David Cameron’s government is in big trouble with voters, including many who supported him at the general election, and with the media who are giving him a caning
Being unpopular when dealing with the worst recession since the 1930s is an occupational hazard. It would be a miracle if the Conservative poll lead was still intact. But what worries even the prime minister’s most loyal fans is that much of his recent roubles are so obviously self inflicted. He needs a plan, a clear strategy, rather than a series of ill-judged political stunts. My 10-point plan for him is quite simple:
1: Concentrate on how to grow the economy without borrowing more money. There are plenty of ways of borrowing more to fund infrastructure and even housing, but what you really need is to get government off people’s backs. Borrowing more isn’t a good way to solve a debt crisis.
2: Don’t be apologetic about arguing for a low tax, small state economy. It’s what your party is supposed to believe in. Your backbenchers still do, which is why they’re so unhappy with you.
3: Be radical on tax. Never forget the lesson of the Laffer curve. The higher the top rate of income tax, the less you collect from the top 5% of earners. You went from 50% to 45%. You should have been bolder. To have a top rate which is still higher than for all but one of the last Labour governments’ 13 years in office is disgraceful.
4: Dust off Adrian Beecroft’s excellent plan to free up our restrictive labour laws and implement them immediately for businesses that employ fewer than 10 staff.
5: Having produced the National Planning Policy Framework, give it some teeth. Planning is still a huge drag anchor on development. If we are serious about building more homes, we need investment and we need more lending to purchasers. This would be much easier if we had a clear, speedy planning process that gave more certainty and took away local authorities’ power to frustrate.
6: Support Iain Duncan Smith’s radical plans to reduce the benefits bill. The time is right and the public want it. Nobody should be better off on benefits than they are in work. Nor should any family receive more in benefits than the average worker earns.
Can we please have a bit less PR and a bit more PM?
7: Recognise that our immigration problem is not from Asia or Africa. It’s from the later entrants to the EU. Other member states restricted their right of access to their labour markets. The last government foolishly didn’t, which is why you never get served in Starbucks by an English person.
8: Recognise that the coalition may well have been necessary two years ago but is now a dead duck. You know most Lib Dems always were way to the left of New Labour. George Osborne and Vince Cable are not working together, however much they protest that they are. They hold diametrically opposite views of how to stimulate growth. Back George. For all his youth and inexperience, he happens to be right on this. Tell Nick Clegg the coalition should formally unwind, that a minority Conservative administration will govern until a Lib Dem party intent on political suicide decides to bring it down and go to the country where it will be completely eviscerated, and then act like the Conservative we all thought you were. Clegg won’t dare bring you down yet. He has far too much to lose.
9: You have handled the new intake of Tories very badly. You underestimated them, and tried to bully them, only to find that didn’t work. You have to listen to them and take more notice of what they are saying. There is more good sense coming from the Free Enterprise Group and MPs such as Liz Truss, Dominic Raab, and Jesse Norman than from the No 10 Policy Unit.
10: And finally, can we please have a bit less PR and a bit more PM? It’s a tough job, we all know that. You’ve got time to change but not much. Your own party is unhappy, the polls are deserting you and all for the wrong reasons. Too many schoolboy errors. Don’t just talk to the same rich set of Notting Hillers you’ve surrounded yourself with. There are lots of experienced Tories who desperately want you to succeed and are more than happy to help. Use them. The country can’t afford for you to fail. Don’t let us down.
Steven Norris is a former Conservative minister and London mayoral candidate, and chairman of the National Infrastructure Planning Association and Soho Estates