When Mr Cameron makes his speech today welcoming the Coalition’s decisions so far and saying what they wish to do next, he intends to tell Conservatives that they should be happy with what is being achieved. We are told he will acknowledge ” Conservative frustrations” about the Coalition, but say that this is a radical reforming government which will do many good things.
It is true they are busy reforming welfare, schools and some other public services. So why are some rank and file Conservatives so unhappy that they are worth a special briefing by the Prime Minister’s team to reassure them? The Prime Minister’s own message to Conservatives who say they now do not want to vote Conservative is “I think I understand why you’re frustrated and I want to try and win you back”. Will this new speech do the trick?
There are two main reasons why some Conservative grassroots members are unhappy or have gone elsewhere - Europe and money.
Conservatives want to be out of the EU altogether, or want a new relationship based on trade and co-operation where the UK can always say “No” if it disagrees with a proposal. They are unhappy that many more powers have gone to Brussels thanks to the ever more energetic legislative programme pouring forth from the EU, unhappy with decisions of both the ECJ and the unrelated European Human Rights Court, unhappy about unlimited EU migration, concerned about EU judicial powers, dislike the scale of the EU budget and much else besides. They want a referendum now on whether to stay in or not.
Here Mr Cameron is in no position to deliver what they want. As leader of a Eurosceptic party without a majority in a more federalist Parliament, he does not have the votes for decisive action over the EU. Much is riding on his speech. He has to strain to use what power he has as a Coalition Prime Minister to point the country more rapidly and firmly towards a new relationship with the EU, and set out how as a Conservative Prime Minister after 2015 he would rapidly bring this about.
When it comes to the money, he has much more scope to do as Conservatives wish. Many in the party feel the government needs to do more to be on the side of the strivers, the prudent, the hard working. If you drive or go by train to work you are taxed and charged to death for daring to travel. If you earn more you are taxed heavily on your success. If you make a capital gain you pay 10% more than under Labour. If you are in the middle income you move more rapidly from 20% to 40% tax, and more rapdily lose your in work benefits. When you need to burn energy you have to pay the price of the energy policies being pursued.
The government can say it is now cancelling Labour’s fuel duty rises, seeking to exploit cheaper energy,has taken many people out of Income Tax altogether, and has kept the cap on train fare rises the same as Labour’s.
If the deficit had been removed and the debts were under control Conservatives would be happier. Some Conservatives are worried at just how much extra current spending continues under this government. The government promised to eliminate the deficit in one Parliament. Now it will take almost two Parliaments. They said in opposition Conservative MPs would be queueing up by mid term to demand an end to the cuts. Instead Conservative MPs are queueing up to demand cuts to overseas aid, cuts to EU budget contributions, cuts to automatic benefit entitlement for recently arrived EU migrants, cuts to public sector employees earning far more than the Prime Minister, cuts to the still over mighty quangos and nationalised industries, cuts to expensive energy generation, and much else besides.
Mr Cameron is right to want the Conservative party to be proud of the government he leads. Some grassroots members of the Conservative party and some defectors say in response they want the government to do as it promised – eliminate the deficit, promote a vigorous recovery, and create prosperity based on private sector revival. That will take mended banks, a tax system that rewards enterprise, and a benefit system that is generous to those in need but not open to all regardless of their circumstance. I wish him well with the task. I am sure it is one he wishes to bring about, so his critics should understand he does want what they want. Following his speech about the Coalition, the speech on the EU and a speech on the future has to start to set out how a Conservative government would make a bigger difference faster.