Friday, August 19, 2011
David Cameron: Is that all there is?
It's not that David Cameron is a Conservative. You can tell he is one just by looking at him.
It's not that he sometimes expresses right-wing sentiments. As Tory leader he has to keep his troops happy even if he really is the more liberal Conservative that he affected to be when he first became leader.
What worries about David Cameron is that, with rare exceptions like his apology over Bloody Sunday, he has failed to give the impression that he is a statesman or even much of a leader.
We have been on credit, both individually and as a country, for years and that could not go on for ever. So we would have been in for a period of austerity whoever won the last election. We Liberal Democrats would have like the spending cuts to be brought in more gradually, but any idea that Britain could have borrowed even more to "invest" its way out of trouble is a nonsense.
What clearly is needed is a restructuring of global economic governance, but we have heard nothing from Cameron on this. For all Gordon Brown's faults, he was a considerable and reassuring presence on the international stage and would have been in his element in the current crisis. When it comes to international finance, our current prime minister has been the invisible man.
But then, as I have argued before, Cameron was made for good times and Brown for bad time - one of the fundamental divisions in politics.
If the economy always threatened to be an area of comparative weakness for Cameron, he has hardly been more convincing on what was meant to be his area of strength: civil society. Again and again he has failed to give his concept of "the Big Society" and meaningful content - and I speak as someone who found the idea attractive and shares his analysis that the state is in danger of becoming too large and too far-reaching.
Perhaps the idea has been fatally holed because he has been forced to attempt to bring it in at a time of spending cuts, but he has shown no sign that he recognises that local government can be part of the solution to an over-mighty central state and not part of the problem. (I have written on this point in an earlier post.)
You could also complain that David Cameron has had little to say on foreign affairs - Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. But the reality is that Britain will stay involved in these arenas for as long as the Americans do and not a moment longer. Any British prime minister would find it difficult to sound authoritative here. Certainly, all Tony Blair had to offer was a spanielesque devotion to George W. Bush.
A fairer test has been the recent riots where Cameron has failed both to voice the revulsion of the wider public or to point a way forward for the country that goes beyond a demand for revenge and does not tear up some of the principles of a civilised legal system.
I accept the argument that healthy cabinet government means that the prime minister's voice will not be the only voice heard on every question or that it will be the one heard most often on many of them. But is not as if David Cameron is presiding over an administration of all the talents. On the economy, for instance, you don't have to be a Lib Dem loyalist to find Chris Huhne and Vince Cable more authoritative figures than anyone the Conservatives have to offer.
But as things stand, the poster above - which first appeared on this blog in January of last year - is coming to have an almost painful resonance.