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 25 October 2005, despite the disarray in the Government about it.


But, there was unanimous media acclaim for his performance at his campaign launch on 29 September 2005 and for a second speech at the Conservative Party conference a few days later.  Both were peppered with the words “change” and “new”, much as Tony Blair’s speeches used to be when he was running for the Labour leadership, but they were largely content free.  However, with the media wind filling his sails, he soared from also ran to frontrunner in a few days.


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 Iraq, and that the Iraqi regime had only to disarm in order to secure its future, when in fact he had made a compact with President Bush in March 2002 to effect regime change in Baghdad, come what may.  It was a deceit on a par with Eden’s prior to his Suez adventure.


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 Iraq, but didn’t back it up with evidence, and then dropped it in a shamefaced manner.  He didn’t mention the “big lie” at all.  Mentioning it would have revealed to the world that Albion was as Perfidious as ever, and patriotism forbad that.  And the Prime Minister who told the “big lie” (and lots of little lies) in order to persuade Parliament to support the sending of British troops to kill and be killed in Iraq got re-elected, as he deserved to be, since the opposition patriotically abstained from pointing out his monstrous deceit.


Echoing Blair

Cameron came to my attention again on 8 July 2005, when he was a panellist on Any Questions on BBC Radio 4, along with Simon Hughes of the Liberal Democrats.  The first question was inevitably on the bombings in London the previous day.  It came from the local vicar, who asked: “Are we starting to reap that which we have sown?”  Hughes answered first, and answered Yes, in other words, that the invasion of Iraq had increased the threat to London.  Cameron followed and echoed the Downing Street line:


“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 London was not just an attack on London, or even an attack on free people in London, it was an attack on freedom everywhere.    And we need to recognise that we are up against evil, and we have confront it and we cannot appease it.”


“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 London bombings, and “evil” was replaced by “Islamist fundamentalism”.  In a speech on “British values” on 24 August 2005, he declared:


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 Downing Street, there is the occasional hint that British foreign policy might have some role in preventing the recurrence of the events of 7 July 2005.


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.  London was bombed in the 1940s because Britain declared war on Germany and bombed her cities.  London was bombed in 2005, because of our aggression against the Muslim world, alongside the US.


On the invasion of Iraq

On the decision to invade Iraq (for which he voted) he had the following to say:


“The mission to establish a representative Government in Iraq is a cause worth fighting for.


“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 Iraq’s possession of “weapons of mass destruction” and its alleged refusal to disarm.  We are now supposed to believe that the casus belli in March 2003 was Iraq’s lack of “a representative Government”.  But, he was cautious at that time about embarking on such a grand project, he says, and would have preferred “specific endorsement from the UN”.  For what?  The establishment of “a representative Government” in Iraq?


Cameron echoes the Prime Minister’s lie about France’s position in March 2003, which was that, until the UN inspectors reported that they couldn’t do their job, military action against Iraq should not be considered.  On this basis, France opposed the “second” resolution, but it did not rule out military action in all circumstances (see, for example, my pamphlet, Iraq: Lies, Half-Truths & Omissions).


Cameron also echoes Blair in saying that there were two alternatives facing the British Government in March 2003.  In his address to the nation on 20 March 2003, Blair stated them as to “back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened” or to “proceed to disarm him [Saddam Hussein] by force”.  Today, Cameron states them as to “back off” or “remove a key element of instability in the region and neutralise a continued threat”.


(I leave aside the fact that, unlike today, Iraq was not unstable in March 2003, nor was it a threat to its neighbours or anybody else.  To attest to the latter, I call as my witness Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.  Speaking at the Prime Minister’s meeting on Iraq on 23 July 2002, he said - I quote from the minutes, aka The Downing Street Memo:


“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 Libya, North Korea or Iran.”)


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.


On occupying Iraq

So, what does Cameron offer as a policy on Iraq now?  Well, it has got “made in Downing Street” written all over it as well:


“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.


“The ignominious US withdrawal from Somalia. The weakness of the response to the bombings of embassies in Africa - and to the attack on the USS Cole.


“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 Iraq is clear.”


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 London.


Judging by this speech, he is an even more dangerous warmonger than the present incumbent of 10 Downing Street, difficult as this is to believe.


Set of neo-conservatives

When I read this speech on “British values”, it came as a surprise to me, since his previous comments on Iraq were sceptical that the Prime Minister had told the whole truth in justifying the invasion – which is not what one would expect from a true believer in the West’s mission to re-order the world.


It wasn’t until I read Neil Clark’s article in The Guardian on 24 October 2005, and did some investigation, that this Cameron made sense – it turns out that the bright young things surrounding him in his election campaign, aka the Notting Hill set, are card-carrying neoconservatives.


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 Spectator on 28 February 2004, he confessed to being a long term fan of George Bush:


“I’m a signed-up, card-carrying Bush fan. I have been ever since I met him when he was governor of Texas.    He found an answer to this question: what is the Right for in the age of Clinton–Blair? The Conservatives would do well to listen and learn.” (see Osborne’s website here)


As befits a fan of George, he was gung ho for invading Iraq.  As early as 29 April 2002, a year before the war, he lectured Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, in the House of Commons on the necessity for military planning for a ground invasion:


“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 Iraq of “weapons of mass destruction”: he simply wanted “regime change” in Baghdad.  In a House of Commons debate on 22 October 2003, he was one of the very few backbenchers to defend the decision to invade, and to do it with vigour:


“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 Baghdad. They were wrong when they forecast a humanitarian catastrophe, which never arose. They were wrong when they predicted an exodus of millions of refugees, which did not happen. Indeed, they are wrong now when they say that post-war Iraq is a disaster and that the world is a more dangerous place because we have got rid of Saddam Hussein. We who supported military action should have the confidence to take on and demolish the arguments that we successfully took on and demolished in March.”


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.  On 30 October 2005, on a BBC Panorama programme, he acted as the advocate for the indefinite occupation of Iraq.


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 Peterhouse College, Cambridge earlier this year.  Henry Jackson was a Democrat member of the US Congress for over 40 years until his death in 1983.  He opposed détente with the Soviet Union, and is the ideological forbear of modern neo-conservatism.  Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz worked for him in the 1970s, and went on to work for Ronald Reagan.  “International patrons” of this British Society include the stars in the American neoconservative firmament, for example, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Editor of The Weekly Standard, Richard Perle and James Woolsey, former Director of the CIA.


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.


On 9 September 2005, Cameron made a speech on “public service reform”.  It contained the usual Conservative themes that there should be more of it (of an unspecified kind) and less centralised command and control, though how “reform” of any kind can be effected without being commanded from the centre is a mystery.  On “reform” he said:


Too late, the Prime Minister recognised the need for reform.  So he came up with good ideas like Foundation Hospitals and City Academies.  But thanks to the entrenched opposition of his own party, his reforms were faltering, half-hearted and ultimately thwarted. …


“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.


Synthetic phonics

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 5 April 2005).


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.


Ken Clarke

On 1 September 2005, I listened to Ken Clarke deliver the first speech of his leadership campaign, in which he criticised the Government’s handling of the war in Iraq and its response to the London bombings.  I agreed with most of what he said.  But, what struck me most about his speech was that he spoke in proper sentences with verbs and that each sentence had an unambiguous meaning.  In this respect, he was a voice from another age.  It brought home to me how much New Labour has corrupted the language of politics over the past 8 years, so that argument between political parties had been reduced to the exchange of carefully constructed phrases of indefinite meaning.


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.



David Morrison

Labour & Trade Union Review


6 November 2005