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On Cameron doing little right, Clegg’s resilience, Miliband’s possible breakthrough moment

Posted on 5 October 2012 | 7:10am

So, to the excellent question I was asked at a software conference yesterday – is David Cameron doing anything right, does Nick Clegg have a future, and is Ed Miliband electable as Prime Minister?

I ended up answering yes, yes and yes, but with varying degrees of caveat and qualification.

For Cameron, the problem I have been banging on about again and again on here – lack of clear strategy, lack of certainty in himself about what kind of Tory he is and what he wants to do with power – is the one that now leads to magazines like The Spectator leading their Tory conference coverage with a front page cartoon and the headline ‘Cameron in freefall.’

He had the best wicket for an Opposition leader since TB in 1997, but failed to win a majority – because he lacked clear strategy, because ‘decontaminating the Tory brand’ became his purpose, not a policy platform for the country. Now in government, the brand is being re-contaminated, his clarion calls in opposition on the environment, the big society (time to move to lower case on that one) and all else designed to signal a shift to the centre, stand exposed as tactics masquerading as strategy.

As ever in front of a business audience I tried to be non tribal, and I found a lot of people nodding as I reeled off examples of tactics leading strategy. I made the point that he continues to take a direct hand in day to day media management, and so pops up on the television night after night with the same urgent ‘top priority’ tone on an ever changing myriad of top priorities. So one night it is jobs, then housing, then tax dodgers, then a foreign policy issue and then, as last night, the police hunt for young April Jones.

His economic plan is failing. His health reforms have been so badly handled he had to demote the man who devised them. His education secretary is turning teachers and parents against the government in their hundreds of thousands. I found myself saying I supported what he did on Libya, said he continued to look and sound the part (but that is eroding along with public respect) but that was about it.

As for Clegg, I unintentionally got one of the biggest laughs of the morning by saying he definitely has a future, ‘the question is whether there is any joy or success in it.’ Thinking aloud, I ended up saying there was a fifty fifty chance he would fight the next election as leader, that rivals were moving, that the public were writing him off, that his big mistake had been to allow himself in the early heady days of coalition to become Cameron’s human shield, but that I admired his resilience and reckoned he might be tougher than his internal opponents.

The R word – resilience – was one I applied to Ed Miliband too, along with the C word – no not that one – but Calm. He had been written off almost from the start, but has kept going, and his bravura performance in delivering the One Nation Labour speech on Tuesday has the potential to be a breakthrough moment. All depends now on how he and his colleagues – who must become more visible and impactful in the public debate – inject momentum into the change of mood among party, commentariat and, if anecdotal experience is anything to go by, sections of the public.

Once the sense of his own improvement is matched by thought through policy positions which become known to the public, then the race between him and Cameron will become much more interesting. All the things people say now – ‘wrong brother’, geek, sounds odd, looks odd – will become less and less relevant once policy fills the space of public debate.

Nor should morale and confidence be underestimated as political weapons. Ed is rightly more confident now, but also knows that there is really no such thing in politics as the overnight turning of a mood. He knows too that the thought in the gentleman’s question, as with the thoughts on Cameron and Clegg, is out there. Politics is a slow, strategic business, but One Nation Labour was a big strategic step. The next steps will decide if it really is the breakthrough moment. One thing is for sure, the Tories will be adapting their anti Miliband attacks to take account of a changing perception.

Don’t forget either than when TB first came along, he was derided as Bambi, and right up to 1979, one of the lines run against Mrs Thatcher was that she would not be able to stand up to the men then leading Europe.

