Thursday, March 5, 2015

David Cameron and the leaders' debates: showing Cameron's personality in a nutshell

David Cameron's decision to back away from his previous commitment to participate in leaders' debates during the election campaign tells you everything you need to know about David Cameron's personality.

As one commentator on the left said: "all bullies are cowards"; while at the same time, another from Cameron's own side of the fence asks of voters: "What are they to make of a leader who constantly derides the leader of the Opposition as a joke – a dead man walking electorally – and then backs away from a live debate with him? "

What, indeed, are we to make of this man? Apart from more colourful phrasing, some adjectives that come to mind to describe Cameron's behaviour here are: cowardly, contemptuous, and condescending. More on Cameron's personality flaws here.

Explaining each of these epithets in reverse order, Cameron's attitude is condescending because it assumes that everyone has amnesia, and has forgotten that as recently as last year, Cameron was in favour of the debates as being a healthy part of the democratic process. This is before the many times he was quoted in the 2010 election suggesting the debates should be a permanent feature. As wonderfully pointed out by a commenter in the second linked article, back in 2010 Cameron said:

1. “I absolutely believe in these debates and think they are great.” –
David Cameron and Jeremy Thompson, Sky news, 14 April 2010
2. “I think it is great we are having these debates and I hope they go someway
to restore some of the faith and some of the trust into our politics 
because we badly need that once again in this country.” – David Cameron,
Leaders Debate, ITV, 15 April 2010
3.“Look, I’ve been calling for these debates for five years, I challenged
Blair, I challenged Brown, I challenged when I was ahead in the polls, 
and when I was behindin the polls. I just think they are a good thing.” –
David Cameron, 
Daily Telegraph, 17 April 2010
4. “I’ve always wanted these debates to happen. I mean they happen in 
every country. They even happen in Mongolia for heaven’s sake and it’s 
part of the 
modern age that we should be in.” – David Cameron, BBC3, 21 April 2010
5. “I think these debates are here to stay. They clearly engage people in politics 
which is what we need.” – David Cameron, News of the World, 2 May 2010

Cameron's condescending attitude also morphs into his "team" making excuses for him that are, at best, disingenuous. For example, the excuse that the organisation around the debates (the "debate about the debates", if you will) is being cocked-up by the broadcasters is patently absurd: it is the Tories that keep on throwing spanners in the works, by coming up with new conditions, such as refusing to a debate that doesn't include the Greens. This attempt to suddenly care about the voice of the Greens some weeks ago was laughably disingenuous in the extreme. In short, Cameron and his team are treating the media and the electorate as though they are buffoons who are incapable of seeing a ruse when it is staring them in the face.

Leading on from this, Cameron's attitude is contemptuous of, not only the other parties, but the electorate in general. By meaning to dictate terms, Cameron behaves as though he alone has power over the fate of the TV debates i.e. "it's my way or the highway".
The fact that a British Prime Minister can believe this tells you something about the inner workings of David Cameron's psyche. In fact, this attitude of an elected leader of a Western democracy is extraordinary: as though he has temporarily forgotten where he is and whom he is ruling over, and thinks he controls what appears on TV. Somehow, he thinks that, "if I say there will be no debates, there will be no debates". The arrogance and contempt towards the democratic process (and media impartiality) that this thinking shows us is appalling.
More meanly put, this attitude is simply childish and immature, and looks like a toddler throwing a tantrum and refusing to behave.

Lastly, and most obviously, this behaviour shows Cameron as a coward. All bullies are cowards, and Cameron has a reputation of behaving with sneering contempt towards his enemies.
Under Cameron, PMQs have descended into an embarrassing farce at times, where it is less about people asking the PM questions, than the PM evading and instead firing questions at and shouting at his critics - thus turning the purpose of PMQs on its head.

His own worst enemy?

It shouldn't really be so surprising, though. Cameron has a track record of not leading, but following. He may be "leader" of the Conservative Party, and "leader" of the nation, but apart from knowing how to look good in front of the cameras and know what to say, he doesn't really have much clue about anything.

Is this why he is running away from a confrontation with Miliband? While part of this may be cynical political strategy because the incumbent always has more to lose, this - at best - confirms Cameron as a cynical operator, and does nothing to restore people's faith in politics. And that's being charitable.

Another aspect is that Cameron - and his advisors - may well fear that he can be his own worse enemy. No longer in the carefully-controlled environment that Cameron has always relied on when dealing with the media, the simple unpredictability of a debate puts him outside of his comfort zone. He knows that he didn't do too well in the 2010 debates, being upstaged by Clegg. Miliband could do the same to Cameron - which would be all the more embarrassing, after making Miliband seem comparable to Mr Bean. No-one wants to come off looking second best to Mr Bean. But this is the bogeyman that Cameron himself has created: now he has to live with it. By being so contempuous of Miliband, he can't afford to look second-best to him. So now he would rather look like a coward than an imbecile. It's a deeply unedifying sight.

So this is the calibre of Prime Minister that we have in David Cameron: a man so pathetic and slimy he would prefer to behave as the Downton Abbey aristocrat he was born as than have to face the reality of being an elected reprentative.

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