Cameron’s problem: Definitely in office, but only partly in power…

I suspect that Leo McKinstry’s view that Cameron project has failed is based on view that’s widespread view that his prime failure was in laying out a clear enough alternative to Labour. I think this view seriously under-estimates Labour’s residual popularity.

In truth, ordinary English voters did not hold Gordon Brown in the same deep contempt as a dozen or so Tory columnists. Nevertheless, McKinstry is clear about the source of the problem:

Forced to form a coalition, the Tories’ unimpressive record has only exacerbated the national mood of disillusion. Nothing has been done to reduce mass immigration or reform the despised human rights Act. State bureaucracy remains far too large. The economy remains in the doldrums and public debts are still growing. We are now governed by a so-called Conservative-led Government that slashes the armed forces while increasing overseas aid, that cuts support for middle-income families while pushing for gay marriage.

It is telling that the only two recent occasions on which Cameron saw a surge in popularity were first, when he vetoed the proposed new eU Treaty last December and second, when the Cabinet drove welfare reform through Parliament, cutting entitlements for long- term claimants and promoting the work ethic. Most of the British public wants more hard-headed realism like that. The self-indulgence of the modernisers has been a disaster for the party – and the country.

In the case of the first, it was little more than a symbolic ‘happening’ rather than any projection of real power. In the case of the second, it’s indicative of the kind of Conservative policy he wants anyway. What, I suspect, upsets McKinstry is that Cameron is not motivated by politics in the way the traditionalists are (in both main parties).

And the cut in the 50p tax rate gave a political signal to traditional Labour activists to get out the class card and wallow in the very class politics Cameron has thus far managed to deprive them of since taking up leadership of the Conservatives.

What’s missing is any sense of agency flowing from the democratic decision to vote any particular party into office. Noel Whelan made a useful comparison between David Cameron and Enda Kenny at the weekend, suggesting they both need to stop delegating and start managing real change before it is too late.

In that, they may face a common enemy: ie the permanent government, and the army of legal experts who warn darkly of doing anything even vaguely threatens anything beyond the conventionally allowable risk factors. Both need something tangible for all this time in government.

Such drift leads to unforced errors, like virtually bringing the UK’s petrol retail industry to a stand-still with one unintentional remark. Ed Milliband (and Ken) may not always be there to save them from ignominious defeat.

  • Alias

    All EU region post-democracies have heads of government that are in office but only partially in power. The substantive power has been derogated to the EU. Unlike Kenny, Cameron gets to exercise limited fiscal powers.

    80% of all new UK laws are imposed by the EU. These post-political politicians like it that way. It’s much easier for them when they don’t have to make decisions or laws.

    And really, do you think that the Irish state could function if Enda et al had political power? The man couldn’t even manage a corner shop, never mind a country.

  • Jimmy Sands

    “Despised Human Rights Act”? Either an exercise in question begging or perhaps he thinks that’s what it’s called. Labour in the 80s had it’s share of those who were genuinely convinced that Thatcher’s triumphs were a perverse manifestation of the public desire for the socialist transformation of society. In much the same way Cameron is assailed by those who are convinced that the conservative party’s main problem is that people think they’re too nice.

    Elections are won in the centre. The beauty of the cut in the top rate is that it gives Labour a stick to beat the tories with no requirement on their part for any commitment to restore it. Which they won’t.

  • Mick Fealty

    Indeed Jimmy. Same with the granny tax, which is in part about taking more people at the bottom end of the income scale out of tax altogether.

  • the cut in the 50p tax rate gave a political signal to traditional Labour activists to get out the class card

    Huh? Laying all the blame on that single scapegoat seems grotesquely unfair. Granny tax (which isn’t as clear-cut and “fair” as you imply: see George Parker in the FT, 21 March, for a political assessment), Cruddas, those blasted pasties, now snooper gate … all achieving an incredible united London press against the ConDems.

    If every there was a moment for Denis Healey’s First Law of Holes to be invoked, it surely is now.

    On all this I defer to Anthony Wells at ukpollingreport.co.uk: his glosses on the YouGov/Sunday Times polls for the last two weeks are quite instructive. Re: the latest one —

    YouGov repeated the overall budget question from last week now there has been a further week for news of the budget to sink in (and for people to row over pasties… a move the poll found 69% in disagreement with). A week ago 24% thought the budget would be good for the economy, 34% bad. That’s now fallen to 13% good, 45% bad.

    I very much doubt one needed to be a “traditional Labour activist” to fill out those numbers.

    Meanwhile, [Baron] Gus O’Donnell, he of the sharpest political antennae, left the Cabinet office at the turn of the year. We now have Sir Jeremy Heywood trying to fill Sir Humphrey Appleby’s shoes. A long learning curve, perhaps?

    I’d be bearing in mind that Dave is not quite as cuddly and “modernising” as some may wish to think. He learned his politics as bag-carrier to Norman Lamont and Michael Howard, neither of whom strikes me as a frothing reformer.

    Oh, and I love to harken back to http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/david-cameron-what-the-experts-say-199206. Seems to hit all the right notes, though, as Ernie had it, “not necessarily in the right order”.

    [Two links, one a YouTube. Bound to be redacted.]

  • andnowwhat

    Cameron and the press is a funny thing, especially in the last couple of weeks.

    Over at the Guardo’s CIF, the LD faithfull were in a rage with promises of party cards being burned all over the pages.

    Then CIF was full of predictable comments on ConDem policies so I clicked on to The Mail for the predictable fawning. Hardly a sign of it and hardly a sign of it in OpEds. What seemed to be happening, to me, was that Dave and the ConDem’s biggest attacks were coming from the right. Quite simply, they don’t like him and hints and leaks seem to infer that he is not even liked by his own within his cabinet. Mind you, this is a man who thought the Yanks were in WWII before the British.

    Go get him Rupert!!

  • andnowwhat @ 9:06 pm:

    Nice one!

    Go get him Rupert!!

    Never fear! “Dum butlab dum” [= “blood begets blood”]. Lex talonis.

    P.S. I’m reading up on Ezekiel, 18, in preparation for the next Murdoch outing to the Commons Committee.

  • andnowwhat

    Cheers Malcolm.

    I’ve heard stuff on the radio about The Sun turning on Dave in the last couple of weeks under the disguise that they care about grannies and pasties (would be the same thing if Dave ever catches a late night broadcast of Solvent Green) as well as reading the stuff in the Sunday Times. So far, so petty but hopefully there’s better stuff to come.

    So intertwined are Dave and Rupert that attacks both ways will cause a little self harm. A prime example would be the Andy Coulson situation, a forgotten bomb that’s quietly ticking away under both men’s feet.

    Yep, I’ve several pop in the bag popcorns already for Murdoch’s return.