There is no doubt that not winning the general election last year was a big blow for David Cameron, and the Conservative Party as a whole. Failing to gain a majority meant that Cameron’s big plans for changing the country had to be rethought. It was not going to be as plain-sailing as he thought. With the Coalition came compromises, reforms changed and put on hold, and reforms previously considered unnecessary suddenly front and centre – think the AV referendum, or the attempt to reform the House of Lords.
This seems to have had somewhat of a damaging effect on David Cameron’s leadership. There seems to be a sense, coming from Number 10 particularly, that it is better to hold back on major policy changes until 2015, when the hope is that the Conservatives will have won that much coveted majority.
There are two ways to look at this, and consequently two ways the situation could pan out. The first – the ideal situation for the Tories – is that they win a majority in 2015, shed the Lib Dems who are holding them back and push forward with serious reforms. All the policies that currently have the start date for change set for 2015 will come into force, and the party will push reforms on multiple fronts. Cameron will be hailed as a great reforming Prime Minister, and will help to reform some of the country’s most incomplete policies and systems.
The alternative is that, come 2015, the electorate have run out of patience with a Prime Minister who promises great reform but never delivers because he is tied into a Coalition, and is afraid of rocking the boat. Cameron’s five-year reign at the helm of the Coalition will be remembered as a time when he promised a lot but delivered little; when he became too tied down with Coalition debates to push on with important reform; and when he over-confidently thought he would be granted another term by the public.
It is, of course, impossible to tell at this stage which way the next election will go. There are still four years, and a lot could happen. The Coalition has promised great reforms, but to be effective it needs some of them to happen sooner rather than later. Whilst spending cuts are becoming more noticeable, the transforming reforms are still a future event, much lauded but not much seen.
The move from inside No.10 to hold out for a majority in 2015 is a gamble, and one that has a strong chance of backfiring. There are four years to go, not one. There is a lot of governing still to be done, and a lot of time for things to change. Tory backbenchers – not afraid to speak their minds – will become more and more frustrated and impatient. Rebellious votes within the Tories are already extremely high, and as frustration grows, these will become more frequent events.
David Cameron must not assume that he will win in 2015. He must make decisions and changes now. The proposals the Coalition are making are far-reaching and transforming – transforming systems that are desperately out of date, and have slipped far below where they should be. But as long as Cameron holds off on the big changes until he has a big majority, he will look weak and afraid. He is – Coalition or not – in charge. He is the Prime Minister, and he has a majority, even if it is not as strong as he would like.
For the sake of Cameron’s reputation and the Conservative Party, it is important that the next four years are a time of reform and of progress, not of stagnation and of treading water. Leaders who tread water for too long sink quicker than they expect. The time for David Cameron to act is not, not in 2015.