David Willetts highlights Cabinet's comms challenges at Conservative Party Conference

Senior Conservatives believe the party faces four key comms challenges ahead of the next general election, including stopping the Liberal Democrats from taking the credit for popular government policies.

David Willetts: minister for universities and science
David Willetts: minister for universities and science

David Willetts, minister for universities and science, revealed the Cabinet's thinking at this week's Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

At a fringe event, hosted by Populus, Willetts was confronted with polling data suggesting that David Cameron still has to win over many voters. Willetts responded: 'When we sit around the cabinet table and discuss this, there are three of four challenges that stick out.'

He said one key comms challenge was persuading people that 'things can be better for the younger generation'.

It is understood that Downing Street political strategy director Andrew Cooper recently presented Cameron with internal polling showing that many people had concerns about the Tories' ability to deliver on this issue.

Number 10 hopes that initiatives such as new affordable housing policies will address this, but Willetts acknowledged the scale of the concern. He said: 'The biggest single anxiety that people have is, "what kind of country are we passing on to our kids?"'

Willetts said a second challenge was dealing with 'a deep-seated anxiety about the direction in which our country is going'. Echoing the language used by Labour leader Ed Miliband, he said the Tories would address this by supporting a society based on 'something for something, not something for nothing'.

A third comms challenge for the Tories is being seen to get on with their collation partners. Cooper's internal polling has persuaded the PM that the public is especially keen to see decisions taken for the long term, rather than on ideological grounds. 'Two parties working together ... is the most eloquent way of responding to that need,' said Willetts.

But he added that the fourth challenge was addressing the perception that 'the Lib Dems are the good guys doing all the nice things and we are the bad guys who deliver the cuts'.

Insisting that top Conservatives were working closely with Deputy PM Nick Clegg on social mobility initiatives, Willetts said: 'It's very important for our party that people recognise our continuing commitment to social reform.'

Also read: Number 10 comms chiefs face 'strong arm' claims

 

THE POLLS SHOW ...

  • 48 per cent of people believe the coalition Government is doing well so far, compared with 59 per cent one year ago.
  • David Cameron is more highly regarded by the public than any other senior politician in the UK. However, his ratings have dipped over the past year, especially among women.
  • Most people believe the Government led by Cameron 'probably has a vision for the country that goes beyond reducing the deficit', but they do not know what that vision is.

Populus polled 1,053 adults in September 2011

IN NUMBERS

38.3 The public's rating of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

39.3 The public's rating of Labour leader Ed Miliband

39.8 The public's rating of Chancellor George Osborne

45.4 The public's rating of Prime Minister David Cameron

Source: Populus. Members of the public were asked to rate politicians on a scale of 0-100

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