  • Olli Issakainen

    From hero to zero.
    Harold Wilson knew it was all over for him when the devaluation crisis hit in 1967.
    For John Major sterling´s exist from ERM in 1992 was the beginning of the end.
    Tony Blair´s turning point was, of course, the invasion of Iraq.
    David Cameron´s fortunes have changed thanks to a long list of U-turns, gaffes and broken promises.
    He is now seen as one-term PM with Boris Johnson waiting in the wings.
    Plan A has failed. Cameron´s answer is more neoliberalism which caused the mess in the first place.
    He will never understand that fiscal stimulus is needed. Jobs, growth and investment bring the deficit down – not austerity.
    Governments can only cut their own expenditure, not deficits.
    David Cameron is a diminished figure. After Steve Hilton left, the PM has been adrift.
    Tory Right wants to return to “true Toryism”.
    Labour is now the one nation party.
    Cameron´s liberal conservatism is a thing of the past. Some say he was a Thatcherite from the day one.
    Cameron has detoxified the Tory brand. Nasty party is back!
    Peter Oborne once wrote in the Spectator that Cameron´s political philosophy pre-dates Thatcher. It is of purer school of Conservatism articulated by Burke reaching its apothesis with Disraeli and Baldwin ending when Macmillan left office in 1963.
    One nation Conservatism sees itself above class or faction.
    But David Cameron has abandoned one nation conservatism.
    Red Toryism is gone. So is Big Society.
    But he is still sticking to the dysfunctional economic model.
    The coalition only has a negative agenda of deficit reduction.
    Deficit, by the way, is widening. Borrowing is going up by £600bn!
    Cuts in capital spending cut long-term growth.
    Mr Cameron has given up on strategic vision. Osborne´s tactics rule.
    Central direction of the coalition, if it has any, is RIGHTWING EXTREMISM.
    But the voters want new economic and social settlement.
    Ed Miliband has the answers with his responsible capitalism. He is in tune with the zeitgeist.
    Lightweight Cameron can only deliver empty phrases.

  • Mark Wright

    Ed should capitalise on his new found confidence by carrying out a BOLD re-shuffle.

    By bold I mean re-arranging the deckchairs of his top team.

    Even a passing student in body language will have ascertained that Ed Balls had realised the balance of power had shifted as the camera zoomed in on him dutifully applauding the political resurrection of his boss.

    Ed M may have started to turn around public perception of himself but he will from now on be hindered as the coalition turns its attention fully onto his erstwhile shadow chancellor.

    A leader must also be seen to be strong and to not shirk from making tough decisions. Moving Balls will send a message loud and clear to both the PLP, and the media at large, that Miliband is a leader who means business. It would also take away a main plank of attack from the coalition.

    Give him Shadow Foreign Secretary.

    As for his replacement?

    Are you there Darling?

    A step backwards? Not at all. Think about it. He can grace our screens at every opportunity reminding the electorate that when he handed over the mantle of Chancellor our economy had returned to growth.

    So be bold Mr Miliband. Now is not the time to carry on as before. You have got our attention. We’re listening. Do something.

  • Ehtch

    What gets to everyone, everyone who cares and speaks out that is, is the inaction on day to day matters when something rears its head, as if no sensible planning is going on. All we have is disruption and destruction costing money to implement, which invariably results in chaos, thereby requiring more money being poured down the drain. They carry on as if our economy is not on soft ground. The coalition just carry on gormlessly meddling and experimenting with the wheels of our modern society, as if it is just a hobby for them. They are as professional as I am as a cook, pretty pants!

    There is an energy crisis looming, our personal tax system is a shambles, government given contracts are a nonsence, as with west line rail contract. And what does Clegg do? Scaffold up his mate Cameron. It all stinks to high heaven. And the coalition can do no wrong in the eyes of our media, unless a huge bollock is dropped, which must be averaging one a week these days. Look at our police service – another senior officer has been kicked out on his behind today. We are getting more corrupt as each day passes, and nobody seems to be getting a grip. Quite flipping depressing, you could say

  • Cameron’s detoxification of the Tory brand is falling flat on it’s face because all he did was to present the conservative party as if it were changed. He didn’t actually change the party, and in fact it is a far more toxic party now in its makeup than it was in 1979. It contains very many of these poisonous economic liberals and other forms of right wing loon.

    Personally I think Clegg is finished. In those days after the general election he was bullied by the conservatives into agreeing to too many concessions. Then he failed to win the electoral reform referendum. The House of Lords reform was killed by the conservatives simply breaking their agreement. It is all too much.

    Miliband has demonstrated he has what it takes to be PM. It is difficult for him to break through the incredible press negativity about him, however he made very good progress at the Labour party conference. Now he needs some excellent policies reflecting the One Nation theme.

  • Anonymous

    Alastair, slightly off topic, but sport, another welsh derby down this way in rugger, us home against the Newport region, where the romans lived, years ago. Stoddart returning after the bottom of his leg turned a strange corner against England last year, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey-like. Should be interesting, live on beeb two Wales, online UK here,

    Wotsit preview of it here,

    Hope it will be better than that Ospreys shower of a reffed game the other week, but Nige Owens is reffing Alastair – TIDY! Top class in World rugger ref he is. But if you are still in landlocked Ireland, beeb online not available there.

