Tory revival stalls on economic uncertainty

At last David Cameron has said something on the economy - as reflected in the Financial Times's lead story 'Stability before tax cuts' on Monday - but it was far from a PR coup.

I've already written here about Rupert Murdoch's 'representative on earth' - the economist Irwin Stelzer - giving young Cameron the thumbs down earlier this year.

Now Stelzer's boss has come out and done the same. On the same day as the FT story, Murdoch told the BBC that Cameron - who he revealed he had met 'a couple of times' - still needs to come up with a real alternative to Labour.

To many, including the co-chair of its new economics taskforce, John Redwood, the leader just hasn't given enough thought to handling the most important media issue of all.

Cameron has so far done a brilliant job negating many of the Tories' negatives and clearly feels the big policy decisions can wait a while.

But the media are increasingly asking: what is the point of voting for the Tories if their policies are seen to be exactly the same as Labour's?

When they were in opposition, Blair and Brown ensured that at every opportunity they talked up 'the dividing lines' between the Tories and Labour - even when there really weren't any.

And Cameron has another problem. As I wrote at the start of the year, there were early signs of revolt from within Tory ranks, albeit on the letters page of The Daily Telegraph. But since his statements on grammar schools, the leader pages are now also showing signs of discontent.

So at the same time as Cameron was launching his economic policy, he had to respond to a Telegraph report that three out of four Tory voters opposed his position on grammar schools. Some may think this does not matter much - after all Blair had similar problems. But it was on the economy that Blair and Brown worked hardest - and they worked at it a good deal longer than Cameron has left before the next election.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne continues to spin the line that Brown is 'the roadblock to reform', but this claim lacks credibility when applied to a Chancellor who has made substantial economic reforms since 1997 and clearly still has a few up his sleeve. It is as weak as the infamous 'demon eyes' claim by the Tories about Blair, which simply fell flat on its face.

Osborne's contribution to the debate so far has been the idea of a 'flat tax'. But Cameron will simply be flattened by Brown if he doesn't kill that and come up with something better than 'economic stability'.

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