At ten to seven this morning I woke to the sound of my mobile ringing. It was the Today programme. Oh God, I thought, who's died. Luckily no one had. They wanted to know if I could appear on their programme in the the following hour to talk about David Cameron's Newsnightinterview and what he said about immigration. Er, Ok, I said, what did they want to do. Well, said the researcher, all the newspapers are headlining his words on immigration. Does this mean that he's reverting to a core vote strategy. Don't be silly, I said. Well, she continued, his people must have briefed it out. I doubt it, I said. He was asked a question and he answered it, and as far as I could recall he hadn't said anything particularly remarkable about immigration, merely repeated previously announced policies. But don't you think he's appealing to the right by saying this? Maybe, I said, but you don't have to be on the right to be concerned about uncontrolled immigration. But it does seem a bit of a coincidence that all the papers have led on his immigration comments, she said. Perhaps, I said, but it wouldn't be the first time the lobby had operated as a pack, would it, I rejoindered, reminding her of David Davis's conference speech.
By this time I could tell that what I was saying didn't really fit the line she was hoping I would take. But she seemed fairly adamant that she wanted me to go on. So rather than go back to sleep I waited for her call back. And waited. And waited. Anyway, I thought I would put the intervening time to good effect so I phoned one of David Cameron's press spokesman and asked if the immigration answer was the one they were highlighting and briefing out. As I suspected, it was not. A journalist had asked if Cameron had said anything new in the interview and the line on transitional arrangements for EU nationals was one that was mentioned. And so the story grew. In a 45 minute interview it would be surprising if absolutely nothing new were said, and it was this that the journalists latched onto.
Cameron's spokesman denied absolutely that this was either a 'lurch to the right' or even sending a signal to the right. Anyway, back to the Today Programme. I continued to wait... and wait... and, well, I went back to a deep doze until I woke at 8.30 to hear the dulcet tones of ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie explaining to the nation that that was indeed a signal to the right and the Tory grassroots would be very pleased indeed. He denied it was "lurch" to the right though. It turned out that he had actually done a live interview with John Humphrys at 7.15am which they repeated parts of before they interviewed Damian Green at 8.30am. Much of what Tim said I agreed with, particularly that you can talk about 'touchy feely' issues alongside core vote issues, but his analysis that the last week has shown Cameron rubbing himself up to the right I believe to be entirely misplaced. In The Times this morning Tim is quoted as saying...
The current focus on crime has connected Cameron with the Conservative
Party’s core vote for arguably the first time in his leadership.
With respect to Tim, this is rubbish, or at the very least a total exaggeration and over-simplification. All David Cameron has done is to confirm that the Conservatives are tough on crime, want a European referendum and want secure borders. This is not, as Tim says, "indicating right", it is sound Conservative policy which those on the left and right of the Conservative Party can unite behind.
To say, as Tim did on the Today Programme and on his blog today, that this is appealing to the core vote, is to do Gordon Brown's dirty work for him. The main line of attack by Labour at the moment is that Cameron is lurching to the right and will revert to a core vote strategy. It's a pathetic smear, but if Conservatives like Tim start saying things which appear to endorse it, then it does not bode well. Tim's his own man and will no doubt robustly defend his stance, but in this instance I think he called it wrong.