December 3, 2006


Verdict: Not bad for Year One: Frank Luntz is the renowned American pollster who first identified David Cameron as a likely winner. On the anniversary of Cameron's election as Conservative leader, Luntz stages a special focus group for The Sunday Telegraph to assess his progress. The results were intriguing (Melissa Kite, 12/03/06, Sunday Telegraph)

At the beginning of the session, he tests the political water. There is widespread disenchantment with the Government. Ashok Aggerwall, 52, a project manager who voted Labour in 2005, says: "What New Labour promised and what has been delivered are two very separate things."

Tony Blair is described as a "liar; power hungry; Mrs Bush; can't make his mind up". When Luntz asks what people think of Gordon Brown, it is like pulling teeth. "We don't really know him; we don't know what he stands for," is the repeated complaint. Eventually they describe the Chancellor as "solid; robust; dominating; dour".

By contrast, Mr Cameron provokes a torrent of contrasting opinions. He is: "family man; posh; English; nice but dim; quasi cyclist; highly intelligent; cheerful; unknown quantity; slick; interesting; directionless; PR friendly".

As the group elaborates, the comments become more flattering. Jane Broadfoot, 46, a public service worker who voted Lib Dem at the last election, said: "He's very eloquent. I'm warming to him. He's reduced the capital C in Conservatism to a small c."

Diana Hamilton, 50, a director who voted Tory last time, says: "He has great clarity."

Nazanine, 31, a television journalist who voted Lib Dem in 2005, says: "He's providing the first credible opposition to Labour in years." [...]

Something stark is becoming apparent: Cameron is inspiring the most admiration among those who usually tend towards Labour, the Lib Dems or minority parties or who didn't vote at the last election. He provokes the most critical comments from those who most frequently vote Tory. [...]

It is time to ask people whether they would back him. If there were an election tomorrow, with Cameron pitted against Brown and Ming Campbell, five say they would vote Labour, three Liberal Democrat, two independent or green, and seven Conservative. The new Tories include Jane, who describes herself as a staunch Labour supporter who voted Lib Dem in 2005.

Of those who tend towards the Tories usually but who do not like Mr Cameron much, two say they will vote Lib Dem rather than for him, one says he will not vote at all. But even with this Right-wing disenchantment, in our survey at least, Cameron has still won.

Tony Blair asks a very revealing question (Matthew d'Ancona, 03/12/2006, Sunday Telegraph)
[I]n spite of all the polls that suggest Mr Cameron would open up an even bigger lead over Labour were Mr Brown to succeed Mr Blair, the Tory leader and his allies are cautious. "It's unknowable," one said to me. "We're just not convinced." This is wise. The Chancellor has waited 12 years for this moment, and the notion that he is going to let another charismatic English public schoolboy steal the crown from him is sorely mistaken.

Mr Brown also disapproves of Mr Cameron's supposed "Brideshead politics" and "libertarianism" with a distaste that has never afflicted Mr Blair. The Prime Minister tends to cuff Mr Cameron with an indulgent wink, as if he were an insolent young pup, a cocky young apprentice getting too big for his boots. But Mr Brown (he of the Big Clunking Fist) wants to suspend the Tory leader by his ankles from Traitor's Gate and say: "So: where's your glacier now, laddie? Where's your fancy wind turbine now? Hmmm?"

The Tory leader will be heartened by Mr Luntz's findings today. He should also take comfort from the YouGov poll in Friday's Daily Telegraph, which found that 71 per cent of Tory voters think he is taking the party in the right direction. This suggests that, for all the hostility and bewilderment that some of his reforms have triggered in the Conservative rank-and-file, he broadly retains the faith of the Tory core vote.

Beyond that, he should not be afraid of lifting his horizons and matching Mr Brown as a visionary and a prospective national leader. It is not enough to make us all believe that the Tories are, or were all along, really nice people. To win office, he needs to make the electorate feel that his vision matches the needs of the hour (remember Thatcher) and that his responses to the great global challenges of our era are more impressive than Mr Brown's.

To be fair, the Tory leader has talked consistently about climate change from day one, and with much greater passion than the Chancellor. He has spoken in the past of "the price of progress": the sacrifices that a society must make to transform itself for the better, to remain secure and safe. I think the public respond well to such candour, when the difficulty of change is made clear to them (look at the success of Senator John McCain's "Straight Talk America" campaign). The Tory leader should not be afraid to challenge the voters, as well as to woo them.

Mr Cameron won the Conservative leadership with a tour de force performance at the Tory conference in October 2005. Now, I gather, he can hardly bear to watch recordings of that speech. That is a measure of how far he has travelled and how much he has learned in the past year. He is not yet on course to win, but he is definitely not on course to lose either, which for the Conservative Party is a considerable step forward. For the first time in more than a decade, the race is indeed wide open.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 3, 2006 10:21 AM

"... another charismatic English public schoolboy..."
What with the snooty British upper class elitism and the peculiar mating habits of the Royals, it's good we cut ourselves loose from this freak show 200+ years ago.

Posted by: jd watson at December 3, 2006 5:04 PM