Is victory down to 'Cameron effect'?

SHAUN LOWTHORPE David Cameron’s brief encounter with voters in South Norfolk helped the Conservatives to a landslide win. But will it lead to a lasting love affair with his party?sss

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

The Tories have emerged as the overwhelming victors in council elections across the region.

But who is responsible, the "general" or the "troops"?

While it is clear the "Cameron effect" is helping win over voters, to the Tory a closer look suggests local factors may have been just as much the cause.

In South Norfolk the Tories have run the Lib Dems ragged in the council chamber for months. The party has been building a path back to power for a couple of years and Mr Cameron's recent visit was the icing on the cake of months of hard work and not the main ingredient.

John Fuller, new leader of South Norfolk said: "We knew that whoever won Diss would win the council and there's no doubt that David Cameron's visit there dynamised the campaign in that part of the world. David's style of leadership has allowed people to be more open to the Conservative message.

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"I am my own man, I just happen to believe in the same things David Cameron believes in," he added. "I wanted to lead a younger, more democratic party that's looking ahead, that's positive and optimistic and relates to people's lives.

Former deputy leader Trevor Lewis, one of just seven Liberal Democrats to retain his seat, said: "Four years ago Iain Duncan Smith was in charge of the Tories and their supporters were sitting on their hands. This time we've been badly affected by the Cameron effect.

"The Conservatives here have run a very good campaign. We're proud of what we've achieved over four, eight, 12 years, we've nothing to be ashamed of, but the Tories have done an excellent job of picking up our weaknesses and drawing them to people's attention.

"I haven't heard anyone express any particular concern about Menzies Campbell on the doorstep, but Cameron has clearly won over a lot of our former supporters."

Claire Turner, 23, one of the new batch of Tory councillors, said: "The Conservative party is changing, it's a friendlier face now. I met David Cameron when he came to Diss and he's a thoroughly nice guy and that comes through to people whenever they see him on the TV.

"Everyone is now viewing the Tory party in a different light - people who have never voted Conservative in their life now are."

The strange, and frankly uneven, decline of Lib Dem East Anglia seems to have more causes than just Mr Cameron's pulling power.

Increasingly the Lib Dems in South Norfolk have looked weary of power after more than a decade in charge.

The same applies in Norwich, where two years on from running the council, the Lib Dems are fighting off the Greens to remain the largest opposition group. In the city, the decline has seen the party caught in a pincer movement with left leaning Lib Dems defecting to the Greens in leafy "golden triangle" areas and the Tories running them close in areas such as Eaton.

But in North Norfolk the Lib Dems remain virtually untouched.

If Mr Cameron is serious, it is strongholds like North Norfolk where he needs to make an impact.

And that could take a far longer courtship.

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