The obituaries are premature. Cameron’s not finished yet

by Kevin Meagher

Received opinion, that fluttering butterfly, often dazzles and deceives.

Two bits of conventional wisdom are doing the rounds at the moment; both are hopelessly wrong. The first is a feeling that this government will fall before 2015. The second is a prediction of David Cameron’s early demise.

First the government. A poll in the Guardian the other day shows only 16 per cent of voters expect the coalition to last until May 2015 – just half the 33 per cent who had said the same thing to pollsters ICM two weeks before.

With coalition rows about House of Lords reform and parliamentary boundary changes dominating the airwaves before the summer recess it’s hardly surprising that onlookers question its longevity.

But soundings off from within the government are just that, exuberant rows. No terminal schism is in the offing. There is nowhere for either partner to go. This remains the immutable truth of British politics. Any early collapse of the government would precipitate a general election where both parties would suffer.

The Lib Dems flirt with electoral annihilation and struggle these days to sustain a clear lead over UKIP. They are in no shape to go to the country and need to play for time. What is more, most of the politically painful aspects of the coalition’s programme are now in the past. For Nick Clegg’s troops, things can only get better.

The second fallacy is that David Cameron might not see out his term of office, shaded out by the golden lustre of his Eton contemporary Boris Johnson or knifed by his right wing critics who see his hybrid government as insufficiently Conservative.

A YouGov poll from last weekend shows Labour’s lead at 12 per cent. But when party labels were replaced by party leaders’ names the gap shrunk to six per cent. As John Rentoul at the Independent notes, the most interesting thing about the poll “was how much of an asset David Cameron still is to his party”.

The same poll also showed that 46 per cent of voters thought Cameron was ‘well suited’ to being prime minister while an equal 46 per cent found him ‘not well suited’. Asked the same question, just 31 per cent of respondents said Ed Miliband was well suited against 59 per cent who thought he wasn’t.

Two things are worth bearing in mind. First, although Cameron is now gambling everything on an economic upswing to stay in Number 10, it’s possible he might just pull it off. Even if recovery is painfully slow, we have nearly three years of this parliament left to go. John Major managed to win an election coming out of a recession twenty years ago by portraying Labour as shaky on economic detail and not worth the risk.

“Better the devil you know” is hardly inspirational stuff, but, like negative campaigning in the US, always works. 2015 feels like it is shaping up to resemble 1992, hence the need for a restoration of Labour’s economic credentials.

Second, Cameron has no natural predators. There is no-one to replace him from within his party; no natural successor and no prince over the water. For all last week’s hyperbole, Boris Johnson is not so much over the water as stood on another continent. He is not an MP and has just been re-elected to serve a four-year term as London Mayor. He is no threat and will be old news by the time he gets his chance.

Meanwhile George Osborne’s future is utterly symbiotic with Cameron’s. If the economy does not improve both men are dead in the water. William Hague appears semi-detached these days, while no-one of sound mind mentions Jeremy Hunt as a potential PM any more.

To his party opponents, Cameron’s failure to win a majority in 2010 is testament to his fallibility. But this weakness could be turned into a strength. Routinely more popular than his party, Cameron should hold a gun at his head and remind his internal critics they would be worse off without him. The Cameron brand has more value than the Conservative one. If he fails, they certainly fail.

The scale of the changes Cameron wants to see in this less than propitious economic environment means this will always be a government of wildly oscillating fortunes. This is big stakes politics where danger lurks in every policy detail. Never can any Cabinet have had so many members take a turn in sitting on the ejector seat. Cable, Warsi, Hunt, Lansley – all could have been forced out this year. Laws and Huhne already have been sent flying.

Disregard silly season fluff about Boris and Nick, splits and early elections: David Cameron will still be prime minister in 2015. It will have been a roller-coaster ride to be sure, but like a rusty old gate he will hang on in there doing his job for longer than appears possible.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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6 Responses to “The obituaries are premature. Cameron’s not finished yet”

  1. Qwerty says:

    Ummm, not sure, the row about homosexual marriage could become nasty… Plenty of conservatives are truly exasperated…

  2. Tris says:

    Yes. I agree.

