Roll on 4 June 2009. Hurry up, even more excitingly, 4 June 2010. That date is beginning to feel like a magic one for the Conservatives. Of course, it makes sense not to have to fight local elections and European elections just a month apart after all, neither election is likely to see a mass stampede to the voting booths. But there will be some collateral advantage for the government in amalgamation: why have two disasters when they can be rolled into one?
The day of 4 June 2010 is an even more promising one for the Tories. According to my calculations, 3 June is the last date on which a general election can be held. So the following day, unless a miracle intervenes, should see Tory leader David Cameron heading up the Mall to receive the Queen’s commission to form a government.
Of course, all this may be Tory wishful thinking. But since Prime Minister Gordon Brown funked the October general election we have watched with awe-struck incredulity the implosion of the government. The prospect of a clear general election victory, which was prudently regarded as fantasy just a year ago, is beginning to beckon as hard-nosed reality. No wonder Mr Cameron has got his parliamentary sherpas working on the takeover plans.
The Labour government ought not to be in the same boat as John Major’s administration after all, the Tories were riven by a violent schism over Europe and the civil war which flowed from the fateful matricide of Margaret Thatcher. But in fact things almost look worse. John Major’s government managed to carry through an ambitious and radical programme of legislation. Mr Brown’s government looks utterly without purpose or direction who can remember a single syllable of the ‘Queen’s Speech’ set out by the prime minister days before the Crewe & Nantwich debacle?
I suspect the general public saw Mr Major as a fundamentally decent bloke, perhaps a bit weak, foully served by a party he could not control and which spent its time fighting or plundering or both. The problem for Mr Brown is even more fundamental: the electorate does not like him, can’t see what he is there for and expects nothing good from him. Cabinet ministers can parade on television until the cows come home, telling the world that Mr Brown is the man to do the job, but the public regards it all as meaningless cabaret.
Why ministers do not stay quietly at home on Sundays and get on with their red boxes rather than pestering the electorate defeats me.
And so to 4 June next year and the local elections. Step forward the new folk hero of the Conservative Party no, not one of the Notting Hill set nor one of the public school populists. A big hand for the original Bash Street kid in the ultimately non-retiring form of Eric Pickles.
The shadow communities secretary specialises in enforcement, making sure the party line runs as strongly as possible through Tory local councils. His great strength is campaigning: It was Mr Pickles who repaired to Crewe & Nantwich for the duration of the campaign. And it was Mr Pickles who ‘love-bombed’ Liberal Democrat supporters.
Now being love-bombed by Mr Pickles is, I suspect, a fairly challenging experience and certainly not for the faint-hearted. But it worked. There was plenty of straight defection from Labour to Conservative, but this was the sort of industrial northern seat where the Lib Dems were supposed to be the only plausible alternative to Labour. Instead their desultory campaign never took off. Prepare for more of the Pickles love potion next year.
The combined poll may well suit Mr Cameron. He has got some pretty divisive issues to resolve over Europe, including the dotty demand that an incoming Tory government should hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, even if it has been ratified and implemented.
So a campaign which can remain on general national issues will be low risk. The party did pretty well in the recent council elections without any recognisably new policies on local government and no doubt the same will serve well enough again.