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A black hole at the Tories' heart

STICK a microphone in front of a Tory MP and he’ll say David Cameron is a genius who’ll save Britain’s economy.
 
Put a row of G&Ts in front of the same MP and a rather different story will eventually come out. They’re worried.
 
And this isn’t the usual Tory plotting. It’s a discreet and genuine concern that there is NO PLAN at the very top.
 
The Tories are meeting in Cheltenham this weekend for a spring conference. The theme is ‘routemap to recovery’.
 
The snag: there’s no map. And many activists gathered there wonder if there’s not even a vague sense of direction.
 
Just look at the last few days. We’ve had the worst budget in history, which Cameron brilliantly denounced in the Commons.
 
Take the 50p tax on the super-rich. It’s expected to prompt 25,000 top earners to leave, destroying 130,000 more jobs.
 
It’s a crazy proposal. As Cameron says: “I think it’s rubbish. I think it’s a really bad idea.” But, he says, he’ll do it anyway.
 
Why? To show he has the courage of Gordon Brown’s convictions? Or because he’s too scared to sell his own vision?
 
This is the question being asked from Tory grass roots up to the Shadow Cabinet. They don’t know the answer.
 
No one thinks Cam is a coward. But they think he’s in danger of turning up to the battlefield wearing Bermuda shorts. This dress code was fine two years ago, when the economic sun was shining. But now it’s time for body armour.
 
You won’t hear any Tory grumbling in public. It’s amazing how a poll lead (and the prospect of ministerial limos) can unify a party. But Tories do wonder: what’s the point of winning if all we’re going to do is dress up Labour plans in posher words? Or, as a senior shadow minister put to me: “Are we promising a change of government, or just a change of personnel?”
 
Concern runs right down to the candidate level. One high-profile candidate in a supposedly safe seat put it this way:
 
“My problem is the Tories, persuading them to come out and vote. They just don’t think Cameron has enough grit.”
 
Even in Tory HQ, there are people who plan to jump ship after the election — thinking Tory government will be one big car crash.
 
An agonizing choice faces Cam. Any radical plan risks losing voters. But does he go for a strong mandate, or a large majority?
 
In his speech today he’ll promise a ‘never-been-done-before’ approach to government and ‘massive change’. Fine words. But action? That’s when another part of him starts saying: “Don’t frighten the horses! Softly, softly is the surest route to No10”.
 
But there’s nothing soft about the violence of this recession. The dole queue is lengthening at 3,200 souls EVERY DAY.
 
Once, Cam could get away by singing “Gordon is a Moron” at the dispatch box. Not any more.
 
I know Cameron well enough to know he is no wimp. He has the potential to be a transformative Prime Minister.
 
And he’s smart enough to know he has only two options in No10: be a radical, or a failure.
 
If he has a real “routemap to recovery” plan, now’s the time to share the secret. If not, then God help him after the election.
 

 

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