Bring me the head of David Cameron

by Jonathan Todd

Kill the body and the head will die, so goes the old boxing maxim. The spine that is the chief whip is banished from conference. The lifeblood that is the party chair does not know who he is. The minister for Murdoch, now minister for the NHS, has distracted from efforts to restore vitality to the body Tory with his views on the bodies of women.

The Tories are taking a pummelling. It has become, to mix metaphors, as easy as shooting fish in a barrel to attack Tory ministers. What is more challenging and much more consequential is to have these attacks stick on the man responsible for these ministers. Up until now the prime minster has displayed a rather Teflon ability to evade calculability for the rolling omnishambles over which he has presided.

Several shadow ministers have been heard to bemoan over the TV and radio lately that the rule for blame allocation in this government is ABC: Anyone but Cameron. Damaged ministers are kept in post for as long as possible to soak up as much opprobrium as possible – otherwise, it might attach to the prime minister. Hapless junior ministers, as far as possible from association to Cameron, are sent out to try to explain u-turns. No humiliation is too great for these dispensable shock absorbers. Their reputations only matter insofar as they impact upon the prime minister’s standing.

It’s no surprise that a man whose only motivation for being prime minister is that he wants to be prime minister is deploying a vain and self-serving strategy. But shallow egotism is not the only motivation for Number 10’s approach. They see Cameron as the Conservative’s strongest resource, which they must preserve over all others.

Even if – as has transpired – the economy tanked and deficit grew, Conservatives reassured themselves with the view that the country would never vote for Ed Miliband and had become content with the idea of Cameron – so natural, so smooth, so born to rule – as their prime minister. Now two things are changing, which worry these Tories.

First, Miliband is starting to look and act a bit more like a prime minister. He leads a party united and determined to make a concerted pitch for the electoral centre ground: two preconditions of electoral success that Tories had assumed Miliband would never satisfy.

Second, Cameron seems less imperious. It’s not that Boris Johnson has won two elections, while Cameron has won none. It’s not that Johnson strikes an easier bond with the Tory faithful. It’s not that a time beyond Cameron has long been in sight. But all of these things matter. It’s that events appear the master of Cameron and his incompetent ministers.

In short – and as political standing is always relative, not absolute, these are not wholly unconnected developments – as Miliband attracts more prime ministerial gravitas Cameron holds less of an aura. He was the future once. But Labour now spies an opportunity to permanently damage a party leader who has consistently polled above his party throughout his time in this office.

The ABC line suggests that the Labour leadership now see undermining Cameron personally as a key objective of our attacks. Preparation and policy for rebuttal should focus on the continued association between Labour and profligacy. Yes, the government is hurting and not working, as the rising deficit throughout this year attests. But these numbers are not understood by all of the public.

Many have an entrenched sense that Labour overspent and that this is somehow involved with the evolving calamity that has befallen us over the past half-decade. Rather than refighting the arguments of recent years – though, the more persistent and international our troubles the more absurd the claim that they were caused by Labour spending on schools and hospitals appears – the best approach is to find some forward-looking argument for convincing people that their hard-earned money will be well-spent with Labour and that we are not hell-bent on raiding ever deeper into their back pockets.

To be One Nation, as Miliband wisely said last week, we have got to live within our means. It is, though, nonsense, as Phil Collins sagely noted in the Times recently, to claim, as it often is, that the predicament of this, and the next government, is to govern without money. The task, as Collins wrote, is how best to spend £700bn of public money.

This is enough money to build One Nation – but not without confronting tough choices and always placing our ends of justice and equality above any sacred cows of delivery methods. While, as Miliband put it, One Nation is not a way of avoiding difficult decisions, it is a way of making tough decisions, there is a lot of exacting policy thinking to be done. The detail of which will never be grasped by the majority of voters.

However, means now need to be found of communicating two things to these voters: first, Britain is failing because of the personal failings of Cameron; second, Labour’s One Nation is not an unaffordable dream but a fully-costed, copper-bottomed, achievable plan.

This would put the Tory’s prize fighter on the canvas and give him nothing to hit even if he could get back on his feet.

Jonathan Todd is Labour Uncut’s economic columnist

Tags: , , ,

3 Responses to “Bring me the head of David Cameron”

  1. aragon says:

    Well with two Ed’s in charge and the rest of the cabinet we will be lucky to see 10Bn reallocated out of 700Bn (and a 1.5Tn economy).

    One Nation is not a dream but a nightmare of in action and slow decline.

    Expect the ‘There is no more money mantra’ to be much in evidence.

    Read the pledge card, the Ed’s suffer from poverty of aspiration and their economic position, like Osbourne’s is nonsense.

    Talk about no meaningful choices. All politicians are the same and economically incompetent.

    What do they teach in University economics courses ?

    Was that Dieter Helm/Evan Davis in ‘Built in Britain’ (BBC2) accepting my (Crackers) view on a fiscal stimulus ?

  2. Robin Thorpe says:

    Interesting article Jonathan; I agree that the Labour Party need to make criticism stick to the previously teflon-coated Cameron. I also agree that the notion that there is no money to spend is misleading at best; balancing the budget is a purely political construct. The government can choose to raise more money through taxation the same as it can choose where to direct the revenue it raises. Whether it is wise to increase taxation is another matter, although the current government are raising taxes – indirect taxation has increased even if the top rate of income tax has decreased.
    I agree wholeheartedly that the One Nation message is not an unaffordable dream. I also disagree with Ken Clarke et al who were trying to claim that EM’s excellent speech was vacuous and merely stole a a slogan from the Tories. As far as I could see EM set-out an ethical framework through which all policy will be scrutinised in the lead upto the election and into the next parliament. One Nation clearly means something different to EM then it does to Ken Clarke, Butler etc and I think he got that across in his speech. As has been said the direct impact of the speech is limited to geeks like us so it is vital that the message is enunciated to the electorate.

  3. uglyfatbloke says:

    Ed certainly looks and sounds more convincing that he used to, but he’s got way too much baggage from the Blair/Brown years hanging around his neck. Harman, Balls and Cooper all became rich as members of a government that really screwed things up – the current state of affairs was n’t all their fault, but quite a lot of it was so it’s going to be very difficult to persuade people to give them another shot.

Leave a Reply