Whatever else history might say about Tony Blair, it will remember him as a winner.
Blair won three elections, but he also won the battle to change his own party. Out went Clause IV of Labour’s constitution – which committed Labour to “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange” – and in came unashamed support for a free market and a capitalist economy, albeit tempered by measures such as the minimum wage.
Historians may not be so impressed by David Cameron.
He failed to win a majority during the 2010 General Election, although he will get a second chance in 2015.
But it seems clear he has also failed in his bid to change the Conservative Party.
Speaking to the Conservative conference in 2006, he set out eloquently – and accurately – some of the reasons why the Tories kept on losing elections.
“Instead of talking about the things that most people care about, we talked about what we cared about most,” Mr Cameron said.
“While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life – we were banging on about Europe.”
But today the Conservatives are as obsessed with Europe as they’ve ever been – and rather than following their leader, they’ve forced him to join in with their obsession.
Hence, the Conservative Party has published a draft Bill setting out plans for a referendum, posing the question: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?”
A press release which accompanied a copy of the Bill had the following quote from party chairman Grant Shapps: “We’ve set out our position and published this Bill to give the British people an In-Out referendum on Europe. Now it’s vital to hear whether Labour and the other parties are actually prepared to trust the British public to decide our future relationship with Europe.”
But this is not the question voters are asking themselves. To most people, it’s not “vital” to hear what anyone says about Europe.
This is confirmed in opinion poll after opinion poll. One survey, funded by Lord Ashcroft, a former Deputy Chairman of Conservative Party, found that only 17 per cent of voters believed “resolving Britain’s future relations with the European Union” was one of the top three issues facing the country.
The biggest issue by far is the economy, with 73 per cent of voters naming “getting the economy growing and creating jobs” as one of their top three issues.
Then came reforming welfare, named as a top issue by 41 per cent of voters, followed by immigration, a top issue for 39 per cent, cutting the deficit, a top issue for 38 per cent, and improving the NHS, a top issue for 23 per cent.
Even people who said they might vote for the anti-EU UK Independence Party weren’t that interested in Europe. Only 27 per cent of them named Europe as one of the three most important issues facing the country.
To put it another way, 73 per cent of voters sympathetic to UKIP don’t think the EU is even the third most important issue.
While that raises interesting questions about why people do vote for UKIP, it also suggests very strongly that getting tough about the EU is not the way to convince UKIP supporters to switch (or switch back) to the Tories. That’s the polling evidence. But common sense should have led Mr Cameron and his colleagues to a similar conclusion on their own.
Unemployment in the West Midlands region stands at 9 per cent – with 252,000 people out of work.
So of course people are going to be concerned about jobs and employment. And high unemployment rates don’t only affect those on the dole and their families. They also provoke fear and insecurity among people who are lucky enough to have a job, but don’t know whether it will be there tomorrow.
At the same time, many people in work have suffered wage cuts or freezes – at a time when living costs are rising.
And the economic crisis has led to a reassessment of the 16-year period of economic growth between 1992 and 2008, when it seemed the country was doing well.
There’s a fear that this success was based partly on soaring property prices and a banking boom which led ultimately to disaster, rather than sustainable industries such as manufacturing.
Then there’s the fact that the fruits of economic success were not shared equally. Low income workers saw their pay rise by 27 per cent in real terms over the past 30 years – but rises for the top 10 per cent of earners have been four times higher.
According to a study by academic Stewart Lansley, wages for a male full-time toolfitter rose by 21 per cent in real terms between 1978 and 2008, around a fifth. For a judge or barrister, they more than doubled.
None of these issues have easy answers, and perhaps voters wouldn’t trust a politician who claimed they did.
But creating jobs and growth, and ensuring that the nation doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the past, are what people care about most.
In the circumstances, for the Conservatives to spend their time talking to themselves about Europe looks positively suicidal.
Why is David Cameron doing it? In a sense, the answer is simply that he has been pushed into it by his own party.
After all, more than 40 Conservatives signed a motion complaining that a Bill to provide for an EU referendum was not in the Queen’s Speech. This is actually an attack on Mr Cameron and the Government, as he and Cabinet colleagues decide what’s in the speech.
Incidentally, their complaint doesn’t make a lot of sense. First, legislation would be pointless because the Commons would vote against it. The Lib Dems would never support such a law and Mr Cameron doesn’t have a majority without their support.
Secondly, no Parliament can bind a future Parliament. In other words, the Commons could simply repeal the law after the next election if new MPs disagreed with it.
But a bigger question is why Conservative MPs chose to force Mr Cameron in this direction in the first place.
And the answer should terrify Mr Cameron – and, indeed, any sensible Tory.
Some Conservative backbenchers appear convinced that UK voters share their obsession with the EU – despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Unless they can be persuaded to see sense, they risk sending their own party into oblivion.