Cameron’s bullies are bossing the common room

by Dan Hodges

Thank god for David Willetts. And Michael Gove. Raise  a glass to Andrew Lansley. If they had half the political nous of David Cameron and George Osborne, the Labour party would be toast. Dead as a Lib Dem parrot. Or whatever that strange bird is they have as a logo.

The Tory front bench is basically two gangs. The Bullies and the Geeks. George Osborne is chief bully. He goes to bed every night dreaming about how he’s going to get up in the morning, whack the country on the nose and nick its pocket money. He tells us all he’s doing it to toughen us up. But really, he does it because he enjoys it.

His sidekick is Eric Pickles. A rough northern lad, Eric likes nothing better than picking on southern softies. During local election night, his victim was Sadiq Khan. “You were supposed to win a thousand seats. How many have you got, Saddo”? Sadiq looked like he just wanted to run home to mummy.

Then there are the brainy kids. David Willetts has such a big brain it won’t all fit in his head. Like the universe, his skull is actually expanding, and at a  rate so fast, his hair can’t catch up. Michael Gove is also super-intelligent. But while Willetts comes across as a friendly boffin, Gove retains a vaguely sinister air. In fact, he looks a bit like the Nazi in Raider’s of the Lost Ark who has that artifact burnt into his hand. Andy Burnham should ask to check next time they’re at the dispatch box.

And, of course, there’s David Cameron. A sort of in-betweener. He’s not that hard, or that brainy. But he’s quite good at sports, the girls like him, and his popularity buys him an in with both the Bullies and the Geeks. That’s how he’s got to be head prefect.

But David’s got a problem. The Bullies and Geeks keep getting in each other’s way.

People may not like the Bullies. But their strong arm tactics are working. Osborne’s harsh economic medicine has not repelled the voters. Cameron’s laddish charm isn’t wearing thin; despite the hoo hah,  there was no political price to pay for Winnergate. Pickles “savage” local authority cuts resulted in no erosion of Tory support.

The Geeks, in contrast, keep messing up. Willets on buying university places. Gove over school building. Andrew Lansley every time he opens his mouth.

Cameron, Osborne and Pickles get politics. They have a strategy, and they’re sticking to it.  Its success lies in its simplicity. Take the blame early in the political cycle, take the credit when it counts.

Their colleagues, Gove, Duncan Smith, Willetts, don’t. They’re not thinking politically, they’re thinking managerially, philosophically  and to a lesser extent, ideologically.

Take Iain Duncan Smith. He became a by-word for political incompetence. The man could not even master that most basic Parliamentary art of standing up and speaking at the same time.

Then he went to the Easterhouse housing estate and had an epiphany. He started thinking seriously about social policy and inequality, and established the Centre for Social Justice. Welfare reform, abandoned by Labour after Harriet Harman and Frank Field came to blows, was seized by the quiet man.

But though it’s clear that Duncan Smith has thought deeply and sincerely about welfare, he has been unable to successfully manage his ideas through the transition from opposition to government. Just when Cameron was telling the nation we were all in it together, IDS was telling the nation’s jobless to “get on the bus”. As Cameron looks to consolidate after his local election success, IDS is opening a second front on disability benefit, one that will make the anger of the students look like a scouts’ jamboree. Iain Duncan Smith has found his calling. But not his political touch.

It’s similar with Andrew Lansley. While his colleagues were getting fitted for their ministerial suits and measuring the departmental curtains, Lansley  was immersing himself in the minutiae of NHS management. In fact, he became so close to the GPs, trust directors and other health providers that his colleagues started whispering that he’d  gone native.

The result has been a disaster. The NHS, the area identified by Cameron as so politically sensitive it required the  ring-fencing of its expenditure, has blown up in his face. And not because Lansley was too incompetent to diffuse it. But because he couldn’t resist playing with it to see what made it tick.

That’s the problem with the Geeks. They can’t keep things simple. And that’s why they keep tripping themselves, and the Bullies, up.

