikely to last – but much more importantly, his reaction and strategy to tackle the new Opposition leader must be done well.

That leader will have his or her chances directly affected by the success or failure of the Conservative machine’s strategy.

Public sector expenditure isn’t just a few words in a Budget or comprehensive spending review.

The very, very painful negotiations will take place in the coming weeks and months. Blood will definitely be spilled, and cuts will be brutal.

“There will be huge hits”, said one advisor in the Treasury. Getting the politics of this right internally as well as externally will matter.

There’s the constant and growing problem of ISIS.

In December the PM will go to a European council meeting of EU leaders. There he’ll hope to bag the beginnings of a meaningful renegotiation of Britain’s membership.

The last such meeting was overtaken by events which denied him any chance of going into bat.

And there’s Heathrow.

A decision to endorse Sir Howard Davies’ airport expansion recommendation by awarding a third runway to the world’s busiest airport has yet to be taken.

As one aide says, “there’s plenty in the in-tray”.

Beyond the immediate, there’s also strategic.

How do you cement the Conservative Party’s grip on the centre ground?

Mr Cameron has already done a lot of thinking on this.

How about the Tories turn the NHS away from being net negative to positive?

To being in a situation where he finishes his second (and last) term in government having achieved what many think is the impossible?

For there to be zero doubt about the NHS in Tory hands.

How does the Conservative Party stop being labelled as the “party of the rich”? How does the PM ensure the nation naturally looks to the Tories to run the country?

What about Europe?

The PM and his Chancellor are convinced that the Party has learned lessons, valuable ones, from its recent past.

“People need to be wary about writing the script too early on the EU referendum”, says one minister close to the process.

“Yes, there are significant challenges and it won’t be easy. But the PM won’t be sucked into a narrative of catastrophic meltdown.

“He won’t get sidelined into the squabbling.”

The two men running the government believe it’s perfectly possible to renegotiate Britain’s membership terms and conditions and bring their Party with them.

Party conference will provide the first test of that confidence.

And this is on the Premier’s mind as he prepares his speech and his strategy.

His appeal will be to the heads and the hearts.

The Conservative Party stands at the crossroads of a historic opportunity. Get it right and it will rule Britain for another 100 years.

Position itself as the natural party of government, trusted by all the people because it has something for everyone, and it will deserve to hold the centre ground.

Lose its head over membership of the EU, and a Labour Party with a fresh lease of life will march onto that hallowed turf.

And what a crazy world that would be, he will say.

The Labour leadership battle shows one alarming thing to the PM’s mind: that there are still a significant number of Brits who believe that spending too much money is never a bad thing.

So Mr Cameron believes this is an opportunity for his party – to focus relentlessly on rebuilding an economy which proves the free market works for all.

Win this battle, and you may just win the war.

 

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