How far has David Cameron followed the New Labour model in opposition? The comparison is often made between Cameron and Tony Blair, not least by the Conservative leader's closest colleagues, who quote from definitive accounts of how Labour secured power more than 12 years ago as if they were manuals on how to win elections under any circumstances.
As the next campaign moves into view, we can make a considered comparison. By November 1996, New Labour's policies and themes were more or less in place for an election the following year. Presumably the same applies to the Conservatives now. Or perhaps not.
Let us begin with one very precise parallel between Blair and Cameron. Both sought to address their parties' vote-losing pasts directly. After Labour's fourth successive election defeat in 1992, polls suggested that few voters trusted the party to run the economy. Blair and his shadow chancellor, Gordon Brown, therefore made economic stability the centre of all policy-making. They argued that stability and social justice went together, and one was not possible without the other. By the autumn of 1996, every policy announcement related to this single overwhelming theme.
Similarly, from the day Cameron was elected leader at the end of 2005 he tackled the fatal perception that the Conservatives were the "nasty party". In his acceptance speech he declared that "there is such a thing as society, but it is not the same as the state". The phrase, which seemed to be a direct challenge to the party's Thatcherite inheritance, was followed by several related ideas such as "social responsibility" and "the post-bureaucratic age". To the surprise of Cameron and …