The view from the bunker

Tim Montgomerie tweets:

Cameron does the crisis thing very well. Reassuring. Determined. Serious. Prime ministerial. Should do it more at #pmqs

“The crisis thing”

This is a “crisis”?

Well, it became one as the water-levels rose along the upper reaches of the Thames. Is it a worse “crisis” than that experienced along the east coast last December?

  • That caused at least a couple of deaths — and weren’t we lucky at that?
  • There are, as I write today, sixteen “severe flood warnings in force” — when we woke on Friday 6th December, there were at least forty.
  • Then sixty light dragoons from Swanton Morley were sent out sandbagging: yesterday David Cameron was talking about 1,600 troops on the job (he meant 600).
  • The population of the Somerset Levels (there’s a clue in the name), with creeping water levels, is something like a few thousand. That’s a fraction of the threatened populaces of Boston, Lynn, Yarmouth, Lowestoft, and elsewhere, who last Decemberstood real chances of sudden, massive, catastrophic inundation.

Pretty well every year, the folk of the outlying parts of the United Kingdom endure and survive events at least as damaging as the oozing waters of the Thames Valley. But then Rathlin, Out Sherries and the like don’t vote Tory, don’t have second homes for London journalists, and so don’t figure in these equations of misery. Or, perhaps, their inhabitants just do the crisis thing very well, cope and get on with their lives.

Or, as Matthew Norman, for the Indy, has it:

Classless society? Don’t make me laugh. It’s only when the floods hit the Home Counties that the PM puts his wellies on

As waters reached the Eton weights room, Cameron sprang into action

You would have to be a class warrior of a rare and precious vintage (Chateau Dave Spart, 1973) to interpret this as more than purest coincidence. Nevertheless, it was only on the day that the playing fields of Eton – on which the Empire was built – were submerged that David Cameron finally started paying the floods and their victims the attention that they deserve.

“Reassuring”

The only job David Cameron ever had outside politics was as PR-man for Carlton Television. His CV must have been impressive: just 27-years old; City track-record, zilch; PR experience, nil; dealing with investors, never. But! His mother-in-law-to-be was Annabel, wife of William Waldorf Astor III, 4th Viscount Astor.

It wasn’t a happy experience, for anyone. As Ben Fenton said, for the FT in 2010:

In a series of run-ins with financial journalists, Mr Cameron developed a reputation for arrogance, evasiveness and, in one case, alleged mendacity that dogged him during his attempt to become Tory leader in 2005 and may resurface during the imminent general election campaign.

One person of whom Cameron fell foul at that time was Ian King, the business editor of The Sun, on 5th December 2005 (and good luck finding the original), as Cameron was about to be enstooled as Tory leader, King went ballistic:

Along with other financial journalists, I was unfortunate enough to have dealings with Cameron during the 1990s when he was PR man for Carlton, the world’s worst television company.

And a poisonous, slippery individual he was, too.

Orville, the "daft duck"Back then, Cameron was far from the smoothie he pretends to be now. He was a smarmy bully who regularly threatened journalists who dared to write anything negative about Carlton — which was nearly all of us. He loved humiliating people, including a colleague at ITV, who he would abuse publicly as “Bunter” just because the poor bloke was a few pounds overweight.

A recent Sun interview with Cameron generously called him a former Carlton “executive”. No, he wasn’t. He was a mouthpiece for that company’s charmless chairman, Michael Green, who operated him the way Keith Harris works Orville.

The financial press had one thing in common with Cameron — he hated us and we hated him.

When Montgomerie suggests Cameron Should do it more at #pmqs, what he means is less of the smarmy bully Flashman. That aspect of Cameron’s character hasn’t gone away.

“Determined”

The one campaign that registered against Cameron was “Dave the Chameleon“. It may have, as Anne Treneman declared, plumbed new depths, but it came close to political realities (too close, indeed: the other chameleon was perceived to be Tony Blair).

Over the years in government it has been hard to see Cameron as “determined” or “decisive”. Would any Tory now claim that “vote blue” got you “green”? Elementary errors meant that he lost control of European policy by surrendering to his party’s ultras, lost control of foreign policy over Syria, that he has lost control of energy policy when Miliband’s Conference speech outflanked him on price-controls, lost control of his private office by a succession of key departures (one of which, involving Coulson, is still trolling its way through the Courts).

