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Cameron’s conkers add to his problem with serious opinion

Posted on 2 December 2009 | 10:12am

I was up in Bolton for a mental health conference yesterday, then out at a dinner, and so missed all the news all day and by the time I got in, I just wanted to get to bed.

But I was aware that yesterday a very important political leader had made a very important speech on a very important issue,  so I thought I’d better take a bit of time this morning to look at a paper and catch up.

I counted on the Financial Times, unusual in continuing to be a good old-fashioned newspaper which gives you the news fairly straight, and then signposts to a variety of comment pieces in different parts of the paper.

But this morning, I was disappointed. I read from cover to cover, and the major speech did not even get a mention. How could this be? We are talking about one of the most important political leaders on our landscape. Surely what he says is important? But no, not a word.

In so far as there was coverage of an important speech by an important leader on an important subject, it was all left to President Obama and Afghanistan. Important, granted.

But what about Dave and his conkers?

If the polls are correct, we are talking about our future Prime Minister here. Surely when he speaks, we should listen, and the media have a duty to report?

Is the FT saying that amid all the coverage of Afghanistan, Dubai, the looming pre-budget report and all the other national and international issues currently on the agenda, they cannot find a single pesky paragraph to tell us what Dave was saying in his hugely important ‘elf’n’safety’ speech yesterday?

I mean, this was the big one. Teachers make kids wear goggles to play conkers. Apparently. Trainee hairdressers can’t have scissors in case they cut themselves. Supposedly. Public sector workers don’t help mothers lift prams upstairs because they’re not insured. Or so it said in one of the papers Dave read in the back of his car one day … I mean, stands to reason, dunnit?

Sensible Tories are asking themselves – why, when the economy has been battered, public spending is under threat, the expenses scandal engulfed politics, ‘when ‘time for a change’ is such a potent force, when GB’s personal ratings have been low, when support for the conflict in Afghanistan appears to have fallen, and the profile of the Iraq war has risen, they are not out of sight?

The answer is that nobody really understands what direction they want to take the country in. We hear their complaints about Labour. But we have no real sense of their own vision for the future. He has been there four years but we still don’t really know. And that leaves people thinking he doesn’t really know.

So on a day when he could have contributed to the debate on Afghanistan, on the global economy, on the national economy pre-PBR, he comes out with a lot of vacuous nonsense cobbled together with a few Daily Mail cuttings, whose accuracy given the source cannot be taken for granted. A few dubious exceptions are used to illustrate what he likes to put over as a general picture. But no matter the favourable coverage he may have generated in one or two quarters, it is all adding to the sense that he has a problem with serious opinion. Yesterday he added to it.

  • Peter Farley

    Come on Alastair. Exactly the same reason you had Blair doing dumb kickabouts with Kevin Keegan. More people read the tabloids than the FT and more of them are interested in football and conkers and the crazy world of political correctness they have had imposed on them in the last 13 years than they are about what is happening in Dubai or the White House. If all he did was drone on about the so-called “big issues” you would knock him for being out of touch with the things that affect ordinary people. But at least you noticed…….

  • Terry Evans

    When the entire media has him under complete scrutiny, (which will come in the new year) we will see him for the empty headed politician that he is. Unfortunately I have no confidence that GB’s image problem cannot be overcome. He will have to be brilliant to overcome it. The Labour party needs to really promote all the great things that it has done in health, education and human rights including equality. The Tories would undo a lot of the good work.

  • john

    I’m not sure you having a conversation with yourself, and Labour’s echo chamber, counts as ‘adding to the sense that he has a problem with serious opinion’

    Talking of seriousness, I still remember the happy occasion when your former boss took time out of PMQ’s to comment on the travails of a fictional TV character from Coronation St. Deidrie Barlow ne Rashid. Le homme serieux. No?. Even better is the current PM who regularly takes time out of the serious business of adding the national debt to ring up reality tv stars and pass comment on every celebrity who makes the news. Still Brown must be serious because he litters his speeches with John Locke, JS Mill, etc.Seems to fool you. Though judging by the legislation that comes out the other end he must have misread them.

