by Rob Marchant
What has David Cameron done so far, which has marked him out as a prime minister? The answer is, surprisingly little, as John Rentoul observes in the Independent on Sunday: “…the Prime Minister seems unformed. He is adroit at reacting to events, but not so good at making them happen.”
But that does not mean he is unpopular (despite lots of potential reasons for this to be so), or that he will lose the next general election. It is just an example of an era, post-2010, which has seemingly been defined by a lack of seriousness of purpose on the part of the major parties.
Cameron has scored a few political successes. He has done what few would have predicted: he has put together, and held together, a coalition that has lasted nearly two years and will quite likely last five.
He has been successful, thus far, in winning public support for his eminently populist handbagging of his EU partners, although only time will tell whether he was wise to do so. He is generally felt to have had a “good war” in Libya.
But as regards defining a domestic policy direction for his government, he has relatively little to show: an austerity program, showing strength but courting unpopularity; and education reforms which are competent and probably modestly positive with the public, although mostly despised by Labour. The rest is largely either a blur, with no significant impact made, or a mess.
Now compare and contrast with his coalition partner. Clegg made a textbook populist pitch before the election, “an end to politics as usual”, before demonstrating eighteen days later, via the person of David Laws, that he represented just the opposite.
Being a junior coalition partner encourages populism, because of one’s limited impact on events and the inevitable going along with large numbers of things which you do not like. There’s not much else you can do: hence the rubbish about “alarm clock Britain”, Clegg’s desperate and probably doomed scrabbling around for a distinct identity for his party.
And lastly - in the order in which the media currently treat the three parties – we come to Labour. Miliband at times seems populist, but it is not in the sense that most people would recognise. And this is because his populism is mostly directed inwards, at his own party, and what they want to hear.