    The coalition will struggle on until 2015, broken and battered.

    The Liberals can’t possibly afford an election at the moment. They see what happened in Scotland where they only managed two FPTP seats and picked up three area seats. A total of 5, instead of the 16 they had priors to the general election.

    They have to hope that in the next 2 1/2 years they can find a way to make up some ground. I still predict somewhere between 10 and 20 at the next election.

    I don’t think the Tories would do as badly as the polls suggest. When push comes to shove at a GE, a lot of the would-be UKIP voters would go back to the Tories, rather than let Labour win.

    But Labour would win, albeit with a smaller majority that the pollsters talk of, so Cameron will hang on in there protecting what little time he has to be where he has always felt he belonged (but assuredly doesn’t).

    As for Boris, you’re right that by the time of the next General Election he will still be mayor of London, and so he can’t be an MP, much less PM.

    Will he be finished, before the next time round? I don’t know. You can never tell with Boris. On balance he’s probably even more of a disaster than Cameron, so I would have to hope yes.

  3. Anon E Mouse says:

    Who ever said Cameron was finished? Only Labour dreamers I’m afraid…

  4. Rallan says:

    The election will be in 2015, and Cameron is not going to be replaced. Obviously. I think people are just bored, talking about Boris replacing Cameron as PM is just daft!

    As for predictions of the next GE outcome, that’s pretty much nonsense too. For sure the Economy, Scottish Referendum and an EU Referendum are going to be wild card factors. Whatever, I think Labour will prove unelectable when the time actually comes but that’s just my personal opinion.

    The only thing you can say with some certainty is that unhappy choice will be offered to the electorate in 2015, and the “winner” will lack credibility & widespread popular support.

  5. uglyfatbloke says:

    Sadly this is all probably pretty much on the mark. The coalition will limp on ‘cos the glib-dumbs really can’t afford an election. As things look just now, Labour will take seats from the tories and the glib-dumbs in England but lose seats to the gnats in Scotland where FPTP will favour the gnats…the days when Labour could rely on Scots voting for Labour in a UK GE even if they vote heavily for the gnats at a Holyrood GE are probably past now, and it’s actually worse for the Scottish glib-dumbs. Obviously the tories will continue to do just as badly in Scotland as they have for years, but may well hold on better in England than expected. OTH if the gnats, greens and the socialist party lose the referendum really badly Labour could recover in Scotland, but only at the price of giving the voter what they want – FFA or something very similar.
    Of course if the ‘Yes’ campaign wins, Scottish results really won’t matter much at Westminster since Scottish MPs will be going out of business. There again, if the gnats only just lose the referendum, we should expect to see them do really well at a subsequent GE….if they have 25 or 30 seats Ed might well find himself having to reach an accommodation with Angus Robertson . Of itself that would n’t be too much of a problem, politically they are on pretty similar ground with Robertson a little to the left of Ed. The problem would lie with Ed’s Scottish backbenchers…have a look at Ian Davidson’s ridiculous tantrum on Newsnight and you’ll get the general idea.

  6. Amber Star says:

    I think it is ‘better the devil you know’ for Labour.

    From a pragmatic point of view, I don’t think Labour are ready to fight an election yet so lucky for us that the coalition will limp onwards.

    In a second stroke of luck, the Tories are undoubtably stuck with Cameron for the foreseeable future.

    I also doubt that an economic turnaround will happen in time for the 2015 election. The Tories have a lot of cuts still to make. The potential impact on employment, job security & living standards is really scary. The economy could just as easily be worse rather than better by 2015.

    Ed Miliband is gaining credibility as opposition leader & as a potential prime minister. It’s not easy but I don’t believe he thought it would be. There’s nothing like winning for boosting a candidate’s profile so a biggish win in Corby could be worth a point or two.

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