Tuesday, March 31, 2015

David Cameron's personality and the Conservative's 2015 general election strategy - where fiction and reality meet

A week is a long time in politics. This time last week, David Cameron was having possibly one if his worst weeks in a long while.

He had first got himself into an unintended muddle over his admission in a "soft" interview he wouldn't stand for a third term, which resulted in a (still ongoing) strategy in damage limitation and clarification. As one wag said - Cameron shot the starting pistol to the election campaign, into his own foot. It was an undeniable blunder (no-one is suggesting it was said as a planned announcement), and one that would have serious implications for his party if Cameron indeed won a second term.

While this was possibly more of an issue inside the Westminster bubble, this was followed shortly afterwards by a short speech he gave at Age Concern. Apparently, he went there expected an "easy ride" - given his triple-lock for pensioners, and other give-aways - but was heckled (by OAPs!) for much of the time, with many of them clearly unimpressed by Cameron's performance and typical hand-wringing with answers. He was even called a "liar".
Comparisons with Tony Blair's painful performance in front of the WI fifteen years ago instantly came to mind. What was more revealing was that, while the WI was Blair tactically going into "the lion's den" (and in that sense, a brave - if risky - decision), Cameron thought he was on safe ground (he is rarely a man who likes taking risks). The fact that he wasn't shows how badly he misjudged his audience, and a key section of the electorate.

Then, in the last day of parliament, while David Cameron was politicking in the heart of the country (and many MPs doing the same), the Tory leadership attempted to quickly force through a motion to make it easier to dislodge the speaker, John Bercow. The plainly deceitful nature of the act was damned by MPs as an act that blatantly undermined the authority of parliament, as one Tory MP (in fact, the MP who had previously suggested motion) passionately felt that he had been played as a fool. As Leader of the House - and on his last day as an MP - it was William Hague's job to get the motion passed. And when the vote came, David Cameron abandoned his electioneering to be sent by helicopter to Westminster for the time of the vote. Imagine the poetic justice, then, when MPs voted the motion down; Cameron, in his arrogance, had come all the way to Westminster in time to see his party's humiliation.

After all this, there was the Paxman "debate", which Cameron also came off looking better overall than Miliband, but not by a convincing margin. The perception here was that Cameron looked under-rehearsed  - even bored! - by the notion of having to justify his government's record to Paxman. But what was more revealing was the public perception that the electorate had of Cameron's performance, compared to the reality of what he actually said.

Doff the cap to "Mr. Nice Guy"

What was revealing about the Paxman interview (and the audience interaction afterwards) was that  - when you listen to the Paxman exchanges - Cameron comes across as, at best, evasive ("Look,..." is a commonly-used way to start a sentence). He uses misleading and uninspired language to divert attention from his inability to answer questions properly (or at all!). In short, he looked like a "typical politician": cynical and untrustworthy, and Paxman simply destroyed his record as Prime Minister.
In spite of that, the reaction was not that Cameron was "useless at defending his record" (the reality), but that he came across as composed and more statesman-like (regardless of the nonsense he actually said).
Later on, when the audience had their turn, the mood of the conversation was much less adversarial compared to Paxman, but more relaxed, respectful; at times, even deferential. This last point is key, and taps at an underlining impression that many of the electorate have of Cameron - fundamentally, he seems a "nice guy". And more than that, his Eton-educated background seems to lend him gravitas and self-confidence in the public environment.

This says a lot about the psychology of Britain: an alarming number of people would rather have an incompetent who was "from the right background" running the country than someone who actually cared more about ordinary people. Cameron is the consummate actor, compared to the cunning George Osborne, who, from number 11, runs the show in reality.

The perception versus the reality

As well as being a consummate actor, Cameron is also a compulsive liar. Perhaps more accurately, he may well be so used to "making stuff up" that he has now long believed in his own lies, as some people with personality disorders do. There was evidence of this only yesterday.

In a speech he gave in a marginal Con-Lib constituency, he talked about the Conservatives mantra-like message of the "long-term economic plan" and how Ed Balls "broke the banks". Now, a moment's thought back the events of 2008 will tell you this is nothing less than complete garbage. Labour did not "break the banks" - they bailed them out! It was not Labour's economic policy that caused the financial crisis, it was the failures of the banks that caused the financial crisis! 
The fact that no-one (let alone Labour themselves) properly and repeatedly challenges the Tories' nebulous "take" on the events of 2008 is extra-ordinary. The reality was that, regarding financial policy, the Tories had an even more lax policy on the banks than Labour. And Cameron's economic plans only changed when he thought it would be a good way to differentiate from Labour after the financial crisis. ANY government in charge in 2008 would have had an economic crisis, due to the way the country's banks were ran; this is the reality that none of the parties are willing to properly deal with.

Government over-spending did not cause the financial crisis of 2008; no more than government over-spending in 1929 caused the Wall Street Crash. But Cameron and the Tories have to make people believe this outrageous untruth in order to keep Labour from power.

Also yesterday, Cameron made a political first in modern times by personally attacking Miliband in front of Downing Street, after (pointlessly) going to see the Queen. Again, the public perception of Cameron is that he is - possibly because of his background - a "safe pair of hands" and a trustworthy figure, compared to Miliband. He is keen to play up this perception, which, like others, is based on a facade.
Time and again, Cameron has shown the vindictive and petty side of his personality. When suitably provoked, Cameron's horrible, arrogant, bullying and sadistic personality is there to see,
This was shown with the way he continually attacks Miliband as weak, when in reality Cameron's own record as a statesman and a leader is nothing less than weak and useless. Due to Cameron's mis-judgements and poor strategy, Britain has its poorest relations with Europe for decades.  Then there was the farce of the Syria vote only last year, all thanks to Cameron's doing. His control of his party might be good now, with a strategic truce called during the election campaign, but his MPs have been running rings around him for most of the parliament. And that doesn't even include UKIP.

In many ways, Cameron is - in spite of the opposite perception - the UK's most useless Prime Minister in living memory. On the world stage, Britain is becoming an irrelevance: we no longer export things, and our balance of payments has been in a terrible state for a long time. Militarily, our armed forces are being pared to the bone, and it is a miracle that the heads of the armed forces are not screaming on TV more often. Perhaps it is only the knowledge that the Tories are "people like them" that keeps them from publicly venting their spleen.

Economically, Britain is turning into a "low-pay, low productivity paradise" of Europe, and that's due to the government's economic policy that has seen the erosion of employee rights and the hollowing-out of Britain's skills base. This is the future that Cameron offers - and that's without even getting on to "austerity" (see the earlier point about the financial crisis and "welfare reform". The ONS today has released figures that show that many of the jobs created in the last few years (i.e. the "jobs growth") have been through self-employment (see 12.05 in the linked blog). And I'm sure no-one is seriously suggesting that the UK has miraculously become a "nation of entrepreneurs"...

While to many it is openly accepted that Cameron is a "liar", the level of distrust with politicians is so high that few people seem to care enough to make a point of it.

That's what the Tories are counting on.

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