David Cameron is resurrecting his vision for the Big Society in a desperate attempt to rescue the Tory election campaign after the attack on Ed ‘back-stabber’ Miliband backfired badly and a trio of new polls puts Labour ahead.
The personal attack on Miliband by Defence Minister Michael Fallon led to a media backlash that revived the image of the Tories as the ‘nasty party’ and led to open disagreement in the Conservative camp about their negative campaign.
Cameron today is responding to the criticism by trying to soften the Tory image with a positive policy: he will propose forcing firms to give their workers three days off with pay each year to do voluntary work.
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In doing so, Cameron is raising the banner once more of his much-mocked ‘Big Society’. He hopes to try to dispel the impression that the Conservatives are only interested in protecting the rich while Labour stand for ordinary families struggling to make ends meet.
Cameron (who these days never dares to repeat the claim “We’re all in it together”) will say 15 million people working in companies with more than 250 staff — and everyone in the public sector — will be given a statutory right, backed by legislation, to take three days’ paid annual leave to do charity work or serve as a school governor.
Cameron will say the move will help build “a better future for our children and grandchildren”.
The Financial Times reports that it will divide business leaders who are worried about the cost to them. But that should please those in the Cameron camp who have become increasingly alarmed at the way the Tories have allowed themselves to be portrayed as the party of Big Business, the few against the many.
The man getting the blame for the wholly negative Tory campaign so far is Lynton Crosby, the Australian election guru who was hired to bring the brash style of Aussie campaigning to Britain.
There are whispers inside the Tory camp that the trouble with Crosby is that he doesn’t understand that many fair-minded liberal British voters feel guilty about voting Tory. Instead of relieving them of the guilt about voting selfishly, his campaign has made them feel more guilty than ever.
There are suspicions that Fallon’s highly personal attack on Miliband – suggesting that because “he stabbed his brother in the back”, he’d be prepared to stab the country in the back - was ordered by Tory campaign managers to change the national debate after Miliband scored a big hit with a promise to abolish “non-dom” tax status for wealthy tax avoiders.
Even the Daily Telegraph, unrelenting in its support for the Tory election campaign, has had to headline its coverage today ‘Campaign turns ugly’ while in an editorial it calls Fallon's attack "ill-judged".
Only the Daily Mail has managed to put a positive spin on the Fallon story, saying Russian president Vladimir Putin “would be happy" with Ed Miliband as Prime Minister because of his supposed readiness to trade Britain’s nuclear weapons for power - a charge Miliband vehemently denies.
The inquests have already started. The Independent’s John Rentoul yesterday accused Cameron’s right-hand-man George Osborne of getting his response to the ‘non-doms’ issue wholly wrong: “The Tories defined themselves as the defenders of global tax avoiders. The stupidity of Osborne’s response is matched only by its laziness. .. If Cameron and Osborne were as hungry to win as they ought to be, they would have thrown everything at stopping Labour from painting them as the friend of the rich.”
The Times commentator Tim Montgomerie, who advocates a more compassionate Conservatism and first warned against the ‘Crosby-isation’ of the Tory party in mid-March, writes in his latest column: “Time is running out for David Cameron to move decisively ahead in the opinion polls and stop Ed Miliband becoming prime minister…
“Next week’s Tory manifesto is Mr Cameron’s last best chance to prove that he understands the limits of the free market as well as its value. If he can prove that his conservatism is compassionate rather than individualistic he can still secure that last-minute swing."
But Montgomerie wrote that just before three new polls were released showing Labour opening up a lead over the Tories.
Now the Conservatives are braced for a bloody weekend of accusations and counter-accusations from Tory supporters on the ground over the failure of the campaign to inspire people to vote for them. The question is, with less than four weeks to go, is it too late to put the wheels back on the Tory campaign wagon?
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