The once infallible Cameron brand is now struggling, writes Lizzie Hepworth.
In 2005, the Tories broke with their
past when they elected a leader who was, for the first time since Major,
actually electable as a Prime Minister. The speech he gave to Conference, just
before being elected leader, wasn’t necessarily in tune with a lot of the Party
members, but whilst they may not have agreed with what he was saying, they
recognised that many members of the public would.
After pinching the top spot from under the nose of David
Davis, who was the favourite before Cameron delivered his note-free speech,
Cameron started his marathon to Election Day. His rebrand in the early days of
his leadership involved changing the Party logo to an oak tree - traditional
yet environmentally friendly; a new colour scheme - still blue but going green;
and a trip to visit huskies – a more compassionate Conservative genuinely
concerned with the environment and dedicated to combating global warming.
All these image changes gave Cameron a big lead over Blair,
increasingly unpopular after Iraq, and helped extend his honeymoon as Tory
leader. The public were, to a degree, eager to get rid of Blair; his own
members were pleased to be back in contention for government, whether they
liked Cameron or not; and Cameron gave very little away in terms policy,
allowing him to criticise Blair, but avoid difficult questions over his own
policies. But these were simpler times.
Blair’s departure, the economic situation and the end of his
honeymoon all coincided, and resulted in a slump in the polls. Cameron’s few
policies now seemed irrelevant and out of touch with what was going on in the
world. The Big Society appeared to be at odds with the cuts the Tories were
proposing, and with Brown enjoying his honeymoon, Cameron began to struggle to
maintain his own Party’s support. If he lost his grip on public support, his
Party would follow suit, and he would revert to being the leader of a
dysfunctional and divided Conservative Party. As Iain Duncan-Smith would have
been able to tell him, that would have sealed his fate.
Cameron managed to maintain his position, and his new image
as a compassionate Conservative was resurrected to its former glory when he
entered the Coalition with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. This has
perhaps given Cameron the best opportunity he could have asked for in terms of
helping him to maintain a socially liberal agenda. But it hasn’t been smooth
Whilst the Liberal Democrats have provided Cameron with an
excuse for pursuing his liberal ideas, such as supporting gay marriage, his
time as leader of the Coalition Government has not been great in terms of his
brand. The Big Society has had numerous re-launches whilst Cameron has been in
government; however it now appears to have been abandoned after all seemingly
failed. Cameron was forced, perhaps by his own Party members, to exercise the
veto in Europe, which has heralded as the end of cuddly Cameron, and a glimpse
of “bulldog” Cameron, but appeared popular with the public. But probably the
biggest threats to brand Cameron have been the fiasco over the NHS Bill, the
“pasty tax” and the accusations of cash for access to Cameron.
The NHS had been the bedrock of Cameron’s brand, allowing
him to associate himself with the average person, and their concerns over
health care. However the delays over legislation and the forced U-turn
threatened to damage Cameron’s credibility and entire brand. Whilst Cameron
(and Andrew Lansley) were still licking their wounds, along came the “pasty
tax” which saw the Conservative Party desperately struggling to remember when
they last went to Greggs, ate a pasty and lived like the normal Briton.
himself failed to convince, as in an out of character PR failure, he recalled
the last time he ate a pasty was at Cornwall Pasty Company in Leeds Railway
station – a branch that closed down almost five years ago (although the
travesty was more that he chose Cornwall Pasty Co over Greggs – more of a
religion than a pie shop in the North). Whilst these two incidents almost
certainly planted the seed of doubt in Cameron’s affinity with the average
voter, they were somewhat over exaggerated by the media in terms of importance,
with some terming the incident “Pastygate” which is hopefully not a serious
comparison of a tax on baked goods with Watergate...but then this is the
But it is the Cruddas scandal which threatens to reinforce
the idea that the Tories are the same old rich gentleman’s club and a party of
the rich. Whilst some believe that this scandal only reinforces what they
already assumed Cameron and all politicians did, it does not help Cameron’s
claim that he has reinvented the Tory Party, and certainly does not help him to
connect with the voters he lost through spending cuts and unpopular policies.
Brand Cameron has broken the curse of the Tory leader in so
far as Cameron is the PM. But will it last? Steve Hilton has left Number 10,
but is this because he no longer believes in the Big Society, because it’s
failed, because he’s been pushed or for his own reasons, and will be back
before the next election? Whichever one it is, it appears the Big Society is
well and truly on a backburner, and Cameron is now more concerned with being
the PM, holding the Coalition together and maintaining loyalty within his Party
than he is with trying to constantly maintain his new brand.
As recent opinion polls have put Ed Miliband ahead of
Cameron is terms of leadership qualities (they’re all viewed as scoring minus
points in terms of being a good leader, so it’s which one is the least worst
than which is the best...) and the local election results, Cameron needs to maintain a degree of his new,
rebranded and detoxified Conservative Party, especially if he plans to lead
them into the 2015 General Election.
Lizzie Hepworth is currently a final year Politics student at the University of Nottingham who will begin studying a PGCE in Primary Teaching at the University of Cambridge next year. Follow on Twitter @LizzieHepworth
read more: The end of brand Cameron?