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Could Cameron have delivered the G20 deal?

Posted on 3 April 2009 | 10:04am

I promise that
my tweet of last night – wondering whether David Cameron as Prime Minister
could have delivered the G20 deal – was not merely rhetorical. 

If the polls are right, and don’t change some time soon, then Cameron may be the next PM, suddenly dealing with global economic issues, war and a
planet in peril.

So it is a question requiring serious thought.

When Barack Obama was
elected, the Tories tried to run the line that the real lesson for Britain was
the power of the ‘time for a change’ argument.

What recent weeks and months have shown is that the real stuff of politics is
substance and policy, not style and image.

I have always acknowledged that
Cameron is perfectly good at the latter. But the G20 has shown once more his
weakness on the former.

I know from our days in Opposition that it is never easy when a big
international event involving Presidents and Prime Ministers is dominating the
global agenda. You can get in only at the margins.

But when you do get in, it is worth having something to say. It is not that
you have to pretend to be the Government, but you do have to have an analysis
and give some indication as to what you would do.

And because you can only get in at the margins, you have to have considerable
clarity about what it is that you are saying.

So ask yourself – what message, if any, have you heard from David Cameron
before, during and since the G20?
There will be different responses, but
mine would be ‘nah nah nah nah nah.’

As the crisis developed, he had no analysis other than that it was a crisis.
As Gordon Brown took some very hefty decisions, particularly in relation to the
banks, Cameron was on hand to say they wouldn’t work. By now their general line
was emerging as a political one – to try to present anything bad in the economy
as a particularly British problem.
As Gordon Brown forced the pace on setting up the G20, and scoping out its
agenda, the Tories’ analysis was all about the PM, not the economic future of
the world.

And if some of the world leaders gathered in London picked up on Cameron’s
tone, it would not be the best possible start for his relations with them. He
seemed to see the whole thing as a bit of too little too late jamboree.

So then we come to his reaction last night – a melange of limited welcome for
changes he would never have been able to secure, something about Doha (I think
he felt if he threw out a name of a foreign city, he would acquire gravitas –
it could just as easily have been Copenhagen) and then his big message – it’s
all very well for GB to secure more money for the IMF to help weaker economies,
but now it is time he turned his attention to Britain.

But surely if recent
weeks have shown anything it is the inter-connectedness of our economies, and
if there is one success above all for which Gordon deserves credit it is in
turning that reality into an event of real substance and change.

Playing ‘what if?’ is not an exact science,
but if Cameron’s isolationist and laissez-faire ideals had already secured
power, it is doubtful he would have been able to organise a meeting like the
one we’ve just had, let alone steer it to a decent conclusion.

In acting as he has in recent weeks,
flying round the world, never off the phone, despatching officials left, right
and centre to try to assess the best possible outcome and then work towards it,
Gordon HAS been focussing on the British economy. Because without the global
economy reviving, nor will ours.

Time to revive ‘no time for a novice.’ Because in this case, it is true. DC is
no Obama. I’m beginning to wonder if he is even William Hague.

  • Rob Atkins

    Well, as America is beginning to learn, “Obama is no Obama” – excellent on rhetoric but as partisan and clueless as any other leader on how to deal with this issue.

    In the meantime, your Mr Brown ‘grandstands’ and pontificates about what the world will do neext at his bidding, while his every soundbite promise and press release vanishes like a shower of rain into the sand, and with about as much lasting effect.

    He would like his legacy to be seen as a world statesman : a modern day FDR. Sadly for him (and for us), the die is already cast, with Mr Brown forever labelled as an extravagant spendthrift.

    The rest of us are getting angrier by the hour, and are waiting for the day when he can no longer avoid calling a general election. That will be the day Britain can begin to recover its sound economy, its moral authority and move on from the abject failure of your New Labour project.

    In the meantime, when will we be seeking a further overdraft from the IMF, now its no longer a stigma for us (unlike the last time) ? Convenient that …

  • Michael J Flexer

    Great post AC. Wonder what kind of mental gymnastics the Tories will need to perform to persuade themselves that the global downturn is still somehow ‘Gordon’s recession’.
    If we are unfortunate enough to have them form the next government, I hope they will build on GB’s and Labour’s legacy of developing an integrated, global response, though I fear they will crawl into the cosy shell of economic protectionism and social conservatism.
    Cameron’s Tories are relics from an old politics; strange standard bearers in what GB rightly calls a new world order.

