Conservative supporters can finally rest easy – apparently the Prime Minister has rediscovered his mojo, just in time to clinch the election next week. Or so say the national press, who all dutifully reported that David Cameron went through some kind of “dip” or “wobble” over the weekend, only to emerge with shirt sleeves rolled up looking as though he had chugged ten Red Bulls, oozing passion and energy from every pore.
The reality is a little different. What we actually saw was a fairly competent technocrat being told that droning on about a strong economy being the prerequisite for good public services was quite literally making voters fall asleep, and responding to this advice by delivering the exact same message ten pitches higher, at twice the volume and with more extravagant hand gestures.
From the ultra-loyal Telegraph:
The Prime Minister on Monday used a speech to reject claims that the Conservative campaign has lacked energy and passion.
He said that he is “pumped up” and has more desire to win this election than he did in 2010.
“If I’m getting lively about it, it’s because I feel bloody lively about it,” he said.
Insisting that he is “hungrier than five years ago”, he added: “I want this very badly. It’s not for me. It’s for people and the jobs in this country.”
You know we’re in for a mind-numbingly, spirit-sappingly uninspiring election campaign when patrician Dave Cameron tries to pump up support by declaring that he is “bloody lively”.
If anything, this awkward turn of phrase recalls Mitt Romney’s coining of the statement “I was a severely conservative Governor” during his last, ill-fated run for the US presidency. If Romney had been a zealous conservative he would never have had to say so, and he would have picked a more convincing word than “severe” when he did. Likewise, if David Cameron was really feeling bullish – and had anything to be bullish about – we would not need to be explicitly told.
People with real passion for the work that they are doing see it as almost a calling, or at least a mission. But David Cameron, scared by Labour’s accusations that the Tories are on an ideological mission to shrink the size of the state (if only), makes explicitly clear that he didn’t seek power because he had a compelling vision for Britain guided by a coherent political philosophy.
David Cameron’s “bloody lively” protestations notwithstanding, it feels worryingly that Cameron is fighting the election simply because it’s the next item on the to-do list, and because when push comes to shove, he thinks he will make a marginally better Comptroller of Public Services than Ed Miliband:
I went into politics not because I wanted to implement some arid ideology, to play party games at Westminster. I went into politics because I believe in trying to make a difference, trying to help people change their lives.
Or to paraphrase: “I didn’t go into politics because I had particularly strong beliefs one way or another, I got into politics because it seemed like a good career move, and now I’m here I want to use the levers of government to meddle positively in enough people’s lives that they think I am the least worst option on 7 May”.
Of course, this is all a change from just a few days ago, when Cameron declared that people wanting political excitement should hop on a plane and visit crisis-struck Greece:
As the Telegraph reported on Sunday:
People demanding “political excitement” should go to Greece while those who want more “theatre” should look to Hollywood, David Cameron has said as he made an impassioned defence of his party’s focus on the economy.
Mr Cameron said that “more jobs, more homes, more business, more childcare and more security in retirement” are policies which “excite millions more”.
He said: “If you want political theatre, go to Hollywood. If you want political excitement maybe you could go to Greece. That’s an exciting country, I am told. I don’t think that’s exciting, I think that’s terrifying.
“What excites me is the idea of being able to say to another person ‘you’ve got a job’, being able to say ‘you’re coming off welfare’. What excites me is seeing young people get the keys to that first flat. That’s the excitement we need, it’s about continuing with a plan that works.
How sad that when our Prime Minister thinks of passion and political excitement, people called to take to the streets in support of what they want to happen in their country, he thinks of a country like Greece. How revealing that David Cameron equates passion with a downward spiral into national decline and chaos. Is this the result of having come of age as the Cold War came to an end, when it briefly appeared as though there would be no more enemies to face? Or is Cameron’s caution perhaps a product of Great Recession and the financial crisis?
Britain’s main political parties all seem to have made the calculation that the public is worn out from the ravages of the recession and frightened of whatever the outside world may bring, be it economic opportunities or jihadist recruiters, thus making us more receptive to policies which promise security and stability above all. Or as this blog previously noted:
To date, this tedious election campaign has been all about eliminating as much risk and uncertainty as possible from the lives of the British people, promising stability and predictability at the cost of lowering our belief in the possible. A strong economy, not for our individual prosperity but for the sole purpose of funding the precious public services. £8bn more public money to keep a healthcare system from 1948 limping along. More perks for wealthy pensioners, paid for by the young.
This is what happens when you crank up the size of the state and simultaneously ratchet down the promotion of individual achievement or national ambition. This is what passes for politics in modern, security-seeking, risk-averse Britain. Talk about passion all you want, but there can be no passion without ambition, and no ambition without the acceptance of risk – political risk and personal risk.
I return again to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, and the speech which he used to launch that famous American political programme:
You can agree or disagree with the content of the speech, but 51 years later the words still burn with a sense of intense purpose and destiny.
This isn’t a speech about tweaking the tax code to milk as much money as possible from the rich. It’s not about banker-bashing. It’s not about the bedroom tax or the mansion tax, or the type of public sector micromanagement that should rightfully sit at the level of local government. It’s not scaremongering about what might happen if one party got into coalition with another. It is simply the words of a leader with a vision, doing the one thing that British politicians seem to have forgotten all about: actually leading.
A Long Term Economic Plan, while absolutely necessary, simply isn’t anything to get excited about – and it is certainly not a hook on which an ambitious party should hang its entire election campaign. It’s a hygiene factor, a must-have, something essential that goes without saying, the essential foundation on which the redesign and modernisation of the state will take place.
Even Ed Miliband’s meaningless waffle about “fairness” and “equality” amounts to more of a vision for Britain than that demonstrated by David Cameron – the completely wrong vision, yes, but a vision nonetheless.
And amid all of this rootless, artificial passion, up to 40 per cent of the British electorate may not even bother to vote on 7 May.
“Hell yes, we’re tough enough” say the Labour Party.
“I’m bloody lively” retort the Tories.