PM or PR?

By Copyright by World Economic Forum, by Remy Steinegger. [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Copyright by World Economic Forum, by Remy Steinegger. [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
David Cameron is presiding over one of the most radical Conservative governments ever with its assault on social services and the role of the state in general – and yet he himself doesn’t seem to have any strong views.  Unlike the Thatcher years (can you remember them? Yes, me too) the position of the Prime Minister on any matter of importance is rather unclear. Whereas Thatcher was a straight-talking scientist Cameron spent nearly seven years in public relations.

This is why Cameron feels, it seems, happy talking about the ‘greenest government ever‘ one minute and ‘cutting the green crap‘ another; why he can promise ‘The guarantee I can give you is a decision will be made by the end of the year’ and then in December put off a decision on Heathrow for a further six months; why he can make a speech where he warns that he may take the UK out of the EU one day and another saying that this would risk the UK’s national security two days later; and he can say the right thing in climate change talks in Paris and let George Osborne cut renewable energy support here at home.

Most Prime Ministers have believed in something, sometimes the wrong things, but the more time we spend with David Cameron, the less convincing he appears.  But he is an excellent front-man for those in the Conservative Party who do believe in something. Cameron can say the right thing, the reassuring thing, any time you like (with a bit of preparation) and won’t blush when contradicting his previous utterances.

But I wonder, when the time comes, how will Osborne et al. cope without him.

I can see why many are inclined to disbelieve anything any politician says, and this isn’t something which started with Cameron of course (but it certainly hasn’t ended with him either), but it is a partial explanation for why the Paris climate talks’ reception was at best lukewarm. ‘They might have said it, but will they do it?’ seemed to be a large part of the response from the public and the experts. Look at the comments on the blog I wrote after the Paris talks ended with a half-decent agreement and see the tenor of the reception from readers of this blog.  Hardly ‘Let joy be unconfined!’ were they?

When the public don’t believe politicians, and don’t trust their motives, then democracy is in trouble.  And that’s particularly true for those who want to change the world – people lose hope and stop trying.

I know this isn’t a particularly novel view of things, but it’s been brought more strongly home to me recently so I thought I’d spit it out.



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26 Replies to “PM or PR?”

  1. How very accurate your blog seems to me. The entire world seems to dislike us at one time or another, because they don’t trust us.

  2. Yes, slippery as an eel. And unlike the faux outrage they spawn at any utterance made by certain other politicians, most of the media steadfastly refuses to call BS and gives Cameron a free pass.

    What’s more, under Cameron, Govt departments themselves have turned into little more than PR vehicles. Just look at yesterday’s Defra nonsense about BTb, or how unfavourable outcomes are routinely ignored or kicked down the road – see Biodiversity 2020. We deserve better from our leaders, but unfortunately a lack of scrutiny and quality, balanced journalism is allowing this to happen.

    The measure of the man is how he ran away from open debate with Ed Milliband before the last election.

  3. Say what you like about Mrs T (and I have) she did what she did out of genuine conviction that her policies would benefit the country. She was often wrong, but wasn’t afraid to court unpopularity. Prime Ministers since have proved the dictum that a politician’s only job is to get re-elected. Cameron is the most blatant example of this, (even including Blair).

  4. A trivial thing but Cameron’s famous slip over which football team he supports was a very revealing insight into the inherent insincerity of the man.

    1. Absolutely Jonathan – it is inconceivable that a genuine football fan would slip-up in such a fashion. It did remind me of Blair’s Jackie Milburn moment.

    2. Cameroon just blows in the wind like all of them. There is survival value in that. But even though but he is a PPE 1st Class he hasn’t the nous of Nately’s Old Man

  5. How right you are. The only thing Cameron and his cronies truly believe in with all their hearts is getting as much personal benefit as possible; anything else is merely a vehicle for achieving that. I’m sure that this is the major reason for Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity with the general public who elected him with a bigger majority than any Labour MP received at the last election (Labour MPs please take note). Its not that they all enthusiastically support everything he says but that they recognise his beliefs are sincerely and based on deeply-held principles, and see this as a welcome relief from a government where policies change from one day to the next. Its also why the Tory party are so scared of him.

    1. “The only thing Cameron and his cronies truly believe in with all their hearts is getting as much personal benefit as possible”

      No different to squillions of other people in that regard – it’s just a matter of scale

    2. Derik, the Tories aren’t scared of Corbyn. Michael Foot was by all accounts a decent honest man of principle too. Also like Corbyn, he had some very unpleasant fellow travellers to do his dirty work, which always makes it so much easier to keep one’s own hands clean.

