Cameron has nothing to say. Clegg shrinks from his besandled assassins.

by Kevin Meagher

As conference slogans go, Building a Better Future is a stinker. A dull, vacuous piece of political boilerplate; the ultimate holding statement: “I’ve not actually built anything yet, but it will be great when it’s finished. Trust me”.

Nevertheless, David Cameron thought it an apposite description for last weekend’s Conservative spring conference in Cardiff.

Of course he was not the first to grope for this catch-all formulation. “Building a better future” is the strapline for the Northern Ireland executive’s programme for government, Merton council’s major building programme and a campaign run by the dog’s trust.

In fact there are 66 million Google hits for the phrase.

But it was rather fitting: an empty slogan for an empty speech from a prime minister struggling for definition.

New Labour once had a snappy term for the position David Cameron now finds himself in: “post euphoria, pre-delivery”. In other words, how do you keep the va va voom in your party once the dull grind of governing takes over from the manic energy of electioneering?

For many of the Tory party’s poor bloody infantry, there has not been much by way of euphoria following last May’s disappointing election result. Crucially, however, there’s not much for them to celebrate in terms of delivery either – and that is David Cameron’s problem: how does he keep everyone on board on the back of a wispy promise of improvement?

In 1998, Tony Blair faced similar difficulties. The compromises of office, so distant in opposition, are up close and personal once you cross Downing Street’s threshold. Woolly thinking, easy promises and half-gestated ideas are found wanting in alarmingly short order.

But Cameron has set expectations particularly high among his troops as he embarks on his gleeful dismantling of the public sector. The NHS will be tipped upside down. Free schools will end leftist teaching. Spending cuts will force privatisation on local councils. A combination of the half-baked, the unwarranted and the unworkable.

But he has not delivered yet. The public services that the Tories dislike are as yet unreformed. And the ones they rather like (the military and libraries) are under unprecedented attack.

With the budget a fortnight away and treasury big brains currently working out how to kickstart the economy’s outboard motor, David Cameron is lost for things to really brag about.

Public services are a work in progress and the economy’s too uncertain.

Which leaves foreign affairs.

Not much joy here either. Highlighting his overseas adventures leaves Cameron explaining why some demented Euro jonnies think our lags deserve the right to vote in elections or defending the catalogue of mishaps, misjudgements and mis-timings that have characterised his policy towards Libya. I say “policy”, but that implies a degree of forethought rather than a haphazard collection of phenomena bearing little or no relation to each other.

Folly abroad and failure at home do not a political party rally. So what is there left to say? There is only one option for a Tory leader with his back against the wall: throw the faithful some red meat.

Hence we were treated to an abasing pile of blather from a new prime minister who could reach for no greater organising concept for his 10-month old administration than to blame “the enemies of enterprise” for the nation’s ills. Rather than casino bankers it turns out these are:

“The bureaucrats in government departments who concoct those ridiculous rules and regulations that make life impossible, particularly for small firms.

The town hall officials who take forever with those planning decisions that can be make or break for a business – and the investment and jobs that go with it.

The public sector procurement managers who think that the answer to everything is a big contract with a big business and who shut out millions of Britain’s small and medium sized companies from a massive potential market”.

The rest of his speech was a collection of equally banal right wing riffs on everything from AV to welfare.

Downing Street’s new director of strategy, uber-pollster Andrew Cooper, is being credited for his lines on bureaucrat bashing. It’s unlikely, however, that he would welcome the accolade. Cameron’s entire thesis is disingenuous tosh.

To make good on his rhetorical flourishes, the prime minister has to ante up and tell us what parts of the public administration jigsaw we can permanently do without. Which regulations, acts of Parliament, statutory instruments and “bureaucrats” will he vaporise to free British enterprise from its socialistic straitjacket. What pearls of wisdom did he offer?

“There’s only one strategy for growth we can have now…

…and that is rolling up our sleeves and doing everything possible to make it easier for people to start a business to grow a businesses.

