Magazine article The Spectator

Cameron Gets Ready for No.10 - and Boris Must Wait His Turn

Magazine article The Spectator

Cameron Gets Ready for No.10 - and Boris Must Wait His Turn

Article excerpt

The victorious David Cameron is being driven towards Buckingham Palace, the adrenaline of election success still pumping through his veins.

Crowds line The Mall, peering into the blackened glass of his limousine. But when he approaches the Palace, his car turns for the A4 and the reverie is shattered. He's on his way to Crewe for the by-election, setting off by car because of train cancellations. The crowds were for someone else. His lunch is a cheese sandwich from an M1 service station.

He is on the campaign trail, yet again.

'There is a slight sense of Groundhog Day, ' says Mr Cameron, sipping his take-away coffee. I am joining him for the day, and watch as he slips back into his mobile office routine. His two staff sit beside me in the back seat, passing briefing notes and arranging his day. He has two mobile telephones, one for speaking and one for reading emails. One phone has the ring tone taken from 24 -- the hit television show about a counter-terrorist agent who regularly escapes mortal peril. 'It's an in-joke, ' the Tory leader says.

One can guess at the joke's content. In the last year, Mr Cameron has seen his party bungee jump into the abyss. 'The Spectator had that cover of me with my hands bound and my neck in a noose, ' he reminds me. This was indeed the cover image of our Tory conference issue -- beside the headline 'Now get out of this, Dave'. He did -- and how. In last week's local elections, Labour's vote collapsed to its lowest since the first world war, Boris captured London and Mr Cameron earned the right to be taken seriously as our next prime minister.

The Conservative leader is quick to play all this down. Local elections, he says, are no proxy for national contests. 'Asking people to change their government is a big decision, and that is why there is not an ounce of complacency from me after the local results, ' he says. 'There's an enormous amount of reassurance we have to give people -- that we have the right leader, a strong team, that we will take no risks with the economy and that we have a clearly worked-out plan for public services.' He also has Mayor Johnson who, rightly or wrongly, will be regarded as a test pilot, demonstrating to the electorate how qualified the Tories now are to govern nationally. 'All Conservative councils and mayors are part of what people should expect from the Conservative party, ' says Mr Cameron. 'But Boris is his own man, he is his own Mayor and we are not going to agree on everything.' Thus, a few inches of distance are inserted, a smidgeon of deniability, just in case.

Of all the tasks Boris can perform to help Mr Cameron win, perhaps the most valuable will be keeping the Greater London Authority's budget under control -- demonstrating Tory financial discipline. Although Mr Cameron has rejected the idea of upfront tax cuts (this is what he means by 'take no risks' with the economy) he is fast learning the deep popular appeal of a politician who promises to take less of a citizen's money.

As we pull up outside Rugby railway station, where we are to rejoin the resurrected train service, he says the lesson he learnt from last week's local elections is that low-tax Tories are the most popular ones.

'If you take the local elections, there was no doubt in my mind that it was easiest to campaign in those places where Conservative councils really did have a record of keeping the council tax down, or at least promising to limit the increase, ' he says. 'I haven't done the sums. But I'm pretty sure that the areas where we did best were those where we were able to say: look, we're in government here, we are helping with the cost of living, we understand your problems and difficulties.' The moral he has drawn is that low tax is a good strategy for re-election -- but not when a party is in opposition and seeking power. 'There is a world of difference between promising and delivering. These councils have actually delivered. …

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