The headlines may have focussed on David Cameron’s attack on “Britain-hating” Jeremy Corbyn; but, Cameron’s speech this week at the Conservative party conference shows that he expects Labour to have replaced Corbyn by the next general election.
In his speech Cameron outlined how he would use the rest of his term in government to pursue “an all-out assault on poverty”, and outlined his aims to improve social mobility and increase home ownership. The speech marks a change in theme from the Conservatives, moving from the party of tough austerity, highlighting the importance of living within our means, to one which is highlighting the problem of growing inequality.
Quotes such as: “Here, the salary you earn is more linked to what your father got paid than in any other major country,” would not have been out of place in a speech delivered by the leader of the opposition.
This speech, however, did not signal a complete change. Cameron continued to label the Conservative party “the party of aspiration”. Nevertheless, it was certainly an attempt to appeal to the centre-left.
This shift to the left has been rightly highlighted by many commentators as an astute attempt by the Tories to occupy the centre ground. However, at a time when Labour has shifted so drastically to the left, the question arises why does Cameron feel the need to expand his grip on the centre as far as the centre-left?
With issues such as Britain’s membership of the European Union causing noticeable tension between the Tory leadership and Backbench MPs on the right of the party; and, due to his slim majority in the House of Commons, Cameron would be at the mercy of his backbenchers when any controversial policies come to a vote.
Would it not then be prudent for Cameron to appease discontented Tory MPs by moving further to the right?
Given that Corbyn is perceived by the public to be far to the left, Cameron would have enough leeway to move slightly to the right, as Corbyn would be viewed as further to the left than Cameron is to the right. A rightward shift would help to unify the right of the Conservative party with its much more centrist leadership.
As such, the Prime Minister’s move further to the left can only be viewed as part of a long term plan that anticipates the replacement of Corbyn with a more moderate leader.
Conservative control of the centre ground will make it more difficult for any new moderate Labour leader to reclaim. While also making it likely that the Conservatives would achieve a crushing victory against Labour in the next general election, if Corbyn were to remain as Labour leader until 2020.
Ironically, this leftward shift will only increase the pressure on the Labour Party to quickly dispose of Corbyn. Many Labour members will have cringed at Cameron’s brutal characterisation of Corbyn as “security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising and Britain-hating”. They will have appreciated how damaging this will have been for Corbyn’s image among an increasingly patriotic electorate.
Labour MPs will also be keen to avoid a crushing defeat at the 2020 general election, and to begin the reclamation of the centre ground as soon as possible. The strength of Corbyn’s mandate will already have been weakened by a YouGov poll ranking him as the first new leader of the opposition, since records began, to have a negative approval rating immediately after taking office. Things are beginning to look ominous for Corbyn.