Charlie Whelan: Cameron is avoiding the policy quandary

The latest opinion polls continue to have the Tories well ahead of Labour, but can you name a serious new policy announcement since David Cameron took over the leadership?

This makes the Conservative’s change in fortunes even more remarkable.  Indeed, the leader is far more successful in getting positive media coverage when he actively avoids political issues.

Many PROs would have been racking their brains last week on how to use Father’s Day to get their clients’ messages across. But Tory Central Office came up with the best scam of the lot, placing a piece ‘by David Cameron’ in The Sunday Times. It was full of gushing family references, ensuring headlines such as ‘My family comes before Number 10’ and ‘Cameron urges fathers to share in birth magic’. The stories were inevitably combined with earlier photos of Cameron carrying his new sprog in a sling.

I can’t think of any leader who has been so ruthless in using his family to promote his politics since, er, Tony Blair. Sure, Tony had his ‘clause 4 moment’ and put ‘New’ in front of Labour, but he never missed a trick when it came to promoting the family image. Perhaps the most memorable occasion was the ‘accidental’ family portrait mug Blair grasped at a Downing Street photocall. Chancellor Gordon Brown remains far more careful in ‘using’ his boy for publicity.

There have been media mutterings about Cameron’s ‘shallow’ agenda and his reliance on the photo op, but the public still seem to lap it up. As a former PR man, he is well aware that the Tories’ image was at rock bottom when he took over. He is also smart enough to realise that he won’t improve that image by coming up with loads of new policies. No, he’s safer ditching old, unpopular ones and rebuilding people’s trust in the party.

Again, Blair did the same, providing plenty of memorable photo opportunities after being elected to Downing Street in 1997 – for example, playing keepy-uppy with Kevin Keegan on the back lawn of his official residence, and speaking fondly of the ‘People’s Princess’.

There will come a time when the Tories will need to come up with new policies, but there’s no rush. Cameron knows new policies will go down a lot better if the party is a little more popular. His private polling has shown that many previous policies were supported by the public until they realised they were Tory ones.

His immediate challenge, therefore, remains the media image.

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