Trying To Understand What’s Gone Wrong

Man's Best Friend, And A Dog.

Man's best friend, with a dog.

David Cameron made a speech at the Open University this week on reforming government, but before he did so he published it in basic form as an essay in The Guardian. The paper was sceptical about Cameron’s promises, writing in a leader that, “Although the Cameronian canvas for reform is broad, some extraordinarily big spaces are left blank.” (This could be taken to describe the whole Cameronian project.) The next day, Simon Jenkins took him apart with less politesse. But the details of what Cameron was promising – or, given his slippery language and equivocating constructions, not, as the case may be – were less important than what he was really doing in the piece: folding the current political crisis into his long-standing narrative, the Tory diagnosis of what is rotten in heart of modern Britain. “The anger [experience by voters] [… is] the result of people’s slow but sure realisation that they have very little control over the world around them,” he wrote, immediately linked any proper response to the expenses scandal with what are already Tory positions.

In an interview in today’s Telegraph, Cameron takes a more party political approach and inevitably winds up sounding less like a crusading reformer and more like a calculating party leader. In the Guardian piece, he promised fewer MPs and a redrawing of boundaries, but no proportional representation – an obvious attack on Labour’s ability to mount successful assaults on the Tories at election time. To this end, the Telegraph’s other frontpage story today – that Brown is considering drafting LibDems into his government at the next reshuffle – is more interesting, being a bold and inclusive response to crisis, rather than a nakedly self-interested one. Yet the strength of Cameron’s narrative (supported on the very day of its publication by none other than Boris Johnson) should not be undermined – as Drew Westen has argued, the ability to establish narratives is in politics the key to high office. From the usual cheerleaders like Iain Dale to more sceptical voices at LabourHome, Cameron’s ideas – and the reasoning behind them – gained traction and acceptance.

This is very clever stuff. Even if the reforming manifesto is piecemeal and patchy, it is at least a manifesto, and one with a strong supporting architecture. It’s more than Gordon Brown has so far mustered, for sure, and Political Betting has the figures: not good times for Labour. The Tories are making the running. They remain a party committed to dismantling this country’s means of protecting its most vulnerable citizens (turning instead to what amounts to enlightened philanthropy as an alternative) – but Cameron in particular has a means of framing policies coherently which Labour grossly lacks. In the wake of yet more MPs resigning, and widespread cynicism and scepticism with politicians of every stripe, Cameron’s narrative may not yet have sunk to the roots of discourse. But, barring a credible alternative, it assuredly will.


8 thoughts on “Trying To Understand What’s Gone Wrong

  1. What has depressed, or even distressed, me this week is hearing that Cameron is using the Laffer Curve as an economic model. And also the Tory move away from the Merkel/Sarkozy centre-right umbrella, towards the loony fringes of the EU. This makes me think the puppy-huggy face masks something fairly harsh and to the right of the UK mainstream.

  2. danhartland says:

    There is definitely something retrograde about Cameron’s so-called ‘progressive Conservatism’ – it’s that unblinking focus on the voluntary sector which I most distrust. It seems to be code for leaving the poor to fend for themselves. The Laffer Curve, of course, is another rationalisation for limiting the ability of the state to provide for those needing help.

  3. Unfortunately, what the country needs now, and is maybe even ready for, is a committed traditional Conservative leader and not a man whose own appeal is designed to compete with Labour’s own vision of a caring society.

    Unless we get such a leader we will, in the not too distant future, disappear into a black hole of debt and national bankruptcy which will make the events of September 1992 look like a kids party

  4. danhartland says:

    Billy – Catho in another comment reckons the country has moved further to the right than is commonly suggested. You seem to agree here – on what basis? It may well be the case that the country is ready for a Tory blue in tooth and claw, but on what basis do you arrive at that conclusion?

    Secondly – if Cameron’s too soft, where will your vote go in a GE, and how stinging do the cuts in your view need to be to prevent armageddon?

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  6. Charlotte faye says:

    David cameron disturbs me. i can not believe that a man can be so perfect.. environmentally friendly.. volunteering… Pfft
    i may be young and not as connected to the world as i can be but there is something about him i do not trust.
    and the campaign posters for the conservative party using Gordon Browns Face are a bit below the belt and desperate in my opinion!
    i don’t want to read Labour’s flaws on a billboard.
    its very childish and immature. its the kind of thing you would come to expect of school girls, picking on other peoples flaws to make them selves look better!
    i can hand on heart say my vote will not be for david cameron or his party ….

  7. danhartland says:

    Hi, Charlotte. Obviously I think you’re right – and I think the clear conclusion to come to from the polls is that the electorate remains unconvinced, too. I think what you detect is a disconnect between message and messaging: that is, the Tories want to pretend they’re kinder and cuddlier, but still indulge in hugely negative advertising; Cameron wants us to distrust the state but entirely trust him; today, his great sales pitch for the Big Society hides what the text of his party’s manifesto says – that his government would take a machete to Britain’s institutions.

    The Tories don’t add up.

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