Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Tories thought it was in the bag but...

'Cameron's Conservatives: Government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich?' It is not impossible that Labour will deploy this as a potentially potent slogan as we get closer and closer to election day. The Tories were quite clearly rattled by Cameron's dismal performance at yesterday's PMQs and Brown clearly believes that both Osborne and Cameron are vulnerable to accusations of elitism and patronage. Today's 'cash for croutons' revelations will only add to the perception that today's Tory party is the friend of the rich and the powerful.

The disastrous 'Tory toff' campaign prompted a plethora of articles and comment about whether class is still a major issue in modern Britain, but why? Why is it still an issue and why do so many people in the media react to the debate in the way that they do? In my experience talk of 'toffs' and privilege - particularly in the present economic climate - resonates with ordinary people and makes many so called 'liberal' journalists and media folk feel a touch uncomfortable. The truth is that Britain remains a nation that is still dominated by class division. In 2007 an ICM poll for the Guardian found that 89% of those surveyed thought that people are still judged by their class - with almost half saying that it still counts for "a lot". Over 50% of people said that class, not ability, greatly affects the way they are seen. Mr Cameron's Conservative front bench is made up of the "right kind of people", his people - privately educated and from a background of immense wealth and privilege. Under Cameron, the Tories still believe that the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their political, their economic, and their social views. In 2007, Cameron told his party's spring conference that it needed to change and that the changes needed to be "faster, wider and deeper". Nearly three years later and change in the Tory party looks to be slow, narrow and shallow.

In politics if you are not on the attack then you are on the defence, on the front foot or the back foot. For this reason courage is the friend of political leaders and caution, their enemy. What Gordon Brown has proved in recent weeks is that when a governing party has confidence and self-belief it is far more willing (and able) to offer a lead and to take the tough decisions. What Brown is fast learning is that the British people are often happy and willing to forgive the occasional error and poor decision but they rarely forgive the leader who simply refuses to take a decision because it is too tough. The Tory labels of ‘bottler’ and ‘ditherer’ hurt Brown and for most of the past twelve months the media has been looking for (and occasionally gifted) opportunities to portray the former Iron Chancellor as a bumbling buffoon. Brown's handling of the recession has gone some way to change this and has helped to restore his reputation for competence and decisiveness.

In contrast David Cameron’s handling of recent events has exposed him to criticism that he is a shallow, one dimensional leader who talks a good game but fails to deliver the big ideas when needed. Cameron has not had a good economic ‘war’ for several reasons. Firstly he has suffered from the perception that both he his party are too closely associated with the City fat cats whose greed triggered this financial meltdown. Secondly, since taking up their present posts neither he nor his shadow Chancellor has ever taken the opportunity to speak out against the dangers of a poorly regulated City. Thirdly, Cameron has not offered a clear policy alternative in terms of what a Tory administration would have done about the crisis had they been in office.Perhaps now we will see the media turn its attention to exactly how Britain would be different if the Tories were to form the next government.

Does Mr Cameron have the courage necessary to lead, to take the tough decisions? I doubt it. He says he wants tax cuts and more spending but with the same money. He says he wants to sort out all illegal immigration, but he opposes identity cards, the one thing essential to do it. He says he against academic selection one day but then backs plans to expand it the next.

Brown is right, the more Cameron says the less he actually says.

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