John Woodcock: Tories need to be the people's party

After the shambles, the relaunch. But that fell to pieces too.

John Woodcock: Tories need to be the people's party
John Woodcock: Tories need to be the people's party

David Cameron took to the airwaves this week in an attempt to draw a line under what has been the worst spell of his leadership, a period in which the media have seen fit to search for new words to encapsulate the all-compassing nature of the Government's multiple screw-ups.

This was a relaunch that followed a time-honoured pattern: the Prime Minister didn't call it a relaunch (the media always do, the politicians always claim they are just getting on with their job); he did a partial mea culpa designed to leave the fundamentals intact ('We did the right thing but got the presentation wrong'), and he tried to use his personal appeal.

But in this business, when things are going badly they tend to snowball.

The PM was already on weak ground when he had to publicly insist that he is in touch with people's concerns, rather than just showing that to be the case.

But it is challenging to imagine a more damaging way to derail his claim to be a man of the people than one of his own MPs publicly calling him an 'arrogant posh boy who doesn't know the price of milk'.

While Nadine Dorries may be unique and her timing explosive, Number 10 needs to understand why she hit home so effectively if it is to get back on track.

Partly, Dorries articulated a widely felt concern that the current crop of ministers just don't get it: they don't understand people's lives and are only interested in standing up for the few at the top. Ed Miliband took an early decision to use every opportunity to brand the Tories as out of touch. He was absolutely right to do so.

But an equally important reason why the Government is getting blown about is that people now doubt ministers know what they want to do, or how to do it.

When strong governments try to draw a line and move on, they usually succeed.

Only two years into its programme, this is increasingly looking like a weak government that is not the master of its own destiny. Ministers urgently need to regain a sense of direction.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown.

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