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Media finally catching up with public’s sense that Cameron unsure what he stands for

Posted on 4 April 2012 | 7:04am

Even accepting that the media’s shift to a more negative take on the government is in part dictated by David Cameron’s decision to set up the Leveson Inquiry, he would be wise not to dismiss the change as an act of revenge pure and simple. Because in many ways I believe the media, which has bent over backwards to be fair to Cameron, and broadly to buy his ever changing message as he flits from issue to issue day by day, are catching with the public who have been less easily convinced.

We are back to the problem he has had throughout his leadership, and which stopped him from securing a majority in an all too winnable election, namely a lack of strategic clarity, a lack of clarity about what he really wants to do with power, a lack of a really clear vision for Britain.

Say what you like about Tony Blair, but his actions in government flowed from the policies, beliefs and values he set out in Opposition. But just take a few recent issues at random. The Tories want to go back on the decision not to have a third runway at Heathrow. As it happens, I think they’re right. But why did they oppose it in the first place, when as some of us argued at the time it was blindingly obvious it would lead to problems in government? Answer – opportunism. Remember the vicious attacks on Gordon Brown over cuts to defence and the poor equipment supplied to some of our troops in Afghanistan? And what of his record on this since? As for the latest row, over surveillance of emails and related security issues, in part he is in trouble on it because in Opposition, again for opportunistic rather than philosophical reasons, he sought to portray himself as a defender of civil liberties. Like he sought to portray himself as environmentally friendly (nice pictures, shame about the policies)

And so slowly the media is catching up with something many members of the public have thought for a long time – that he is not very sure why he is there. This contrasts with George Osborne, who is very clear why he is there. He is a much more ideological Conservative who believes that if we take care of people at the top, all else will be fine in the Downton Abbeyisation of our country. The reason the Budget was such a disaster is that in the absence of a clear philosophy from the highly visible and hyperactive Cameron, a very clear philosophy emerged from his less visible right-hand man. And it is one, in case they hadn’t noticed, that has been rejected several times in the years leading to their non-victorious ascent to power.

  • Ian

    You obviously don’t live under the flightpath then as millions do that have to suffer noise and pollution.

  • Michele

    …..”hyperactive Cameron’ ……..

    I was going to suggest hyper-pointlessly active but am not so sure!  He does a dang fine job of distracting the PR machine with all the chiffon, a little like Salome (while Osbo must be only too pleased about the distracting diverting gibberish).

  • David Sindall

    Cameron is a Tory – drip rather than a Tory wet. He tries to embrace one nation Toryisim with his ‘we’re all in this together’ mantra and the sham of ‘Big Society’ but in practice he doesn’t believe it. The comparison with Blair is an interesting one because TB always worked on the basis of being core to a set of key values.

    Sadly I don’t think his growing unpopularity is that helpful. Labour still has not articulate a vision that will excite people. If the coalition survives we have a couple of years to sort this out. The indications are it probably won’t. This means Labour need to up their game as I suspect the election could be as early ad next year. Cameron’s opportunism means that his pledge of a fix term Parliament is just as empty as all his other promises.

  • It is endlessly curious how the same themes and divisions ceaselessly return unresolved to haunt the Tories.
    The country returns to stagflation, stagnation and stasis amidst greed for the gain of the rich above all else. Tax fraud is rewarded by tax cuts – ochlocracy of the oligarchs as Bullingdon Boris showed yesterday. Cameron’s cleptocracy.
    Bradford spring as that git Galloway repeats upon us like an overboiled Brussel sprout?
    No cycling today – 10cm of snow so far this morning.
    It really is always winter but never Christmas.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Incompetent government.
    The message, narrative and image coming out it that the Tory-led government is incompetent.
    It is good only at breaking promises and making U-turns.
    Social liberalism is out of fashion.
    Compassionate conservatism is a joke – like Big Society.
    No one understands the ideology of David Cameron: liberal conservatism.
    There has been a sea change in the media. And the credibility gap on the economy between the Tories and Labour is now down to 4 points from 25!
    George Osborne has been seen as a genius when it comes to strategy. But he has now made a huge strategic error by leaving the cuts too close to the general election.
    Labour has taken the lead in the polls. Ed Miliband´s recent performances have been brilliant.
    He will be seen as the only honest leader when 2015 comes.
    The public will soon stop playing the pain game with Cameron as it realises that huge cuts only make things worse.
    Labour must now adapt Will Hutton´s new economic model: capitalism with fairness.
    This must be Labour´s big story in the next general election. Douglas Alexander must take over the policy review.
    Meanwhile, David Cameron and George Osborne are now in it together.
    We want the real Muppet Show – not Cameron´s tribute band! 

