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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 August 2007, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Is Cameron lurching to the right?
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Just a month ago, with the opposition struggling to hold ground against Gordon Brown, Tory right-wingers urged David Cameron to shift his emphasis away from presentation towards "core" Conservative issues like immigration, Europe and tax.

David Cameron
Mr Cameron has focused on issues such as hospitals
They were quickly slapped down, with shadow chancellor George Osborne declaring there would be no change of strategy and that the party would remain "in the mainstream of British politics".

But it is now being argued that, in an attempt to regain some of the momentum lost to Mr Brown since his succession and placate Tory activists, Mr Cameron is carefully executing just such a shift. But is he really?

Opponents have seized on his latest remarks on immigration, law and order and the EU as signs he is finally flagging up more right-wing, traditional Conservative issues - espoused particularly by the Cornerstone Group of Tory MPs.

Headlines suggesting the Tories have "lurched to the right" are, of course, precisely what Mr Brown wants.

Much of his strategy as prime minister has been to grab more of the middle ground so that the Tories, in an attempt to look distinctive, fall back on policies which can be portrayed as the old right-wing agenda.

Old agenda

Part of that strategy, however, has also seen Mr Brown adopting what might be seen as a more right-wing approach on issues like a border police, drugs and gambling in an attempt to close those areas off to Mr Cameron.

And, of course, Mr Cameron has previously stolen Labour clothes by placing the NHS top of his agenda.

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown's strategy is to paint Mr Cameron as "old" Tory
Still, Mr Brown is delighted whenever the Tory leader says anything that can be portrayed as "old" Tory policies - for which, read right-wing.

That explained his delight when, during one of the last question times before the summer recess, Mr Cameron raised the issue of the new EU treaty, a potentially embarrassing issue for the prime minister, who refuses to hold a referendum on it.

Mr Brown leapt on the question, declaring with some glee that it showed Mr Cameron was back to the "old agenda". In other words, the Tories were falling into Mr Brown's trap.

Now, Labour is seizing on Mr Cameron's latest remarks on immigration - another of those allegedly core, right-wing Conservative issues, as further evidence of this shift.

Since becoming leader Mr Cameron deliberately moved away from his predecessors' strategy of placing immigration high on the party agenda, believing it contributed to the "nasty party" image.

Along with Europe it was an issue that he rarely spoke about as he focused on the environment, schools, hospitals and the cost of social breakdown.

But, in his Newsnight interview - while carefully avoiding Margaret Thatcher's talk of a country being "swamped" by immigrants - he was happy to state immigration over the past decade had been too high. That was just the sort of thing the Cornerstone group and Tory supporting newspapers wanted to hear.

Social breakdown

It follows Mr Cameron's recent decision to raise the issue of Europe, specifically the new treaty, taxation and law and order.

They have all been seen as attempts to appeal to the core Tory vote.

The truth is, much of what Mr Cameron has said over the past few days is not startlingly new - he makes a point of stressing that himself. But that is not what matters.

What matters is the fact he now appears to be happy, even eager, to get into debate over these issues. It is, to some, a sign he is trying to reassure worried traditionalists that he really is a Conservative - something some may have come to doubt.

So after the best part of 18 months refusing to promise tax cuts, avoiding Europe and immigration and offering a middle-ground, often liberal agenda, that is not about to go unnoticed.

Immigration has become cross-party issue

But it is also probably true, however, that these issues are no longer the preserve of the traditional right.

Immigration, particularly economic migration, has become an area of concern across the political spectrum and across the globe.

Europe, particularly the new "not-the-constitution" treaty, has also seen opposition rising on the Labour benches.

Just about every party in the land has long agreed the UK should be a low tax economy.

And, most recently, fears over the apparent rise of violence and gang activity on the nation's streets has put tough law and order policies high on the priority list of voters of all political persuasions.

What the current suggestion of a "lurch to the right" shows is that in certain areas of policy Gordon Brown can happily move without comment, while Mr Cameron is accused of retreating to a core vote strategy.

In other words, perhaps this is all about presentation and interpretation - rather than any policy shift.

Immigration 'too high' - Cameron
29 Aug 07 |  UK Politics
'Long-term' Tory pledge on crime
28 Aug 07 |  UK Politics
Tories 'will not change strategy'
01 Jul 07 |  UK Politics

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