Peter Riddell, not notably a supporter of the right or of The Conservative party writes an encouraging piece for them in Today’s Times (here).

He makes one point which it is, I think, vital for the leadership to take on board at once:

The Tories still have plenty of problems. Mr Brown remains well ahead of Mr Cameron as preferred prime minister. The Tory policy review remains a muddle. No one knows what is a firm commitment especially when ideas clash, as between the quality of life and competitiveness groups. A leisurely two-year process based on the theme of “may a thousand flowers bloom” appealed early last year but now looks a luxury, even if there is no election until next spring. Talking about crime and the like is no substitute for a clear view on the role and size of the State.

In commenting one has a very clear idea of what the targets are for attack on the Labour side of the battlefield. In a sense that is inevitable given that they have been in office for ten years and a government must have a set of ongoing policies with a reasonably fixed foundation otherwise it could not have a legislative programme of any sort.

Since Mr. Cameron’s election as Tory leader there has been a leisurely stroll about the policy park with a variety of policy groups grazing here and there before moving on to fresh pasture where a bit more grazing is done. Then the cattle lie down and ruminate before chewing the cud and ultimately producing the product of their efforts. At the moment the Conservative party looks to all the world as though it is but chewing the cud in a very leisurely way.

We know, therefore, what there is to attack on the Labour side but I confess that it is very difficult to be writing on and advancing Conservative ‘policy’ since I have in many instances no clear idea what policy is: are we for the abolition of inheritance tax or its reform or doing nothing? We say that we want to repeal the Human Rights Act 2000 and replace it with a UK Bill of Rights: how is that to be achieved bearing in mind that we are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights? We say we want to repatriate powers from the EU: which powers and how are they to be repatriated if the EU says ‘No’? Is it policy to have VAT on fuel used for domestic flights? If so, at what sort of rate? What is our policy on …..well the list is very large and others may supply their own items.

It is all very well for these policy groups to be reporting, one by one and attracting some good (and some indifferent and some bad) headlines, but too often this or that idea appears at one moment to be flavour of the month, only for us to discover a couple of days later that it actually is merely an ‘interesting’ idea. Those of us who would wish positively to advance the cause of the Conservative party are somewhat hamstrung, therefore, because it is difficult to say with coherence what a given position is.

Although I remain unconvinced by the thought of an Autumn election (which is probably a signal for Brown to ask the Queen for a Dissolution!), it remains a possibility. It may be that the swan is paddling furiously below the surface of the water, but one does not have a sense of great urgency.

Tomorrow may, as always, be too late.

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