  • Michele

     Commiserations DP-M, incredible to think of those conditions  so few hundred miles north of London’s lovely day.

    Talking about scorching, phwoaar M Hodge in a replay of a Select Committee session from 6th March is roasting or toasting DC re accountability of all the new private bodies.  Fat lot of use it will do us though, given the 100+ seats majority that Clegg gave to his leader.

  • Ehtch

    Never mind Downton Abbey, it is a 1920’s Upstairs Downstairs government, with very old ideas, and with not many Gordon Jackson’s Hudsons to back him in the ranks. An old fashioned government that is a century behind the times in it’s actions.

  • reaguns

    A solid article Mr Campbell! I think it is right to draw the distinction between Cameron and Blair as you have done. There is a perception by many that they are the same, all focus groups and PR. But I do believe Blair was by far the more principled of the two, even if I disagree with some of his principles (but agree with most of them.)

    Regarding opportunism though, surely no member of either party in recent years can throw this accusation at the other! Blair even admits it, for example when talking about George Bush and people saying he was stupid, he recalled how in the 1980s people on his side of the fence called Reagan stupid, even though the sensible among them knew this was nonsense. (Ironically, the non stupis ones! BTW Reagan was actually by common consent regarded the second smartest president since the war – unfortunately the smartest was Nixon!)

  • Ehtch

    Concorde’s flight path when the wind was coming from the east, I think it was, was right over Croydon when I lived there. Well noisy, but was an heck of an aircraft. RAF bases are always having to pay out for plates and pictures from locals living off the end of the runway when they fall off the wall with the sound vibrations. Binbrook in Lincolnshire with the English Electric Lightnings was the worse, a few decades ago, I heard. Well well noisy.  But at least modern jet engines are much quieter, not much above car and truck traffic sound level. Worse to live next to the north and south circular in Greater London, I think.

  • Robert

    Coalition really mishandled the secret trials and email snooping proposals.

    Would have been better to scare us into accepting the former first then quietly find reasons to lock us up & chuck away the keys under the latter.

  • Anonymous

    Cameron’s decision to ‘do God’ yesterday doesn’t seem to have impressed the media much.  It certainly didn’t impress me.  Gorbachev  was right when he described the legendary JC as ‘the first socialist’.  It’s also worth noting that the Gospel repeatedly draws attention to the way deeds – not words – are what matter.  Cameron, if he’s that interested in Christianity, should make it his Easter project to study the passage in Matthew about the ‘whited sepulchre’ – namely the scribes and Pharisees who spoke very piously, looked as if they meant it, but concealed their own darkness behind the appearance of piety.

    Where’s a bolt of lightening when you need it?

  • Gilliebc

    Oh, you’re back then.  I was wondering where you’d got to.
    Good holiday or break, I trust 🙂

  • Gilliebc

    The last line of your post is very sad Duncan.  But so very apposite.

  • Yohann

    Either that OR he doesn’t live in the real world, where massive , needless increases in carbon emissions have an actual effect on, mainly, developing societies. 

  • Anonymous

    “Their non-victorious ascent to power.’  Like that.  I can’t forget how sheepish Cameron looked on the steps of No.10 after the election.

    It’s bizarre (maybe) that Simon Jenkins has a completely different spin on this.  He seems to think that over the last fortnight the government has managed to divert attention from its worst disaster, namely Osborne’s budget.  Personally, I’m not convinced – because I think it has already played badly enough, and people are going to feel it.  I’m much more persuaded by your interpretation.

    The coalition has been exposed as fundamentally incompetent.  And yet we’re encouraged to think of their incompetence as some masterly diversion.  Jeez.  

