What faces us if David Cameron is elected prime minister? The Conservative leader and his party faced two ways at their conference this week as they struggled to respond to the mounting financial turmoil.
Cameron criticised ten Tory parliamentary hopefuls who appeared in this month’s Tatler magazine wearing designer clothes and billed as “top Tory totty”.
Cameron feared the picture spread showed the Tories as being out-of-touch with voters struggling to make ends meet.
Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, warned that economic turmoil was creating a shift to the left in Britain, even among middle class Tory voters.
Even shadow chancellor George Osborne felt compelled to attack “casino capitalism”. But only a few weeks ago he was crusading against over-regulation of the City of London.
Osborne captured the headlines by promising a two year freeze on council tax, but in true Thatcherite style he also pledged a Tory government would cut government and council spending.
Many at the conference were more direct in their defence of the market. Business spokesman Alan Duncan used the conference to defend the City against “bossy rule making” and “regulatory creep”.
London mayor Boris Johnson won a standing ovation defending the City against “vindictive’’ attacks.
He told the Financial Times, “I’m very much concerned when I read attacks on greed and spivs and speculation, attacks by neo-socialists on the culture of bonuses.”
In the build-up to the Tory conference, shadow cabinet minister Francis Maude held talks with financial giants including KPMG and Deloitte about the Tory election manifesto.
Price Waterhouse Coopers has produced a report on tax policy for the Tories.
Shadow work and pensions minister Christopher Grayling told the Times last week that he would rail against the hedge fund boys, some of whom are his friends, explaining it would be a mistake to rush through more regulation because of the current financial turmoil.
Grayling believes maternity rights have gone “far enough” and wants to roll back on workers’ rights.
He said, “Companies are scared, they feel it’s too easy for people to take advantage of them by threatening tribunals.
“There are many aspects of employment law where we could and should be reducing the burden on business.”
Tory delegates cheered Grayling when he vowed to end Britain’s “benefits culture” and confirmed hard-line plans to axe benefits to anyone who refused three job offers.
The “three strikes and you’re out” rule would apply not just to the unemployed but to those on incapacity benefit.
Cameron knows that he cannot win if he openly champions Thatcherite policies.
His chances depend on voters accepting that there is little or no difference between him and Brown on key issues and an election reduced to a choice of personalities.
And Cameron’s main electoral weapon is the deep unpopularity of Brown’s Labour government.