But quite aside from the fact that most of us here disagree with the things that Cameron has been saying in recent months, there is the puzzle of why he has been saying them. I am thinking of things like fluffing on tax cuts, the NHS, Europe, and so on. He seems determined not just to be more left wing than Conservatives used to be. He seems to want to be more left wing than the country. All the politicians, for instance, now seem to accept the virtues or at least the inevitability of relentlessly high taxation. Except the voters!
Tony Blair did not get where he got by altering the substance of Thatcherism. He did it by putting a more amenable face on the front of it, that of a Hugh Grantish ingratiator, rather than of a bald, out-of-touch, Conservative. Cannot Cameron see that? What the country seems to want is Conservatism with a non-Conservative face. Thatcherite policies, but without those smug bastard, crowing and thieving Conservatives fronting for it all. They want Blair, before he became mired in sleaze and incompetence. But Cameron has gone out of his way to supply more than this. The Conservative Party has changed, he says. Who is he trying to convince, and of what?
Why is he apparently dumping all of the substance of Thatcherism, and thereby risking the very leakage that Perry notes, of voters from the Conservatives to things like UKIP, or almost as damagingly, to the screw-them-all-we’re-not-voting-for-anybody party? The we’re-not-voting-for-anybody party has really hurt the Conservatives in recent elections. Why is Cameron risking the wrath of this party yet again?
I think we can best understand Cameron’s performance so far as an exercise in allowing the mainstream media to attack Labour.
Media people are never going to like Conservatives, but towards this Conservative or that Conservative they feel very variable degrees of dislike. Cameron has presented himself to London’s media people as the kind of Conservative Prime Minister that they would be willing to put up with, given that they have to put up with Conservative Prime Ministers from time to time.
This has made a big difference to the political atmosphere of Britain. I recall, somewhat over a year ago (I have searched through the Samizdata archives but have failed to find the posting in question – sorry), noting that something had happened to what used to be called “Fleet Street”, and that suddenly they were really putting the knife in. At the time, I was rather puzzled, but guessed it might have something to do with some particularly annoying tax things that Gordon Brown had just been doing. Now, I believe that the biggest difference has been made by David Cameron. There has never been a lack of stories about this Labour Government which the mainstream media might have used to ruin it. The sleaze and incompetence have been more or less continuous, from the start. What has changed is that ‘Fleet Street’, as it used to be called, never liked to put the knife in too deep, for fear of letting the hated Conservatives back in. Now that they do not hate the Conservatives nearly so much, they are now ready to indulge their natural instinct to wreck the government of the day. Wrecking governments of the day is what mainstream media people live to do. This is their real bias. They are biased in favour of their own power to smash things up whenever they decide to, and they hate having to restrain themselves, year after year. Of course they have their various prejudices, which you have to doff your hat to if you want to get a good press. But the point is at least as much the doffing of the hat as the particular content of their opinions at any particular time, which in any case keep on changing.
There has for some months now been a savagery about press attacks on the Government that was lacking when the alternative to a Labour government was Hague, or Duncan Smith, or Howard, none of whom were nearly grovelling enough towards Fleet Street, although they did sometimes try. All they said was: we realise that we have to seem different. That was not nearly good enough for the media people. They wanted real substance. They wanted real policy switches, away from Thatcherite Blairism, and towards their own prejudices. Cameron has given them this, on a whole series of issues, and they are now in the mood to reciprocate.
There was much talk over the weekend before last about how the government had used its plan – real or imaginary – to split the Home Office, into separate bits of incompetence rather than having the one big incompetent slab, as a way of deflecting attention from the fact that one of the Prime Minister’s closest advisers had just been arrested, and in a manner strongly suggesting that the police reckon she was guilty. But were the journos just allowing the government to get everyone thinking about the Home Office again so that, only a day or two later, they could take another crack at its various blunderings? It certainly looks that way now.
Now the journos are starting to flag up the story that Guido Fawkes has been banging on about for weeks (presumably with journo help) about the non-charitableness of the Smith Institute, which now earns its keep laundering bribes to the next Prime Minister by paying the salaries of his gofers. These reports, and all the other tails of sleaze which the journos will soon be dredging up again about Brown mean that the new broom of Brownism will be covered in shit before it even starts to sweep.
(By the way, it is somewhat off the points I am making here, but I am told that Gordon Brown is some kind of enemy of Home Secretary John Reid, and that Brown’s various fixers and screamers encouraged the Sun to question John Reid’s brain functions in the way they did with that front page last week. Brown wants to be quite sure that John Reid cannot become the next Prime Minister rather than him, at no matter what cost in terms of the general sense that this is a Labour government is in an advanced state of collapse. To him this may seem cunning. To me it just seems totally bone-headed and cloth-eared.)
This government has been hated for a long time, and especially by media people, who really do not like being screamed at by foul-mouthed government bullies. They have also always hated the Iraq War. What is new is that now, because of the concentrated Fleet Street assault of the last few months, we have a government that is not just hated, but despised. Think: the switch from Thatcher to Major. Let them hate provided that they fear, etc. This government’s henchmen have been unapologetically barbaric and disgusting from the word go. But now that spin doctoring has degenerated into the art of failing even to flood the newspapers and TV screens with the government’s second worst clutch of embarrassments, the government’s fixers are becoming progressively worse at fixing anything at all.
It is not merely that these creatures are incapable of making the public sector work properly. They have never been any good at that, because nobody can ever do that – unless, like Mrs Thatcher, you threaten to shut the public sector down if it does not behave itself. No, far worse than the inability of the Blairites and the Brownites to govern the mere country adequately, these people can no longer now even manipulate the media satisfactorily. When governmental creatures now scream threats at insubordinate journos who are asking about the latest lot of cock-ups, it no longer matters. Their screams of rage just become part of the story.
David Cameron did not himself do any of this directly, but he did contrive the changed circumstances which enabled it to happen so completely. What he has done is to allow the media people to launch themselves at the Labour Party in all its various forms and factions. Just as Blair created a world in which the average Conservative supporter no longer cared if the Conservatives were the government or not, now Cameron has achieved the equal and opposite effect. Simply, this Labour government is now a ruin. And the voters can see it.
For remember, media people used to be Labour supporters almost to a man, whatever the mere owners of the media might think about things. When media people turn on this Labour government like wolves, that is like Middle England saying that William Hague is ridiculous or Iain Duncan Smith an oily creep or Michael Howard some kind of ghoul from beyond the grave.
None of which in any way contradicts the Perry de Havilland line on Cameron. But it does go some way to explaining what on earth he has been up to.