Magazine article The Spectator

Cameron's Wrong Course

Magazine article The Spectator

Cameron's Wrong Course

Article excerpt

The Prime Minister is wasting his talents, and his luck

Never has a government been better at exasperating its own supporters; rarely has a government been so politically inept.

The Tories have formidable advantages.

Even in the miseries of an economic crisis, they are only seven points behind in the polls and are almost holding on to their general election percentage. If Margaret Thatcher had been doing this well in mid-parliament, she would have wondered what she was doing wrong. Ed Miliband lacks Michael Foot's eloquence, Neil Kinnock's occasional flashes of electability and David Miliband's political weight. Ed Balls combines intellectual incoherence with the charm of a pit bull terrier.

Apropos charm, Yvette Cooper and Harriet Harman overflow with warmth, generosity of spirit and appeal to the aspirational classes.

So David Cameron is lucky in his principal opponents: even luckier in his failure to win outright in 2010. Suppose he had gained a majority of, say, 21, as John Major did in 1992.

David Davis, Mark Reckless, Douglas Carswell and others would be in permanent session, deciding how to re-enact the crucifixion of Mr Major. The Liberals, under their de facto leader Vince Cable, an outstanding opposition politician, would be opposing every cut. Even if Clogg and Milipede minor were grumbling about being overshadowed, that would avail the Tories naught. They would be in third place, with a constant leadership crisis and no apparent hope of recovery.

In view of the PM's good fortune, wise Tories could have grounds for wary, covert complacency - if only the leadership would exploit its opportunities. In Mrs Thatcher's worst travails, she retained one advantage.

Millions of middle-class voters felt that she was on their side: that she understood them.

Few people feel that about David Cameron.

He has won respect but little affection, even in his own party. Nor does he try to elicit it.

Whatever one's views about homosexual marriage, the timing is abominable. Throughout the UK, tens of millions of people are worried, about the economy, the state of the country: their own prospects, their children's prospects, the world's prospects. You name it, they are worried about it. How many of those anxieties will be assuaged by the thought that homosexuals might be able to call themselves married?

There is a difficulty. David Cameron takes his religion for granted. He does not seem to realise that other people take their religion seriously. The PM has compared his faith to the reception of a local radio station in the Chilterns: it comes and goes. His is a vaguely pantheistic, sherry-with-the-vicar sort of Anglicanism - less of a religion than an inoculation against religion. He is not alone in that, but even if England is in many ways a post-religious society, the concept of marriage evokes widespread reverence. To many natural Tories, it seems irreverent that a Conservative prime minister should feel entitled to redefine marriage. That earlier Oxfordshire Tory, Lord Falkland, said that when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change: the wisest of Tory maxims, which Mr Cameron ought to have heeded.

Of itself, homosexual marriage will not have much electoral influence, but it could confirm two related, widespread and negative impressions. The first is that David Cameron and those around him, rich enough to be insulated against ordinary people's concerns, feel entitled to indulge in metropolitan fads - when they should be sorting out the economy. …

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