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Is Britain about to shrug off David Cameron?

When I first began to read that David Cameron could soon be toppled by all this News of the World stuff, I was amazed, just as I was amazed when I first heard about the News of the World itself being shut. I still don’t know how badly Cameron is threatened, but if he is threatened, he has only himself to blame.

Cameron got the job of leading the Conservatives because enough of them thought that he would make a satisfactory Blair the Second, to replace the original. The question was, remember, during the Blair years: How shall we spend all this money? The answer was: nicely. Blair is the answer to the question: What sort of chap do you want your daughter marrying? A nice one, that’s what sort.

But well before Cameron became (only just) the Prime Minister, the questions had all changed, from being about niceness to being about what the hell was happening and what the hell should be done about it. Yet Cameron exudes no sense of crisis. On the contrary, he makes a point of not doing so, of suggesting that all will be well provided we don’t panic and just carry on carrying on, when in reality the situation is very troubling and getting worse and worse by the day. It’s as if Stanley Baldwin was still the Prime Minister in 1939.

I have a friend whose take on Britain’s political party leaders has been an infallible guide to their success or failure, during the last two decades or so. Blair? Nice one. Major? No. Hague? Thumbs down. The next bald Conservative chap, ditto. The next Conservative bloke – Howard was it? – ditto again. Brown? A definite thumbs down. But Cameron? I remember particularly asking her about Cameron. What do you make of him?

Shrug. Nothing. Not nasty. Not especially nice. Just, you know, not the answer. Only the answer if the question is: Brown or anybody? – and the answer is: anybody. Which, by a whisker, it was.

Cameron seems to have few passionate enemies, but few friends either. Speaking for myself, I am unable to remember anything – anything – that David Cameron has ever said, beyond that ridiculous Rorschach test verbal blob: “big society”. To me he comes across only as perpetually calculating how to triangulate himself into perpetual occupation of Ten Downing Street, while remaining sublimely unaware that things might have to be … decided. Friends rallied, enemies made, irrevocable steps taken, Gadarene rushes halted, cudgels taken up. Liberal Democrats, and many Conservatives, maltreated and betrayed. If Cameron is aware of the need to do such things, then he is daily proving himself utterly incapable of it.

As Perry de Havilland has repeatedly pointed out here, if you actually read Cameron’s speeches you will detect absolutely no such awareness – none whatsoever, merely the calm, dignified conviction that as we meander towards the precipice we must all remain calm and dignified.

Any hope I had that Cameron would be an improvement on his predecessor depended on the hope that Cameron was lying about how feeble his policies would be, and I do indeed believe that lies are not unreasonable to at least hope for, from a front bench politician. Alas, it turned out that Cameron was telling the truth.

Douglas Carswell describes the things that now do and do not matter quite well:

Forget about which politicians hang out with which media people for a moment. Our closest trading partners are in grave trouble. A number of European countries are on the verge of bankruptcy, their governments having borrowed beyond their means to fund unsustainable welfare programmes. In perhaps weeks, rather than months, the credit carousel will come to a stop, with various EU governments simply unable to pay their bills by borrowing more.

Across the Atlantic, something like $800 Billion has been squandered in an effort to stimulate the US economy, with little besides a credit ratings downgrade to show for it.

Far from saving the world, Western policy-makers have compounded the mistakes they made in the run up to the 2007 credit crunch with a catastrophic borrow-and-bailout splurge. It was supposed to stimulate the economy and allow us to grow our way out of this mess. It was, they told us, necessary to bolster the banks and buy them time to recover. On both counts, it has failed. Entire governments, not just banks, are now on the brink. Some economic cure it’s been. …

And Cameron’s response to all this has been, what?

Carswell again:

Being outside the Eurozone has spared us from quite the feckless public spending seen in parts of Euroland. Not having Obama as leader means we’ve not yet managed to blow several years budgets in one. But in more ways than many care to consider, Britain’s economic policy has changed little from the approach that got us into such a mess to start with.

Monetary policy has remained entirely unaltered. Nothing has been done to change the course charted by the Monetary Policy Committee, with their ruinously low interest rates and inflationary print-more-money agenda. We should tighten monetary policy and create incentives for people to save.

Fiscal policy has been adjusted very little, with tax and spending following much the same trajectories that were set by the previous administration. Despite the talk of deficit reduction and cuts, UK public spending, borrowing and taxation are all up. Indeed, the Coalition spent more money in its first year than Gordon Brown did in his last. We should cut public spending and borrowing, rather than just talk about it.