  • Dom Waters

    Well, we will all find out how good a leader Cameron is in about a year’s time.

    Meanwhile Alastair continues not only to accuse the opposition of being all style and no substance but also to proclaim that, as well as being at no fault at all for the mess we’re in, Brown is now the economic saviour of the world. Are you sure you didn’t mean to publish this blog on April Fools day, Alastair?

  • terry evans

    Being a taxi driver I manage to pick up a lot of opinions from various people from various backgrounds and I’m frightened because my feeling is that David Cameron will become Prime Minister. Days like yesterday really need to be pounced upon and used to the maximum by the Labour Party. I understand the Maxim; time for change, but the only time for change is when you have a better alternative. Not only do we not have a better alternative in Cameron the entire Tory front bench (Clarke apart) has no substance.

  • Sunny

    Anyone who can really take anything from the Spin doctor and believe it is deluded. Have we all forgotten who actually got us in the mess, B.Liar, Mandy, Campbell and the rest of the cronies who feathered thier own nests with our money and now laugh at the peasants they have lorded it over. B.Liar cannot even get anything done in his new job, he is never there!!!

  • Alina Palimaru

    Alastair, you couldn’t have said it better! David Cameron is indeed a lightweight. His leadership pretensions might elicit laughter in calmer times, but I think that it is fair to say that today they are dangerous. Not because he is a serious challenge to Gordon, but because he has nothing substantial to bring to the plate in these crucial times: did he ever mediate anything? Can he claim success for handling a crisis? Has he ever asserted himself before an audience other than his Tory base, let alone a group of world heavy-weights?

    A recent article in The New Yorker Magazine asserted that “A politician receives custody of the Presidency and its powers on Inauguration day, but he ‘becomes’ President over time, through a testing procession of civic rituals,” decisions, policies etc. The same case can be made for Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and ipso facto, the Labour Party, becoming a Party of leadership over time, through measured responses to political and policy challenges. The recent G20 is yet another ‘ritual’ that proves why GB and Labour not only “should” but also “deserve” to remain at the helm.

  • Sunny

    Posted a comment but probably got censured to protect the “innocent”

    Just an email gathering process is it for your database to sell on the hoghest bidder just like the Government databases, probably one of your ideas with b.liar in the first place.

  • Chris Hughes

    I found your blog because I had tweeted a very similar tweet to you about David Cameron, and did a quick search to find if I was alone. Imagine my surprise at seeing your thoughts, tweeted about 60 seconds before me.

    I must agree with your blog entry – I feel the Conservative stance on the economy has been all wrong. Some of the defeatism of their statements actually offends my sense of patriotism: ‘Broken Britain’ indeed. When people are as fearful of the future as they are at the moment, they respond to positivity, and messages of hope. We might like to have a whinge at the bus stop, but we don’t want a whinger in charge. This is real message to be taken from Obama’s victory.

  • Kieran Falconer

    Beautiful last line.

    It is frankly terrifying like nothing before or since to think of these cocksure prefects getting in next year. Their no nothing, do nothing approach is something that needs to be endlessly reiterated to galvanise our grassroots who can retell it when canvassing. I do feel that Cameron’s plausible waffle should be held up to the light much more often than it is.

  • Alan Quinn

    The biggest tragedy will be that if elected the tories will blame the recession for saying “we can’t afford it” and proceed with what all tory governments do…slash spending on public services. They claim they will ring fence defence spending but their orders for equipment will be be spent in the US.

    People now think that the investment in schools, hospitals and the public infrastructure that has gone on under Labour to repair the 18yrs of neglect is the norm.]
    They will have a rude awakening. DC may be more like MT.

  • John Cheyne

    Gordon Brown and his team certainly deserve praise for finding consensus amongst a group of such disparate and strong minded individuals. The new measures and policies agreed are a positive step and for Gordon’s sake I hope they begin to have some real effect on the World and UK economy before it is time for the next general election. However GB has certainly benefitted from being able to stand beside Mr Obama to deliver the news. Had it been George Bush who he had negotiated with the world view and (more importantly to the long term future of GB as Prime Minister) the UK press view would have been very different. I can just hear the Bush press conference now… “we have ordered a new world….er that is the world is being new ordered….I love New Order!!” Queue throwing of shoes and impressive ducking…..

