The Cameron myth is broken

by David Talbot

18 months ago an exhausted Conservative leader limped through the famous black door of 10 Downing Street. His rise to power had until then been effortless: Eton and Oxford were followed by political pupillages under Messrs Lamont and Howard. Having skilfully manoeuvred his way to the leadership of his party in late 2005, he had successfully returned his party to power after the first Tory-free decade in modern history. Facing a disintegrating Labour party, and a visibly exhausted, not to mention reviled, Labour prime minister, he had become accustomed to a charmed political life, so much so that his aura permeated almost every inch of the British political domain.

Cameron has been lucky, especially in how little attention has been paid to his record as a leader that is as much about failure as success. His government is now beset by many of the same problems after 18 months that the previous Conservative government suffered after 18 years: the depth of backbench distrust; the re-emergence of rampant Euroscepticism; the lack of an overarching political narrative and the sense that, because of factors beyond its control, this is a government that is in office but not in power.

The warning signs were evident during the general election campaign. It was the feableness of the Cameron campaign that denied the Conservatives their first outright general election victory in almost twenty years. Many Conservatives, desperate to rid the country of Brown, unswervingly trusted Cameron and his minions during the election, and were rewarded with one of the most incoherent, expensive and ultimately failed general election campaigns ever.

For Conservative party members, so used to winning and basking in ideological purity, Cameron is already suspect. He did not win the expected election victory and has consorted “in flagrante” with the despised Liberal Democrats. Because he did not win, he is unable to deliver fully on the Conservative manifesto and, even after six years of a concerted “decontamination” strategy, many voters see no difference from the modern day compassionate Conservatives and the party of old. The desire for a change at the last general election was palpable. Opinion polls put it at 74% no less; yet the actual number who wanted a change to the Tories was a mere 34%, close to the 36% they polled. This was astonishingly low given the blissful conditions that Cameron enjoyed towards the end of the last decade.

He may well present himself as compassionate, decent and personable. In fairer times Cameron’s qualities would almost certainly make him a competent prime minister. But the Conservative party backbone is composed of hardened men and women by whom he is held in scant regard; implacable on Europe and immigration, fierce on hunting and crime – these Conservatives are not compassionate. Many of these party members prefer leaders who actually win elections.

There may be no challenger to Cameron as leader of the Conservative party, but he should no longer underestimate the seriousness of his position. Overestimating David Cameron has long been the order of the day at Westminster. But vast swathes of grassroots Tories and even large numbers of his own MPs have lost all affection for him. Indeed, the EU rebellion demonstrated that however bad you might have thought Cameron was at managing relations with his own parliamentary party, he is worse than that. The significance of the rebellion lies in its exposure of an old, deep problem that will fester until it becomes a crisis.

What happened to that 22% opinion poll lead he basked in the summer of 2008? Why did he fail to win a majority, in near-perfect electoral conditions? Enough of the British public were, just about, persuaded that he was “a different kind of Conservative” for him to win the greatest number of seats in Parliament. Not enough were persuaded that he had changed the Tories for them to secure a majority. Unless something dramatic happens, and the Conservatives buck electoral history, Cameron and his cohorts will find it very difficult to achieve a better result come 2015.

If Cameron is supposedly at his political best, then Labour should welcome him at his absolute worst. Miliband may not look like a prime minister in waiting, but Tory strategists are in danger of gambling too many chips on the Labour leader’s weaknesses, just as they did with Brown. Cameron is no longer the master of all he surveys, his myth is broken – his aura pierced.

David Talbot is a political consultant.


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12 Responses to “The Cameron myth is broken”

  1. Cameron didnt win which in the eyes of most of the British people(apart from a few Torys) makes him a loser who lacks the authority of election win.
    Cobbling together a desperate coalition show him to be what he is a chancer whos one driving ambition is to play at being Prime minister.

    what was said about David Loyd George “if you were to shut him in a room and look through the keyhole there would be nobody there. ”
    sums up Cameron to a tee

  2. BenM says:

    Good article. Are the scales falling from the eyes of other labour uncut authors?

  3. Rallan says:

    (westminster_bubble_gossip + usual_tory_discontent) * wishful_opposition_thinking = this_vague_article

  4. Roger says:

    And?