When it comes to bailing out banks and the Eurozone, the current administration has more or less carried on with the policy it inherited. …

Prime Ministers who bob about like corks on the ocean of events are vulnerable to scandal. A Prime Minister who is visibly battling a crisis, the nature of which and cure for which he himself repeatedly proclaims in a way that approximately convinces, generally gets to carry on with his battle, whatever people think of his mere morals or his friends or his accent or his taste in suits and ties. A Prime Minister who is leading the charge against an enemy can turn on carpers who moan about such things as unsavoury newspaper friends and cry: Okay, okay, I get it, you don’t like my friends. But keep on about it and I will soon suspect you of being another enemy yourself.

Thatcher, in the days of her pomp, defined her great enemy as inflation. Anyone who flung the same piece of mud at her for too many days running was accused by her of being in favour of inflation, and it worked like a charm, not least because the accusation was quite often true. But what evils are the people who are now complaining about Cameron’s newspaper friends going to be accused of, by Cameron or by anyone else? Undermining Britain’s foreign aid programme? Being anti-Eton? Opposing wind farms?

Like Carswell, I thought that Cameron was at least a better bet than Gordon Brown. Brown had definite plans, all of them catastrophic, and I would have voted for a hamster in a wheel rather than him. Now that the catastrophe has got bigger, and Cameron’s plans, insofar as they exist, are proving equally catastrophic, I now feel the same about Cameron. Would Ed Milliband, or Nick Clegg, or William Hague, be any worse? Very possibly, a bit. Might they be better? Most unlikely, but you never know your luck. Better the devil you don’t know, than the futile waste of space that you do.

I don’t find that I now hate Cameron, the way I hated Brown. What’s to hate? But I really would quite like it if another Prime Minister now took over, picked with whatever constitutional pin or random cabal of parliamentary beasts would do the picking. Such an upheaval would almost certainly fail to accomplish anything positive, but it would at least add to the sense of a crisis. Since we do actually face a crisis, that would be something.

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15 comments to Is Britain about to shrug off David Cameron?

  • Kevyn Bodman

    Two separate issues are being mixed up.
    Yes, Cameron is a big disappointment as Prime Minister.
    But who couldn’t see that coming?
    It’s the fault of all those electors in the Conservative Party that they chose to vote for him rather than for the conservative candidate David Davis.
    But that’s politics.

    The other issue is crime, and Cameron is not responsible for the criminal activities of journalists or the police.
    Why on earth should the suggestion that he be removed from No. 10 because of News. Int’s hacking come up?
    This hacking crisis is not nearly as bad for the country as the news organisations are making out. Certainly it’s bad for News Corp but the government and parliament need do nothing.
    It seems that criminal offences have been committed, there is no need for a judge-led inquiry;leave it to the existing law.

  • Yes, Cameron is a big disappointment as Prime Minister.

    No, because if as you yourself state…

    But who couldn’t see that coming?

    …he is exactly what anyone who was actually paying attention would have expected: Tory Blair.

    It’s the fault of all those electors in the Conservative Party that they chose to vote for him rather than for the conservative candidate David Davis.

    They are not called ‘the Stupid Party’ for nothing. And as UKIP, the only actually conservative party in the UK, has not gained traction (for all sorts of regrettable reasons)…

    But that’s politics.

    …hence the UK look quite likely to not pull out of the dive any more than if we had been in Euroland… our lot are really no different and certainly no better.

    Much of the western world will experience a ‘controlled flight into terrain’. It will be the job of folks like us to try and provided the most compelling answer after that happens as to why it happened, in whatever messy form it comes, because you can be sure the people who caused it will be blaming everyone except themselves.

  • This situation reminds me of Watergate, not in the sense that Cameron is Nixonian, he obviously lacks Nixon’s passion for politics and his vast collection of enemies, but in the sense that he;s being taken doing for associating with people who’ve been behaving in ways that were OK a little time before.

    British tabloids using sleazy tactics to gather information for dubious scoops has been a tradition for decades. In 1972 gathering secret information about you political enemies had also been a tradition. Nixon himself had been bugged by the democrats in 1968, but the media changed the rules and Nixon went down. N

    Now the enemies of Cameron, and more important Murdoch have discovered that what was previously acceptable is now scandalous.

    Murdoch may have the balls to hang in there, does Cameron ?

  • Andrew Zalotocky

    The Prime Minister that Cameron reminds me of is James Callaghan. Sunny Jim was the last PM of the post-war consensus era. In many ways he was an improvement on his immediate predecessors (Wilson and Heath) but he was doomed to ignominious failure because he came to power just as the consensus was about to collapse. He was a man of the old consensus and he couldn’t think outside it, so he had no answer to the problems the country was facing.

    Cameron is in a similar position with regard to the welfare state, the Big State in general, and probably environmentalism too. He’s a man of the old consensus who has come to power just as the system is breaking down and public opinion is turning against it.

    Callaghan’s career was ended by the Winter of Discontent. If Cameron survives the current scandals (as he probably will) his downfall will come when the lights start going out because of his government’s mad dash to cut CO2 emissions.

  • Brad

    You can only shrug at the politicians here in the US as well.

