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At home and abroad, Cameron sets up policies which cannibalise each other

Posted on 2 March 2011 | 8:03am

It has been mildly comical to hear David Cameron for so long bemoaning the centralising, strategising ways of the Blair government, and now seeking to emulate the systems he decried.
As his new Number Ten team gets to work, may I gently suggest that they adopt the motto that used to inform my own approach when there – get a grip.
It is bad enough for a government to be making massive and increasingly unpopular cuts to jobs and public services. But the cack-handedness of their handling takes some doing.
‘Mixed messages’ does not begin to do justice to their handling of the Libya situation in recent days. Even without yesterday’s announcement of enormous job cuts in the armed forces, including of troops currently fighting in Afghanistan, David Cameron’s handling had shown an alarming mix of naïveté and arrogance.
He really does seem to think he can coast through without thinking too deeply about the consequences of what he does. Talking tough on the economy is all fine and dandy when it’s all theoretical. But today alone you have soldiers facing the sack, police officers being told to take a pay cut, overseas aid being cut – another broken promise and not a peep from the Lib Dems – councils being forced to make savage and often arbitrary cuts to local services, universities only now really having to see the consequences of the government’s reforms.
And amid it all, a question … How would Cameron sum up his foreign policy? Would he know?
It was a trade policy until inconvenient events in Egypt clashed with the optics. Oh how he cares about the optics. So it became a democracy and values policy. However the arms trade businessmen on his trip got in the way of that.
On Libya, it was let them sort themselves out, then let’s get heavy and threaten them with our mighty forces, but meanwhile let’s sack a few thousand of the troops.
It is as though he is unaware of his own positions and policies. Domestically too, he has a strategy – The Big Society – totally at odds with his policy – cuts to the charities and services that can deliver it. Policies cannibalise each other in a rather disturbing way.
Ps, first episode of Dream School tonight. C4 9pm. Glad to see Angelique getting play in the trailers for calling me a f…ing prick. Come on Dacre, give her a column.

  • Michael Snelgrove

    My ex-MP wife always said that Cameron’s too arrogant about his own abilities to prepare for anything properly. Detail is for others less gifted to worry about ,was his attitude. At last it’s catching up with him and his rotten, self-regarding crew, be they Tory or Lickspittle Dems.

    • Dave Simons

      I’m intrigued! I wonder if Anne Snelgrove could divulge what these ‘abilities’ are about which DC is ‘too arrogant’. Can he juggle three oranges, play left-handed bouzouki upside down or ride side-saddle on a Canada Goose? Modern History can be ruled out – he thought Britain was the US’s junior partner in 1940! As a PM who is all sound-bites, photo-ops and not much else, he isn’t even good at them! Having yourself photographed cycling the wrong way up a one-way street with a limo chasing you cannot be judged an entirely successful photo-op. And his sound-bites have a habit of biting back at him!. As for Politics – say no more! Please enlighten us, Anne.

  • Yonkers

    Maybe Angelique got it right Alastair…….just joking!

  • Chris lancashire

    You are absolutely right Mr Campbell, if we have learned anything from Mr Blair’s follies it is stay well away from foreign adventurism which has nothing fundamentally to do with this country. To waste more decent British military lives in yet another stupid pointless foreign intervention would be a travesty.

  • What a appreciate when I read your diaries, your columns, is how you’ve helped shape my own politics AND just how Labour I am. DC is a joke but, sadly, it is backfiring on us, the people. We suffer in ways he will never know, never experience.

    Imagine if you will – any Tories or Lib Dems reading this – being a fully trained and experienced Primary schoolteacher who returns to work having “done the right thing”, bringing up two lads as a stay-at-home Mum. The Multiple Sclerosis strikes and, but for a small teaching ill-health pension and the Welfare State, potential poverty threatens.

    It is NOT enough to “do the right thing” for yourself; it is EVERYTHING that is human to “do the right thing” for fellow humans, for the citizens you serve.

    Yes DC, NC, you are servants NOT masters. Servants of a country your are leading…quite where, I shudder to think.

  • Swansea Jill

    Cameron’s strong stance on Libya looks like a knee jerk reaction in response to Clegg’s forgetting he was running the country. The Obama administration clearly recognise this and has distanced themselves from the UK – well done, for getting a large amounts of egg all over your face Cameron.

  • Matthew Evans

    Can I suggest that people NEVER use the word “reforms” to describe what this government is doing. The word is constantly used to describe policies which are actually reactionary and it gives the Tories a helping hand. The universities are not experiencing government reforms; they are experiencing government butchery.