      Foot’s greatest “achievement” was to hand the Tories two decades of virtually uncontested rule. Corbyn is the best thing that’s happened for the Tories since Michael Foot, and they know it. He’s as much a useful idiot for them as Foot was. They’re not scared, they’re laughing and sipping celebratory champagne.

      1. Maybe. The fact is that the Tories are scared of Corbyn. That’s why they and their fellow travellers have invested so much time and money in character assasination. It’s all about destroying a brand that offers an alternative view before the public get interested in trying it for themself.

        1. John, that’s not a fact by anyone’s definition of the word. It’s an assertion. On what do you base your assertion?

          here are some things I think do qualify as facts;

          *Tory supporting media actively promoted entryism by Tories to vote for Corbyn, in the belief that he was the candidate least likely to be an electoral threat to them.

          *The Labour party has been split over multiple issues since Corbyns election.

          *Since his election the strongest opposition to the Tories has come from the Lords (just as it did during the Thatcher years) and from within the Tories own ranks (ditto).

          *Despite own public requests to stop it, threats of deselection of dissenting voices within the Labour party continue. Groups that form the core of his own constituency are almost Stalinist in their efforts to silence other all voices within the party (just like Militant was in the 80s).

          How do these developments indicate that the Tories are scared of him?

          Corbyn appeals very strongly to his own constituency, but that constituency will never be big enough to win national elections. He doesn’t even command the support of most of his own MPs. The very ideological purity (a weighted term I use deliberately) of his appeal to his core supporters is a huge electoral turn off to everyone else. What on earth is there for the Tories to be scared about?

          1. Not sure that Mark’s blog is really the place to discuss Corbyn and I’d preface any comments by saying I am something of an agnostic on his leadership (and I’m certainly not a ‘trot’) but all evidence is that entryism was not a decisive factor in his election, given he won all sections of the vote comprehensively except the PLP. That should be a signal to MP’s that the membership would like them to unite behind him at least in the short term, and frankly rubbishing the leadership on a weekly basis in the Daily Mail (Danczuk) is disloyal and asking for deselection rumours. On the contrary I think Stella Creasy was unfairly targeted, and I wholly agree that the shouty left should tone it down, as I’m sure the leadership wants too. I am confident that given some space and fair media coverage (which can only be denied for so long), Corbyn can move the party in a direction that the membership appears to have indicated it wants. Whether he then leads the party at the next election is moot – my guess is no, but it’s clear the membership want passion and conviction, not equivocation. Let’s hope Corbyn’s time ensures we can find that in a centrist candidate next time.

      2. Perhaps Foot’s greatest legacy is the large number of workers who have not been killed or maimed since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act which he saw finally passed into law hen he was Secretary of State for Employment (though others also deserve credit for getting it to that stage). It is fashionable to deride ‘elf and safety’ as a mindless, dead hand that stops people doing things or taking any responsibility for themselves but the law does not actually require the more absurd measures that one hears about – banning children from playing conkers and the like – and the notion that businesses would provide safe working conditions for their employees without a rigorously enforced legal obligation to do so is sadly misguided.

      3. Michael Foot didn’t have the internet & social media so was very vulnerable to the right wing media of the day.
        Jeremy Corbyn has a younger more tuned in support base who get their news & information as much through facebook & twitter & definitely not from the Daily Mail or the Sun.
        Despite looking like every ones favourite Uncle, Jeremy & his team are more switched on than the whole of the Conservative party.
        Dave & his chums think it’s still wise to share egg nogs with Murdoch & Brooks which to the informed says reams.

  6. Well, what do you expect from the man whose response to the question ‘why do you want to be PM?’ was ‘Because I think I’d be rather good at it’. For Cameron, being PM is like an extended midlife gap year.

    Cameron could still get his place in history though, if he bungles the EU referendum. If Britain sleep walks towards the exit, and a subsequent Scottish referendum votes for separation, he could leave the rest of the UK a much impoverished country in many ways.

    One thing that the Conservatives are very good at, though, is winning elections. They have the right wing vote almost to themselves. Meanwhile, Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP scrabble for a slice of the progressive vote. The only way I can see around this is a non-aggression pact between broadly left of centre parties, with an agreement on constitutional and electoral reform once elected. But are they big enough to put the national interest above their party’s?

    1. To achieve a left of centre pact you would have to recognise that there is no British politics any more. The SNP are not scrabbling ‘for a slice of the progressive vote’, they have taken that vote, and more, among their own electorate. They did offer a progressive pact to Labour before the General Election and they also appealed to the electorate in the rest of the UK, in the UK national interest. The response in England amounted to nothing less than the rejection of Scottish representation at Westminster. Labour will not revive in Scotland. It will have to learn to deal constructively with the Scottish dimension for as long as the Union remains.