    This is all meaningless given that we are now lumbered with a fixed term parliament until June 2015 and nothing barring some outrageous scandal (even more outrageous than his closest friends being exposed for their behaviour in the phone hacking scandal) will actually unseat Cameron.

    Major was in much worse sh*t after the collapse of his economic policy in November 1992 – but still managed to limp on from humiliation to humiliation until May 1997.

    While the economic outlook is far worse (in late 1992 we were actually emerging from the recession and all of Major’s and Lamont’s efforts couldn’t push us back), Cameron is politically far stronger because the Lib Dems are now tied to him in a grip of death and will balance out any problems he has with his right wing over Europe.

    And the damage the Tories and their LD Quislings will do in those 3 and a half more years is literally incalculable.

  5. Henrik says:

    Oh dear, here go the comrades again, focusing on the Government, rather than their own difficulties. It’s all very well constructing a complex and fulfilling fantasy which sees Cameron and Clegg shunted out of power and a revitalised and ideologically sound Labour striding to the salvation of the nation; actually, it’s a harmless piece of dreaming; unfortunately, it’s not that relevant.

    Here are the hard facts: as long as you keep the current leadership, tainted as it is by close association with the worst Prime Minister in recent memory and which is also widely held *personally* responsible for the dire straits in which we find ourselves, I’m afraid you guys aren’t electable – unless you can actually cobble together some sort of convincing, attractive and optimistic vision of how things would be under a future Labour government and under the control of a credible and likeable Labour Prime Minister. I see no signs of this.

    Here’s another hard fact: folk simply don’t *like* your leadership very much. They seem somehow… odd. Cameron is a recognisable type and people, whether they like or loathe him and what he stands for, understand where he’s coming from and also understand the frustrations and irritations of a coalition government. From my personal perspective, the LibDems are a brake on the government, others’ mileage will no doubt vary. Whatever, the point is that folk also understand that a coalition will involve the parties involved continuing to push their own agendas and it won’t always be plain sailing. I could wish for a more impressive array of LibDem ministers, personally, but I guess the pool is pretty shallow.

  6. Roger says:

    And here is the latest poll from ComRes which while bad for the Tories is in most respects worse for Labour and certainly shows no sudden collapse in Cameron’s support:

    Labour’s small lead has increased slightly as economic pessimism grows, in the latest ComRes opinion poll for The Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror tomorrow.

    Con 35% (-2)

    Lab 39% (nc)

    LD 11% (+1)

    Others 15% (+1)

    Change in voting intention since the last IoS/SMirror ComRes online poll 16 October.

    Economic confidence has collapsed since before the election:

    I expect the economy will start showing signs of improvement soon

    Agree: 23% (67% June 09)

    Disagree: 55% (27% June 09)

    Don’t know: 22% (6% June 09)

    However, voters have no confidence that Labour would stop job losses:

    A Labour government under Ed Miliband would be better at protecting people’s jobs

    Agree: 27% (32% April 11) (30% Jan 11)

    Disagree: 43% (40% April 11) (38% Jan 11)

    Don’t know: 30% (28% April 11) (32% (Jan 11)

    A third of Labour voters are either unsure (25%) or disagree (8%) that a Labour government under Ed Miliband would be better at protecting people’s jobs.

    Rising youth unemployment is not seen as a reason for relaxing deficit reduction:

    It is better to let Government borrowing go on rising than to allow more youth unemployment

    Agree: 22%

    Disagree: 48%

    Don’t know: 29%

    Miliband and Balls have closed the gap on Cameron and Osborne, but still lag when it comes to being trusted on the economy:

    I trust David Cameron and George Osborne to make the right decisions about the economy

    Agree: 30% (31% Aug11)

    Disagree: 45% (48% Aug11)

    Don’t know: 25% (21% Aug11)

    I trust Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to make the right decisions about the economy

    Agree: 21% (18% Aug 11)

    Disagree: 50% (54% Aug 11)

    Don’t know: 28% (28% (Aug 11)

    Cameron/Osborne have gone from -17 points to -15 since August; Miliband/Balls from -36 to -29.