  • Steve E.

    Never been a big fan of Ed, but the boy done good.

    Most interesting political comment I’ve seen recently was Tim Montgomerie, who was on last night’s camp fest with Brillo.

    He said that the Left-voting block is now solid but it’s the Right that is fractured and demoralised – the complete opposite of the Thatcher years. It may be too soon to celebrate, but I, for one, can’t resist a little ‘Hurrah’!

  • Anonymous

    “Tactics masquerading as strategy” is such an accurate, and damaging, description of the tories. It’s actually ludicrous that 2 years in they still haven’t figured that out.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t care about you Cameron and Clegg, the Laurel and Hardy of present day brit and NI politics, have some of this humour, french Belgium first,

    and your mates down southern Texas Meccico way,

    So who’s the biggest laugh? Well, I would say you two, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?

  • reaguns

    Well what do you know, the guy who everyone thought was just a boring intellectual with a charisma bypass, not even the best pick for leader in his own party, who got the leadership by bowing and scraping to its extremist elements, actually came out and showed that he has charisma, passion, energy and drive as well as far more ideas than the leader of the party in power, proving the naysayers were wrong.
    By the way I’m talking about Mitt Romney, who did you think I meant? Lol.
    No I think there is some correlation though, first of all between Cameron and Obama who are both smug arrogant smirkers, empty suits who carry on smiling even while people are suffering and the economy crumbles beneath their feet. Yes I know it was neither man’s fault, they both inherited disaster, but its about time they started changing it around.
    Really though I think Obama and Romney are more like each other than either is like Ed or Dave. This week has shown the vast superiority of American political leaders over British ones. Granted Dave is a well below average prime minister, and likewise Ed as a labour leader, but we’re not talking about Roosevelt and Lincoln on the other side either.
    I also think that though Romney is in the moderate, Rockefeller tradition of Republicans (those who say otherwise are merely trying to patronise centrist voters thinking they can’t tell a Reagan from a Romney or a Thatcher from a Cameron) he is to the right of Obama. Likewise Obama is no socialist, he’s to the right of Blair and indeed Cameron I think, and obviously Ed is red enough to be the leftest of the four,

  • reaguns

    I actually think Ed badly needs some policy, and some policy scrutiny. As i said the other day, he has a couple of good ideas in that speech alright, but does no one in labour debate and challenge ideas and put the counter argument these days?!
    Sharpen up his game on these, and do what Alastair says and set a clear strategy and I think he can win. Cameron has no strategy. Yes I know they say if you take positions now the govt can attack them, but can’t Ed attack them back for having no positions? If Ed has a strategy and Cameron doesn’t, something I think deep down is true, even if Ed’s is naive and amateurish it still puts Ed ahead because you can’t beat something with nothing.
    Look at Ken Livngstone. Watched scores of youngsters getting stabbed to death on his watch, tried to ignore the topic and when he did address it he thought the bad guys were everyone but the kids doing the stabbing. Then a few days before the election he put out leaflets tallking tough on crime – too little, too late. Don’t make the same mistake Ed.

  • Anonymous

    Tidy result, Morgan Stoddart getting a try. Nice to see my old helped friends, Nige Owens and Gareth Thomas, when I helped them out with “things”… : ) Song for them both, no lads, you are barking up the wrong tree, go and please piss up another rope will you,

    : ) Love them both though, Nige and Gareth, sweeties.

  • Anonymous

    Held my breath Alastair, as if waiting until others catchup, but it doesn’t look as if it will happen soon, I am on my own, it looks.

    Torys are an historical British Empire vestige, and a present day anachronism, supported by the warped old institutions we suffer with, whether it be their certain public schools, Wimbledon centre court tickets, Henley rowing, or whatever, it just shows some parts of our society need putting up against the wall, and shot, allegorically, in mind.

    I have always said that if Hitler would have given certain parts of our stupid old society a spring clean if he managed to get over the channel, before us welsh and friends kicked him back from where he came from, we’d be better for it. European countries had a dust clean with such to get rid of their nonsense old aristocrats, warped stuck at least five hundred years behind, even Japan.

    We are still full of twits lost in past time, depicted perfectly by these wankers, called the Tory Party blood sucking scum.

    There, I’ve said it!

