Ross Clark Ross Clark

David Cameron is driving voters into Farage’s arms

David Cameron (Credit: Getty images)

Who on earth at Tory campaign HQ thought it was a good idea to send Lord Cameron into battle to attack Nigel Farage and try to head off the gathering threat from Reform UK? In an interview with the Times today, the Foreign Secretary accused Farage of dog-whistling.

He may well be right: it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how Farage’s assertion that Rishi Sunak ‘doesn’t understand our culture’ will have gone down with some voters. The trouble is, though, that Lord Cameron reminds many Reform-leaning voters of everything they dislike about the Tories. He represents the privileged, patrician wing of the Conservative party – the toffs and landowners, the green welly, ‘get orf my land’ brigade. As Tory leader and prime minister he looked after his own, showed a paternalistic regard for the poor – and treated the Conservatives’ self-made men and women with contempt. He went into the 2010 general election promising one tax cut – in inheritance tax – and tax rises for everyone else. He called Ukip voters ‘fruitcakes’. That he has come back into government as a Lord rather than an elected MP has underlined his aloofness.

The last person who is going to dissuade you from voting for Reform UK now is David Cameron

What’s more, voters remember that Cameron didn’t want to offer an EU referendum but was dragged into it by the threat that the Conservatives would lose support to Ukip. If you voted Ukip in 2015, or considered voting for the party, in order to force the Conservatives to offer the referendum, the last person who is going to dissuade you from voting for Reform UK now is David Cameron.

Nigel Farage, by contrast, represents much of what appeals to the other main branch of the Conservative party: the aspirational lower middle classes who flocked to Mrs Thatcher. He looks and sounds like a 1980s Tory backbencher. He stands for everything that conservative-minded folk hate about woke, climate activism and many other things.

Actually, the Conservative manifesto has a lot in it for the aspirational lower middle classes. No party in modern times has made such an offer to the self-employed: the promise to abolish their National Insurance contributions by the end of the next Parliament. Rishi Sunak’s ‘triple lock plus’ for pensioners – which promises them a higher income tax threshold than other voters, as well as continuing to jack up their pensions by inflation, average earnings or 2 percent, whichever is higher – may be fiscally irresponsible, but it is pretty good news if you are relying on the state pension. The nation’s bungalows and former council homes ought by rights to be plastered with ‘Vote Conservative’ posters.

Such is the contempt for the Tories after 14 years in power, however, that I doubt there is anything they can do to change the result of this election. It looks as if the country made up its mind after Liz Truss’s brief premiership and that was that. Very few governments around the world, in any case, managed to survive the fallout from the pandemic. But inasmuch as the Conservatives have any chance at all it is certainly not going to be aided by David Cameron’s campaigning. Cameron should be reserved for schmoozing wealthy donors behind closed doors. He should be kept out of view for the rest of the campaign.