Prime minister says he has no excuses for poor performance at polls, and pledges to focus on what matters
David Cameron has admitted he needs to prove himself to voters and said he understands the message from the local elections “loud and clear”.
The prime minister said excuses about midterm blues were not enough to explain the party’s dire performance at the polls. Echoing the chancellor, George Osborne, Cameron pledged to “focus on what matters”. He promised to do more to help hard-working people who “want to get on and play by the rules”.
In an article for the Telegraph, he wrote: “My reaction to last week’s local election results is straightforward: I get the message, loud and clear. I know that the familiar excuses – low turnout, midterm blues – aren’t enough. Even the difficulties of our economic situation and the tough but necessary decisions the government has had to take cannot fully explain the results.
“The message people are sending is this: focus on what matters, deliver what you promise – and prove yourself in the process. I get it.”
Cameron said voters wanted to know that the coalition was “not just a bunch of accountants”. “When people think about the economy they don’t see it through the dry numbers of the deficit figures, trade balances or inflation forecasts – but instead the things that make the difference between a life that’s worth living and a daily grind that drags them down.”
Osborne signalled that the government would stall plans to reform the House of Lords as the Conservative leadership attempts to halt the increasingly bitter public attacks from their own ranks. The chancellor said introducing elections for peers was not a priority.
Osborne dismissed the most vocal backbench critic, Nadine Dorries, as a serial rebel after she warned that Cameron could be ousted by Christmas. The respected veteran Lord Ryder, John Major’s former chief whip, warned Cameron he would not be “the master of his own destiny for very much longer” if he failed to “take a grip”.
Another Tory, Brian Binley, said the verdict at the ballot box was a major setback for the party. The former minister Tim Yeo said it was not too late to push Lords reform to the “bottom of the queue” as the coalition finalises its legislative programme for next week’s Queen’s speech.
But Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, signalled he was determined to press ahead ahead with the changes. He said his party’s radicalism was needed as much as ever and called on the coalition to get on with the reforms rather than becoming “tied up in knots”.
“The first two years of the coalition were a rescue mission for the economy. The second half has to be about reform,” he wrote in the Guardian.
Lord’s reform is set to be included in Wednesday’s speech, but not all bills are published in detail on the day. Some are put out to consultation. The government has yet to respond to the findings of a joint committee on the proposals, which were set out last year in a draft bill, making it unlikely it would press ahead with releasing detailed plans.
Osborne said the Tories were committed to looking at the issue. He told the BBC: “I think what people are saying is: ‘Focus on the things that really matter, focus on the economy and on education and welfare. Focus on those things, don’t get distracted by too many other issues.'”
On gay marriage, another divisive issue for the party, the chancellor said he was “personally in favour” but there had never been plans to bring forward a bill this week.
He confirmed he was pushing ahead with plans for a bill on banking reform, which is aimed at ensuring the state is not forced into any more bailouts. The new legislative programme will include a crime, communications and court bill containing plans for a specific drug-driving offence. Other bills are expected to focus on helping the “striving classes”, including plans for pension and employment reforms.
The former minister John Redwood, one of a number of Conservative MPs contributing alternative proposals for the Queen’s speech on ConservativeHome, said the government needed to concentrate on the economy.
He called for measures to give consumers a better deal when buying water and energy and dealing with the banks, and said Cameron would have to set out a more distinctive Conservative vision as the next general election approaches.
“When we get nearer the general election there will need to be a very strong Conservative offering which will be very different from the Liberal Democrat one,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. “A lot of us want a Conservative government in due course because we want, for example, to tackle the mighty problem of Europe.
“We understand that our partners in the coalition like a lot of European laws and regulations and want more of them and we don’t. In the meantime we need to do what we can to get this economy growing more quickly because the austerity so far has been visited on the private sector.”
Redwood warned against pushing forward with plans for Lords reform without a proper political consensus. “It would be quite silly, I think, to go ahead with a premature set of proposals that didn’t have the consent of enough parliamentarians in both houses,” he said. “If they would like to reform the Lords and there is a case for reforming the Lords, it’s work in progress and they ought to take it away and try and get an agreed version before legislating.”