There’s a certain irony to the fact that it seems to regularly escape the memory of Conservatives that they failed to win the general election in 2010. Despite Tory MPs having to negotiate on a daily basis with a rival political party just to keep their leader in Number 10, no substantive discussion seems to happen among Conservatives about why, in such conducive conditions, they failed to win a majority.
One reason for that is perhaps that would involve some rather uncomfortable truths.
It’s a fairly uncontroversial statement to say that more Britons share the fundamental beliefs of the Conservative party than bother to turn out to vote for them. Probably substantially more; certainly enough to have given them a majority in the Commons.
One of the common diagnoses for this problem is the issue of perception. Because while people might share the beliefs of Conservatives, they don’t necessarily think that they can trust those same people with power.
Hence why David Cameron spent so much time in opposition detoxifying the way the Tories were perceived on issues like the NHS and climate change. On these two issues he was moderately successful, but the problem is that he didn’t go far enough.
Not enough people believed that Cameron was a new type of Tory, representative of modern Britain and accepting of the new political and social consensus.
And the Tories in government are in danger of going backwards. Ironically enough, this is often not because of what they are doing, but because of what they are saying. Calling for the scrapping of the 50p tax rate, obsessing over Europe, opposing political reform – all harm rather than help the Tory brand.
The fundamental point that the 2010 election highlighted is that being on the right side of public opinion on a particular policy is not enough for the Conservatives. They have to do more. So only by ruthlessly positioning themselves as the modernisers of British politics to the Tories have a chance of a majority in 2015.
If the Tories were focussed on winning in 2015 they’d be supporting wholesale reform of the outmoded, illegitimate, oversized and unaccountable House of Lords not because it’s top of the public’s list of priorities, or even because they believe in lawmakers being elected, but because of what it would mean for public perception of their party. Only when he does things to surprise people can David Cameron stand up and say that he is a different type of Tory. And it’s only as a different type of Tory that he has any chance of being the prime minister in a Conservative majority government.
Principle might not lead the Tories to support Lords reform; self-interest should.
* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.