    • Richard

      Please may we have the rest of your list of NEVER to be used words. Starting with: Blair,WMDs, Iraq, Kelly, Regime Change, Boom and Bust, Blair, Brown, New Labour, Mandy,Blair………….when you have just got a blank sheet of paper for policies at least you will never paint yourselves into a corner.
      No such thing as thinking for yourselves by you lads, eh?

  • Robert

    Headless chickens run about free from the burden of a bloated back office and overrated, overpaid management.

    Perfect Big Society model.

    Great foreign policy too.

  • ronnie

    Great stuff. But wouldn’t it be even better to see these arguments day after day in the mainstream media, banged home by Ed Miliband? Why are the Labour Party being so quiet?

  • Olli Issakainen

    We should promote our values – up to a point.
    Should the west go for the realpolitik? Do we know the countries well enough to calculate the consequences of our actions?
    Should we go for a foreign policy that reflects our democratic ideals?
    Realpolitik was the tactical outcome of cold war. The Soviets were sponsoring liberation movements and co-opting Castro, Nasser and Gaddafi. The west was helping any alternative.
    This was rarely a success as we saw in Vietnam and Iran. But neither is the idealistic alternative a perfect option. The fall of the Shah was accelerated by Jimmy Carter´s principled policies. The neocon policy of aggressive promotion of democracy around the world did not do well.
    The world is now moving to shifting alliances and emerging power competition. The best approach to this is “quiet idealism”. The west should stick to ideals of FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY and JUSTICE. But also realise that transplanting these ideals is not easy in every culture.
    Within this framework the west must deploy realpolitik to deliver idealistic ends.
    SMART POWER is the ability to combine hard and soft power into a winning strategy.
    Mary Riddell wrote in the Telegraph that David Cameron should act in Libya. Now this is interesting in the light of what happened with the Iraq war. And with Sierra Leone and Kosovo. And what did not happen at Rwanda and Darfur.
    Is liberal interventionism surfacing again?
    David Cameron´s foreign policy has been focusing on bilateral relations and trade. He has not been keen on global institutions. And not on Europe.
    In the Arab world humanitarian intervention is a code for western imperialism.
    It is important to realise that the spread of democracy in the Middle East does not mean the spread of Western values. Political Islam and nationalism guarantee that.
    Where have all these people who now praise the Arab revolutions been for the past 30 years? I guess they have been too busy criticizing Israel to notice the opressors.
    But there are such things as universal principles. Syrian Ba´athists, Hamas and the Saudi monarchy, please take note.
    David Cameron needs a fully developed strategic approach to the world. Mercantilist spirit is not enough.
    Mr Cameron has denounced the realist school of foreign policy. But can we be friends of democracy and also sell arms to autocratic regimes?
    Ed Miliband wrote in the Guardian that we must never again reduce foreign policy to the pursuit of profit.
    There are about 8,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia held without trial.
    According to Nomura oil price could hit $220 a barrel. A $10 a barrel increase in the price of oil knocks about 0.5% from global GDP growth. Time for a plan B, Mr Osborne?
    On domestic agenda, the job of the opposition is to oppose. And there is plenty of that to do at the moment.
    Unprecedented assault on living standards starts soon. Welfare state is about to be demolished. Tax avoidance must be tackled. And Big Society prevented.
    John Harris said in the Guardian that the most far-reaching attempt to REMODEL BRITISH SOCIETY is undertaken at speed with disregard for what was in the manifestos. Labour MP John McDonnell says that the gap between fiscal necessity and ideological project merits another election.
    Neoliberalism caused the current “mess”, but the Tory-led government is pursuing it as never before!
    The most illegitimate revolution in Britain is taking place, and the electorate is sleepwalking into it.

  • Richard

    Perhaps, because the defence cuts have had to be implemented, we can no longer be encouraged into wars which have nothing to do with us, and will have to cut out the Blair ways of “have gun will travel.”

    Curious that New Labour was a Government of adventurism, and the Conservative led Coalition shrinks the armed services to a strength below perceived operational needs.

    Gordon Brown should become special adviser to Osbourne’s Treasury, and Tebbitt become shadow Foreign Secretary: They could both get on with the work they always relished. The one to reduce the armed forces to Swiss size, and the other to return to Imeperialism!

