As David Cameron travels to St Petersburg for the G20, normally a moment to appear Prime Ministerial and powerful, we will be beamed pictures of a deflated and wholly unimportant man. Cameron suffered, probably the biggest shock to his political career and certainly his premiership last Thursday. The vote in the House of Commons on Thursday, I believe, damaged him personally more than it did politically. What led him to this point was a grave misjudgement of his own abilities, the faith of others, and politics in general. It is therefore appropriate to look back at this juncture and assess where Cameron has perhaps gone wrong in his dealings with his staff, the party and the electorate.
Cameron has always conveyed a deep embarrassment about his background. Barack Obama once said his name was given to him by someone who never thought he’d run for President. Mr Cameron must feel the same way about his parents’ choice of schooling. He has failed to see the real reason people sight his privileged upbringing, being that the sense of entitlement has never left him. He has cultivated a small group of close and trusted friends and advisers who hail from similar backgrounds, mind sets and outlooks. He is not a snob, so much as he is an elitist. Flashman was such an easy pin to place on him, merely because he displays so many similarities. Unfortunately no-one liked the superstar in the classroom, nor did anyone go out of their way to help him. The chickens have come home to roost on this one, and all those middle of the road MPs who feel they were swept past without a glancing ‘Hi’ or ‘How are you’ are exacting revenge on a man who really never saw himself as a man of the people. It is reminiscent almost of Margaret Thatcher in the late 80’s. Only she had 10+ years of party leadership and two terms as Prime Minister under the belt, Cameron is only half way through his first term. His failure to win genuine support from his MPs and the party faithful has meant he has little control and few friends who feel by helping him out, they are doing a favour for the good guy. It may be his greatest flaw as PM… he does not have the authority of the party nor lead its membership.
I have always downplayed his failure to win a majority in 2010 as a fluke, a rare example of Britain’s skewed electoral system and frankly 308 seats is so close to 325, we shouldn’t really care. But the consequence has been substantial. Cameron has led a Government that is distinctly un-conservative. The mechanics of coalition are so that he was never going to see through an agenda conservative in nature. However once you look around, the state remains £700 billion in size and welfare state still aggravates the white working class man who is overtaxed and poorly paid. Businesses are not feeling any freer from the shackles of regulation, and uncontrollable immigration continues to inflame the problems of multiculturalism and social cohesion in our cities and suburbs. As a consequence you have seen the emergence of a new right wing party that has spoken on issues that remain important to middle England. David Cameron is right not to lurch either way on a policy level, but he should think about rebranding his big society ahead of 2015 on a political and personal level. Much like the free market conservatives hold dear, unless he appeals to his customers, competing products will take market share and assert their position. The UKIP problem remains a battle for hearts and not minds. People do not see Cameron as a Conservative, much as they don’t see him as one of them.
A man once dubbed ‘Flashman’ for his slick appearance and barbarous taunts seemed untouchable to many before 2010. Even in the first 3 years of his premiership he appeared to take the job in his stride. The opinion polls always maintained that the man they say was born to rule, looked sure footed and fit to rule. Now, it is a different story. His mismanagement of people around him has meant his support is dwindling, and his lack of direction and connection with the party core has meant his legacy is not a proud one. He can change, but the time is now.