  • Ehtch

    Sports news Alastair – I have been going on about how sport is working down our neck of the woods, and now this, a grand win in the prestigious Rosslyn Park Schools National Sevens, very impressive,

  • Dave Simons

    I would be interested in your response to my answer to your post on April Fool’s Day. Too many of these topics disappear into oblivion in 24 hours.

  • Dave Simons

     ‘A century behind’ is too progressive. A century ago it was 1912, close to the end of a progressive movement that lasted from around 1880 to 1914, when war knocked it all in the head for a generation. You’ve given a succinct summary of what Conservatives are always about, but I think we should backdate them further – maybe to the time of Pitt the Younger and his Combination Acts, a time some of the present crop of Tories must dream about, judging by their attitudes to trade unions.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Harold Macmillan was a one-nation Tory championing Keynesianism. He was in the tradition of Disraeli, Burke and Baldwin. Britain had low unemployment and high growth. The nation “never had it so good”. Cameron is not a 21st century Disraeli. His political philosophy is not above class. He speaks about responsibility for the poor, but what he does matters. Cameron does not act in national interest, he acts in the interest of the rich.

  • Ehtch

    If you want, I could have gone as far back as the Normans – King Edward Two was a right, ahem!, nasty pasty. Then there is what happened to Boudicca in East Anglia in abouts 50 AD, but I am getting a bit stupid now, can’t call Cameron a Roman, he would look ludicrous in one of them skirts, as seen here with Monty Python,

  • Ehtch

    Got a lot of time for Supermac, he had it right as a tory in Britain/UK. Think CIA had a hand in the wotsit affair, to be truthful, that caused his downfall, but I am guessing. Mandy was from a village near me, Pontyates, but I not saying she was a so and so, but rumours start, don’t they? Anyway, a song for Christine and Mandy from then, love them, interesting fillies,

  • Ehtch

    We need someone to go into The City and turn the money tables over, Matthew chapter 21, verse 12.

    Now I am not saying that I am especially classical Christian religious, but Jesus did have a point doing that, didn’t he?

  • Chris lancashire

    Cameron does indeed have a lack of “strategic clarity”. Absolutely no change there then from his two predecessors who were exactly the same. Zero vision apart from engaging in the odd foreign war at the behest of the USA.
    As for opportunism, right again. And what do you think Miliband-Balls are doing right now?

    What you are describing is, sadly, modern British politics, not some great political insight.

  • Anonymous

    See some judge has ruled that the NHS bill was a violation of Tory manifesto (or something like that.) I don’t fully understand but here is the link:

  • I’d suggest the Government is ‘only’ incompetent in things it reckons are fundamentally long-term unimportant.

    David Cameron may make the occasional attempt to appear cuddly but, as you say, George Osborne doesn’t bother. 

    And why? … because the fundamental intention is to raze all social / public provision and pass it on to someone else, anyone else but the government. 

    The current government would like there soon to be virtually nothing in the social agenda for which it is directly responsible or accountable.  All those awful failures to provide care / a modicum of safety net for people who need that sort of thing will soon be the ‘fault’ of non-central-government bodies with no money anyway.

    Looked at in this way, apparent incompetence in social policy is actually an asset for the Tories.  Whilst the rest of us faff about which policy doesn’t work or is not compatible with which other social policy, the nation’s leaders are able to get on ruthlessly with ensuring that they won’t have to bother with silly things like social policy anyway very soon.  Incompetence is a good smoke screen, intentional or not, for this ruthlessness.

    The Tories are moving, as quickly as they possibly can, towards total DE-governance [see: ], a state where there is little to govern except for ensuring the market remains long-term as free as they’d like.  And alongside that we can all be diverted by appalling and increasing interference (by those same Tories) in our private lives, whether it’s direct civil liberties, or our right to determine our own fertility, or whatever.  That’s where they’ll take us next….

    So there’s a case for suggesting all this apparent incompetence is in effect an effective cover for the real, very competent job George Osborne is doing is razing the wefare state and replacing it with a ruthless free market. 

  • Janiete

    ‘I don’t fully understand’

    Nor do the overwhelming majority of the British public thanks to the BBC choosing to neglect its responsibility ‘to inform’.

    There is something very, very wrong in the way the BBC has chosen to report (or rather not report) all aspects of the Health & Social Care Bill. Their decision so far to be quiet on this issue is just more of the same. 

