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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 17:21 GMT
Cameron's first end of year report
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

David Cameron was last week named politician of the year for having transformed the Tories from "political pariahs to opinion poll leaders".

David Cameron and Tony Blair
Mr Cameron has been frequently compared with Tony Blair
According to the Political Studies Association - a group of professors, lecturers and researchers - the Conservative leader had turned his party into possible election winners in a remarkably short space of time.

The very same day, however, saw an opinion poll suggesting Mr Cameron's shine may be wearing off, with his party two points behind Labour on 34%.

And that led Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to taunt Mr Cameron during question time with claims his honeymoon period was well and truly over.

It's been a year in which he has turned his back on every sound conservative issue
Nigel Farage, UKIP

Only a week before, Tony Blair had got over-excited during the same question time session and told Mr Cameron he would be clobbered by a great "clunking fist" at the next election (Gordon Brown's presumably).

So, exactly a year into the job, which David Cameron is leading the Tories - the transforming, Blair-like election winner, or the flash in the pan policy-free, lightweight?

Slip back

A look at the opinion polls over the past 12 months gives some hints.

They have been carried out by different organisations, asking slightly different questions and by varying methods - but they amount to a snapshot of how the Tory leader is viewed by the public.

DAVID CAMERON
He is 40 years old
Married to Samantha, two sons, one daughter
Educated at Eton College and Brasenose College, Oxford
Special adviser to Cabinet ministers Michael Howard and Norman Lamont in the 1990s, then communications director at Carlton television
Became MP for Witney in 2001
Tory campaign coordinator at general election, then shadow education secretary

They seem to show that initial big positive ratings of 34%, 22%, 27% have settled down to something more like 16%-20%. But, most importantly, he usually, if not always, polls ahead of Tony Blair and even Gordon Brown.

The signs seem to be that he is pushing many of the right buttons with the public but, as the latest survey suggests, is beginning to slip back thanks to a perception he has no policies.

Much of this is a direct result of Mr Cameron's deliberate strategy of re-branding the Tory party under his own image before producing clear policies.

That re-branding is partly to do with style - the dumping of the Tory torch logo in favour of a "green" tree symbol for example - and partly ensuring that when people think Tory, they think Cameron.

Thinking Cameron is supposed to conjure up a series of specific flashes which have as much to do with what he is NOT about and what he has abandoned of the old Tory party.

Health service

So he is for the environment, bicycles, windmills and internet blogs. He supports the NHS, the poorest in society, minorities of all sorts and even misunderstood hoodies.

He is not any longer for tax cuts before public spending, "privatisation" of the health service, or offering vouchers for education, for example.

And he is a liberal, not neo-Conservative who may look as much to the Guardian's Polly Toynbee for advice on welfare as to Winston Churchill.

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown will offer Mr Cameron new opponent
In other words, he has done more than any Tory leader before him to ditch the "nasty party" image in favour of a new, inclusive, centre-ground party in tune with voters who have for the past decade found New Labour to their taste.

In the process he has, sometimes deliberately, ticked off traditionalists in his own party - notably those grouped around former Chairman Lord Tebbit.

But, like Tony Blair before him, he seems to have given his own troops the hope that they really are back on the path to government and, as a result, they are prepared to go along with if not always embrace, his reforms.

But there are just the first signs that the Labour message that he is policy-light is starting to take root.

His way

Many in his party accept that it would be foolish to publish a slew of new policies this far from a general election.

The good ones would be stolen by his opponents and weak ones leisurely torn to shreds.

But he has to choose his moment carefully. If he waits too long to fill the vacuum it may be too late to shift a public impression of the Tories as a policy-free zone.

The notion he is somehow Blair-lite may also backfire on him as voters appear long ago to have fallen out of love with Mr Blair's style of politics.

Mr Cameron certainly seems well aware of the dangers ahead and has recently renewed his warning to his troops that if they don't do it his way they will risk further electoral disasters.

The greatest test, however, will come when he is up against the still uncertain force that is Gordon Brown (assuming he is the next prime minister) and whether he could survive another election failure - and many believe the electoral mountain is still too high for the Tories to scale it in one assault.

In other words, will he have irreversibly transformed the Tories in the way Tony Blair appears to have changed Labour or will he simply be another leader, discarded along the way?




SEE ALSO
Tories 'have mountain to climb'
03 Dec 06 |  UK Politics
Back me or lose, Cameron warning
02 Dec 06 |  UK Politics
Cameron slams 'politics of fear'
15 Nov 06 |  UK Politics

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