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7 March 2012

Tim Montgomerie turns on Cameron

ConservativeHome editor says Cameron has been one of the "most disappointing" Tory leaders.

By George Eaton

For tomorrow’s New Statesman, I’ve interviewed and profiled Tim Montgomerie, the editor of ConservativeHome and the man who launched a political grenade at the government’s NHS bill last month.

I’ve known Tim since 2008 when I shared an office with him at PoliticsHome and have long admired him as one of the most thoughtful and perceptive figures on the right. As his support for gay marriage and wealth taxes (£) demonstrates, he’s also not afraid to take positions that might alienate some of his natural allies.

What struck me most when I met him for a coffee last week at Portcullis House was how critical he now is of David Cameron. Tim supported Cameron for the Tory leadership in 2005 but now says that he has been one of the “most disappointing Conservative leaders”.

He told me:

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Cameron is the guy who undertook the wrong kind of modernisation, then didn’t win an election that he should have won, then took us into a coalition, which is proving to be the biggest mistake of all three.

Rather than entering coalition, he believes that Cameron should have formed a minority government for a few months and then called another general election.”The Liberal Democrats are retoxifying the Conservative Party. We can’t do the things on growth and economic renewal that were necessary.”

I waited for him to qualify to his critique of Cameron or to offer some token words of praise but none came. Rather than creating a “right-wing party with a heart”, he said, Cameron had created a “centrist party with cuts”.

“The ‘big society’ has been a complete failure as a message from the Conservative Party to the British people. We needed a much earthier account of the conservative view of social progress.”

All of which, he said, explains “the journey” he is on. Once a supporter of a flat rate of income tax, he now believes in a “much more progressive tax system”. Only by shifting the burden of taxation away from earned income and towards unearned wealth (a change that the New Statesman supports) can the Conservatives prove that they are on the side of the strivers.

Formerly an opponent of devolution, he now favours the creation of a federal UK, with greater fiscal autonomy for Scotland and “English votes for English laws”, a reform that would amount to the creation of an English parliament within Westminster. As ever, psephological considerations play a part. Were non-English MPs excluded from voting on devolved issues, the Tories would be enjoying a “super-majority” of 63.

Such political calculations also explain Tim’s unconditional opposition to the NHS bill. As I put it in the piece, he is determined to bomb-proof the road to a Conservative majority. Right now, he said, the Tories on are track to “lose” the next election. It is a warning that Cameron should heed.