Cameron’s on the ropes, but he will last the distance

by Kevin Meagher

The parliamentary recess will be greeted by the prime minister in exactly the same way a wounded boxer welcomes the end of a gruelling round. Winded, bloodied and blurry-eyed, the prime minister staggers back to his corner. His legs are like lead. His arms ache. His body is battered and sore.

He put up a spirited defence in the Commons yesterday – penance for bobbing and weaving out of fronting-up the hacking issue on behalf of the government these past few weeks – but he is behind on points.

Despite his combativeness and bluster the reigning champ looked ring rusty. Belligerent where he should have been contrite, he struggled to read the fight and walked on the end of punches he is seasoned enough to avoid. His pledge to apologise if Andy Coulson is eventually found guilty of sanctioning phone hacking simply risks storing up the mea culpa to end all apologies.

“I’m enjoying this” he proclaimed amid the stinging blows; (an insensitive boast given the thousands of innocent victims swept in the phone hacking scandal) and a curious formulation for an under-fire Tory leader as it was last used by Margaret Thatcher in her swansong Commons performance.

Cameron’s technique, punching power and the strength of his chin have all been sorely tested these past few weeks – and more often than not they have been found lacking. As the unfortunate British heavyweight David Haye found to his cost against Wladimir Klitschko the other week, talking a good fight is not enough.In failing to impress, or even convince, Cameron hints that perhaps he does not possess the class or heft to be a successful prime minister. Whispers about just whether ‘Hackgate’ is enough to engulf his premiership continue to echo.

Political spite? Don’t take my word for it, check out the venerable Tory sage Tim Montgomerie at the ConservativeHome website yesterday. He is the one calling Cameron a ‘very average prime minister doing very average things’. Meanwhile Norman Tebbit today criticises Cameron’s ‘lack of ability, or will, to think things through.’

That is, of course, akin to his own cornermen slapping him about the head with his spit-bucket. But he has only himself to blame. He cannot close down the issues that assail his government because the poisonous trail of relationships with News International stretches to his own front door.

To general consensus, Ed Miliband is the one dancing like a butterfly and stinging like a bee these days. He has jabbed and moved with impressive skill. His combination punches have wounded as his political ringcraft has improved. The intellectual has shown he can also mix it up.

Yes, this is all mainly a Westminster village issue, but the political cognoscenti’s scorecard matters – and that is where Cameron is trailing. Although not immediately fatal, the commentary on his weak handling of this issue is still corrosive to his authority among our opinion-forming class and stores up trouble for the future.

Actually, to be fair to the prime minister, part of me rather admired the way he stuck by Andy Coulson when the swirls of allegations first started to emerge. However what first appeared to be a case of quixotic loyalty to a friend was really the arrogance of knowing that while you dine with the most powerful media executives in the land no-one will touch you.

And what dealings they were. Amid his 26 tete-a-tetes with News International we are expected to believe there was no lobbying on the BSkyB bid. No “inappropriate” conversations took place Cameron feebly parried yesterday.

He even found time to dine with Rebekah Brookes just 48 hours after stripping Vince Cable of responsibility for broadcasting regulation last December. That was beyond reckless; a breathtakingly arrogant and stupid thing to do. What on earth was he thinking? Tebbit’s point about his judgement is well made.

I wrote at the start of the year that Cameron was a class act and Labour really had to learn how to nail him. I still stand by the first part – Cameron is never to be underestimated – he is quick and usually plausible. Before it tips over into arrogance, his breezy style is effective and he is an excellent tactical communicator.

But Cameron has dropped his guard and exposed his weaknesses in a way he has managed to avoid doing these past five years. The familiar accusations of arrogance, poor judgement and a flimsy grasp of detail have combined with unique potency on this scandal, damaging him in a way that looked unthinkable even a couple of months ago. His Teflon coating has been scraped off.

This is not merely an “Ecclestone moment” – when trust with the public is dented for the first time – this is a lingering issue that nibbles away at his character and credibility. He will also find that over coming months rebutting the various claims against him becomes an exhausting exercise.

Cameron’s luck, however, has not quite left him. The long and lazy Westminster summer recess and the protracted nature of inquiries means the energy marshalled against him will, for now, dissipate. The judicial inquiries promise further difficult days but he has a valuable chance to catch his breath over August and use his party conference at the start of October to get back on the front foot.

So he will live to fight another day. But like all champions who take a sustained pummelling, the aura of invincibility is gone. Even if nothing else sticks to him as a result of this sorry, tawdry saga, David Cameron is left looking like a bantamweight prime minister.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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3 Responses to “Cameron’s on the ropes, but he will last the distance”

  1. Great read. must confess I don’t see many strong traits in Cameron. He just strikes me as an average politician who is out of his depth as Prime Minister.

  2. taffarel says:

    Whether they agree with him or not, most voters see Cameron as a leader whereas Milliband will always be seen as a weak inefficient man destined to remain in opposition.

    For the majority of the nation who don’t view the Guardian’s dwindling paper, Cameron is a minor part of the hacking crisis. No one really blames him.

    Keep dreaming of Millibandever getting into power…

  3. Kevin says:

    Tafferel – worthy of Comical Ali!

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