Thursday, 8 October 2009

What does Dave believe?

The greatest moment from last night's docu-drama "When Boris met Dave" - which if you haven't seen, you must watch - was when one of Dave's Oxford contemporaries, reclining in his resplendent drawing room, was asked: "What does David Cameron believe in?" The answer:

That is a very good question, and one we would all like to know the answer to. I do not know what Dave believes in.

Neither, apparently, did any other of the interviewees. He "doesn't have" an ideology, they said. He's all about "playing the percentages", living from judgement to judgement. He isn't a "real Tory".

For anyone who heard Dave's speech, that's a difficult conclusion to sustain.

The common wisdom early in Dave's leadership was that his fluffy talk of a "post-bureaucratic" society, and his general de-toxifying mission, was deceit: a charming stalking-horse designed only to deliver unreconstructed Thatcherites to power. Well, the horse has now decidedly bolted:

Here is the big argument in British politics today, put plainly and simply. Labour say that to solve the country’s problems, we need more government.

Don’t they see? It is more government that got us into this mess.

Why is our economy broken? Not just because Labour wrongly thought they’d abolished boom and bust. But because government got too big, spent too much and doubled the national debt.

The Conservatives' dalliance, last year, with the cuddly "post-bureaucratic" society, and the gentle "nudge" economics (remember that?) is starting to look like New Labour's brief flirtation with "stakeholder capitalism" - an opposition indulgence to be jettisoned when the prospect of actual governance arises.

The speech's refrain of "big government" stifling responsibility was Cameron shorn of these niceties. He revealed a crude and unmistakeable anti-government dogma, which has it that government is always, everywhere, the problem - and even that "big government" got us into this mess. A pretty idiosyncratic take on the causes of the economic crisis, to be sure.

And, as Johann Hari reminds us this morning, Britain went into recession with public debt of 43% of GDP - historically and internationally low - and is not going "bust" any time soon, notwithstanding Tory protestations. But Dave is having none of it.

We must pay down this deficit. The longer we leave it, the worse it will be for all of us.

I know there are some who say we should just wait.

Don’t talk about the deficit. Don’t even plan for what needs to be done. Just wait. Don’t they understand – it’s the waiting that’s the problem.

The longer we wait for a credible plan, the bigger the bill for our children to pay. The longer we wait, the greater the risk to the recovery. The longer we wait, the higher the chance we return to recession.

So what does Dave believe? We got our most bracing exposure to his ideology today. To be sure, there were a few nods to Blondean "Red Toryism", and a few communitarian flourishes. He distances himself from Thatcher by reminding us that, after all, society does exist, but "it's not the same thing as the state" - as if anyone had confused the two. But his message was clear: government is the most pressing problem. We have all been warned.

1 comment:

Stuart White said...

For Cameron to claim that we are in an economic mess because government got too big is pure Thatcherite ideology.

The causal sequence, as I understand it, runs as follows:

(1) Inadequate regulation of the financial sector leads to

(2) crisis in the financial sector which leads to

(3) crisis in the whole economy which leads to

(4) falling tax revenues which leads to

(5) a bigger budget deficit.

The sequence begins with a failure of regulation, with not enough government, not with an overstretching of government.