      1. Thanks Stevenson

        I’ve been thinking about this in the course of today. You’re right. Why would the SNP want to offer a pact to Labour? It would be like Ali suggesting to Forman that they call it a draw. But since the Tories are well nigh irrelevant in Scotland anyway, a pact there would make little difference. As you say, Labour will have to learn to engage with the new Scottish reality

        I was appalled at the way the Conservatives demonised the SNP (and by implication, the Scottish people) during the election. I even saw one of their posters here in Wales, for heaven’s sake!. It really put in perspective all that ‘don’t leave us’ guff during the referendum campaign. Which to means that, were the issue put to the Scottish people following a Brexit, I doubt they would be taken in again.

        I’m agnostic on the issue (it’s for the Scottish people alone), but if you’re PM and leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party, I’m guessing Scotland leaving the UK would be little short of a catastrophe.

  7. Overall I think history will not only remember Cameron as the most disingenuous PM of modern times.

    There is a fine definition of ‘Cameronism’ on Urban Dictionary:

    ‘The belief that you are better than any body else (history) Cameronism began around 1991 A.D. It is base around the rejection of the opinions and beliefs of others. In Cameronism, the Cameronist’s opinion is considered the absolute and utmost authority. Follows of Cameronism are also coincidentally filthy rich. Wealthy children usually convert to Cameronism when they realize the world will not shower them with material possessions as their parents did. It would seem that followers of Cameronism would not be concerned with popularity, but their religion is just a fall back for when their futile efforts to keep up with the crowd (i.e. spiked hair, faded pants, rap music) fail. They may also receive a guitar around the 13th year of life. The Cameronist does not necessarily need to know how to play guitar, just how to tell people that he or she does. Cameronists will only play when there is someone to impress. If the person is not impressed, their opinion no longer matters’

  8. I had been pondering with (a) what Cameron would like to see as his legacy and (b) what he would be remembered for?

    Disingenuous fits the description for a fair few of past PMs so if that is all, he will fade in the pages of the history books assuming he makes more than a one liner?

    Andrew L: spin and propoganda does win elections, information control helps in that as well. So you’ve thrown down a gauntlet to them, excellent. Starters for 10 assuming they buy in, who would be their leader? How would that decision be taken? I agree about much of what has been said about Corbyn, but I just don’t trust many of his MPs – didn’t Burnham start the NHS sell off? Not seen enough of Farron to have formed a strong view so the jury is still out. Caroline Lucas is good value but she’s not leader of the greens.

    Never mind, we’ve another four years of trashing the environment and destroying such institutions as the NHS and education, selling off of the country’s silver so plenty of time to formulate a compromise which can deliver a real alternative and challenge?

  9. And let’s not forget the early election preparations already in hand – redrawing of constituencies to remove a host of Labour seats; and revising the voter registration at Labour’s expense. Hard to see how we can break out of this spiral yet we must, or our democracy is indeed in trouble

    1. The spiral can be broken. Corbyn is a certain loser, but his election represents a shift of opinion in the right direction, which with the right organisation and leadership has the potential to bring change.
      Scotland has managed to break the ‘system’. It did start with the advantage of an identity, institutions and a civic society which, below the parliamentary level, always functioned independently and which provided the foundations for revolt.
      The underlying disadvantage England has is its insularity and its delusions about its place in the world. It apparently has nothing to learn from the social democracies of Europe who far outrank it on every measure of social, economic and political success, while it still thinks it can lecture the world about democracy and the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ – this latter from a state where basic civil rights were only established in N. Ireland twenty years ago, and after a bloody civil war.
      The insularity affects the British left as much as the Establishment . The Scottish independence movement represented everything that the British left claims to stand for, a popular movement for greater democracy, equality and self determination. The left responded by lining up with the Establishment in a xenophobic campaign which threatened and smeared a whole country.
      Has the British left nothing to learn from the SNP, a party which has successfully combined a hugely popular grass roots movement with the most professional political machine in the UK and a highly competent leadership. We have Sturgeon, you have Corbyn. How did that happen ?

  10. Stevenson, as someone who thinks of themselves as British not English it pains me to say this, but you’re spot on about Sturgeon vs Corbyn. If Corbyn were of her calibre we’d be having a very different conversation – then the Tories really would be scared, and rightly so, and I’d be a damned sight more hopeful.

    Also, from a Unionist perspective, Salmond was himself very confrontational, dismissing rather than addressing key issues like the currency, asserting that he could simply bully the English until they gave him what he wanted. That made him easy to demonise. Sturgeon is much more likeable, even for people like me who disagree with her nationalism. She’s immensely credible; outside the faithful Corbyn just isn’t credible at all.

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