  • Mal Kelly

    You missed a good Newsnight. Not sure if it was intentional but they made Cameron look the bandwagon-hopper that he is. Pathetic stuff

  • Colin Harper

    Is it true you are back helping Gordon for PMQs, as Andrew Rawnsley said? If so, welcome back … Gordon has just wiped the floor with Cameron

  • Spongebob

    You seem to be devoting a lot of your time to Dave Cameron’s conkers. Haven’t you got anything better to post about?

  • Mark \’Elvis\’ Wright

    Of course TB passed comment on all manner of trivial issues. GB has done the same (although according to Piers Morgan’s diaries GB really does watch the X Factor with his family).

    But this is about context.

    At a time when serious issues are being debated and are dominating the news agenda as well as the real worldwide political agenda it beggars belief that Cameron would waste time with such fluff.

    And if anybody thinks the Tories are not concerned at the recent shortening of the polls just watch the body language of the Tory benches at today’s PMQs.

  • Matthew

    Don’t disagree with your main point Alistair but do you not think that this is more a refelction of the media’s relentless trivialisation of our political discourse rather than a Cameron issue per se? You dealt with this very well in the Diaries I thought.

    I suspect that they all (including Blair as pointed out by other commentators) feel the need to play up to this. Strangely I think the fact that GB is less inclined to do so, because he’s a serious person, accounts for a lot of his ‘image problem’.

    I’m new here but great job with the blog!

  • John

    SPot on Alastair. This was one of the worst researched and most vacuous speeches I’ve read. There may have been some interesting policy points about certain aspects of the law needing changing but they were wiped out by Daily Mail hysteria. Is that idiot Littlejohn writing his speeches now? Cant wait for Cameron’s next one about the plague of one-armed gyspy lesbians taking our benefits.

  • David

    @Peter Farley. That’s it, don’t bother having an argument, just use the magic words ‘political correctness’ and all will be fine.

    Cameron’s speech was a millimetre away from Chris Morris territory: “And get this, right, in Birmingham, they’re BANNING CHRISTMAS AND CALLING IT WINTERVAL!!! Fact! There’s no actual evidence for it but it’s fact!”

  • betty curtis

    C’mon AC Need you to give a reply to Nick Robinson

    Quote from his blog—“What Campbell ignores is the one thing keeping Tories cheerful. They believe that there is a third factor standing in the way of making Labour electorally competitive – it is Gordon Brown himself – smile or no smile”.

    Nick sounds gutted that GB is making Cameron look & sound inadequate & We know that Nick’s a Tory boy & he writes this kind of stuff because he’s allowed to at the BBC.
    I am furious that this Lazy Journalism is accepted & we’re paying this mans salary through the Licence fee that we are forced to pay as a statutory requirement.
    I am a supporter of the BBC but this man is getting away with writing & talking rubbish & getting well paid for it.

  • Xavier Attwell

    Have you put nick robinson back in his place lately seems to have unnerved him !! Brown was brilliant at PMQs today cameron was completely outmanoeuvred. I hope you will continue doing your brilliant work and continue criticising our very bias media coverage!

  • dave

    betty, this is the best quote from robinson –

    “Alastair Campbell – who’s now back at No 10 as a regular visitor – is back to his old tricks using his blog to criticise media coverage he doesn’t like, to shape coverage he would prefer…”

    Now THAT is the MO of Campbell – a manipulator, nothing more, nothing less.

  • Kaie

    Same old spin from Alastair. Interesting to see that you attended the mental health conference. I wander whether you might post about the impact of bullies on mental health?

    Bullying is perceived as physical but psychological bullying is more subtle but can have more damaging effects.

    Bullying at all levels is unacceptable and yet the work of great charities such as the Andrea Adams Trust are rarely mentioned.

  • MarkinLondon

    Nice to see the Tories squealing for a change – they’ve been giving it large for the past six months, but can’t see to handle it when their guy gets some criticism.

    A couple more PMQs like yesterday, and a decent pre-budget statement that actually appeals to traditional Labour voters, and we could still be in for a hung parliament.

    AC – If you’ve got any pull in Downing Street at all, can you please remind Alistair Darling that he’s a LABOUR chancellor, and act accordingly. Picking a fight with the RBS board will be a good thing!