Successful politicians are not only able to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear but can also take advantage of unexpected opportunities which come their way. And so it has proved with the Great Grammar School farrago which has dominated the last week of Tory politics.


The original handling of the David Willetts speech was an unmitigated disaster, but better for it to happen now, at the beginning of the policy formation process, rather than near an election. Lessons need to be learned in order to improve the media and party management of the raft of controversial policies which will be announced over the rest of the year.


In these circumstances political leaders usually deploy diversionary tactics to take the issue out of the headlines. Revealingly, David Cameron did the opposite. He poured lighter fuel onto the torch paper and has kept the story going for a week. By doing so he regained control of the agenda. It was an adept piece of political footwork.


The long term effects of this row are few. David Cameron has pushed many Tories to teeter on the edge of withdrawing their support, but by doing so he has underlined his mission to modernise all aspects of Tory policy. He has used up one of his nine lives with the Tory grassroots but he will have done it with a massive shrug of the shoulders. They know, and he knows, that it will be done his way or not at all.


The real lesson from the grammar schools issue is that it has given David Cameron yet another opportunity to emphasise the changing nature of the Tory Party. I believe this will be the running theme of any policy announcements which emerge after the various policy commissions report their findings later in the year. In each policy area, Cameron will want to pick out one particular aspect which will reinforce his message of change. It was described to me as the “mouthwash” approach – a policy change in each policy area to wipe away the bad taste of the past.


We already know that on the economy the old Tory shibboleth of cutting taxes has been ruled out in favour of my most hated political mantra, ‘sharing the proceeds of growth’. On the environment we’re being encouraged to ‘Vote Blue Go Green’ and will be taxed more on frequent flying. In foreign affairs there has been subtle distancing of the party from the ‘special relationship’ with the US. Social mobility and social justice have overtaken economic reform in Conservative political priorities.


In transport Chris Grayling has already hinted a big announcement on joining together the running of the tracks and trains. What better sign of change than a repudiation of this key aspect of rail privatisation?


Incredible though it may seem, health policy is an area in which the Conservatives are ahead in the polls for the first time since 1948 without actually having the benefit of any real policy. The last thing David Cameron should do is saddle himself with detailed policy in this area, two years in advance of an election. The antipathy towards Patricia Hewitt and the way the Conservative Party has supported the junior doctors recently has given Andrew Lansley a real opportunity to build support. For the first time in decades, many in the NHS truly believe that it can be safe in Conservative hands, which in itself is a considerable achievement. This is possibly one area where the “mouthwash” approach should be avoided.


The only two policy areas apparently impervious to Cameronisation – Home Affairs and Defence – are coincidentally occupied by the two most high profile right wingers in the Shadow Cabinet, David Davis and Liam Fox. Davis has been given more or less a free hand to develop policy and so far Cameron’s kids have kept their scooters off his lawn, but even Davis has doffed his cap to a softer line on immigration by writing a pamphlet with his Immigration spokesman Damian Green on the economic benefits of migration.


But it is in the area of defence where David Cameron could re-engage all those supporters he has alienated in other areas. A clear commitment to increase the defence budget, to supply our troops with the equipment they need to do their jobs, to halt the decline of the Navy, Army and Air Force and a commitment to improve the quality of life of service personnel are four things which are eminently achievable. Liam Fox has already made a start by doing sterling work on the quality of housing – or lack of it – for our armed forces.


Pensions, local government and the machinery of government all provide excellent opportunities for David Cameron to demonstrate how the Party has changed. But they all provide an opportunity for a row with the grassroots. The tremendous work being done by the policy commissions will result in David Cameron being presented with all sorts of policy nuggets to choose from. The lesson from the grammar schools speech is that their work must not be pre-empted.


There is no Clause 4 moment for David Cameron, but there are plenty of ‘mini clause 4s’  which, added together, achieve the same thing.