  • Jane A

    I maintain that DC couldn’t have organised the motorcade into Excel, let alone pulled off any progress at the summit.

    The current polls say he will win the next election, and for the undecided voter, it’s tempting to go with what they see as the tide.

    DC was speaking on R5 yesterday and was challenged by a caller to promise he would not take funding out of public services. He couldn’t answer the question. Bluffed and blustered, evaded a bit, and ended up with a senseless line that he wouldn’t “do anything he shouldn’t” to the NHS. When pressed, he muttered a bit about stopping waste. That was it. Policy black hole.

    By contrast, GB has managed the messaging around the summit well – no raised expectations and silver-bullet promises, kept his powder dry, and delivered.

    I hope that come the election, we look back to yesterday as the day the confidence started coming back, a turning point against the “inevitability of a change of government” syndrome. I very much doubt anyone will remember what Dave was doing on that day.

  • Caroline Hett

    Wouldn’t it be more sensible to be blogging on Brown’s very real achievements at the G20 Summit instead of concentrating on how badly Campbell might have handled things had he been leader?

    Enough of the negative campaigning already.

    Well done Brown.

  • daniel

    The Conservative approach is intellectually inchorent – they do want free markets – and have been arguing for less regulation. They now claim that the PMs policies have done nothing to avoid recession – its all Gordon’s fault apparently – and yet is the British PM responsible for the recession in the US, or in Germany, Russia etc etc. ?? it would seem so if you live in cloud cuckoo planet cameron. In fact the Tory recessions in the 80’s and 90’s are almost certainly Brown’s fault too.

    Brown has worked his socks off this last month – visiting G20 nations to get them on board – and the Tories, in the form of Ken (I am an ordinary bloke) Clarke – desctribed these visits as Brown “prancing around” – i assume then that Cameron would have stayed at home – so now he should be known as the “stay at home do nothing tory”

  • Émilianna

    I’m not finding it easy to put Cameron on morning news-roundup radar. He hardly ever makes the first (web) page of the Guardian, Times or FT. Forget the NYT, WSJ and WaPo.

    AC, you accused the Tories of being lazy recently; today’s entry makes me wonder whether you’re questioning DC’s intellectual abilities as well.

    I remember the non-Obama campaign slogan which Obama supporters circulated on the web: “The White House: in complete sentences please.” If it’s at all possible to present DC as intellectually underwhelming, I say go with it!

    Go Fourth! (I know I’m being corny with my “Go Fourth” but I’ve rarely loved a political slogan more. As we say over here, it’s awesome!)

  • Phil Lea

    Totally agree with Terry’s analysis. Too many people are too easily swayed by the media’s constant 24/7,quite frankly irresponsible negativity and intent on laying all our problems at the door of Gordon.

    If a butterfly farted in Outer Mongolia it would be GBs fault if it led to an Apocalypse! (Can they fart? Will have to look that one up!)

    Can anybody these days in enough numbers think things through clearly and form their own opinions without lapping up all the garbage the so called News trys to put across? In fact I dont think it is News anymore, its constant opinionated analysis and negative soundbites. I wish I had faith in the British public to see through the charade and shallowness that is the Cameron beastie, but if the subliminal message that ‘its all Brown’s fault’ continues to be put across by the media, I fear the worst.

    Gordon must have a continual dilemma when to hold the election. Does he go for it now, hoping for another bounce in the Polls or can he afford to wait and hope that by 2010, the G20 decisions have delivered, the feel good factor is getting back to normal and people have finally seen what a lightweight plonker, Cameron actually is!

    I would be interested to know what Alastair would recommend on the election timing front and what he think will actually happen.

  • Span Ows

    Time to revive ‘no time for a novice.’ Because in this case, it is true. DC is no Obama. I’m beginning to wonder if he is even William Hague

    Alastair…do you see the irony in that comment? ‘No time for a novice’ and ‘DC is no Obama’? So, can we assume you think DC will fit the bill because Obama is certainly a novice!

