If David Cameron in 2007 could see himself now, he would be horrified. Then, he was a liberal moderniser, trying to detoxify the “nasty party” brand that had damaged the Conservatives’ popularity for over a decade. He and his ‘Cameroons’ were attempting to emulate the New Labour project, to make the Tories seem a little bit more human and caring on issues around social justice.
What has evolved from that, through three years of bitter coalition government and internal spats is almost unrecognisable. Witch-hunting welfare claimants, curbing maternity rights and ‘banging on about Europe’ all over again has hardly been a good start. So how successful was this modernising project after all?
Before the general election, Cameron said he wanted his party to reach out to members of trade unions – “ordinary” working people. Now he resorts to cheap quips about Len McCluskey, spoon fed to him by Lynton Crosby for PMQs. He doesn’t just fail to stand up for these kinds of people; he actively ignores them. The Conservative high command is out of touch, but they’ve simply stopped caring about this.
Furthermore, his image as a metrosexual family man has been damaged by an assault on child benefits and tax credits, the severe lack of women in his cabinet, not to mention leaving his own daughter in a pub. Hardly the acts of a someone who claims to do the school run, or films himself washing up whilst talking about politics.
In 2006, Cameron won over many critics with his so-called ‘hug a hoodie’ speech at the Centre for Social Justice, a think tank founded by Ian Duncan Smith. He said that “we've got to believe we can do something about the terrible problems of youth crime and disorder” and to be “optimistic about young people”.
Quite different from his response to the London riots of 2011, in which he proclaimed: “the young people stealing flat screen televisions and burning shops; that was not about politics or protest, it was about theft.” Not very optimistic really. Miliband, in stark contrast, took to the same streets that had seen rioting, and spoke to local people.
This week it was revealed that many of the arguments supporting austerity were incorrect, in a powerful article by Ramesh Patel of the Huffington Post. Scary figures about the national debt being so high that each household owes £12,000 to the mysterious money lenders look a lot different when you take into account that some households are wealthier than others, and businesses would pay their theoretical fair share. The 99% of us actually owe around £2,000 per household, even less per person. What’s more, Britain had the lowest debt in the G8 in 2010.
Cameron also made an explicit – if foolish – promise in 2009 that he would increase NHS spending in real terms and challenged Gordon Brown to pledge the same. Perhaps the extra cash was spent on the redundancy payments of the 5000 nurses that we have lost, or the 2000 sacked midwives, who had to make way for “efficiency savings” in the health budget.
As all parties know, every election is a race to the centre ground, where the majority of voters sit. By dashing to the right, and discrediting the Liberal Democrats, they have now vacated this position for Labour. That’s why they’re leading in the poles. But the last general election was one which demanded fresh ideas and a radical approach.
What Cameron promised was watered down Thatcherism, embarrassingly preventing him from a full majority. He has only been in power for three years, but it feels like thirteen. David Cameron – a politician of such potential – will ultimately go down in history as just another John Major. And that’s a terrible thing to say about John Major.
By Jake Pitt