Tuesday, July 31, 2007


David Cameron on Today: How I Long For Yesterday

Whoops. With everything going wrong for David Cameron in recent weeks, this morning he dropped three different messes of his own making all over the Today Programme. Reaching for another Tory core vote issue to shore up his fragile position, he chose the wrong one: what idiot prattles about school discipline whilst his own party are rioting? Then he fell flat on his pitiful by-election failures, describing the Conservatives without qualification as the third party. Finally, unable to answer multiple Tory attacks on him, he chose to attack each of them in turn, sounding like just another feuding, useless Tory.

School discipline (warning! Warning! Tory leader losing support and desperately blowing another dog whistle to their core vote instead of tackling the big issues!) is an issue that would normally be ‘safe’ for him – not reaching out to anyone new, a very minor issue that won’t make much of a difference to any of the problems in education, but making the right noises to stop the retired colonels, swivel-eyed Thatchianists and Daily Hate Mail ladies turning against him. You can tell he’s desperate – that one was even one of the five main points in the last Tory Manifesto, under Michael Howard. Oh, come on, you must remember that: it was the knee-jerk right-wing one that went down with most voters like a cup of cold Tebbit, written by some vitriolic right-winger called David Cameron who today’s brave Dave Cameron, progressive new Tory leader, has entirely repudiated. Well, until he has to reach back into it for a scrap to throw to the wolves behind him, of course.

But David, David, couldn’t you have thought of a different golden oldie to play today? Even the Today Programme couldn’t miss the open goal that was including something along the lines of ‘but of course Mr Cameron can’t even keep discipline in his own party, which is falling apart by the hour with most of the different bits calling for his head’ in the headline. Ouch. In Agatha Christie’s phrase, this was a drowning man clutching at a razor blade. Not that natural Tories will really have their jollies tickled by what he’s proposing, really: no wonder he keeps using the words “school discipline” like a mantra and rushing quickly past the actual details, which is merely denying kids the right of appeal. What the Tory base wants is the smack! of corporal punishment for oiks and hoodies, willow against flesh, mmmm, harder, headmaster, and a little thing like abandoning natural justice sounds rather namby-pamby compared to the fetishes of their overheated imaginations.

When asked why he couldn’t do any better in Ealing Southall, Mr Cameron made a big thing of being third. Again and again. Until, prodded beyond endurance, he delivered his verdict on the Tories’ electoral problem in general:
“You get squeezed by the top two parties”.
Whoops! Not something a Liberal Democrat would ever be dim enough to admit (well, there was that crushingly stupid by-election candidate in about 1996…), and saying both other parties are ahead of you without even bothering to qualify it is a pretty foolish admission for the leader of the Conservative Party to let slip. Really, it’s a good job for him that the interview finished after only about a dozen minutes: by 8.30, he’d probably have been conceding ‘We’re shit, and we know we are,’ followed by pleading ‘Please – don’t hurt me’. It’s no wonder so many people in his own party think he can’t be let out on his own.

It’s shame interviewers can’t do a tiny bit of homework, though; the obvious comeback from anyone with a clue would have been ‘So your result in Sedgefield must have been an absolute disaster by your logic, then, as the Liberal Democrats were in third place but leapt up to second, squeezing you down to third?’ Sarah Montague also got the name of the Tory candidate in Ealing Southall wrong, enabling Mr Cameron to score one of his few hits by gently correcting her (subtext: ‘she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, listeners,’ and unfortunately, she didn’t). It still wasn’t much of a good moment for him to claw back from that particular disaster area…

Mr Cameron also came unstuck when pressed on the hilarious success of putting “David Cameron’s Conservatives” on the ballot paper in Ealing (though not in Sedgefield, of course; you know the Conservatives, they always say one thing in one place and something completely different in another). Having already bravely taken responsibility for his own name by firing Grant Shapps on the grounds that he thought up the name “David Cameron”, this morning’s desperate attempt at an excuse was that it was all the local party’s fault, and they can call themselves any old silly thing, no matter how stupid. Brave, brave Sir David! What a marvellous display of leadership: to run away, shouting ‘They made me do it!’ and blame everyone else in sight for even his own name.

Let’s just give Mr Cameron’s career a minute’s silence for that point: the one leader in history so petrified of taking responsibility for anything that he says ‘Not in my name!’ about even his own name.

‘Brave’ Dave then got quite crabby when presented with one of his own party’s new attack on him which asked for “some substance and some credibility” and said he was just about “box-ticking and gimmickry” and “another Tony Blair” – and this from, not an old Tory die-hard, but from a new-look younger Conservative who introduced Mr Cameron’s leadership bid at their Conference! Was Mr Cameron able to produce a raft of policy substance to defend himself from this charge? Well, obviously not, because he knows the truth of it better than anyone. No, Mr Cameron just announced that Mr Miraj had asked him for a peerage, and he was only in a strop because that was “not a promise I would make to anybody” (he couldn’t even say he’d turned the man down flat, so forceful wasn’t this claim), as if that meant everything he’d ever said must be false.

Of course, if the Today Programme was the serious political forum it claims to be rather than sensationalist lightweights who mistake shouting for scrutiny, they might have done some of that thing, what do you call it, research (Wiki the word, Ms Montague), and asked, ‘Mr Miraj was your candidate in Watford, wasn’t he? That’s a seat that you’ve got to win, and a close three-way marginal. If he’s begging you to make him a Lord, aren’t you Conservatives admitting you’ve given up all hope of winning that seat and left it to the Liberal Democrats? After all, you are the third party.’ Mr Cameron found similar reasons to rubbish the next Tory she quoted saying he was useless. Oh, and the next. And the one after that. He still couldn’t answer the substance of their charges when she piled them all together and pointed out that all he was doing was criticising the individuals and not what they were saying, offering him what I believe is known in footballing parlance as an easy save. Has no-one told him that not answering the substance makes him seem shifty and vacuous (all right, I know lots of people have told him that)? More importantly to his image, has no-one told him that indulging in a constant series of bitchy personal attacks just makes him seem childishly nasty (and, yes, I know, pot and kettle, but I’m a blogger and we do petty gossip; he wants us to think he’s mature enough to be Prime Minister)? And I had to laugh when her last question was:
“Your party has a habit of getting rid of its leaders. So how long have you got?”
Ms Montague may not be a brilliant interviewer, but comparing Mr Cameron’s shifty playing-the-man-damn-person-not-the-ball technique to his success as posing as a poor tiny victim in the past shows he found it much more difficult this morning. He seems to be rather testy that he can’t snap so much at a female interviewer than he can at beastly John Humphrys, though, without looking like the oily bully that he really is. Mr Cameron is not a happy bunny this morning, nor – more importantly – looking remotely like a winner. Who needs to look at goat entrails, tea leaves or opinion polls to see how well he’s doing when his every word is muffled by the foot in his mouth?

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