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24 March 2015

Cameron’s loose lips won’t cost the Tories the election – but his silence just might

David Cameron is under fire for revealing he won't stand for a third term. But it isn't even his biggest mistake this month.

By Stephen Bush

Is David Cameron’s candid admission that he won’t seek a third term in Downing Street his greatest mistake of the election campaign? Come off it. This isn’t even his greatest mistake in March.

Remember Lord Bates, the Conservative minister who said that the children of immigrants – kids born in Britain – should be counted in the immigration statistics? He argued that these children showed why tighter controls needed to be placed on migration. 

The problem with Lord Bates’ logic is: where does it end? Are the grandchildren of migrants not proper Brits either? What about their great-grandchildren. It all comes back to the Conservatives’ biggest electoral problem: that ethnic minorities, even those which are personally affluent, distrust the party and are unlikely to vote for them. It cost the party a majority in 2010 and could do even more damage in the years to come. And it contributes to the toxicity of the Tory brand; the party is now so hated that none of the SNP, Greens or Plaid Cymru will even contemplate an alliance with them in the House of Commons.

Lord Bates gave Cameron an opportunity – he could have sacked a junior minister and sent a message that he was a genuinely different kind of Conservative. Instead, he went silent.

Elections are won and lost as much on what doesn’t happen as what does. But news, by definition, is set by what happens. So “David Cameron does nothing to improve the Tory brand among city-dwellers, ethnic minorities and Scots” isn’t a headline  but  “David Cameron triggers a few days of arid speculation about the  Conservative leadership”  is. Regardless, it is the former, rather than the latter, that is really hurting the Conservative party. 

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