Friday, 12 October 2012
Citizen Dave and the ‘hour of reckoning’
You get the impression that David Cameron is the only one of the three party leaders who really enjoys making his party conference speech. What to the others is a dreary task surrounded by potential pitfalls is, to him, an opportunity to connect with his inner ham actor.
There was certainly a spring in his step this week as he took to the podium in Birmingham to tell a, not very, breathless nation that the UK faces serious economic challenges that only his party can solve. We face, he said, an ‘hour of reckoning’ as countries like China and Brazil that are ‘lean, fit, obsessed with enterprise’ rise up to usurp a Europe that is ‘fat, sclerotic, over regulated, spending money on unaffordable welfare systems.’
Phew! It’s a good job we’ve got a hero like Citizen Dave in our corner, a man who is committed to preventing the UK from ‘joining the slide’ into the economic doldrums. He and George Osborne mean to do so, of course, by slashing our own, allegedly, unaffordable welfare system to the bone.
Anyone thinking this was a reversion to the harsh Tory tactics of the 1980’s would be quite wrong though. Mr Cameron said that his shiny new party isn’t ‘the same old Tories who want to help the rich’. They’re not the party of the ‘better off’ as much as the party of the ‘want to be better off’; on the side of the ‘people who want to get on in life, the doers, the risk takers,’ and their leader is personally committed not to defending privilege but to ‘spreading it.’
Well he would say that, wouldn’t he? Maybe a few people believed him too, but I’d bet most were inside the warm champagne bubble of the conference centre.
The speech was, as ever, smoothly delivered, David Cameron knows how to play to the gallery in the same way Tony Blair did, a little schmaltz here, some tub thumping patriotism there; it all helps to sugar the pill.
The unfortunate thing for him is that, as prime minister, he is judged on what the government he leads does, not what he says or how well he says it; by that standard things haven’t been going well. This has been the year of the pasty tax, the botched budget and the nasty, sneering antics of Andrew Mitchell, try as he might Mr Cameron has a hard time persuading we ‘plebs’ that his isn’t a government composed of public schoolboys so out of touch with reality they’d ask to see the wine list when eating at a soup kitchen.
Populist sops such as promising householders the right to ‘bash’ burglars without fear of being arrested and blood curdling warnings that austerity alone will protect us from sharing the sad fate of Greece may please the party hacks; but they cut no ice with the wider public. Not least because no parliamentary time has been set aside to amend the laws governing how much force householders can use to defend their property and the IMF and the markets the government has been so keen to appease are rapidly losing faith in the ability of George Osborne to stimulate our moribund economy.
Perhaps the real fault doesn’t, entirely, lie with David Cameron and his slick but lifeless speech; maybe it is the whole business of holding party conferences that is tired and fraudulent. Their role as a forum for internal party democracy has long since been sidelined, grassroots members of all three parties stay away in droves meaning the hall is filled with paid officials and hangers on more interested in having a week long bun fight than forming policies that connect with sceptical voters.
All three party leaders, even Ed Milliband who gave what was probably the best speech of his career in Manchester a couple of weeks ago, seem uncomfortably like silent movie stars emoting for the camera when all we want is for them to actually say something. David Cameron, as the most accomplished of the three, looks the most out of step. A political Norma Desmond tottering along in a deluded haze and telling Mr De Mille he’s ready for his close-up. When it eventually comes in 2015 it is likely the electorate will find him wanting.