It has been posed here before, but the question remains – why aren’t the Conservatives doing better? One fundamental issue, in my opinion, is that the Conservatives have confused style with substance. Let me explain…
In the wake of the 2005 election, the Conservatives came to a realization. All the polling data showed that their policies were very popular, until they were attached to the Conservatives. Then they became unpopular. Essentially, the Conservative brand was toxic.
So David Cameron was elected leader with a mission to ‘decontaminate’ the brand. This involved posing with huskies, denouncing chocolate oranges and swapping the ‘torch of liberty’ logo for an oak tree drawn by a toddler. It also involved talking more about the quality of life and social justice, and less about the economy.
All of which was fine, to begin with. But at some point marketing started to determine policy positions. The point of decontaminating the brand, surely, was so the Conservatives could ‘sell’ smaller government to the electorate. But instead, the Conservatives decided to announce their unilateral economic disarmament, pledging to match Gordon Brown’s (profligate) spending plans. And unfortunately for them, they did this shortly before economic policy once again became the big issue.
To this day, the fundamental confusion remains, even among Conservative MPs and candidates. Are they in favour of a smaller state, or not? Are they going to reverse Gordon Brown’s tax increases, or aren’t they? Are they going to stop the government borrowing £20m per hour, 24/7, or are they going to carry on and hope the problem goes away?
Ultimately, this is why the slogan “vote for change" is uninspiring. Voters don’t know if there’s going to be any change at all. And if there is going to be change, voters don’t know what sort of change it is going to be.
Perhaps David Cameron should just take a leaf from Adam Smith’s book, and promise to deliver ‘peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice’. To borrow a phrase, that would be change we can believe in.