In the Race to No.10, Cameron’s F1 Car is Losing to a Used Mondeo

Do not say you were not warned. Whatever the result of the general election, there is one thing of which we can be certain. In a few weeks' time, we shall be subjected to an outpouring of gloating from many who, emboldened with hindsight, will insist that they had been right all along.

They will say with absolute authority that Ed Miliband/David Cameron (delete where applicable) never stood a chance of winning before listing, at length and without any regard for anyone’s patience, the reasons behind each leader's failures and successes.

The reality is that we already know the qualities and characteristics of the leaders and their respective parties, so there’s little need to wait until after May 7.

Barring some unexpected shift in the polls, we are heading for a hung parliament. The result will be decided not by a judgement on who has performed best during the last five years, but on who has the nerve, guile and skill to form a workable government.

Cameron's failure to put himself in a more dominant position smacks of incompetence

The autopsy of the campaigns would start by asking why the Tories have failed to turn an advantageous position in government into an election winner. Right now, they are like an F1 team at the grand prix which, despite having best driver and the fastest car, runs the risk of being beaten by a second-hand Ford Mondeo. 

There were many reasons why David Cameron failed to win outright in 2010 — winning would have a required a swing even greater than Tony Blair’s in 1997 — but his failure to put himself in a more dominant position this time smacks almost of incompetence. His comments this week ruling out more than two terms in office and naming of three possible successors has reinforced the perception of his slightly shambolic approach to the job.

The Tories should be reaping the rewards of incumbency, especially the benefit of having a Prime Minister and Chancellor, who, dismissed as inexperienced and gauche five years' ago, are now greatly enhanced by experience.

They have on a front-bench which, pound for pound, outguns Labour’s. They have a broadly sympathetic media and an election war chest that has already allowed them to spend tens of thousands of pounds in marginal seats even before the campaign has officially begun. And this is before the trump card of a seemingly recovering economy and buoyant jobs market.

If anything, the tories are less loved than in 2010

And yet, despite all this firepower, the Conservatives’ highest poll rating since January has been 36% and most surveys give Labour a marginal lead. This failure to capitalise on what should be a strong starting position is one of the reasons why the knives are already being sharpened for Lynton Crosby, the pugnacious Australian in charge of the Tory campaign.

Crosby has a reputation for running brutal and aggressive campaigns that would be more to the taste of viewers of House of Cards than the West Wing. The dry, calculated, uninspiring approach to the 2015 election could still deliver results but politics, and the Tories, will be the poorer for it. After being brought in at the last moment to oversee Michael Howard's disastrous 2005 election, Crosby was reported to have explained the failure with the words: "you cannot fatten a pig on market day."

This time the Conservatives have had five years to lavish the pig with the finest acorns but they still find themselves in a neck-and-neck race for the finishing line.

If anything, the party is less loved than in 2010 and it’s Cameron, not Crosby, who should take the blame for this. As a young leader and future prime minister, Cameron offered a refreshed version of compassionate Conservatism and, in the absence of any obvious belief, the concept of a Big Society.

In office, this has been ditched or at least relegated in favour of a more austere Toryism, whose main tenet appears to be free market economics.

An electorate which had grown to be dubious of the intentions of the Conservatives was willing to park its prejudices for the decency presented by Cameron in 2010. But by emphasising his new qualities as a decisive economic hard-man, the Prime Minister has alienated exactly the voters he needs to enlist for an overall majority this time.

This is the calculation the Conservatives have made: for every voter put off by the negative and personal attacks on Ed Miliband, they will win over others attracted by having a strong and ruthless leader.

It is a sorry bargain.

Cameron has also shown shameful disinterest in nourishing new Tory thinking while in office. Rather than nurture his Big Society idea with policies to entrench a new era of one nation Toryism, he has allowed himself to be buffeted by UKIP and a rump of Conservative eurosceptics into a more right-wing stance.

And with the demotion of Michael Gove — one of the few genuine reformers of the Coalition — the Conservatives have confirmed that they are more interested in managerialism than innovation.

This is not to say that new thinking is not taking place. The journalist and activist Tim Montgomerie has launched a project called the Good Right whose policy ideas, including state-sponsored house building and higher taxes on expensive properties, deserve consideration from the right and left.

The tragedy for the Conservatives is that this agenda was there for the taking had their leader had been a little more curious and a lot more consistent. It might also have got voters more interested in backing the party in May.

Jason Beattie is the political editor of the Daily Mirror

More about the author

About the author

Jason Beattie is the political editor of the Daily Mirror. He has worked in Westminster for 15 years including spells on the Birmingham Post, Scotsman and the London Evening Standard. A hispanophile, he has also written for El Mundo and has a deep interest in Spanish and Catalan history, culture and food.

Follow Jason on Twitter.

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