Thursday 28 April 2011

The dangers of underestimating David Cameron

Why won't Cameron call a General Election?

Because he wouldn't win it - as Paul Goodman of ConservativeHome sets out clearly and concisely.

I argued something similar on Labour Uncut on Tuesday.

John Rentoul in The Independent today examines and critiques what he calls 'the Katwala critique' - that "the blindspot of much of the political class lies in consistently overestimating David Cameron".

Rentoul is less kind than I am about the Prime Minister's manners and grace under pressure, but warns that the greater danger is of Labour underestimating the Prime Minister.

As I agree with a fair amount of the Rentoul critique of Katwala, so it may be worth clarifying the version of the Katwala critique which I advocate. Naturally, the Fabian gradualist argument (the goldilocks critique?) warns against both over- and under-estimating the Prime Minister. (This is, at heart, something of a Cameroonian argument, because it accepts the core proposition of the Cameroon camp that the problem is to be found rather more with the party than the leader. The critique of the leader is that, given that view, he has gone for a shallower version of change than his own thesis demands).

It seems to me beyond serious dispute that Cameron was somewhat over-estimated in 2010, as I argued on new year's eve. Relatively few people predicted a hung Parliament - except for the Tory inner circle themselves. Over-estimating Cameron explained many of the big calls of the year - Tory confidence in wanting the leaders' debates, Labour's fatalism in preparing for defeat rather than the hung Parliament, and LibDem opportunism on the campuses.

Cameron played the moment of the hung Parliament with much skill, having had the advantage of having anticipated it. The jury is still out beyond that. The biggest puzzle is paying so little attention to so long to an incomprehensible reform agenda on his signature issue of the NHS. I expect he will deftly escape from some of the potential damage, but it is again worth asking why a rescue plan is needed.

Cameron is still overestimated by those who believe he can call an election whenever he wants, especially that he would win it by banging the Tory drum harder, or that he is a certainty to beat Ed Miliband at the next election, as Matthew d'Ancona declared immediately after the Labour leadership election result.

The truth is that it will be very difficult for either major party to win the next election which, given inevitable political damage to the Liberal Democrats, means that British politics has rarely been as unpredictable. (It may be worth cutting out and keeping everything the Prime Minister repeated this month, as well as last Spring, about how much he hates Prime Ministers trying to bargain their way to cling to power after a hung Parliament).

The AV referendum campaign has killed stone-dead all talk of blue-yellow electoral pacts. The Cameron-Osborne plan to win in 2015 should not be underestimated. (And a No vote to AV is important to it).

But they, like Labour, have a lot to do.


Mark Brown said...

You are right the referendum is very probably the key to the next election and indeed the long term ability of the centre right to dominate British politics in the way that they have done in the past.

Robert said...

God I think some of you are still in the new labour dream world, would Labour win the next election if called tomorrow, it would be close but it would be hung.

I suspect with the Liberals getting a hammering I suspect labour and the Tories may well make a coalition.

But sadly I do not see labour winning anything for a long time, but come on are you all saying the Liberals would break from the Tories now, all they have left is that the economy turns around and they can stand and say yes we were right, if they pulled out now they be dead for ever