Cameron at Ten: Triumphant, Lucky and Curiously Unknowable
Bearable to the true blue only as better than the unthinkable alternativeAs Disclaimer’s house reactionary it falls to me to mark young Cameron’s ten years at the leadership crease from the standpoint of a card-carrying Tory.
He’s less obviously the cuckoo in the nest than Blair was for Labour at the same point in his tenure but all the same question marks remain.
Look, some aren’t the boy’s fault. The electorate forced him into hideous, misshapen coalition with the Lib Dems, a party he at least had the sense to use much as special forces use kevlar. And while his victory in 2015 was stunning, the narrowness of his majority means it may have been Cameron triumphant but it was hardly Cameron unbound. His rule has always been narrow - in party and country. His appeal is too for all the dark arts of spin. Never mind the Watford Gap. Set him down anywhere much north of Regent's Park and he's toast.
Although progress has been made the benefit bill is still far too high, the NHS remains unsustainably huge and the Her Majesty's Government too timid to do anything but shrink every time some junior doctor shrieks ‘privatisation.’
In the end Britain still lives far beyond its means and Cameron is bearable to the true blue only as better than the unthinkable Labour alternative. He knows that David Davis was the man we really wanted.
But enough. The real reason it’s hard to mark The Man From Chipping Norton is because all that's happened so far is mere prologue. Cameron's greatest test lies ahead.
Quiet now. Hear that ticking? That's a bomb in the baggage hold of the Tory party. Its name is 'Europe.'
We’ll talk again.
A view from abroad: on Syria Cameron has finally justified his longevity to some
For most North Americans, it would seem strange that Cameron is sharing a milestone achieved by Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, two figures whose ability to forge ahead with policies that resounded globally was legendary enough to make them dinner table subjects even in the U.S., where few could name Canada’s Prime Minister.
The most impressionable headlines on Cameron in North America since he’s been in office have shown him on his back foot: austerity measures aimed at countering the financial crisis of 2008, involvement of an advisor in a phone hacking scandal, a panicky response to polls that showed Scotland was ready to leave the UK.
On Syria, Cameron may have finally justified his longevity as far as centre-right-leaning pundits are concerned. After all, Tony Blair garnered respect - in the U.S. at least - for joining the military operations that overthrew Saddam Hussein as retribution for Iraq’s role in 9/11. Americans distinguish themselves by their ability to cling to the fiction of Baghdad’s support for al-Qaida despite there being no evidence to support it.
Cameron also seems to have gained some momentum on his negotiations with the EU. That’s seen favourably in Canada, which has just elected a prime minister who’s more open to negotiation on all fronts compared with his predecessor, but won’t yield much adulation on the other side of the border. On balance, Cameron appears in favour of staying in the EU in spite of an emotional distance between Britons and the Continent. That distance is even greater between the EU and most Americans, who are more impressed by the power of precision missiles than the strength of negotiation.
The Beta Plus Prime Minister who isn’t going anywhere
Despite the unpopularity of specific policies David Cameron’s party is buoyant in the polls and his own ratings relatively good. So if he raises a glass of champagne in the Number 10 flat tonight, he will no doubt give quiet thanks to the Labour Party which has elected leaders in turn less plausible than the last. The Old Etonian former PR executive has such obvious flaws that his opponents have never given any meaningful thought on how to counter him. They keep hurling futile insults. Sisyphus would admire their tenacity.
Cameron is the Beta Plus Prime Minister: intelligent but not in Gordon Brown’s league; persuasive but without the charisma of Blair; a gifted administrator but not as formidable as Thatcher. Enough, in an admittedly pretty barren arena, to allow him to become the most dominant Conservative figure since The Lady.
Ever flexible and with a majority bagged, Cameron is at the pinnacle of his authority; he can - assuming Labour’s woes enable him to keep a lid on Tory Euro-infighting - be somewhat optimistic at seeing out the term as prime minister.
It is not to misunderestimate him to say luck - and the modern irrelevance of parliamentary defeat - plays a part here. Thatcher always had Heseltine lurking stage left; Blair was forced to tolerate his ambitious neighbour. Where is Cameron's credible successor? David Davis? Tainted by shabby rebellion. George Osborne? Too gauche. Theresa May? She may, but she probably won’t. Boris? So many reasons. Peter Bone? Well, the Labour Party did something similar and look how that turned out.
So get used to him: Cameron isn’t going anywhere. Lucky generals, eh?
Bland vagueness makes him the perfect Conservative leader
Ten years on from being elected party leader, and five into PM duties, David Cameron remains a curiously unknowable entity. His cabinet contains more obvious villains - IDS patting himself on the back as another terminally-ill ‘shirker’ faces benefit sanctions, Jeremy Hunt sneering at us all to work harder while he pulverises the NHS. And yet, the man at the centre of it all still appears fairly benign. It’s both his blessing and his curse - he’ll never be a Thatcheresque hate figure, but he’s never commanded Blairesque adoration either, destined to wangle his way to power with coalitions and minuscule majorities.
It doesn’t help that Cameron’s values are so tricky to pin down. He arrived as a moderate moderniser, the ‘compassionate Conservative’ who hugged trees and hoodies. He’s since masqueraded as the only man responsible enough to tackle the deficit, a shy Europhile, and bastion of the family values he condescendingly deemed lost in ‘Broken Britain’.
Strangely enough, though, this bland vagueness makes him the perfect 21st century Conservative leader. While other MPs seem fully aware of their policies’ hazards, Cameron stays merrily blinkered, genuinely believing his clap-trap about the necessity of austerity and the perils of welfare: the recent leaked letter to Tory-run Oxfordshire county council demonstrated his inability to comprehend how his party’s state-shrinking ideology could be anything other than successful. It might be widely accepted that Conservative rule does for equality and public services what Chernobyl did for air sanitation, but in Cameron the Tories found a vital missing ingredient: a reasonable face for a ruthless government.
Under Cameron culture has been a popular target for cuts
In 2010, Cameron’s coalition government cut funding for Arts Council England by 29.6% and national museums by 15%. Three years later, both budgets were cut by another 5%. Since then, the directors of major museums and galleries have been resigning left, right and centre. The National Gallery has suffered strikes and the Royal College of Art is imploding.
The culture sector has been a popular target for cuts due to the misconception of art institutions as either elitist or facile. In reality, public appetite for culture is increasing: 52% of adults visited a museum or gallery in the last year, up from 43% in 2005/6. Furthermore, 77% enjoyed dance, live music, theatre, opera or literature. In fact, even whilst overseeing crippling arts cuts, Cameron boasted to the world about our “extraordinary” cultural output: the British books, comedy, music, television, art and films that are popular across the globe.
Even if we set aside cultural value, there is a strong economic argument for investment in the arts. Of the top 10 UK visitor attractions, 8 are museums and galleries. In 2011, cultural tourists spent at least £856 million. In 2013, arts and culture contributed £7.7 billion gross value added (GVA) to our economy. For every £1 GVA generated in the culture sector, another £1.06 is generated in other sectors, amounting to a total of £15.8 billion in 2013.
However, our cultural powerhouses will only continue to draw crowds if they remain world-class. Cameron’s Conservatives have finally realised this. Last week, Osborne announced that “one of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary arts, museums, [and] heritage”. Consequently, the Arts Council grant will rise by 1-2% before 2020. That’s nowhere near enough to reconstitute the culture sector after the last five years, but it is a start.
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