I'm currently reading 'The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron' by Tim Bale. The book examines the Tories' years in the wilderness and examines failures of strategy which yielded three heavy general election defeats on the trot.
Bale produces some compelling evidence to sustain his contention that Conservatives were slow to recognise their 1997 defeat as a genuine repudiation of Thatcherism. The three leaders who succeeded John Major, to a greater or lesser extent, concentrated on a 'core vote' strategy, playing to the Tory gallery, rather than developing policies to appeal to a broad section of the British public.
It is only under David Cameron, Bale insists, that the Conservative party has begun to re-engage with the centre ground voters who generally determine the outcome of general elections. It is a convincing theory, with sits easily with the latest thinking in political science departments.
Indeed, on the basis of opinion poll evidence, the Tories have tended to do worse when they emphasise 'right wing' economic dogma and better when Cameron's communitarian bent has predominated.
Ken Clarke, famously on the 'left' of the Conservative party, has issued a rallying call urging Tories to do more to court 'liberal' voters.
The Shadow Business Secretary previously advised David Cameron and George Osborne not to rule out tax rises as a means to tackle the deficit. He has also championed the need to defer any short-term cuts to Inheritance Tax.
Clearly, as someone who was attracted to the modern Conservatives by the notion of 'progressive ends by conservative means', I believe that Clarke is entirely right to take this approach. The Tory call for fiscal responsibility and a start to tackling the deficit is entirely justified. However, if constrained public spending is accompanied by tax cuts, in the short-term, justifiably there will be claims of inconsistency and callousness.
There should be no major attempt to cut taxes until a convincing recovery is underway and the deficit is brought under control, particularly at the top bands.
Neither is it necessary for the Conservatives to keep beating the drum for constraint in public spending. That battle is won. The public is convinced.
But it is also nervous that free market fundamentalists within the Tory party might use the deficit as a pretext to hack back essential services. They are encouraged in this notion by the constant refrain of Peter Mandelson, amongst other Labour figures, and some media elements.
When David Cameron, or, more rarely, George Osborne, attempts to provide reassurance on this score, stressing commitment to the NHS, and the provision of other excellent public services, he is articulating the type of conservatism which can win a comfortable majority.