Monday, October 17, 2011


Cameron Compared with Blair

Jackie Ashley today makes a telling comparison between Cameron and Blair.

i) they were both masters of the art of public relations
ii) they both had early problems regarding lobbying ministers; Blair with Bernie Ecclestone and Cameron with Fox.
iii) both employed tough tabloid hacks- Campbell and Coulson- to help them sculpt their desired images.
iv) Blair faced criticism from the left as Cameron does now from the right.
v) both had experience early on of 'winning' wars: Blair in Kosovo and Cameron in Libya.
vi) both entered power in 'austerity'- Blair and Brown applied strict limits to spending in their first two years in power and Cameron has even more acute problems.
vii) both ignored what they thought an impotent opposition.
viii) both offered themselves as sunny optimistic leaders, talking of good times ahead.

She sees Cameron as currently 'untouchably strong', able to shrug off Coulson and the phone hacking with a 'semi-apologetic shrug' and emerging, cleverly, from the Fox affair even stronger than before. This he did by waiting long enough to allow Fox's position to become untenable and then not even having to sack the man. On the Tuesday Cameron might have feared Fox could retreat to the back benches and make trouble with his volatile right-wing but by Friday he was too weakened to cause anyone any trouble. Ashley makes the point though, that Cameron faces a far harder future than Blair ever did. Blair really did enjoy the 'good times', even if it it was founded on debt and a greed driven financial sector but it did deliver for a decade.

Cameron however, faces an indeterminate future of hard times:

Yet the complacency that afflicted New Labour is now being repeated by a new government that will face a far angrier public. The spectacle of private lobbying deals and inner circles within circles, clear in the Fox story, is even more dangerous than scandals in the early Blair years, because of the surrounding economics. Cameron has to act very fast when Gus O'Donnell's report comes out this week.

Ashley argues the Tory right will eventually really go for Cameron as he has no chance of 'going with the grain of good times' as did Blair. She sees new leaders emerging from the 2010 intake of right-wing Tory firebrands and causing him grief, concluding:

Cameron remains an enigma, just as Blair was for a while, and it may be that he can make this transition. My guess is that he cannot. He should enjoy this time, when he seems able to drift above the fray, untouched by errors of judgment, cronyism and scandal.

Interesting, Skipper, but the comparison strikes me as misleading:

1) Cameron isn't "a master" of public relations. Indeed, some of his spinning has been not so much fumble-fingered as cloth-eared. Witness the NHS, tuition fees, BSF, Lord Ashcroft, etc...when a little forethought and preparation, plus a more positive way of putting it (e.g. the new student loans are a graduate tax in all but name, why not call them so?) would have avoided the problem. Of course, in Blair's case it was less his brilliance than the genius of Mandelson that helped, but that also suggests an astute judgement of personnel that after the Coulson affair (you were right and I was wrong) Cameron clearly lacks.

2) True to a degree, but this is hardly "early" now, is it. We're almost 18 months in - this is a mid point. Ecclestone blew up within three months, and that helped enormously with the fallout from it - you do not rock the boat for a man who has just won a majority of 179 in an election.

3) Campbell was a hack, Coulson an editor. There clearly is a difference - Campbell got stories out to the right place, Coulson usually at the right time. I think Campbell's method was more useful.

4) Blair's criticism from the left was quite limited, because he delivered a huge majority and could afford to ignore them. Cameron is in a fractious coalition - a rebellion on the right would finish him and he knows it.

5) Admitted, and it isn't helpful either way.

6) Austerity is a relative term. Blair and Brown entered at a time of government austerity, imposed for tactical reasons by Clarke, although it did help a lot in reducing public debt. Meanwhile, the outside economy boomed and the sun shone. Cameron faces both heavy austerity in government and a troubled economic period while our debt ridden binge of the five years from 2003-2008 works out. That's a tough hand to play.

7) Both had an impotent opposition - indeed, a de facto defunct opposition. Ignoring it doesn't come into it - you can't ignore what isn't there. Ed Miliband has an enormous amount to do if he is to change that.

8) That was true of Cameron five years ago, less so since 2008, when he warned of very tough times ahead. This lost him support, but it might just be his saving grace - the reason he hammered Gordon Brown is that it became, in Darling's words, a question of honesty against dishonesty, and after that there was only going to be one winner.

Yet despite all that - or maybe because of it - I agree with her essential conclusion. Cameron will be torpedoed by the right very fast indeed unless he wins outright in 2015, because they do not give people second chances and they have no reason to love him for the agenda he is pursuing in government.
I think all your points are quite right. Ashley did allow her comparisons were not necessarily very close but the comparison exercise is quite revealing, as you have shown. I seem to recall lots of lefty criticism of Blair both after 1997 and during his time as Leader Opposition. But the latter was forgiven -just as Cameron's from the right was- because the party was desperate to get back into power after 18 yrs; and the fomer for the reason you adduce.
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