Magazine article The Spectator

Where's the (Organic) Beef, Dave?

Magazine article The Spectator

Where's the (Organic) Beef, Dave?

Article excerpt

A well-regarded member of the Cameron cosa nostra sat opposite me at lunch last week. Others at the table included a leading tabloid editor, a charity boss, a clutch of top political broadcasters, a business editor and a couple of senior businessmen. The poor man had barely tackled his asparagus before the table turned on him. He was accused as the emissary of a cause which lacked substance, was intellectually vacuous, had failed to show clear reform intent, was unreliable, prone to PR spivvery and callow.

The table had no shared ideological stance. Some were natural New Labourites trying to work out if Mr Cameron is really the 'heir to Blair' and would complete those parts of the reforming job the Prime Minister had neglected or left too late.

Some were driven by hostility to Gordon Brown's profligacy and desperate for an alternative. What should cause some thought in Cameron Camelot is that the critique of Mr Cameron is now coming from outside the circles of Old Thatcherite believers. Martin Wolf in the Financial Times slams Cameronism as 'empty at the centre' and Mr Blair's pro-reform biographer John Rentoul condemns the Budget response as 'shrill and silly . . . running out of puff'. A few weeks ago it was deeply unfashionable to have any doubts at all about Mr Cameron. His early period was a model of style and drive. But the charge that he lacks a definable vision or conviction is beginning to eat away at his reputation.

So far there has been no clear answer to this from the Cameron camp, except to point out that a major policy review is under way -- it will report back next year -- and that it is unreasonable and unwise to expect detailed announcements from a new leader so early in the electoral cycle.

But while there is no need for us to know anything like all the detail at this stage, it is unwise to allow people to come to the early conclusion that there is no substance to the nearly new Tory leader.

Deft political strategists -- of whom Mr Cameron is one -- know when to stop and head off trouble. Now would be a good time to start. My friend at lunch subsequently admitted that Mr Cameron needs to enter 'stage two' of his leadership. 'He has a very strong political character but maybe people don't know that.' Which is odd, as we know almost everything else about him, from Converse trainers, through his criticisms of aggressive chocolate-orange retail, to his personal wind turbine.

It is also odd that in his Budget reply he should have used the phrase the 'analogue Chancellor in a digital world'. Now there's an example of why politicians need to remind themselves to speak like human beings. Voters hearing it only once in passing simply wouldn't know what he was on about. Some in the inner team thought that this analogy (which I am told was penned by the verbally gifted Times columnist Michael Gove) was a metaphor too far. Mr Cameron had last-minute doubts about it, but judged that it was a natural soundbite for the evening news and allowed it to stay.

It would be interesting to know what women voters -- who so far have liked the look of Mr Cameron -- make of this way of speaking. To my ear, it sounds uncomfortably like New Tory ladspeak and grates in the way that Alastair Campbell's footballing metaphors did.

The deeper problem Mr Cameron faces is that he has, in the words of a senior shadow Cabinet figure, 'thrown a lot of weight off the sleigh to make it travel faster' and must now add intellectual ballast and conviction. …

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