Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday 29 November 2011

David Cameron is not a failure

Before I start this post I should just point out that I am far from David Cameron's biggest fan. There are numerous areas where I disagree with him, in some cases profoundly. You only have to look at the responses he gave to some of the questions posed by the great and the good in the Guardian's recent Q&A to see plenty I take issue with not least his extraordinarily dismissive answer to Jonathan Ross's question about drugs policy.

However I want to tackle something that I keep hearing and reading about Cameron. Essentially I keep hearing that he is a failure. This is from across the political spectrum including a number from his own party.

It goes something like this.

Brown was unpopular. Very unpopular. We were in the midst of the worst financial crisis since before the Second World War. On top of this Cameron had had several years in which to prepare for the election and yet in the end he couldn't even get an overall majority.

All of these things are true but they fail to take into account a number of factors.

1) The Conservative Party were a basket-case of a party after 1997 and by 2005 after 3 consecutive trouncings they were still in a woeful state. William Hague who is one of the most gifted politicians of his generation couldn't improve their fortunes very much and nor could the subsequent two leaders they had which included a former cabinet minister and Home Secretary of immense experience. Cameron forced through a programme of modernisation which at least left them electable in 2010. In fact it was nearly 20 years since his party had been in such a position (since 1992 when the polls dived following Black Wednesday and never recovered until Cameron's time).

2) Cameron was not facing just Brown but also a fresh-faced insurgent named Nick Clegg who was able to seize the mantle of change that Cameron wanted for himself (if Cameron had just managed to get a couple more percentage points at the expense of the Lib Dems he would have had a majority). I know lots of Tories think it was a terrible mistake for Cameron to agree to the televised debates which helped Clegg forge this impression but Cameron had little choice. Sky were on the verge of "empty chairing" him and the other broadcasters may well have followed suit, after all they could not be accused of political imbalance if the 3 leaders were invited but Cameron refused to show. In fact this would have been disastrous for his campaign as he would have rightly been seen as a coward. What Cameron actually did as soon as he saw that Clegg was in the ascendancy is what he always does when his back is against the wall which is to come out fighting and by the second and third debates he did very well and helped to puncture the Cleggmaina bubble.

3) David Cameron is actually the most successful national politician in terms of percentage of the vote won of the past 10 years. The Conservatives under his leadership in 2010 got 36.1% of the votes. In 2005 Tony Blair only managed 35.2%. It is only our "interesting" electoral system that translated Blair's 35.2% to 55% of the seats when it only gave Cameron 47% on a higher vote share than Blair.

4) He is Prime Minister. This might seem like an odd point to make but it was not guaranteed that it would happen. The coalition negotiations could have gone very differently. The fact that Cameron came out straight away with his "open offer" to the Lib Dems enabled all that flowed from it. His political judgement was spot on and he only had a few hours in which to make the call the morning after polling day. Had he flunked it and allowed Labour to make the running and retain power the Conservatives could well have moved against him. Instead he is safely ensconced in Downing Street. It is David Cameron who gets to take the decisions about things like the Libyan action, the UK's response to the financial crisis and he has the highest and most listened to political platform in the land. And will likely have it for at least another three and a half years.

It is worth bearing in mind that there are only 5 other people who have become Prime Minister of the UK following a General Election in the last 50 years. Wilson, Heath, Thatcher, Major and Blair. It is a very difficult thing to do but Cameron has managed it.

Whatever you might think about how he got there it seems perverse to consider him a failure having done so.

This post was first published on Dale & Co.


Simon Coward said...

"David Cameron is actually the most successful national politician in terms of percentage of the vote won of the past 10 years."

This almost sounds impressive, until you realise this takes in only one other general election and one with an aberrant result at that: "the lowest [percentage vote] of any majority government in British history".

Turning the lowest-ever winning vote for your opponents into a victory for your own party the next time around doesn't sound quite so impressive, does it?

That year aside, Cameron's victory actually turns out to be the least successful by any national politician in the last 40 years. Not only that, but every winning leader in that time has bettered it - and in one election so did the leader of the second-placed party.

Lady Virginia Droit de Seigneur said...

I'm not a fan of Cameron I have to say but I find this argument at least partially persuasive. i do think Michael Howard started to turn the Tories around but this was helped by the growing public realisation that Blair was little more than a grinning self-interested snake-oil salesman who lied the country into the Iraq war. Cameron was further helped by the fact that Brown was the most unpleasant occupant of no 10 in living memory and the gang of smearers and liars he gathered around him really should have disillusioned more of the population than it did.

Still Cameron got the Tories further than seemed likely 5 or 6 years earlier so deserves some credit for that.

By the way I don't think Major arrived in the office of PM as a result of a general election - he arrived as a result of Tory dissatisfaction with Thatcher over the Poll Tax and the resentment of federasts such as Howe and Heseltine in 1990. The 1992 election merely confirmed him in office.