Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Cameron answered a simple question - we all need to grow up

Q: What have Bill Gates and David Cameron got in common?

A: They both pre-announced their departure from a key role years before they intended to actually stand down.

And yet the reaction to these two announcements could not really have been more different. The response to Gates' statement in June 2006 that he was winding down his responsibilities and would eventually stand down two years later was measured and sensible. It was generally perceived as a good thing that the then CEO of Microsoft was giving a fair amount of notice to allow for succession planning to take place and ensure the eventual transition was smooth.

Contrast that with the reaction to David Cameron's recent comments that he would like a second term of office as Prime Minister but would not stand for a third term in 2020.




are just some of the more printable responses from other politicians and some commentators.

It seems the Westminster Bubble consensus is that this was a very bad move from Cameron. He has "undermined his authority". He has "fired the starting gun on his succession". He has "given up any chance of shaping the future of his party".

But why? Why is it so terrible to declare that as a Prime Minister fighting his first attempt at re-election he would not want to go on beyond 2020?

The truth is it isn't so terrible. Having watched the reaction to this, and listened on the radio earlier it seems there are plenty of members of the public who can see this for what it is. A politician answering a question with a straightforward answer.

How many times have we asked for just this? When a politician is asked a straight question we want a straight answer. But when they unexpectedly give one like this the entire political world goes into meltdown and it is portrayed as his biggest gaffe in years.

This reaction is utterly pathetic. These sort of pre-announcements happen all the time in industry. There is no reason why our politics and the Tory party cannot handle a Prime Minister announcing that he only wants to serve at most another 5 years. A similar announcement by Tony Blair in 2004 did undermine his premiership. But the main reason for that was because he had a Chancellor who felt like he had a God given right to succeed him and had spent over a decade plotting for just this sort of moment. It is a sign of the general stability of the current Conservative Party leadership that Cameron feels that he can make such an announcement and will not find himself undermined at every possible opportunity.

Cameron is still a relatively young man and has a young family. It is hardly surprising he wouldn't want to continue on beyond 10 years in office.

It would be a sign of political maturity in our culture for us to accept that leaders will not go on and on without the sort of spasmodic reaction we have seen in the last 24 hours.

Politics and the media need to grow up.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Six reasons why Cameron has hugely miscalculated on the TV debates

I sometimes wonder how politicians can manage to make terrible errors whilst thinking they are being oh so clever.

Gordon Brown's high wire manouvering in the Autumn of 2007 springs to mind as a classic example. He thought he had the opposition on the run and was privately and publicly toying (and allowing his acolytes to toy) with the idea of going to the country early. In the end he bottled it and it defined his premiership.

Cameron's short term tactics on the TV debates this time round are another example of this effect. He obviously thinks he's been extremely clever on this. It's pretty obvious that all the other parties who have been invited have played a relatively straight bat. They wanted debates and the broadcasters have tried to accommodate them all. They were invited to meetings to try and sort out the niggles and they attended them. The only party that has played games with the process are the Tories. But they thought that the "he said, she said" would blur things to the point where nobody would understand who had really scuppered this.

I believe Cameron and his team are profoundly wrong for six reasons:

1) He allowed his back-room spinners to brief journalists about what he was really up to, i.e. he never really wanted the debates in the first place. There are just too many people who have been spun this line and have reported it for it to be ignored.

2) Because he is the only one refusing to turn up it almost doesn't matter whose fault it is (although it is quite clearly his fault). Even if he was blameless and had somehow been stitched up it would still be a fatal mistake to appear to be the one trying to stymie democracy in this way.

3) He has underestimated the broadcasters. He never thought they would empty chair him but rightly sick of all the games and spin they have thrown down and decided to go for it. Good for them but it leaves him in a terribly isolated and dangerous position.

4) The previous debates were watched by 22 million people. However disengaged people feel with the political process that is a huge audience so it is obvious that in that respect it improved that engagement. And with such a legacy from the most recent campaign, anyone seen to be wrecking the chances of a similar set of debates this time around will have those 22 million people to answer to.

5) There are simply too many on the record examples of Cameron going on and on about how good a thing TV debates would be prior to the 2010 election. It's abundantly clear that he wanted them then when he was Leader of the Opposition and contrasted with the shenanigans now make it equally clear that he is trying to wriggle out of them for no other reason than partisan advantage.

6) One of Cameron's (and the Conservative Party in general) main weakness is arrogance. They have spent a lot of time and effort trying to clean house in this respect and appear more responsive. But spurning these debates plays right into their opponents' hands allowed them to define Cameron and his party as high handed and not willing to be held to account.

I'm not yet sure if this move could cost Cameron the election but with things so finely balanced I would not be at all surprised.

And frankly if that does happen it will be deservedly so. Maybe future Prime Ministers will think long and hard before playing such transparently obvious and cack-handed games with a process seen as important to our democracy by so many voters.

Monday 2 March 2015

House of Comments - Episode 120 - The Sting and Other Stories

The latest House of Comments podcast is now out.

This week I am joined by former House of Comments co-host and contributing editor of Labour List Emma Burnell to discuss the sting that brought Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind low on outside interests, Labour's new tuition fees policy and the government's decision to devolve healthcare to the Manchester region.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

You can download the mp3 for the latest episode directly from here.

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboom for hosting the podcast. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.