  • AC

    Caroline – in your excitement you seemed to have made me leader of the Conservative Party. Whilst accepting I share many of the skills of the incumbent – know a good phrase and a good picture for example – I don’t think it is a likely proposition.
    re Sunny complaining to have been censored, comments are pre-screened not to take out abuse like his, but to screen out libels about people other than myself or my former boss whose name for some reason S.nuny mis-spells

  • william hague

    Re:Because in this case, it is true. DC is no Obama. I’m beginning to wonder if he is even William Hague.

    Alistair, as I’ve impressed upon you in our private conversations, I’m twice the man DC is. And for that matter, three times a Iain D Smith, and 1.5 M Howards. Alas, I remain – and happy to be so I hasten to add – but a twinkle in Our Lady Thatcher’s eye.



    P.S read on twitter it’s thirty years with Fiona. Perhaps my Fiona swapping Fridays idea has found fresh appeal. Just a thought.

  • Andrew Burns

    Actually Brown didn’t deliver the ‘deal’, pathetic as it was. It was delivered by everyone at the conference.

    You do the party enough harm without this nonsense.

  • Phil Tomlinson

    DC was elected as Leader of his party, when and if he becomes PM he will have been elected! Democracy,simple! GB will have lost his power without ever having had the benefit of such a basic simple requirement.


  • Tom

    Frank Skinner has said that the reason why he has ”fallen in love” with Barack Obama is because he reminds him of Tony Blair. haha. And for that reason, Skinner says that Gordon Brown has excelled at this G20 summit because he’s been snuggling beside Barack Obama (or rather ”Tony Blair”). Skinner’s actually made a good point because looking back, Gordon Brown was best when he was Chancellor, and perhaps more importantly, beside Tony Blair. And that is why – especially at the conference on Wednesday morning with Obama – that Brown has seemed so at home. Skinner now wants the return of Tony Blair to a ‘New New Labour’ haha.
    Let’s be honest we can’t have the Tories becoming leaders any time soon (Cameron and Osbourne and all their other Eton buddies). They just lack knowledge and are blatantly incompetent for the job, especially that Osbourne guy.
    But then at the same time, I for one cannot have Gordon Brown at the top for too much longer… and I actually like the guy, I think he’s the best guy for these worrying economic times. But I don’t want him to be leader of GB, he just gives off the wrong impression. His speeches are crap and annoying, and you can tell his English teacher at school taught him the art of repetition as the best rhetoric form. But the man’s clever and needs to be on the scene.
    So let’s bring back Tony Blair and push Brown back to second-in-command, and everything looks a lot rosier.

  • Alina Palimaru

    The “Fiona swapping” hint below is grotesque and disgusting.

  • Charles M


    You cannot have it both ways – Brown is at least partially responsible for the British economy and the mess it is in. It is his regulatary syatem that has failed. He let the bankers do what they wanted and now seeks to blame them exclusively for the state we are in. It is his regulatory body the FSA that was asleep on the job. It was he who appointed these people onto the FSA ( James Crosby etc ) and let them have his ear.
    Now the tide has turned and he pontificates on in full son of the manse mode about a need for a global new deal, reguation on bankers etc like he has just ridden into town on a big white charger to save the day and had nothing to do with the last 10 years where the seeds of what is happening now were soon.

    The Conservatives are far from perfect. But it is now time for a change. GB changes his message to suit what he thinks will get him a favourable headline. He has no substance and no morals. His only belief is to say whatever is needed to stay in power.

    DC is no Obama in terms of a crusade to power, but the cracks are already beginning to appear in Obama’s policies. Again there is a lot of charisma and style but I wonder what lies behind it.

    Cameron is far from perfect – but anything is better than what we have now

  • Caroline Hett

    Snurk at making you leader of the Tories, sorry. Apologies to David Cameron and all Tories too, I didn’t mean to cause offence.

    I think reviving the ‘no time for a novice’ campaign is a terrible idea. Blair was a novice when he became Prime Minister and he was extremely successful for the majority of his tenure. Besides, I don’t think negative campaigning works. The electorate are truly sick of cynical and manipulative politics. Looking to the opposition for reasons as to why Labour should remain in power after so many years is beyond laughable.