David Cameron: The to do listIt's been a pretty successful year for the leader of the Conservative party.
He's put the Conservatives into a consistent, if small, poll lead. he's rebrabded the party, changed it's public policy focus and been the subject of several hundred media profiles. His focus on women and minorities means that across the country, metropolitan, media savvy candidates, many of whom don't look like traditional tories, are being selected.
yet with that achieved there are some political headaches that Cameron has to address this year. With no apologies at all for focussing on the tough questions, here's my To Do list for david Cameron in 2007.
1. Gordon Brown.
The Cameron stategy has been to applaud Blair and undercut Brown on policy, with the more personal attacks coming from Osborne. The strategy has helped paint the Chancellor in starket colours, a process helped along by the Seven Days in September "coup attempt".
However it's less than six months before Chancellor Brown becomes Prime Minister Brown, and the cure and certain knowledge that Prime Minister Brown will unleash a new world of policy initiatives on the Country will pose tough challenges for the Conservatives.
Does Cameron set out his stall now, then face having to applaud his political opponent if he implements the idea? Does he accuse Brown of being negative and then look on as he acts positively?
I believe he has to go for the former, looking like he's setting the agenda. The only issue is, what should he actually propose?
Those policy commissions are going to be a head ache. many of them are going to propose policies that go against the thrust of Camerons leadership. What was Cameron thinking putting John Redwood in charge of competition policy, for example?
This cuts to the heart of the vacuum at the heart of Cameron's leadership. What is it for, other than the return of the Conservatives back in power. The Policy commission seem to have the sniff of pleasing all wings of the party at the same time, giving Cameron the space he needs to rebrand the party without having to fight it out on the tough ground.
That strategy works as long as Camron can show his party success. If you're leading by 5-10 points in the polls, you can claim that you need to drive change further. The issue is that if Labour catch up with a new leader, those policy battles become more important.
Ideally Cameron needs to have the key policy decisions taken before Brown becomes PM.
By the spring, he needs to be clearer on tax, on overall economic strategy, on spending in key areas, on what the impact of the "proceeds of growth rule" will be, what green taxes he's considering, what "devolving power" actually means in the NHS and Education, on Europe, on social justice (which Brown is certain to try and make his own) and on immigration, nationality and crime.
At the moment, the Conservative leader is in danger of being seen as a pale imitation of Tony Blair, with no real policy differentiation. That's fine in establishing moderation, but at some point the country has to look at an opposition leader and think- wha
3. Scotland and Wales.
The headache for the Conservatives is that while they seem to be doing well in southern england, they seem to be no-where in large sections on the North, and more specifically across almost all of Scotland and Wales.
While it's certain the Tories will make gains in the English local elections, how on earth can Cameron, a man whose contribution to the Scottish politcal debate has been to suggest that Scots should be disenfranchised at Westminster, make the party credible there?
What indeed is Conservatism in Scotland and Wales? Where is it relevant? What does it have to say to anybody about anything? This is a major challenge, and if cameron wakes up after the Welsh and Scottish elections with a party flatlining in the Parliament and the Assembly, he's in real trouble (even though the headlines will focus on Labour).
So Cameron needs to think what his agenda is here. Could he realistically let the Tories go for a low tax approach in Scotland while rejecting it in the UK. What is his position on the barnett formula? how does he sell his position on English votes to the scottish political establishment- or does he effectively cut off the party, accepting it's place as a minority player and focus on building a bigger lead in England? the same questions are faced with Wales, with the slight difference that the party seems to be in better fundamental shape.
The search for a Tory candidate for London mayor has been an embarassing failure.
The Tories cannot afford a bad london Mayoral campaign in 2008. They need to find an attractive, moderate, credible candidate prepared to give up about a year of their life to challenge Ken. That candidate has to do better than Steve Norris last time round. Where on earth is this creature?
Given that this has been the great success of Camerons first year it might seem odd to put this on the list. Yet cameron's image isn't stunning. His satisfaction ratings are on a par with good months for Howard or IDS and his dissatisfaction ratings are rising. There's also a limit as to how far he can go on sounbite policies. The Toriwes have notably dialled down the chocolate orange approach to policy, but what do they have to replace it with? They've doon decent work on terroriasm, but the Whitehall institutions around the Home office are not going to be the batteground on which the next electio is fought.
Secondly, While Camerons likeability ratings are good, he does much less well in test that measure whether he's seen as Prime Ministerial.
If I were a Tory strategist, I'd be worried if I was seen as only just as credible a PM as a man who isn't even leader of his party yet, and who, whatever personality ratings he might have wuill have the power of Number Ten to establish himself as a political leader.
To put it brutally the challenge here is to reposition cameorn from being "Pleasant, Nice, Fluffy, Vacuous, media friendly, vague" to being "Leader, strong, decisive, nice, pleasant". Yet if he's refusing to commit himself n policy issues in any substantial way, how is that process to happen?
So that's the challenges for Cameron.. next up... Ming;s merciless warriors!