Cameron would be lucky to get out of the pub alive

by Tom Watson

It’s a poor workman that blames his tools. And this week the government has written the case study that scholars of public administration will follow for years to come in their lesson on how not to make reforms.

It’s a complete shambles behind that famous black metal door. Authorised and less-authorised briefings attacking huge sections of the population are spewing out of the government at such a rate that it’s hard to keep count.

I remember being told as a teenager living in Kidderminster that you should never pick a fight with the whole pub. Think about what David Cameron has been up to in the last couple of weeks. With his current record, he’d never have got out of the Market Tavern alive.

The list of people and groups he has officially offended is remarkable.

The civil service. They’re the enemies of enterprise, apparently. I promise Mr Cameron that he will regret those comments and the briefing that went with them. The survival instincts of Mr Gus O’Donnell and his team of mandarins are legendary. Cam’s team will pay in a hundred ways he hasn’t begun to imagine. Sure, the civil service needs reform, but insulting the entire institution won’t work. Trust me on this. I’ve tried it that way and failed. The only way to get lasting reforms in Whitehall will be a “Northcote Trevelyan Two” and a consensus between the parties. There are plenty of frustrated ex-ministers who, I am sure, would suspend their axe-grinding in order to work with our opponents to get the civil service in better shape.

Libya. It seems extraordinary that we can fall out with both sides of an emerging civil war. Attacking Gaddafi and getting the SAS arrested by the rebels is some achievement. I wonder whether he authorised the mission?

The monarchy. The Queen’s second eldest son was the subject of negative briefings by, we are told in the papers, Mr Cameron’s new spin doctor. Her Majesty must be wondering just what she has done to incur the wrath of the PM. Remember, he also appointed the man who edited the paper which hacked the phones of her grandsons. No wonder Prince William refused to tell Downing Street about his wedding plans in advance of the announcement.

The police. After the PM and the home secretary adversely criticised police pay and conditions, the police federation said that officers felt denigrated, upset and demoralised at their “unfair treatment”.

“This is a major, major turning point for policing in this country”, said fed boss Paul McKeever. If you think the students made a tremor in Parliament Square, wait until you see 10,000 protesting members of the police federation.

Perhaps most unbelievable of all, the PM’s powers of alienation have, accidentally, united factions at war for generations. By disdainfully not meeting them for eight months, he has united Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson.

“This is a totally unacceptable situation, and it is something that certainly never happened under the stewardship of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown”, Mr McGuinness told the Belfast Telegraph.

It is not clear whether it is the prime minister’s natural arrogance which leads him to ignore the Irish question, or what is becoming his trademark incompetence.

The effect, though is the same. He now has enemies where he could have allies. Loud-voiced and influential adverse critics where he could have friends. Add to these the trade unions, pensioner campaign groups, leaders in the arts, university students, the generals and the British medical association it turns into one hell of a list.

These are the scratches one gets on one’s back from years of forcing through hard-resisted change. Ask Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher. To have accumalated even greater levels of resentment and dislike in ten months of ineffectual prancing bodes dreadfully ill for the prime minister.

Oh, and remember how well his “scars on my back” speech turned out for Tony Blair. Not at all well. It was almost the beginning of the end. Deliberately insulting the entire public sector was an early sign that he was losing his touch. You might have thought Cameron would have factored that in before aping – yet again and with familiar incompetence – his hero-that-he-doesn’t-understand.

Wiser heads will be telling the prime minister that he should start being nice to a few more people. As I’m writing this column I find it hard to think of balancing institutions that actively support what the PM is saying and doing. He has the institute of directors. He has the Murdoch press (for the moment, and at a very high price). He has Nick Robinson. But not even Darren Gough turned out to campaign for him in the Barnsley by-election, despite it being predicted by Tom Newton Dunn, political editor of the Sun.

Mr Cameron is fighting on too many fronts. He will have to make more concessions to some of these groups. And that will once again add to the sense that he’s not in control. We’re not yet a year into the coalition. It feels like they’ve been there for a decade.

These unforced errors are killing the PM’s credibility. If he doesn’t get a grip soon, his reputation will be cast.

It’s harder than it looks, isn’t it David?

Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East.


