Opinion: Cameron's gimmicks reek of Number 10

David Cameron must have cursed his decision to place an 'exclusive' pre-conference interview with The Sunday Telegraph, not only because of the way the paper spun the story, but because it printed the article alongside a poll in which the Tories were neck-and-neck with Labour.

How could it be that a Labour Party now so obsessed with infighting is still looking good for an historic fourth term?

For the answer you must look at the most important poll of all - the one that shows where the electorate place politicians (and themselves) in the left-right spectrum. The vast majority claim to be in the middle, along with Tony Blair. Gordon Brown is seen to be 20 points to the left, which explains his rightward shift of late. But Cameron - despite all his efforts - is still seen as 34 points to the right, and his party off the radar.

No wonder Cameron used his first conference speech, and a plethora of media interviews this week, to state that he was firmly in the centre ground. Of course, William Hague, IDS and Michael Howard all said the same, but ultimately they went for the core Tory vote. Yet Cameron is different: he really wants to win. However, one can see him under growing pressure to make policy commitments that could upset his party.

For this reason he is right to keep these to a minimum. His team of aides commissioned research following the last election, which showed that people rejected Conservative policies not because they were inherently against them, but because they came from ‘the Tories'. It showed a seriously tarnished brand.

If all his critics can say about Cameron is that he is ‘all style and no substance' then he shouldn't worry. The media are simply desperate to pick over some meat, preferably on tax. They did exactly the same with Labour and the party led them a right merry dance before making public, less than a year before polling day, its plans.

What is going less well is the Cameron team's obsession with stunts and gimmicks. The Cameron blog announcement, the ‘renovation project' in Bournemouth and the Cameron family portrait are reminiscent of the thinking still coming out of Number 10. Is it any wonder that two thirds of voters think Cameron is trying too hard to copy Tony Blair?

Cameron needs to come up with a different strategy because him simply saying ‘I'm not Tony Blair' will undoubtedly be of the greatest benefit to Gordon Brown.
charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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