  • Watoop

    Alastair, thank heavens the message is finally getting through. I work in the public sector (although I soon won’t going to thanks to the government) and ever since last June I have frankly been astonished by the sheer amateurism of this administration.
    Nothing has been thought through, there is no evidence base for incredibly far-reaching decisions, and there is little or no scrutiny or consultation with people who actually have a little bit of expertise in the relevant areas.
    Cameron and his B list of ministers (Osborne, Pickles, Cable. Gove, Lansley etc) are out of their depth, reacting and changing positions minute by minute depending on whether enough “important” people protest (sadly the poorest in our society don’t count as important).
    I watched and waited in frustration all last year for the honeymoon mask to fall from the media’s eyes about how inept this sorry crew were and at last – at last – it’s now out in the open.
    Now the next question is how can we get rid of bad rubbish before everything is destroyed? March 26th in London has to be the start.

  • Ehtch

    Other european leaders have been splitting their sides in what he has said on his approach to Libya this week.

    As if Westminter only can apply a no-fly zone over Libya. What planet is he on?

  • Plaingoldband

    Whilst observing the Libya debacle of last week concerning ‘getting the Brits out’, I was struck by a news report: HMS Cumberland came to the ‘rescue’. Cue grateful Brits praising the Royal Navy and the men and women who were serving on the Cumberland…

    …the last sentence of the report? HMS Cumberland was on its way back to the UK when diverted to the aid of said stranded Brits for ‘de-commissioning’.

    I laughed my ass off.

    Pitiful. This government is pitiful…

  • ambrosian

    Michael Snelgrove’s ex-MP wife is spot-on. Cameron’s arrogant disdain for detail was perfectly illustrated in his now infamous interview with Gay Times (on YouTube, for any who haven’t seen it). When confronted with the detail of the inconsistencies and hypocrisy of his policies, he went into total meltdown.
    May I add that Mrs Snelgrove’s defeat was a sad loss to both the Commons and her constituency. I’ll refrain from comment on her Tory successor because it’s not past the watershed.

  • Richard

    As a one term Labour ex MP your wife would of course be the most objective of people to give an assessment of Cameron. It would be more interesting to hear her thoughts on ex Red Leader, Comrade Brown, who cost her her job. David Cameron certainly didn’t!

  • Gillian C.

    Re: Dream School on C4. James Delingpole has written a very inaccurate and spite filled blog post about some of the people taking part in aforementioned TV prog. on the Telegraph Blogs today.
    I have posted my comment on this site at about 17.00 hrs.
    So if any other AC supporters would care to do similar, now would be a good time!

  • KDouglas

    I suppose if your background is in PR, you develop a habit of saying anything to please the client. Anything at all. And then you scrabble about behind the scenes trying to honour whichever was the last commitment you made. And no one’s going to say you can’t peddle a different line to every client you meet – nothing has to be joined up.

    Now, how does it work with a prime minister? And has he yet worked out that his clients all talk to each other?

  • Quinney

    Ronnie, we had 3 months of a beauty contest after the last election to choose our leader. We literally had a cut a day and virtually no reaction from our party. Never again!

  • Anonymous

    Well if Cameron is now looking at Tony Blair’s way you should be happy or is it your worried like Blair Cameron will end up winning three or four or five terms. I see no difference between Blair or Cameron and that should make you all happy the Third way has lived on.

  • andyatchapel

    It’s difficult to ‘get a grip’ on confusion .Take the Big Society- far away please – at the heart of which there is a fundemantal contradiction.
    The Condems apparently believe that what public services they leave at least parly intact can best be delivered privately, presumably because the profit motive ensures that people and organisations work more effectively where this is present. This implies that those who have chosen to work in such services because of a belief in the intrinsic value of Public Service are unable to deliver as well or cost effectively as those working for profit. However the Big Society relies or seems to rely on individuals who are motivated by belief in public service Presumably the rationale is that as they will be delivering things that don’t matter it doesn’t matter how good they are and they are doing it for nothing..

  • Tracey

    Our former government(in the Republic of Ireland) was in power for so long that they too had forgotten just who was the servant and who was the master.

    The drubbing they received at the hands of the electorate will concentrate the minds of the incoming group. We hope.

    Long live democracy.

  • Dave Simons

    The characteristic insult in the last sentence could only have been written by someone who badly wants to believe that anyone who disagrees with his opinions is stupid, easily-led and incapable of independent thought. Might I suggest – as on previous occasions – that it’s not a healthy mind-set to bring to an open debate. What happens is that you just keep repeating yourself and, as far as I’m concerned, I despair of ever persuading you to elaborate your position rather than keep churning out these knee-jerk, gut-reaction-driven responses which persuade no-one of anything other than that whoever wrote them must be a bit sad.

  • Richard

    “Can I suggest that people NEVER use the word “reforms” to describe what this government is doing.” To be told NEVER to use a word suggests a dogmatic approach to Politics, Dave. I am sorry that you do not like my contribution, Dave, and for considering that you might like to think for yourself, rather than be SHOUTED AT!