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10 Responses to “Cameron would be lucky to get out of the pub alive”

  1. Sj says:

    Brutally honestly… I voted against your party, Mr Watson. I also voted against the Conservatives, and the Liberal Dimocrats. Of course, being resident in a Central Surrey town means that my vote is as near worthless as makes no difference. I could go on at length about this, http://mock-ing-bird.blogspot.com/2010/05/absentee-landlords-and-rotten-boroughs.html however, my blog post at the time covered my general disaffection quite nicely. It comes as no surprise to me that David Cameron’s performance is woeful. Politics in this country has become a dimly lit popularity contest amongst individuals who have no connection with or interest in the ordinary people of the UK. As long as we keep you in expenses, and pay ruinous taxes you are perfectly happy to continue on as you have been. There are far too many of you. Why are the numbers so huge? The US, a country of 200 million people, makes do with far fewer politicians. When Mr Cameron pontificates on the public sector, he conveniently forgets that Parliament is part of that giant bloated bureaucracy that has cost us so much. Enormous numbers of people want shot of the EU. We cannot afford it, cut your coat according to your cloth — or has that old adage never penetrated the corridors of power. Personally, I am furious and fed up. Party politics is irrelevant, it is all about power and you are all politicians. This is the land of my birth. I will not grow old here under any circumstances, because in the sixty odd years since the last war, you and your kind have made it untenable.

  2. Better to try and risk failing than not try at all.

    The establishment is something Labour was once keen on taking on, wasn’t it?

  3. jorvik says:

    Civil and public servants are only interested in their own jobs. Council leaders and Ministers should be imposing their authority over them, otherwise we’ll never get out of the mess you left us in Tom.

  4. Dave says:

    There is an alternative view:

    Times are extraordinarily tough. Everyone has pain to take, and everyone is going to get pissed off about it. It is better for the Government that everyone is pissed off compared to only some specific parts (e.g. students). The fine line is making sure that no single group or issue can be singled out as even more unfair or unnecessary than the others – e.g. forests.

    As for the ‘unforced errors’,

    -Suggesting in briefings that Prince Andrew’s position might be slightly fragile? Shocker! Isn’t it obvious?
    -Taking the military advice on the best way to do whatever covert mission was underway in the desert, which then appears to go wrong? Not evidently his fault or an error. No significant damage done.
    -Suggesting some Civil Service action does not help enterprise? again, big shock! You seem to agree with the factual basis here, but think he shouldn’t say it.
    -Not meeting the NI leadership in the last 8 months. Seriously? Given everything else that needs to be done? Placating the egos of devolved politicians should be a priority?

    The idea that any of these will lead to a unity of thought among the population that the current Labour leadership have better answers on the big issues is wrong.

  5. I’m with Mr. Watson on this one.
    SJ: a correction. The US is riddled with politicians. It’s not just Congress and the Senate: every state has two chambers too, packed with politicians. Plus all the elected positions we employ people to fill.

    What bothers me is the move to 600 MPs and 800 unelected Lords. That doesn’t look like democracy.

  6. The Wirer says:

    SJ I don’t want to comment upon your presentation against democratically elected institutions in this country but I feel I must correct you on points of accuracy when you make international comparisions. The United States is a country of 300 million people and has more than 500,000 elective offices in which its citizens can serve. The UK by contrast has less than 30,000 public offices for a population of 60 million.

    On the whole the UK has very little public corruption and politicans of all parties are motivated to serve the public for little reward in comparision to what they could earn in private business. The UK, like any democracy, has its problems but on the whole we do face them in a spirit of tolerance and openness. I for one am glad that we do not live in a country of obscurantist and paranoid little communities that believe that any person from outside has a hidden agenda and is a threat. That spirit I am afraid has infected parts of the United States but fortunately not here.

  7. James Ruddick says:

    Well, there it is. In a nutshell.

  8. Richard says:

    “I for one am glad that we do not live in a country of obscurantist and paranoid little communities that believe that any person from outside has a hidden agenda and is a threat.”

    I’m not so sure about that, Wirer. How much do you read the tabloid press?

  9. I am so disgusted by the way all politicians behave now I don’t know who I would vote for in the next election. I agree with your article too; I don’t know what Cameron stands for and he seems to be negative about everything and everyone.

  10. JOHN says:

    IT SEEMS OBVIOUS NOW THAT DAVID CAMERON IS TRYING TO KILL US SLOWLY AND WANTS PEOPLE ON THE STREET AND NOW PICKING ON THE OLDER GENERATION RICHER DO GET RICHER POORER DO GET POORER PEOPLE VOTED FOR THAT TWAT CAMERON AND LOOK WHERE’S ITS GOT US ALL AND HE HAS THE CHEEK TO TRY SELL SOME ROADS TO PRIVATE COMPANY’S SO U HAVE TO PAY TO DRIVE ON THEM SORRY BUT CAMERON SHOULD BE 6FT UNDER WHY DON’T PEOPLE VOTE AND GET RID OF HIM OR GET STRIKES RIOTS EVERYONE THESE DAYS JUST TAKE IT ALL AND DON’T SAY OR DO NOWT THE FUCKED UP (GOD HELP THE FUTURE)

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