The Last Days of Flashman
Off he toddles humming away. ‘Right’. He doesn’t exactly look very bothered does he?
People like David Cameron are born in power and will die in power. A few years actually, you know, ‘running the country’ isn’t really here nor there.
As British politics descends further into a purer level of farce it’s important not to be drawn into the media’s narrative about the personalities involved. This isn’t about Jeremy v Angela or Andrea v Theresa. While the Tories are often indivisible, driven by a shared obsession for power, there are real and important political differences in Opposition politics being payed out today. ‘Brexit means Brexit’, there will be no compromise and the people with petitions and thoughts that Article 50 somehow won’t be enacted are delusional.
The real issues are on the other side which will reach some form of conclusion today as the Labour Party NEC meets.
“Imagine. You slash the welfare state; push the NHS towards bankruptcy; carelessly drag the UK out of Europe and apart, then sod off humming.” – Deborah Orr
It’s worth trying to assess David Cameron’s time in office and how it has interacted with the demise of New Labour. Because as it’s a simple and easy line to see Cameron as a Thatcherite, in many ways he is far more the ‘Heir to Blair’, and as we see Chilcot and the Corbyn coup playing out it’s important to realise that David Cameron’s last days are really the last days of New Labour.
As Tony Wood has written:
“…what is most striking about Cameron’s Conservative Party is not any atavistic devotion to Thatcher, but how closely they have modelled themselves on New Labour. Cameron has adopted a rhetoric of ‘change’ and ‘modernization’, speaking of social justice and improved public services, with an additional dose of eco-friendliness—a scribbled tree was approved as the party’s new logo in 2006. Party strategists have busied themselves with the same kind of ‘triangulation’ as did New Labour’s, tailoring policy statements to the concerns of floating voters in marginal seats. There are parallels, too, in the role of former tabloid editor Andy Coulson as Cameron’s spin-doctor, and in the party’s reliance on the largesse of millionaires: Osborne apparently pressed for a donation from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska while a guest on the latter’s yacht, along with Peter Mandelson; the Tories’ biggest donor in recent years has been its deputy chairman, the oleaginous tax-evader Lord Ashcroft. Like New Labour, today’s Conservatives are also unabashed in their admiration for their supposed antagonists: in 2003, the current shadow schools spokesman Michael Gove said of his own attitude towards Blair, ‘it’s what Isolde felt when she fell into Tristan’s arms.’
David Cameron’s time in office has been characterised by the art of politics as perception. If Thatcher was a conviction politician, Cameron was one for whom the veneer of belief was worn lightly. He’d appear to believe in whatever you wanted him to believe in, whilst quietly issuing in very specific and ideological policies.
Does anyone remember ‘Hug a Hoodie’ and the Huskies? Remember his claim to lead the “greenest Government ever”?
If there’s any example of the gap between rhetoric and reality it’s his environmental legacy. He scrapped the Government’s flagship Green Deal home energy efficiency programme as part of the austerity drive and pulled the rug on Scotland’s renewable sector. His government cut solar incentives by 65%, with a corresponding crash in installations, and ditched the Green Bank. They binned Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and lobbied in Europe to undermine pollution caps for cars, then they removed subsidies for wind energy but gave tax breaks to the shale gas industry and it’s been revealed (via ministers’ letters ) that they are taking fracking planning decisions out of the hands of local authorities.
But if their hypocrisy over the environment has been spectacular their mismanagement of the economy has been staggering. While the last labour government famously left note saying: “Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid there is no money”, the reality is that six years on there is £1.7 trillion less. This despite a raft of astonishing punitive welfare reforms and tax cuts for the rich. His has been simultaneously the most ideological of Tory regimes and – on the surface level – the kindest and most progressive. A reality only understood by those on the receiving end.
His association with News International, his friendship with Rebekah Brooks and his appointment of Andy Coulson seems to have been quietly forgotten over the years, but the sewer that is tabloid Britain remains because it was fed and nurtured by Cameron’s close friends and colleagues.
So as Cameron departs, humming away, oblivious to the chaos him and his party have caused, in comes the unelected who will enact the greatest foreign and economic policy disaster she opposed. The theatre and staging of this is going to be highly choreographed as Paul Mason comments:
“Theresa May’s conveniently short walk to Downing Street is designed to combat the impression that nobody is in control. But without a major change in policy, we are still rudderless on a churning financial sea.”
Meanwhile, whilst the opposition should be slating the Conservative government for their reckless ineptitude and self-serving hypocrisy, they are instead attempting by legal means to keep their leader off the ballot for re-election.
After much fanfare and derision of Corbyn’s media management, Angela Eagle’s opening press conference was a disaster from her pink Union Jack with “Aargh” scrawled over it like a plaintive plea for help – to a series of awkward tv interviews.
Asked why she voted for Iraq war, Eagle just said ‘I’m a Northern working class girl who understands modern life’.
Asked what policy differences there were between her and Corbyn by Andrew Neil she said nothing.
Her ticket is that she is not Jeremy Corbyn. That’s it.
She is, as she and her supporters repeatedly claim “electable”. They don’t say for what reason, under what policies, or by what strategy. She is, like Cameron, a slogan and stylists artefact, coiffed and well-presented but with nothing to say.
Maybe it was a good thing that the media fled to the Andrea Leadsom pantomime. What would she possibly have said?
“BBC anyone? No? Okay? Robert Peston, where are you?” – Angela Eagle
Tony Wood again: “The void at the party’s core has been filled by conformism and careerism, hunger for electoral success distancing it ever further from its origins in the labour movement. This has not come without cost, as indicated by Labour’s steadily declining share of the vote, and even more by the rate of abstention in the party’s industrial heartlands.”
As the desperate strategy of ousting their democratically elected leader the last of the New Labour tribe are at least open and honest. Tessa Jowell yesterday was very clear: “The only purpose of a political party is to build a route to power”.
There are only three options from today: the death of labour; the split of labour or reconciliation. The first seems most likely. That will be Tony Blair’s real legacy and Theresa May’s inheritance.
We face the most right-wing government ever without effective opposition as we embark on the most radical, and potentially disastrous political act in a sea of financial uncertainty, geopolitical chaos and a new culture of racial hatred.
He’ll be remembered for ‘winning’ one referendum and losing another, two decisive steps in the dissolution of the United Kingdom. He won elections and lost a country, blinded by the incompetence of his own elite and the remarkable PR that has consumed our political class.