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?
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.