It jumps out of the screen (or, if you can find a full text, the page):
If there was another way I would take it. But there is no alternative.
Yes: David Cameron has tripped off to Keighley and made a speech, saying … well, absolutely nothing. Except that he is the current possessor of Ma Thatcher’s handbag, and is prepared to filch the odd trifle therefrom.
That’s from 1980, when the Tory government was already heading further and further into the slough of despond.
Consider this, from Anthony Wells’s ukpollingreport:
Thatcher’s key economic speech of 1o October 1980 was her Conference “not for turning” address to the Tory faithful:
If our people feel that they are part of a great nation and they are prepared to will the means to keep it great, a great nation we shall be, and shall remain. So, what can stop us from achieving this? What then stands in our way? The prospect of another winter of discontent? I suppose it might.
But I prefer to believe that certain lessons have been learnt from experience, that we are coming, slowly, painfully, to an autumn of understanding. And I hope that it will be followed by a winter of common sense. If it is not, we shall not be—diverted from our course.
To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the “U” turn, I have only one thing to say. “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”
“It’s déjà vu all over again”
And Yogi Berra is still with us (now in his later 80s).
The problem common to Thatcher in 1980, and Cameron in 2013 is: who is their audience?
It is, in short, their own party — and in both cases the speeches are defence mechanisms, self-defences against an increasingly unhappy and fractious parliamentary party. We need to recall that in 1980 Thatcher was not, by any means, the autocratic Tory leader that Galtieri, his Argie military cronies, and near on a thousand unnecessary corpses made her.
Cameron’s electoral problem
It isn’t just the Eastleigh business. The 1979 General Election meant that Thatcher’s Tory benches included 22 Scottish MPs (with 31.4% of Scottish votes) — Cameron has just the one (and 16.7% of the votes). In 1979 Northern Ireland returned five (of the ten in total) MPs as Ulster Unionists (with 36.6% of the poll) — on all matters economic, the UU MPs voted with the Tory Whip: today there is not a single Ulster Unionist MP remaining, despite Cameron’s explicit involvement and rebranding of UCUNF.
In September 2012 The Economist had a definitive description of:
The great divide
Economically, socially and politically, the north is becoming another country
The piece went still further back, and deeper into the socio-economics of English history:
The north remains poorer than the south, with sharply lower employment rates and average incomes. In 1965 men in the north were 16% more likely to die under the age of 75 than men in the south. By 2008 they were 20% more likely to, according to a study published last year in the British Medical Journal. This is not just because poor people die young: rich northerners apparently live shorter lives than their southern peers…
Whereas government spending is spread fairly evenly across the country — nurses and teachers are needed roughly in proportion to the population — private-sector growth has been heavily concentrated, mostly in and around London. Between 1997 and 2010 gross value-added, a measure of output, grew by 61% in the three northern regions. In London and the South East, it shot up by 92%. According to a study by the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change at the University of Manchester, the state accounted, directly and indirectly, for 64% of the jobs created in the north between 1998 and 2007, against just 38% in the south.
It also considers the electoral impact:
The Conservative Party is retreating in the north, too. Its problem is not just that northern seats tend to be poorer, and thus more likely to vote Labour. Broad mistrust of the Tories, cemented during the 1980s recession, means middle-class voters in the north are actually more likely to vote Labour than are working-class voters in the south. Policy Exchange, a think-tank, points out that Conservatives held two-fifths of northern seats in 1951. They now hold less than a third, mostly in rural areas. In the cities, and in former-coal mining areas, the party is all but invisible. In July the Sheffield Conservative Party was forced to relocate to nearby Rotherham, as it is so short of cash…
And, of course, so much of what ConDem austerity economics has done disproportionately impacts upon the North and the devolved regions: the attacks on public employment, the squeeze on municipal budgets, replacing poor employment with even poorer-paid part-time work, lower productivity, rack-renting public housing, energy costs, transport costs … What, will the line stretch out to th’ crack of doom?
Cameron’s revolting women
This is the most jaw-dropping of the lot: women have turned against the Tories. In every post-War election until 2005 women voters preferred the Tories: it has been a declining gap (it was +12 in 1974), but in the last two general Elections, it has reversed. When one digs down into the most recent YouGov/Sunday Times poll, we find the gender gap is now a chasm:
Note that: a 12 point gender deficit for the Tories.
A curious beast
Peter Hoskin on ConHome finds only luke-warm words for Cameron’s speech (and it was an extended one) today, at Keighley:
David Cameron’s speech on the economy today is a curious beast. Here we have the Prime Minister pronouncing on growth, competition, debt and all that – but it has a thin flavour to it, as though it’s just an appetiser for the Budget in a couple of weeks. There are no new policy announcements, nor anything we haven’t really heard before. Yet perhaps that is the point: Mr Cameron emphasises, à la Lady Thatcher, that “there is no alternative” to the Coalition’s current plan. He speaks of consistency and continuity. It reads like a message telling everyone – from the restless Tory backbenches to Ed Balls and Vince Cable – not to expect a change in course.
That addresses the “what” of the speech (or, perhaps the “what-not?”), but not the more telling “where” (Keighley!) and “why?” (because he’s dans le merde!). On the other hand, that’s precisely what Nick Robinson has caught on (and saying far more succinctly and elegantly than Malcolm managed here):
Perhaps most revealing, though, is that he feels the need to make this speech at all and who it is aimed at. It is a restatement of the government’s central economic purpose aimed at:
- his own party, which is why he is borrowing Margaret Thatcher’s language
- the North of England
- and women
Look at this paragraph to see what I mean :
“I know things are tough right now. Families are struggling with the bills at the end of the month. Some are just a pay-cheque away from going into the red. Parents are worried about what the future holds for their children. Whole towns are wondering where their economic future lies. And I know that is especially true for people here in Yorkshire and in many parts of the north of our country who didn’t benefit properly from the so-called boom years and worry they won’t do so again. But I’m here to say that’s not going to happen. Because we have a plan to get through these difficulties – and to get through them together.”
A man! A plan! A canal! Panama!
As good a palindrome as you’ll get in these parts to remind us just how much of British politicking involves going round in circles and disappeared up one’s own … canal.