Back small firms.  Boost enterprise.  Be on the side of everyone in this country who wants to create jobs, and wealth and opportunity”.

Profound. Bet Tony Blair and Gordon Brown wished they had thought to “back small firms” and “boost enterprise”.

If I were a Conservative party member I would be worried if my leader had to resort to such meaningless platitudes so early in his premiership.

Watch and listen next Saturday. Nick Clegg knows he dare not try a similar trick with his party at the Lib Dems’ spring conference in Sheffield. He knows he needs more than a dollop of red meat (or perhaps asparagus tips?) to win over his disbelieving army. His pitch will have to cover three bases: a defence of the coalition from first principles. A clear record of Lib Dem achievements to date (to outweigh the hideous volte face over tuition fees). And a clear pathway for future policy victories.

Clegg knows better than to take the besandled assassins of the Lib Dems for granted. They dispatched his two predecessors with the casual brutality of a gangland enforcer. He needs to produce more than Cameron’s fuzzy rhetoric to keep them on side.

But for the poor old Conservative rank and file, any old rubbish will do. The price of the coalition deal is being left without either euphoria or delivery on the issues they care about. If they have to sit through many more empty speeches like last Sunday’s, David Cameron may find he has a problem on his hands.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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5 Responses to “Cameron has nothing to say. Clegg shrinks from his besandled assassins.”

  1. Cameron tries to emulate the American political campaigners. What we get is a watered down, 1980’s style Sales Convention. These were tax deductable freebie dispensing sessions where for 2hrs out of 3 days we had do listen to no substance, bullet point led, Salesman like him. At least ours had free booze, free booze and free exotic locations. All we get from Dealer Dave is bullshit.

  2. John O'Shea says:

    A little unfair to accuse the Liberal Democrat sandalistas of decapitating their party – that responsibility belongs squarely at the office doors of the parliamentary party.

    Cameron’s speech on growth was just a policy-free list of platitudes because that’s all there is to the strategy – hot air and hope.

  3. I’m sure I read somewhere lately that Number 10’s latest big idea is to “end the presumption that public services have to be delivered by the public sector”. But when, if ever, did this presumption actually hold? My bins and my recycling are collected on behalf of Southwark Council by a French company. I know that they are busy vandalising swathes of the public sector but this “idea” suggests a lack of energy and direction at the centre of government and a preponderance of what Kevin rightly calls disingenuous tosh.

  4. G. Tingey says:

    The NHS NEEDS tipping upside-down.
    The trouble is, I’m afraid that “calle me Dave’s” method will be just as useless as the current version.

    As for “leftist” teaching.
    Well, that’s a misnomer.
    I used to be a teacher, and what is wrong is a complete absence of ANY rational thought about the subject, from any political party.
    We desperately need a return to proper academic selection (and no, I DON’T mean the 11+). We need to reward bright pupils, we need to make sure that bright pupils from poor backgrounds get a decent helping hand – which they emphatically do not at the moment.
    We need FEWER people going to University, and those that do should do decent courses. That would lead to better support for those in financial need on said courses.
    More sandwich courses and proper apprenticeships.

    Example: My father lost his father in 1924 (as a result of the factory conditions in which he had been working ) – and he had a younger brother.
    Yet, he got a GRANT to go to University, and when he retired, he was a Fellow of the Institute of Chemistry.
    I don’t think that would be possible under the disaster that is our current educational system.

  5. Anon E Mouse says:

    This article is just meaningless tribal drivel.

    Although understandable with the current leader and the poor standing in the polls, do any of the authors on this blog have anything at all positive to say about the Labour Party?

    You will not frighten middle England into voting Labour again after Gordon Brown was forced on this country and you will never win another election without that part of the electorate.

    Contributors like Jonathon Todd above need to remember that Labour spent £250million in 2008 on outsourcing NHS operations so a little truth now and again might be helpful also.

    As for the author of this piece, it is clear to see that his postings here bear a remarkable similarity to those he posts on Left Foot Forward and really are just excuses for time wasting group think…

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