Follow the leader: Are the Tories trying to take Dave out of the election?

1 May 2015


This is the 2015 general election and personality politics dominates the election agenda. What it looks like is, arguably, more important than what it is. Labour's problem with Ed Miliband's image problem and voters seeing him as "weird" and "out of touch," has been well documented, but two weeks away from polling day, it would seem it is the Tories who are trying to downplay the role of their leader in this election.


David Cameron last week unveiled the Conservative manifesto, which focused on a more positive vision for Britain's future, in order to counteract the public perception of the Tories' campaign as too negative and focusing too much on personal attacks on Labour and the SNP.


It was well received by Tory supporters, but the Prime Minister has been anything but at the front of the Team 2015 charge to victory, with other key Tory players such as Boris, George Osborne and Michael Gove being the Conservative poster boys for the campaign instead.


Cameron has also been trying to project a ‘passionate’ image which appears to consist mainly of him SHOUTING VERY LOUDLY ABOUT SECURING A BETTER FUTURE FOR BRITAIN and occasionally swearing (if you count ‘bloody’ as a swear word instead of a useful adjective with biblical overtones.)


That the Prime Minister feels (or rather, that Lynton Crosby feels) that voters are beginning to suspect that not only is he not up to the job of Prime Minister, but furthermore, he doesn’t want the job, is an indication of the crisis the Tory campaign finds itself in. A crisis, some have suggested, caused in no small part by a lack of leadership, hence the negative nature of the Tory campaign.


It is worth bearing in mind that Cameron is not the only leader taking a backseat in the run- up to the election. On the day that he kicked off the short campaign and Ed Miliband launched Labour's business manifesto, Nick Clegg was visiting a hedgehog sanctuary, while Natalie Bennett's status as Green leader is under constant scrutiny from within her own party, with the sole Green MP and former leader, Caroline Lucas, seen as the 'true leader'.


Cameron's polls aren't brilliant but they still give him the edge over Ed Miliband, whose personal ratings have shot up in recent weeks, but to quote YouGov pollster Peter Kellner are now "merely bad" and not enough to push him ahead of the Prime Minister, who stills polls better than Miliband in Scotland.


Nigel Farage has become increasingly anonymous as UKIP's purple revolution has waned and the party's polling has now slid to 2013 levels, leaving Nicola Sturgeon as the only genuinely popular leader and consequentially, the only party leader taking the limelight for the right reasons.


Yet the difference between these people and Cameron is that all of them want to be in government and have the power to get their ideas across and change things. The Prime Minister's performances during the final few PMQs of the Parliament were increasingly lacklustre and the phrase 'David Cameron' from his party's election message and literature is conspicuous by its absence.


Indeed, after Cameron's wholly unexpected and wildly off-message admission that he did not intend to stand for a third term, a cynic would suggest that it is perhaps little surprise Dave is spending so much time campaigning in his Oxfordshire constituency. BBC Daily Politics presenter Andrew Neil this week tweeted that he had spoken to a major Tory donor, who had told him that he felt the party's campaign was "useless" and that the Prime Minister's "heart isn't in it".


What a contrast from the Tory campaign of five years ago, where a considerably younger- looking and more energetic David Cameron came within a whisker of gaining the first Conservative majority in 18 years with a positive agenda for change through 'compassionate Conservatism' through which a "Big Society" could be built.


Now, that young, idealistic liberal Tory who wanted to change his party and change Britain is looking increasingly grey, haggard and disillusioned with life in politics.


Tory insiders say that Dave has wanted out for some time and has simply been looking "to go out in a high," which he has not yet found.


The ruling out of a third term having not yet won a second thus looks increasingly less like the decisive act of a powerful Prime Minister on his own future, having anointed a preferred successor and more like a desperate cry for help from a man who does not want to live like this any more and feels he, to quote his 2010 election slogan, can't go on like this.


That is to say, Cameron's backseat leadership of the Tory campaign is not a strategy masterminded by Lynton Crosby, but the Prime Minister just not feeling up to it any longer. The Tories say a government led by Ed Miliband propped up by the SNP would be a 'nightmare'. For Dave, the real nightmare would be another five years of this world which he has grown to hate.

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