Which is good news for Ed Miliband, because it’s just about the only thing that’s saving him from a good old fashioned playground hiding. Ed isn’t part of anyone’s gang. He tries to run with Ed Balls’ posse for a bit of protection. But he’s not really one of them, and he knows it. He had an older brother who used to look out for him. But they’ve fallen out. And now the cool kids just don’t want to know.

There are some people who quite like him. Wish he would take on Cameron and the Bullies. But they’re not sure he’s got it in him. And, because of that, they keep their distance.

Meanwhile, the Bullies are starting to  get bolder. One of the problems for Cameron was that he had never had a definitive success with which to keep his party in line. When Tony Blair won his landslide, he became curator of the absolute truth. When he talked, people listened; where he pointed, people followed.

Cameron never had that validation. The Geeks always thought they knew better. The Bullies were a bit too thick; Cameron a bit too pretty.

Not now. Cameron and the Bullies have a local election win to their name. Their strategy is working. It may not be profound; a bit rough and ready for some. But the Geeks have been shown to be a bit too clever for their own good. While Cameron and the toughs are earning some grudging respect.

Last week, the Tory leader addressed his party’s back bench 1922 committee. According to reports from journalists waiting outside in the corridor, the applause and banging of desks was “loud, it was repeated several times and it sounded pretty enthusiastic and genuine”. In contrast, the response for Ed Miliband at the PLP was described as “audible”, but “polite and respectful, rather than enthusiastic”.

The In-betweener and the Bullies are taking over the common room. The ties are off. The cigarettes have been lit. It’s their tune playing on the radio.

Ed and the Geeks will need to be careful. Before they’re forced to find somewhere else to hang.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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7 Responses to “Cameron’s bullies are bossing the common room”

  1. Chris Morris says:

    I like the analysis.

    Question is, if Miliband minor is too nice to have a gang, and the self-styled cool kids as you say don’t want to know, would he accept the support of a few kids from the local council estate who don’t know when to stop ? Gaius Iulius Caesar relied on his support from the subura. They knew how to fight dirty, when the need arose. Plus there was the office of Tribune of the Plebs to give them some political clout and cover. Bit of a kamikaze act from time to time it has to be said – no lictors. Anybody remember the Gracchi ?

    Talking of classical history, when does the Stop Boris gig get under way ? Now there’s a man who sees himself as born to the purple. Trouble is he has I understand a bit of a thin skin when riled, and when he really goes off script rather than the carefully prepared banter he could come a cropper. Especially in Latin. Et linguam latinam habeo. Cave canem, Boris. And if he goes down in the election for Mayor like he could and should, he would be a right little troublemaker back in the House. For starters, who stands down to let him back in ? Smug Dave would not like it one little bit and the bullies would not know which way to turn. How well does that work to Ed’s advantage ? Blue on blue crossfire. Divide and conquer. Not original, not particularly smart, but it works.

    best wishes
    Chris Morris

  2. AnneJGP says:

    A long article with no apparent point, Dan, except that you end by classing Mr Miliband as a Conservative Geek. Applied to the Labour leader, I find that bordering on the offensive.

  3. Chris Morris says:


    all due respect but are you possibly confusing offensive with provocative ? And there is a point , I think – trust me on this.

    best wishes Chris

  4. iain ker says:

    I’m with Anne on the point thing.

    Though I’d take her word for it rather than mine as she probably reached the end of the piece.

  5. AmberStar says:

    The 1922 were celebrating AV being crushed like a bug. And their debatable victories in the locals also came at the LibDem’s expense. They hate their coalition partners more than they dislike David Cameron.

    Ed M is doing absolutely fine. He has been leader for only 8 months.

  6. iain ker says:

    AmberStar says:

    Ed M is doing absolutely fine. He has been leader for only 8 months.


    Agreed – keep him there.

    Though possibly we have different ideas of what he is ‘doing’.

    What I believe he is ‘doing’ is making TUCLabour unelectable – or even more unelectable should I say

  7. Real Chris says:


    Yawn, I suppose you’re one of the “cool kids”?

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