David Cameron: Blair Mark II ?
David Cameron is the odds on favourite to win the Conservative Party leadership. In so far as he had a notable political history before he stood for the leadership, it was as a political adviser to Chancellor Norman Lamont in 1992, when sterling fell out of the EU Exchange Rate Mechanism, and as policy director for the Party at the time of the last election. In neither capacity has he been associated with success.
Post the election, Howard appointed
him education spokesman, but he has yet to speak more than a half a dozen times
from the Conservative frontbench in the House of Commons. By all accounts, he didn’t distinguish
himself in responding to Ruth Kelly’s launch of the education White Paper on
But, there was unanimous media
acclaim for his performance at his campaign launch on
Blair’s big lie
Cameron was one of the many
political figures and journalists who had the privilege of receiving from me,
before the election, irrefutable evidence that, as early as March 2002, Prime
Minister Blair had offered his wholehearted support to President Bush in the
overthrow of Saddam Hussein. (The
evidence was in memos leaked to the Daily Telegraph in September 2004, facsimiles
of which are on my website here).
Over the next year, Blair lied
continuously to the world that his objective was the disarmament of
Unlike most recipients of my missive,
Cameron seemed to appreciate the privilege I had accorded him and replied with
some enthusiasm, and I briefly entertained the notion that this “big lie” by
Blair would form a significant part in the Conservative campaign. But it didn’t. True, one day during the campaign Howard suddenly
called Blair a liar about
Cameron came to my attention again
“I don’t think, I don’t
think that’s the right way to look at it.
As Simon said, nothing can justify what happened yesterday. … But
we’ve got to be clear about this, the 9/11 attacks, the bombs in the Kenyan
embassy, the Tanzanian embassy, the first World Trade Center
bomb, the attack on the USS Cole, all happened before the Iraq war … . The attack on
“Evil”, not British foreign policy is at the root of it.
To be fair to him, in the next few
weeks he modified this view of the underlying cause of the
“The driving force behind today’s terrorist threat is Islamist fundamentalism. … The struggle we are engaged in is, at root, ideological.”
This could have come out of the
mouth of the Prime Minister, and the same is true of most of the rest of this
speech. Like the man in
The lesson from World War II
But he went one better than the Prime Minister: he sought a lesson from the 1930s to guide us in dealing with the “Jihadist violence” today:
“Just as there were figures in the nineteen-thirties who misunderstood the totalitarian wickedness of Nazi-ism and argued that Hitler had a rational set of limited political demands, so there are people today who try to explain Jihadist violence with reference to a limited set of political goals.
“As we discovered in the nineteen-thirties, a willingness to cede ground and duck confrontation is interpreted as fatal weakness. It can provide an incentive to escalate the struggle against a foe who clearly lacks the stomach for the fight.”
Cameron has learnt the wrong lesson
from World War II. The right lesson is:
if you attack other people, you are likely to get attacked yourself.
On the invasion of
On the decision to invade
“The mission to establish a representative Government in
“As a Conservative, whose natural instincts are to be wary of grand schemes and ambitious projects for the re-making of society, I had my concerns about the scale of what is being attempted.
“Moving from the position of deterring a foe – Saddam – to an approach of pre-emptive action to remove him, was a profound change. That is why specific endorsement from the UN – through a ‘second resolution’ – was so desirable.
“But when – principally due to French obstruction – that was not possible, a decision still had to be made.
“Should we enforce a stream of UN resolutions against Saddam, remove a key element of instability in the region and neutralise a continued threat – or should we back off?
“I thought then that, on balance, it was right to go ahead, and I still do now.”
That is a very carefully crafted fairy story, worthy of the Prime Minister himself.
First of all, note that it seems to
have slipped Cameron’s mind that the casus belli in March 2003 was
Cameron echoes the Prime Minister’s
Cameron also echoes Blair in saying
that there were two alternatives facing the British Government in March
2003. In his address to the
(I leave aside the fact that, unlike
“It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take
military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin.
Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his
WMD capability was less than that of
There was, of course, a third alternative that Blair didn’t want to take, since a year earlier he had promised President Bush that he “would not budge” in his “support for regime change”. The third alternative was to continue weapons inspections, as 11 out of the 15 members of the Security Council wanted.
So, what does Cameron offer as a
“Premature withdrawal – and failure to support the Iraqi authority – would be seen as a surrender to militant Jihadism. Nothing would embolden the terrorists more”
However, in order to back up this unflinching stance, he prefaced it with a narrative lifted straight from the American neo-conservative Bible, which attributes 9/11 and other attacks on the West to the weakness of President Clinton’s response to earlier al-Qaida attacks:
“Indeed, in the 1990s the inaction of the West fed the belief among Osama bin Laden and his allies that we lacked the strength to defend ourselves.
“All these factors signalled weakness, especially in the face of a determined and fanatical foe.
“The lesson from all of this with respect to our presence in
According to Cameron, the solution is
more, and more ruthless, intervention by the West in the Muslim world – in
which case more retaliation can be expected in
Judging by this speech, he is an even
more dangerous warmonger than the present incumbent of
Set of neo-conservatives
When I read this speech on “British
values”, it came as a surprise to me, since his previous comments on
It wasn’t until I read Neil Clark’s article
in The Guardian on
His campaign manager is George Osborne
MP, who like Cameron was elected in 2001 and is now Shadow Chancellor at the
age of 34. In an article in The
“I’m a signed-up, card-carrying Bush fan. I have been ever
since I met him when he was governor of
As befits a fan of George, he was
gung ho for invading
“Both the Prime Minister and the American President have made it clear that military action against Iraq is at least an option, even if no decisions have been taken. Can the Secretary of State reassure the House—or at least, the Opposition—that intensive preparations are under way for the contingency of military action, including a possible ground campaign; otherwise, the threat against Saddam Hussein is hollow?”