    Despite criticism from both sides, the Prime Minister is not seen as doing badly in the eurozone crisis, although the don’t knows are high:

    David Cameron is defending Britain’s interests well in the crisis over the euro

    Agree: 35%

    Disagree: 34%

    Don’t know: 30%

  7. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    What is the difference between having no compassion and as Ed Milliband names it, being “hard headed”?

  8. Madasafish says:

    So Ed Milliband is the coming man then?

    Rofl.

  9. BenM,

    Thanks.

    Rallan,

    _Thanks_

    Roger,

    I didn’t actually write that a general election was imminent. However, the perception that a party leader may not be faring well may have an influence when that general election, which you correctly identified as scheduled for 2015, comes. No?

    Henrik,

    Please tell me exactly where I wrote “a complex and fulfilling fantasy which sees Cameron and Clegg shunted out of power”. Thanks.

    Madasafish,

    Did you read all the article? I specifically say in the last paragraph *maybe you didn’t make it down that far) that “Miliband may not look like a prime minister in waiting”.

  10. Don Gately says:

    the opinion polls we see today can never be a good basis on which to predict electoral success. The better indicator comes with the leadership ratings and that’s a real worry for anyone who wants to see this coalition removed.

    Cameron had a dip in his leadership ratings about a year after his election but recovered. Miliband has just continually been low and after a little lift has sunk to his lowest rating.

    This kind of survey hasn’t been carried out long enough to robustly make any solid prediction but Miliband really is travelling the same kind of path that Hague and IDS took – I’d be charitable and compare him to hague than IDS though as I do think miliband will be a significant player in the future, he’s just not up to it now.

    I believe we’re going to see another hung parliament the way things are going at the moment. The opinion polls show that the electorate is angry/frustrated/fearful but the various quaestion responses relating to miliband and balls show that there’s no depth of support for labour and its economic policy. Labour need to inspire trust and you need strong personal qualities to connect with and inspire the public alongside a good policy response. In fact the policy response is possibly optional. Labour are just not convincing at the moment and that needs to be dealt with before we start portraying cameron as a busted flush.

  11. Perhaps abandoning the argument that the present government should be ‘investing’ in job creation might help the Labour party. What with the catastrophe that is engulfing the Eurozone and no immediate signs of recovery from the US, the prospect of sufficient growth in the private sector to absorb new jobs is pretty much zero.

    The suspicion in the country is that the jobs Labour are talking about would be in the public sector, the funding of which played a considerable part in our own debt crisis, The taxes that such jobs would generate would only cover a small part of the much greater cost of creating them.

  12. Madasafish says:

    I have read Ed Balls’ recent criticism of the newly announced housing strategy.

    Pretty rich as the Last Government had none except to force prices up by encouraging immigration and doing as much as possible to force prices up. (Not to mention personal wheeling and dealing in housing with the taxpayer footing the bill for renovations )

    My personal view is as simple.

    Under current economic conditions Labour should be 20+-% points ahead of the Conservatives.. That’s where Kinnock was… and he still lost the next General Election.

    With Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor, the electorate is reminded every time they hear or see or read him that he – and Labour – kept borrowing etc.. , did nothing on housing and encouraged immigration.

    I focus on Mr Balls as he is high profile and easily disliked. It is hard to find any redeeming features..

    And the coming slew of civil service strikes will only remind voters their taxes are funding lifestyles which in most cases are better than their own..

    It’s all very well to rant at bankers – often deservedly right to rant at them – but at least they don’t stroke.

    The way the Labour Party is going is that – apart from the heartlands who will vote for a red rosette donkey (and frequently do), the rest of England will see Labour as a Civil Service Political Party..

    So the Coalition makes mistakes and gets it wrong and has scandals (nothing on the Ecclestone £1 million affair at Tony Blair’s premiership start – at least not yet)… and has rebellions..

    but so far Labour has not one credible voice on the economy. And whilst balls is Shadow Chancellor they will not have..

    Anyone like to tell me when Ed ‘s going to fire Balls and break with the Civil Servants Unions? Ain’t going to happen is my view.

    And the SNP in Scotland plus Boundary Changes suggest Labour has a major risk of permanent opposition..
    The good news is so far the LDs look a busted flush.

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