George Osborne is right – but can he deliver the argument more widely?

Stephan Shakespeare, Tim Montgomerie and Nick Denys have all written essential posts this week. They are all, in their own way, expressions of things we have been saying here endlessly – so what do they mean?

The most striking thing is that it is evident that Conservative detox hasn’t worked sufficiently.

The next striking thing is that there is still an argument within the Conservative Party over what A Conservative is.

The final striking thing is that if we don’t get this sorted – and pretty quickly – we’re stuffed.

I think Tim is right that we have to be able to explain an essential (as in, essence of) view of what Conservatism is. I think Stephan is right that there has to be a balance between the necessary/forced upon us and the soul of what we are doing. I think Nick is right that we need to ensure that Conservatism is about shared values and experiences.

Having said all that, here is where no-one seems to understand the scale of the problem we as Conservatives face.

As I have said before, people are no longer blaming Labour for the economic crisis (however fair or unfair that is) – Ed Balls and Ed Miliband were 2 points ahead on the economy in the Sunday Times’ poll last weekend.

As I have said before, people see what Conservatives take a stand on in public – and they see tax cuts for the very rich, they see prevarication over what happened when (the Brooks horse is the classic example, but even over poor Nancy getting left behind in a pub, they kept having to correct the story).

And as I have said before, people also see a focus on what they feel are the wrong things – there really isn’t enough focus on the cost of living, for example – and not enough boosting and talking up of the good things (there’s a great story to tell on education, on welfare, on housing; there’s getting to be a good one on jobs, there will be a good one on public services that serve the public, and there could be a good one on opening up government – both to make it easier to deal with and better at delivering what it has to – if anyone would sit down and just bang heads together until the things that were promised are done).

It is of course very easy for me to sit here complaining about all this. It surely can’t be fun being in the government and having to deal with all the myriad problems that get fixed before we even hear about them; so we only really see the tip of the iceberg of hideousness. But.

Even George Osborne, speaking at the Times’ CEO summit yesterday, realises that the case has to be made.  But it has to be made in the right way – as James Chapman said this morning:

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The 50p cut means nothing other than unfairness to most people in the UK. It doesn’t say to the people we need to vote for us, we’re on your side.  We have to be concerned about ordinary people, not just the few who have access to ministers to bend their ears about their own self-interest.

So – beyond getting a grip on the politics and delivery of what they’re up to – the government also must understand that, as the seminal Policy Exchange Northern Lights report, poll after poll after poll, and every conversation with almost everyone I know who doesn’t work in politics show, they have got to explain what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and – crucially – how and why it will make a difference.

As Tim Montgomerie also says this morning, the Conservatives can win the next election. But they’ve got to get a lot right between now and then.

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