    More info at:

  • It is passover allready….shalom to all. I hope governmentats will not matter soon, is my wish for passover.

  • Michele
  • Michele

     Concorde used to fly right over our house at about 5.55pm daily when coming down for landing, we couldn’t ever resist running out to point at it every time, yelling ‘Concorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrde’.
    Long before that I was lucky enough to be taxiing to our runway for take off way back in cough-6 when it whizzed past us for its own  …..  just a few weeks after it had started scheduled service.
    Gorgeous thing.

  • Anonymous

    I think many of us, certainly in the North, have never bought into Cameron’s image. It might simply be that whenever we hear a posh, Home-Counties accent, our collective hackles rise. I know we shouldn’t judge folks that way, but it’s become something of a conditioned reflex in the last 30 years or so.

    This acquired immunity, does however, shield us from the fawning, Stockholm Syndrome response displayed by the majority of the metropolitan media set- they just can’t seem to see past it and consequently credit him with a profundity and wisdom he clearly does not possess.

    Their instinctive deference baffles me; as I’ve said before elsewhere, if you ignore the accent, his frequent burbling is on a par with George W. – vacuous, simplistic, nonsensical boll0x!  

  • Michele

     Warning, understatement follows …… I’m troubled about this one Janiete, I don’t understand why we are only hearing now that the checks on abortion clinics prevented other work that had higher priority in view of the NHS Bill schedule.  What kept the inspectors quiet till now?
    I do think it was necessary to find out whether late-term abortions were being allowed for eugenic choices.  We know gender can’t be reliably IDed till around 24wks and we know that from around that time onwards an abortion happens as an induced natural birth and if the foetus starts breathing independently it will have to be allowed to survive, requiring massive mechanical support till old enough to live without it (but often with also-massive permanent physical difficulties).

    It’s awful to mix the above with all the other stuff that’s coming out again about Lansley and am shocked (at myself) for only ‘clocking’ today that his wife actually trains people wanting to be lobbyists and has done so for many medical hardware and drugs providers.  Filthier and filthier.

  • Ehtch

    Seriously nice pic Michele. I’ve nicked it…

  • Anonymous

    I am in favour of those late stage abortions, for various reasons. Some defects identified at that stage could make life unbearable.

    I wish someone had aborted me for example.

  • Michele

     I hope your ‘various reasons’ don’t include the one that my post was about, namely confirmed gender not being what the parent/s wanted.

    Re your own wish, I hope you don’t always feel that way.

  • Anonymous

    These are among the most extremely difficult topics I feel Michele but what if a person had some hereditary genetic problem, specific to their gender, that they felt made life almost unbearable for them, and that may be passed on to their child, but only if it was one gender not the other, and that it couldn’t be determined if it was passed on till after birth. Is it not reasonable that this person would wish their child would be of the “safe” gender, and understandable if they wished only to have a child of that gender? I would say that in that case it is. How to legislate that people don’t just have specific gender babies for non health reasons is another thing.

    Thanks for your kind thoughts re me.

  • Michele

     The only context in which I (and others here) have been opposing ‘wrong gender’ abortions in recent months is in the cases of parent/s who are having a healthy child but only want it of one gender, usually a male (for outdated cultural reasons to do with hopes for prosperity). 
    That, as well as your other example is/are scary eugenics but, as you say, one type might be deemed more excusable than the other.
    You’ve made good use of life so far, I hope the academic accomplishments go a long way to compensate for what sounds like physical difficulties.

    Hope also that you can enjoy some chocolate in the next few days 🙂

  • reaguns

    I got plenty of chocolate thanks, and perhaps my difficulties might be mental? Anyway… I expect no quarter so after our football on the somme / chocolates on easter please let normal hostilities resume in full lol!

    Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned anything but just wanted to say that I can understand the plight of some people where others would not understand, and also no doubt there are plights that I don’t understand that can be just as bad or worse.

    When I think of eugenics (not giving definition here just my impression) I think of the government making decisions about who can have kids, not the parents themselves. Nevertheless, whatever the name is I am opposed to the killing of babies for cultural gender reasons. Not least for the poor boys who are born into a very bad ratio of boys to girls (no joke.)

    I guess we could define conditions under which it would be acceptable (ie child will carry disorder based on gender etc.)