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The Cameron vacuum

Posted on 12 February 2009 | 2:02pm

Whenever I’m
confronted with someone who says they’re thinking of voting Tory, I ask them to
name three things David Cameron would do as Prime Minister? Even with people
who follow politics closely, it tends to pull them up. Those who are desperate
to say something in Dave’s defence then fall back on generalities – smaller
State, compassionate conservatism (remember that) or they talk about his
efforts to get a wind turbine on his roof.

Committed Tories I know tend to say that Cameron is modelling his
Opposition on Tony Blair’s. But by this stage of his leadership, TB had not
only made significant cultural and constitutional change to the Labour Party,
he also had a large part of a manifesto for government in place. There was no
shortage of policy which is why the Tories attacked it so hard – you remember,
the minimum wage would cost a million jobs, the New Deal was unworkable and
illegal, Scots didn’t want their own Parliament. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

But there is something else about Cameron. Not only does
he do nothing that really connects with the public, sufficient for them to be
able to say that a Tory government could make a difference for the better, but
he says nothing memorable either.

I listened to PMQs on the radio yesterday. What with the economy,
jobless figures, Ed Balls and his depression, banks and bankers, James Crosby
resigning, it was about as good a wicket as Cameron could hope for. But here we
are, not long after, and I can’t remember a single thing he said. His
communications, like his leadership, is very day to day. There was an
interesting little throwaway remark from GB yesterday, who pointed out that
Cameron used to be interested in the environment. And I thought, yes, he did,
whatever happened to that?

On one level, looking at the economic and
political landscape, Cameron has so much going for him. But he is failing to
connect and cut through. In the absence of any real sense of strategy and
purpose, is it any wonder that all anyone will remember of Cameron yesterday is
that four minutes after PMQs ended, someone with an internet account at Tory HQ
falsely edited a Wikipedia entry on Titian to try to cover up a factual error
made by DC.

There is another Tory-Labour difference to be drawn here. If that had been us,
the papers, TV and radio would have gone on about it for days, until the full
story was dragged out.

If the media put a tenth as much pressure and scrutiny on the Tories as they
did on Labour in Opposition, the mood around Dave would be very different. 

The Tories say it was ‘an
over-eager member of staff’ who doctored the Wikipedia entry. Who? Was it Andy
, Dave’s comms man? Or was it Cameron himself? After all, he has very
little else to do judging by the policy vacuum and the lack of anything said or
done which stays in the public mind more than a few minutes.

  • David

    “I can’t remember a single thing he said”…except his Titian comment. Considering the disagreeable nature of most Tory policies, they must love the fact the public don’t know what they stand for.

  • Lee Bolton

    An interesting read, Alastair. Though neither Tory or Labour in my political views, I find it strange that whilst DC has not made much as an impact as TB did in his stage of opposition his general persona seems to sway the general public to rate him higher in the polls. Whilst this is certainly a downfall on his part, should the PM take note?

  • Gareth Williams

    Ultimately, I think David and many other opposition MPs are struggling to find the right tone, without being too possitive/negative about the underlying economic issue. I’m completely agreeing with you on David’s lack of memorable quotes, which leads to the question; Just how do they plan to contest the next election? Of course, they have a hearty lead in most polls, but having a poll lead and converting that lead into a change in goverment is unachievable without policy.

  • Tara Craig

    I hit the mute button when Cameron appears on my TV. He is incredibly reactive – his ‘policies’ are simply the opposite of whatever Labour comes up with.

  • Alina Palimaru

    Nice shot Alastair! He did post a few lame YouTube videos where, with weird and nervous hand gestures, he was talking about his meeting with Obama, and the implications of BO’s leadership. Well, I looked at it for a few minutes, and could see Cameron talking, but all I heard was blah, blah, blah, blah.

    Cameron should be reminded that when Labour were in opposition (to use TB’s frame) they could say but not do. And they said a lot of substantive stuff! Then Labour governed, they said and did, and kept winning elections “because of” NOT “in spite of.” The Tories are now in opposition, but they neither say nor do. Their political space is empty, and accordingly, their chatter is vapid. On what merit do they really expect to get elected? Last fall they criticized Labour on immigration, and the only message was that the system jeopardizes the country. Well, ok, do you have better ideas? Intellectual silence followed!

    Cameron once told Tony Blair at a PMQ that “you used to be the future.” Well, Camero, you never really used to be anything… and I suspect that shall remain your status quo. Say it ain’t so!

  • Mike Smith

    Whilst I agree that the Tories are lacking in substance, one key thing I have noticed is that they do seem to be strongly against things like ID cards. That alone is a good reason to vote for them imho. I find it extraordinary how much the Labour government seems to want to track everything people do. It’s horrible, and insidious. I don’t like a lot of what the Conservatives stand for, but given the failure of Labour to actually regulate banks, or maintain control of them since effectively nationalising them, there is an even less compelling argument to keep them.

    It’s amazing the amount of legislation that has been introduced that doesn’t actually seem to benefit anyone (asides from locking up more people than ever), and yet the legislation that we really needed was lacking.

    I’ve never voted Tory in my life, and in fact I have never voted Labour either. I consider myself a floating voter who votes on issues and manifestos come election time. But in the coming closer election, I am going to have to seriously consider voting for one of the big two. And why is that? Oh yes, it’s because Labour broke their manifesto pledge to do something constructive with electoral reform and leave us stuck with first past the post. So I have to prioritise my concerns – and one of my biggies is trying to avoid sleep walking into a police state.

    A sad state of affairs, as I know the Tories are pretty bloody awful, but maybe 5 years of them will be better than another 5 years of a worn out party that seems to have run out of ideas.


    Is it not the stark truth that David Cameron’s best chance of election is to do nothing and offer nothing other than being a ‘de facto’ change. I ask myself – has it all really come to this?

    I venture that DC is, in fact, way ‘behind the curve’ and already out of ideas, whilst modeling himself on the TB of yore.

    When people need hope and faith (i.e. now), isn’t it time for gutsy commitment politicians to come to the fore, not ‘soapy PR boys’ such as DC?

  • Mark Bennett

    Corking blog and I like the hyperlinks. When I just followed one to DC’s wikipedia entry, it says this at the top:

    “Editing of this article by new or unregistered users is currently disabled until February 12, 2009 to prevent vandalism.”

  • Alina Palimaru

    To Mike Smith, Re: ID cards

    I am assuming you are making the same shop-soiled argument about Big Brother. I understand why people may have qualms about that. However, I always point to all the little brothers that monitor and control us through our daily activities. Frankly, I think your privacy and decision-making will more likely be grossly violated through your own use of a credit/debit card than by a national ID system or a street corner camera. Because every time you use the card to make a transaction, that data are automatically submitted to large data banks, and then will be processed by corporations to track your buyer profile. They know when you are more likely to buy beer or vodka, whether you prefer shopping in the morning or afternoon, Sunday or Wednesday, whether you like your toothpaste in a jumbo pack, and the range of cappuccino flavours you are likely to prefer in the summer, winter etc. Finally, they use the data circularly, and target you based on your profile again, and again, and again… I find this to be more intrusive than anything else especially that this activity is not necessarily in my objective real interest, but serves rather as a financial corporate benefit.

    If you say this is reason enough to vote against Labour, what are the Tories saying about this to make you vote for them?