Can he stand the scrutiny?

May 5, 2008 at 8:20 pm | Posted in British Politics | 1 Comment
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David Cameron by Flickr user Edublogger

Like many of you, I’ve spent the past weekend indulging in everything from despair to deep-seated rage. I’ve started re-reading The Plague and imagining it’s set in London. I’ve considered giving up, selling out and starting a new life in the Socialist Republic of Scotland. I’ve thought about buying a dog just so I can let it shit in the diveway of my newly-minted Tory councillor. Worst of all, my ability to reason has been so heavily-damaged by Labour’s hammering that I’ve even sought solace in the strangest of places, like Peter fucking Hitchens. But as much as Our Dear Prophet tries to reassure me that the local elections were still a resounding victory for Stalinism, Satanism and the state-sponsored stir-frying of foetuses, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single sober mind who’ll agree with him.

Yet in the midst of all this despair, I still managed to find one tiny glimmer of hope to remind me that all isn’t yet lost. Here’s Anthony Browne, director of the right-wing Policy Exchange think tank, on what the Conservatives should do between now and the next election:

They should also worry less about not having major policy differences, ‘wedge issues’, to distinguish them from the government. It is probably not particular policy differences that will decide the next election, but the character and competence of the parties and their leaders.

The implications of what Browne’s saying are pretty obvious: ‘Dave’ is so decent, kind and loving that come the next election millions of Britons will have his name tattooed across their chests. Failing that, the Tories will just have to call Gordon a ‘loser’ a few more times.

Sure, character and competence will be important factors in the next election, and given how increasingly imbecillic our media has become, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the country can’t remember a single policy difference between the parties before heading to the ballot box. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Conservatives will be at an advantage.

Browne’s quote reminded me of something that happened last week. On April 27th David Cameron told the country that he would ‘stand up’ for those low-paid Britons who had been ‘singled out’ by Labour to pay more tax:

“People on low pay, families who struggle often to make ends meet, who have seen the cost of living rising and have seen their tax bill go up under Labour, those people who thought ‘The Labour Party is for me’. I think they feel desperately let down. “What I want to say to people like that is we are there for you.”

The very next day, George Osborne – Cameron’s Cheneyesque shadow Chancellor – announced that the Tories would take a serious look at employment legislation with the aim of curbing the powers of the trade unions. Ah, those ‘compassionate’ conservatives, their problem is they want help everyone – from the low-paid worker at Grangemouth to the company bosses who want to steal their pensions. They just care too much!

In a quieter political climate, this audacious duplicity would’ve been more widely-reported. Were it not for a Brown Derangement Syndrome which apparently makes all other news irrelevant, Osborne might’ve been invited to explain himself to Humphreys or Paxman, Cameron might’ve been asked whether he thought union-busting counted as ‘standing up’ for the poor and more of the country might’ve been alerted to the fact that Cameron’s Conservatives have been talking out of both sides of their mouths for years without ever being held to account.

This was far from an isolated incident. When elected leader, Cameron pledged to end the purile ‘Punch & Judy politics’ we see every day in the commons. In the very same month, he sat idly whilst his shadow Chancellor nasty little hatchet man launched two offensive and very personal attacks against Gordon Brown. That Cameron’s now ‘fessed up‘ to failing to live up to his noble aim is laughably disingenuous – Cameron never had any intention of living up to it.

In 2006, Cameron claimed to embrace a better work-life balance, and even took paternity leave as ‘proof’ of his seriousness. But if he was truly serious, why did he also commission John Redwood to craft proposals to scrap health & safety legislation and roll back regulation on how many hours we work?

Then there’s the age-old issue of grammar schools, an eternal Tory supporter shibboleth that Cameron sought to disassociate the party from as further proof that the Conservatives had changed. But people don’t let go of shibboleths too easily and the pro-segregation brigade kicked up enough of a fuss to have him make a humiliating u-turn, revealing the party to be far less tolerant and inclusive than ‘Dave’ insists.

When you add all of this to the evidence that Cameron’s ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’ sloganeering is little more than shallow political opportunism (seriously, you can ‘go green’ by building more roads?), it would be relatively easy for Cameron’s opponents to build an assault on his competence and his character that’s reducible to six simple words:

You cannot trust what he says.

As Andrew Rawnsley has noted, Cameron will now be subjected to greater scrutiny than at any point in his political career. If he can navigate safely through questions about the inconsistencies in his leadership, the divisions within his party and the extreme privilege of his past, then there’s a strong chance he’ll be Prime Minister two years from now.

But that outcome is far from certain. Cameron won’t ever enjoy the kind of perfect storm that so damaged Labour on May 1st, and he has yet to face a party that’s now fighting for its political life. For those who believe deeply in the cause of social democracy, there’s still plenty of reason to fight on.

Photo by flickr user Edublogger (Creative Commons)

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  1. […] I’ve argued before, the time for such scrutiny is well overdue. If the Big Media ask the questions required and […]


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