    These people are made out of nothing at all. They are nice looking, generally likable people who are merely placeholders at this point. Placeholders for what or whom is the question.

    As sinister as it sounds, and perhaps I need to apply another layer to my tinfoil hat, I take these bland talking heads to be a front for the behind the scenes Prime Movers. The Leviathan, with only the tiniest of factions, has grown and calcified its position over the last 100 years to a point of being “too big to displace” and all it need do is put a front on their operation(s) in the form of a Bush II on one hand or an Obama on the other.

    Presidents or Prime Ministers aren’t leaders anymore, they are mouthpieces. You get the feeling if they really did make much of a difference, it wouldn’t be for your benefit anyway.

  • I think there is a certain feel of “We all know Cameron is useless, so this is possibly an opportunity to get rid of him” in certain circles. I think there may be a similar feeling in the City about James Murdoch. There seem to be further thoughts beneath that suggesting that it might be time to put Rupert Murdoch out to pasture as well. It has long been assumed that once Murdoch dies, the institutional shareholders will demand that the cleaners be put through the management of the company, and bits of it will be closed and other bits sold off. If this crisis leads to the feeling that Rupert Murdoch has lost his touch (the man is 80 years old) then this might all happen sooner.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    If Cameron survives the current scandals (as he probably will) his downfall will come when the lights start going out because of his government’s mad dash to cut CO2 emissions.

    Absolute bullseye. When the power cuts come, and old Etonians start encouraging us all to remember how to brush our teeth in the dark, it will be electoral suicide for them.

    Question: when is a major, credible politician going to denounce the anti-Co2 hysteria? There must be votes in it.

  • Andrew Zalotocky

    I agree with the Callaghan comparison. Another Prime Minister who specialised in remaining calm in the face of disaster when he should instead have put himself about a bit.

    We now await Cameron’s “It can’t go on like this” speech.

    Many, including me, pick out Callaghan’s speech acknowledging this as the moment when Thatcherism truly began.

  • nemesis

    Question: when is a major, credible politician going to denounce the anti-Co2 hysteria? There must be votes in it.
    Quite. There must be some but maybe they feel it is a bit premature to put their heads above the parapet yet. Graham Stringer MP would seem to be a good candidate, he seems to me to have some integrity. He is a Labour MP but also a scientist.

  • Paul Marks

    I have read Brian’s post – I agree with all of it, and I can think of nothing to add.

  • Lee Moore

    Well I think the fact that Cameron is in a bit of trouble because of the NOTW almost completes quite a neat circle. The Conservative sheeple elected him because he was thought to be acceptable to the BBC, and consequently wouldn’t get kicked as hard as Major and the two bald guys. Nor was he, to start with. The BBC, which dominates the UK media space far more than Murdoch ever did, is now leading the charge to destroy their only substantial ideological enemy in their home media market. And in the process they are trying to bring Cameron down. The 2010 election result was a disaster for the Conservatives and a deliverance for Labour, as it placed the Conservatives in the frame to carry the can for ten years of Gordon Brown’s economic policies, and allowed Labour to escape scot free. Because the government changed before there was any sense of real crisis (aside from a few nutters screeching on websites about the build up of debt etc.) If Cameron were to be kicked out now, and the Conservatives were replaced by Labour now, Labour would be snatching disaster from the jaws of its 2010 deliverance, as there is STILL no sense of crisis amongst the voting public. The public will only demand serious measures when the roof actually falls in. There will be no prizes for the Jeremiahs who have warned about the dodgy state of the roof. The only thing that matters, politically, is not being in power when it falls in. And if the Conservatives aren’t in power when the roof falls in, then and only then, is there a possibility of a Conservative Prime Minister acceptable to the Conservative party rather than acceptable to the BBC. The BBC would be much better advised to keep their own patsy in power until the roof finally goes.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “when is a major, credible politician going to denounce the anti-Co2 hysteria? There must be votes in it”

    Vaclav Klaus is having a good try.

    So far, few are listening to him.

  • Paul Marks

    Lee Moore.

    Agreed – on all points.

  • RAB

    I have no problem with anything which fatally wounds iDave ( a Tory in name only) but I do have a problem with what comes after.

    The Boy Clegg is Deputy Prime minister, will he take over if Cameroon is forced to resign? How will he cope between his paper round and doing the school run for his wife?

    I had high hopes of Hague once upon a time, but he got the job too early, and now I just don’t think he will get past that Eric and Ernie, two in a room with his Aide incident. Could have been completely innocent, and I couldn’t give a fuck anyway, but the public does, and Fion is still not pregnant and nowhere to be seen.

    So who else do the Tories have in line for the top job (those who are actual Tories that is)?

  • “So who else do the Tories have in line for the top job (those who are actual Tories that is)?”

    And therein RAB nails it.