Comment: What does Cameron believe in?

How fickle friends can be in the world of politics. Once described as David Cameron's favourite think tank, the Conservative leader could hardly wait to distance himself from Policy Exchange yesterday.

Mr Cameron publicly branded a report by the think tank, which said northern cities were beyond regeneration, as "rubbish from start to finish" within a mere 12 hours of its publication.

But as the Conservative leader told journalists last week, he is allowing "no smugness, no complacency, no triumphalism" to creep into his party. Mr Cameron is running a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to controversy and so far is doing a good job.

While the Conservatives may not have invented anything as interesting as New Labour, they have still managed to emerged as front-runners in the next election without doing very much at all, aside from some populist promises about inheritance tax.

Mr Cameron has realised that with the credit crunch, the slump in the housing market and Labour's unsightly leadership struggle, it is an easy time to be the opposition. You have to wonder if the Conservatives have carried out some sort of internal risk assessment which led them to believe policies are just a way of opening the door to unwanted criticism.

When Mr Cameron challenged Gordon Brown to call a general election at the end of last year, billboards around the UK were notably absent of the sort of anti-Labour posters one might have expected to have see. The Conservatives' current style is hinged on being relatively unremarkable and therefore directing all negative press coverage away from themselves back onto Labour, who currently have no end of shortcomings for journalists to pore over.

Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, political commentators are beginning to smell a rat. Today, in an article for the Institute for Public Policy Research, Richard Reeves, the director of think tank Demos, claimed that "Cameronism is certainly not an ideology, nor even - yet - a coherent political philosophy".

Reeves' breakdown of Mr Cameron's beliefs illustrates perhaps more clearly than ever how blurred the lines between the Conservatives and Labour have become. The Tory leader is said to favour devolution rather than centralisation, stress social progress over economic and place more faith in society than the state. These are all the kinds of values Labour has its roots in.

The result is that Mr Cameron has been left without a battle ground of his own and is absent of a war-winning strategy. Consequently, rather than launching an assault on Labour's policy he is doing all he can to ensure his own party dodge bad publicity wherever possible. That kind of campaign has a shelf life.

The real danger for Mr Cameron then is not becoming embroiled in a controversy, such as the one Policy Exchange's report threatened, but the emergence of a decent rival, like David Miliband perhaps, who can offer the electorate real policies and ideas, sweeping the political rug from underneath the Conservative Party's feet.

Jenni Marsh


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