  • Dave Simons

    Hitler is better known for a different kind of ‘spring clean’, notably Jews, Slavs, gays, gypsies and ‘communists’. I don’t think upper class twits suffered unduly – one of my local ones met him in the mid-1930s and thought he was charming. Some of them would have welcomed him over here, Edward VIII being one.
    No-one in what’s been often patronisingly called ‘the Celtic fringe’ would have stood a chance against the Nazis, especially those Sinn Feiners who adopted that stupid, short-sighted policy of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. The Nazis would have gone through Ireland like a knife through butter, and no amount of wit, humour and bonhomie would have stopped them. The Romans had a problem but the Nazis would have had no problem.

  • Anonymous

    Can’t bring up your latest blog thread Alastair – “Sad stories of Irish leave home” one.

    Must be a formatting clash or something, you must have entered it in a slightly different way. Anyone else having problems? I use MS internet explorer 9, on a steam engined desktop PC. Perhaps you have entered it using a different platform, maybe, Alastair.

  • Anonymous

    It is nice to take an alternative view on history at times, with a “what if” attitude. I am sure Adolf and his SS would have been putting a fair few up against the wall if he got here, the kingpins of society who might cause him trouble – that is what he did in France and other countries. But many would have got on a boat to US and Canada, no doubt.

    Suppose it could have got to a guerrilla war type thing, until Canadians, Ozzies, Kiwis, Saffas and Indian sub-continent coming to some sort of attempted rescue, helping the “home fires”. If it did happen 1940/41, at least Japan hadn’t started their trouble by then.

    And wonder what neutral Ireland would do then, too, is an interesting question.

  • Anonymous

    Palace vee Burnley Alastair – bit of a rollercoaster of a game, not good for the blood pressure! Hard cheese. Did you go to it?

    Old mate from Coulsdon near Croydon used to drag me to watch Palace. But best day out was boxing day to Stamford Bridge about twenty years ago, Palace playing away, when Stamford Bridge was falling down, watching on that bank at the end then, uncovered, and it started pissing down with snow, and Pete’s mate started throwing up due to too much Dogbolter at that Firkin Pub near Fulham Broadway, pre-match. Tidy memories.

  • Anonymous

    Earlier watched Cardiff Blues play Glasgow Warriors in rugger, on S4C welsh telly, another totally dismal performance by them. They are coached by the land of the 45 degree foreheads, it seems. Never rated him, he was a shambles when he was coach for the Scarlets, lacks grey matter, seriously.

    Thick as horse shit, frankly!

    MY ARSE!

  • Anonymous

    suppose I could say even more that twats like Esther Ranzen and Jimmy Savile we won’t be suffering with. OK OK, so Esther was a jew, makes you think even more, helping Jimmy, alledgedly, ey? oh grow up all you others, ey Dave Simons?

  • Dave Simons

    My alternative ‘what if’ is ‘what if’ people had paid attention to Leon Trotsky in 1933 – then they’d have seen the danger well in advance and been able to counter it earlier instead of letting it grow and, in some cases, wishing it would happen here. The ‘alternative view’ I occasionally hear now, usually sotto voce, is that it will take another war to sort out the present global economic mess. As a species are we incapable of learning from past mistakes?

  • Gilliebc

    I’ve got the same problem Ehtch. I haven’t been able to read that particular blog post either! Glad you mentioned it.

  • Gilliebc

    @Ehtch, It’s interesting that the JS revelations have thus far been confined to his relationship with the BBC! Nothing has been said about the rest of the story, about him, JS, allegedly procuring children for use by people in very high places. Nothing has been said either about his alleged necrophilia.
    Apparently, David Icke ‘outed’ this story in his 1998 book. I can’t remember the book’s title and I haven’t read it. But, it’s amazing that Ickey has been proved right on this topic and many other topics also. e.g. the totally rigged and corrupt monetary system and the fake democracy we are supposed to believe in. Many people are catching onto the utter con and scam that the monetary system really is. As for our faux democracy system, both here in the UK and US and other countries too. It has never before been so patently obvious that voting changes nothing. Not in any big and meaningful way. i.e. the already wealthy people just get wealthier and the poor get ever poorer.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, and since it is Sunday, when all the oirish go to their left-footed churches, I have been told, let us have some sort of a theological discussion, while Alastair gets around to phone the office of his blog sub-contractor tomorrow morning, office hours, nine to five, to sort out that online bug suddenly.