To be fair to him, he didn’t pretend
that the invasion was about disarming
“It is also worth stating in the House that the decision
taken that day was right, and that those who supported it should not be
defensive about the way they voted.
Moreover, those who supported the decision should not feel defensive
about saying that those who opposed the war in that vote were wrong. They were
wrong when they prophesied a long and bloody war of attrition. They were wrong
when they prophesied a mass slaughter in
Understandably, he has not repeated this vigorous defence of the invasion since, in the House of Commons.
Gove & Vaizey
Two other close associates of
Cameron are newly elected Conservative MPs, Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey. Both, like
Cameron, are in their late 30s. Gove was
formerly a deputy editor of The Times, and is still a columnist there. Like Osborne, Gove is a fan of George Bush,
and an enthusiast for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Son of a Labour peer, Vaizey was a speechwriter for Michael Howard, and occasional columnist in the Guardian and other papers. (Cameron himself wrote a fortnightly diary of his political activity for The Guardian, beginning in early 2001, before he was elected to the House of Commons, and ending in the spring of 2004, by which time he was deputy chairman of his party.) Vaizey’s columns were a bland expression of the need for the Conservatives to “modernise” in some unspecified way. George Bush’s virtues were never mentioned, let alone praised. Unlike Osborne and Gove, he wasn’t obviously a neoconservative in foreign policy.
But, as Neil Clark pointed out in
The Guardian, Vaizey and Gove are both signatories to
the Statement of Principles of the British neoconservative organisation,
The Henry Jackson Society Project for Democratic
Geopolitics, which was launched in
Blair’s natural successor?
The general direction of Cameron’s foreign policy is therefore well-defined. But what about home affairs? Cameron’s campaign website contains a welter of speeches and other material on domestic policy. They are all slickly written, and slickly presented on his website. But as far as I can see, they are entirely devoid of original analysis and of original policy proposals (bar one, of which more later). In style and substance they bear a striking resemblance to Blair’s speeches. And on radio and TV nowadays, he spews out words, words and more words, until your mind switches off after a vain effort to extract meaning from them.
“Too late, the Prime Minister recognised the need for reform. So he came up with good ideas like
“And now that we know Tony Blair is on the way out, who seriously thinks that the Labour Party will be effective in driving through reform?
“It’s clear that only a change of government can deliver proper reform of public services.
The underlying message here is “David Cameron, not Gordon Brown, is the natural successor to Tony Blair”. Cameron’s strategy seems to be that under him the Conservative Party presents itself to the electorate as the “modernising” replacement for New Labour, as the latter reverts towards Old Labour under Gordon Brown.
This belies an extraordinary ignorance about our Chancellor, whose enthusiasm for the involvement of the private sector in the supply of public services is at least as great as Tony Blair’s. After all, he is responsible for forcing nearly ever public body in the land to use private finance, even though it wastes taxpayers’ money.
The essential difference between Brown and Blair is that Brown used to be Labour, and from time to time still uses the language of Labour in order to con the left of the party, whereas Blair never was Labour, and couldn’t use the language of Labour, even if he wanted to. A Conservative strategy based on the notion that, after Blair, New Labour will revert towards Old Labour under Brown is not an obvious winner.
Cameron made one very definite policy proposal in his speech on public services, which he repeated on other occasions. A major theme of this speech was that Labour had failed to deliver on public services because of “their attempt to impose change through centralised command and control”. However, he was clear that in one area imposition from the centre was essential:
“On literacy, we need concrete action to enforce the use of synthetic phonics.”
Earlier this year, synthetic phonics was, according to the media, the holy grail for teaching kids to read. Like Cameron himself, it rose from nowhere in the media’s regard.
We were told over and over again
that a study of its use in Clackmannanshire had shown that using it for a mere
16 weeks with kids on entry to primary school had produced staggering outcomes:
their reading age at 11 was three-and-a-half years above their chronological
age. What we weren’t told was that what
was meant by “reading” was sounding out words from a page, and that the kids’ ability
to comprehend what they were sounding out had increased very little, if at all
(see, for example, a Guardian article
by Wendy Berliner on
You can see what Cameron meant when he asked rhetorically in his party conference speech:
“But why can’t children be taught to read with synthetic phonics, a method that works?”
But, perhaps in the world of Cameron the meaning of words doesn’t matter.
It didn’t have to be that way. It wouldn’t have been that way if Clarke had been elected Conservative leader in 1997, and New Labour spin and hype had been countered with Conservative plain speaking. Just think what it’s going to be like if New Labour spin and hype is countered with New Conservative spin and hype from Cameron. What a boring prospect.
If Clarke had been elected leader, politics would have been so much more interesting, not least because he would have reminded New Labour that history didn’t begin in 1997 and that, prior to 1997, New Labour bitterly opposed the kind of measures that it is now introducing.
There are no certainties in this world, but it is odds on that after the next General Election the Conservatives will be regretting – for the third time – that they didn’t elect Clarke as leader.
Labour & Trade Union Review