“Serious”

i20140212For a moment yesterday it looked as if that rash declaration, via the usual Cameron loose mouth, meant he was surrendering any vestige of economic control:

There is no “blank cheque” for the flood relief effort, Patrick McLoughlin has said, appearing to contradict claims by the Prime Minister that money is “no object” as Britain continues to battle extreme weather.

The Transport Secretary said that the Government would “use every resource” but refused to say that new money will be made available.

His comments come just hours after David Cameron insisted that “whatever money is needed [for flood relief] will be spent”.

That didn’t sell well, even at the Torygraph:

Adams cartoon, Daily Telegraph

 

John Rentoul, that newly-coined Cameroonie, was sceptical:

Within moments of David Cameron’s saying the words at his news conference yesterday afternoon, it was obvious that “money is no object” would be a phrase that would repeat for weeks, be referred to for months and then be preserved in dictionaries of quotations, if those are still produced.

“Prime Ministerial”

What we do not know, after nearly four years, is what Cameron’s concept of a Prime Minister amounts to.

It ought, in a coalition, be collegiate. James Forsyth saw it differently:

We have a new system of rule in Britain: Quad government. The coalition has not, as is often claimed, restored Cabinet government after 30 years of personality-charged premierships. But the Quad, which consists of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, plays the Cabinet’s traditional role. It decides all major matters of policy, inviting other ministers along where necessary.

Not exactly a “new system”, James. William Colyngbourne defined it, back around 1484:

The Catte, the Ratte and Lovell our dogge
Rulyth all Englande under a hogge.

In 1667-73, Charles II had his Cabal (Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley and Lauderdale). That didn’t go too well, either …

Then, again, we have had so many Cameron “visions” (“Big Society”, etc.) which have never amounted to anything that approximates to an “ism”.

Baldwin-esque?

What, at one stage, Cameron’s premiership could have been was up-dating Stanley Baldwin.

The Baldwin government of the mid-1930s (actually 1935-37, but Baldwin’s influence stretches from the formation of the National Government in 1931) could have been a template.

It came at a moment of supreme economic crisis. It developed at a time when “liberal democracy” was under assault from all direction, and evolved in a period of escalating European turmoil.

Baldwin, of course, had the greatest luxury denied Cameron — huge Tory majorities.

booksWhen I was evolving what little of a historical and political appreciation I might have, Baldwin was defined by “Cato” (Michael Foot, Peter Howard and Frank Owen) — and it was a very hostile definition. My appreciation might be defined quite adequately by D.C.Somervill:

This great and distinctive figure is shrouded in what has been called the dense obscurity of the recent past and it is said that the younger generation have either no ideas or wrong ideas about him.

Later writers have prompted us to reconsider Baldwin — though Chips Channon was ahead of the game (15th December 1947):

Lazy and ill informed about anything outside England, he was in a way typical of his age, and accurately reflected the English people. Smuts once told me-one night he was dining at Belgrave Square – that probably the world had rated Baldwin too high when he was at the zenith of his power, and certainly in more recent years had rated him too low. History, he said, would surely restore the balance. Later, in the House, many tributes were paid to Lord Baldwin – the most impressive, because it was so unexpected, came from the comic Communist Gallacher; an emotional hush fell on the Chamber as he sat down, and the House adjourned as a mark of respect to the dead Prime Minister.

A Malcolmian aside:

In fact Willie Gallacher said very little, and that quite conventional:

Stanley Baldwin was the leader of the Conservative Party: I am a leader of the Communist Party. There was not what might be called much of a political bond between us, but I remember meeting him one night by the tape machine. He appeared to be in a sentimental mood. He commented on some of my Scottish characteristics. Then he told me that he had a Scottish mother and a Welsh father. I told him that I had a Scottish mother and an Irish father. That seemed to create, at least, a human bond between us. History will judge him and his life work. Some may praise, some may blame, but here today nothing should be said that could disturb his rest or the minds of those near and dear to him who are mourning his passing. In the quiet countryside beside his Scottish mother and his Welsh father, let him sleep in everlasting peace.

And so we stagger on. Montgomerie, though, helps us not an inch on the way.

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Filed under advertising., ConHome, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., David Cameron, politics, Tim Montgomerie, Tories.

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