    Sue White and her God given arms,

    And Sarah Miles, serving those “certain” english, in about 1917, in an oirish village pub,

    And yes, praise the Lord/Allah, I suppose!

  • Anonymous

    Just been watching, pirated online, Barca/Catalonia vee Real Madrid/Espania, and the Italiano Milano derby. Like watching paint dry, swapping windows, bored it made me. The german and russian commentating was not the fault, by the way.

    Remember teasing a Spanish girl in Blanes, Catalonia, her being Madrid – she almost wanted to lamp me! But next night she was all over me…. And don’t talk to me what Torino girls say, when I was there a few times, about Milano girls. Learnt some Italian sware words there, let me tell you that for nothing, and they were all good catholic girls too!! Shocking it was, if I knew what they mean, the body language was enough translation….

  • Anonymous

    Yes, with JS, whilst trying to not get hysterical about it, the more you hear about it, the more discomforting it gets – that Jersey foster home, for instance, which was in the news a few years ago. And with the beeb!?! The more you hear about them, the more it sounds as if a den of perverts were active there, and everyone upstairs knew about it, more or less. Makes a joke of red nose day and comic relief activities, doesn’t it?

    And with what you say Gilliebc about our so called capitalist system and being conned day by day, have you been watching the coverage of the Tory conference? Frigtening it is. The Torys got in, with the help of Clegg, with lies, and now they are really doing the complete opposite. Our country will soon be a mess again, as 1980’s and early 1990’s. Just wait for the crime rate to soar, that will be the first real indication, but that is if the figures will not be “massaged”, which it invariable will be.

    And David Icke did come out with some accuracies, but some say some others were a bit too bizzare. He got slaughtered by the establishment though, didn’t he? What goes around comes around, we hope.

  • Anonymous

    Yes Dave, it seems we need wars to have an occassional attitude adjustment as a species, as if it is in our DNA. But it is a seriously depressing thought though.

    And with Trotsky in ’33, think things had gone too far by then. That train carriage surrender by the Germans in 1918 was the start of it, with the following irrational monetary fines put on Germany. But it was the serbs that started it after all, with Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in summer 1914, Austro-Hungarian empire and all that. That was the kickoff for WWI, and WWII, eventually.

  • Anonymous

    ..and furthermore Gilliebc, we as a society only want some inner-mind self-control, which with JS and his mates obviously did not have. We all have some sort of dark thoughts at times, but it is what we do in day to day actions that counts.

    Beeb comes out very bad in all this, it seems to fairly sensible me. And we all get tarnished by the same brush, when others in the World find out. What must they think when a major organisation and institution in the UK are like this, mainly based in that London? They must think we are morally corrupt as a society.

  • Anonymous

    These things happen, let us not worry about it.

    Been watching this Carry On film this week Gilliebc, better known as the Tory Party conference? Wonder what Birmingham thinks of it, non-Solihull nearby, that is…. : ) – heard it is quite a ghetto there for the Torys, last I heard.

  • Anonymous

    bluddy discqus again, my Torino and Milano post disappeared again, when tried to back track.

    Ach might as well post some Torino and Milano music – what you got to remember brits, dark haireds generally come from Turin, and blondes from Milan, ok, sudo-blondes then, maybe that is what winds up Torino gorls….



    ok ok, that Torino one might not be, but looks it, same difference.

  • Anonymous

    …or Sutton Coldfield, the more welshish side of Birmingham… Just checked, Solihull is quite LibDem these days(!?!), after donkies years as hardcore Tory. Funny old world.

    Sutton Coldfield as with that there here today gone tomorrow MP, a certain Andrew Mitchell….

  • Gilliebc

    @Ehtch:disqus What is it they say about birds of a feather. Rhetorical question btw 😉
    Voltaire (not sure how to spell his name) said something along the lines of it being easy to identify the real enemy. It is those we dare not criticise. In fact it is even illegal to criticise or question the actions of these people. Says it all really. Supremacist scumbags.

  • Anonymous

    Never mind about Voltaire, my saying is, if you are going to do a cock-up, make sure it is a really huge large humungous one, so that the media and Joe Bloggs on the streets won’t believe that it is true! : )

    That is how it works. Mitchell should have sprinkled in a few cee words in, and then maybe those coppers at the gates won’t have wrote that “conversation” down in their little notebooks…