It's time for the Tories to go beyond deficit reduction

Cameron must use his speech this week to promote growth and job creation.

Over the next week, David Cameron will want to portray an image of strong leadership and firm resolution to the party and to the country. They will want to be reassured that the Government has a grip on the multi-faceted social and economic issues that the UK faces. And he will need to make clear that the Government understands the day to day concerns of ordinary people and is prepared to take decisive action to meet these concerns.

He also faces the challenge of broadening the Conservative appeal and moving the party's message from a negative one of deficit reduction to a more positive one of economic growth and job creation.

More than anything else, this week's Conservative conference, and David Cameron's speech in particular, needs to spell out what the Government's plans are to boost jobs and deliver growth.

Twelve months ago, when the Conservatives met in Birmingham, there was a feeling that implementing a deficit reduction plan had got the hard economic spadework out of the way. Now, with stuttering growth and rising unemployment, it is becoming clear that a deficit reduction plan is only a small, albeit necessary, part of an economic strategy.

The Tories will need to reassure the party faithful and the country at large that they have a coherent plan for growth and job creation and that the UK is well placed to ride out the continuing global crisis. Cameron will need to set out a passionate belief in reforming the economy to create jobs and tackle economic insecurity.

Such a plan for growth needs to include bold measures to encourage enterprise and job creation, further develop infrastructure, and pursue bold reforms to the planning system and the labour market. The Government also needs to take more radical steps to reform welfare and increase incentives to work, through promoting more conditionality and reciprocity in the system.

A conference focused on jobs would help the Conservatives address one of their fundamental political difficulties. Recent research for Lord Ashcroft showed that only 27 per cent of voters polled believe that the Conservatives are "on the side of ordinary people." The party needs to set out that it is on the side of ordinary people and will be taking measures to address their everyday concerns.

By setting out a strategy for jobs, Conservatives will begin to reach out to the ordinary voter worried about job security and the rising cost of living. Emphasising job creation and measures to help low and middle income earners squeezed by the economic situation would help Cameron to show that his Government is in touch with the real concerns of ordinary voters.

Whilst showing that he understands the needs of ordinary voters and is taking measures to boost growth, the Prime Minister must also carve out a more hopeful and positive message, against a difficult backdrop. He needs to make clear what the Government is doing to change the country for the better and that his party remains a positive and progressive one.

This might include setting out how reforms, in education for example, will improve outcomes for those from more deprived backgrounds. He also has to make clear that progressive reforms, from the pupil premium to gay marriage, aren't just Liberal Democrat inspired.

This party conference isn't set against an easy political or economic backdrop for the Conservatives. It is, however, their chance to set out a positive vision, with a broad appeal, of growth, reform and greater opportunity.

David Skelton is deputy director of Policy Exchange

 

David Skelton is the director of Renewal, a new campaign group aiming to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party to working class and ethnic minority voters. @djskelton

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.