John Woodcock: Cameron has lost his direction

Rumblings over whether there will be a challenge to David Cameron's leadership and the return of the Flashman label was not quite the re-entry Downing Street was planning after a summer of British triumph and a reshuffle to reassert Prime Ministerial authority.

John Woodcock: Cameron has ditched his 'centrist mantle'
John Woodcock: Cameron has ditched his 'centrist mantle'

Team Cameron will hope that the MPs he has promoted will give sufficient firepower to make up for the negative headlines, and that his new ministers will loyally refrain from turning their guns on him.

The latest poll from the excellent Peter Kellner of YouGov underlines the extent of the problem. The PM's approval ratings are now consistently below those of the man who wants his job (Ed Miliband that is, not to mention Boris). More worryingly, people think Cameron is bereft of ideas at a time when they are forlornly looking for genuine leadership.

Team Cameron has grasped successful governments need to have a clear story about what they want to achieve, and tangible examples of change. The problem is that it is proving inept at formulating either.

Ministers clearly hope that relaxing planning laws on extensions will prove eye-catching to key voters in the mould of Labour's car scrappage scheme. Yet if it has an impact at all, the policy may actually provoke little more than the fury of neighbours.

On the bigger picture, Number 10 and the Treasury framed the return from summer as yet another all-out push for growth - an 'Olympian' one this time. Yet the inevitable contrast with our triumphant sporting heroes only serves to highlight the fact Whitehall's competitors have failed to get off the economic starting block. Contradictions between ministers on how best to achieve growth radiates a toxic sense that this is a government that does not know what it is doing.

This lack of coherent identity emanates from Cameron himself, who has ditched his centrist mantle but is yet to find a compelling alternative voice.

A chillaxing Prime Minister who has lost his way is not the image the Tories will want to present to the country in 2015.

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

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