Monday 16 September 2019

Nicholas Leonard: Cameron's swearing is a classic symptom of exhaustion and he's plenty to be stressed about

Nicholas Leonard

If you want to see how the stress of being prime minister is affecting David Cameron, you only have to listen to his language. Many of his traditional supporters have been shocked by the way he uses four-letter expletives as casually as a teenager in a school playground.

His predecessor, Tony Blair, was notorious for his angry four-letter rants behind the scenes when things went wrong, but he chose his words in public far more carefully. Cameron, in contrast, is starting to scatter semi-taboo words in speeches and interviews.

This kind of mock-shock behaviour is a classic symptom of exhaustion and stress and Cameron has plenty to be stressed about. The enthusiasm with which he and the chancellor, George Osborne, have backed the frantic efforts to shore up the Irish financial system is a reflection of their fear that the UK may be badly hit by the fallout from the crisis.

In order to get agreement from Conservative eurosceptics to the UK loan offer for Ireland, Osborne has had to give a commitment not to extend the Treasury's exposure to future EU salvage missions after the present arrangements comes to an end in three years.

On the hectic timescale of this month's crisis, that is a long, long way in the future. Leading financial analysts in London reckon that any money advanced to Ireland should simply be written off. Jeremy Batstone-Carr of the brokers Charles Stanley, told the media: "We won't get that money back -- never, never, never."

Osborne may well agree with that in private but he and Cameron know that if they have helped to prevent a disastrous domino ripple through the financial markets of Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Italy and other vulnerable economies, then a mere €8bn or €9bn written off against Ireland would be a bargain.

One of the brightest right-wing Conservative politicians at Westminster is Howard Flight, a self-made financier who has just become a life peer. He hit the headlines last week for all the wrong reasons when he remarked, quite accurately, that the government cutbacks on child benefit payments for the better-off are an incentive for them to avoid having babies while the welfare system continues to provide an incentive for the less affluent to keep on breeding.

There was less attention paid to his incisive view that a two-tier eurozone is now inevitable, with the weaker members banding together in a devalued second-rank mini-euro: "I'm not sure what else can be done," he said. "There is already a crisis of employment in Spain: do we want 35pc unemployment there? Do we want revolution on the streets?"

It is ironic that the furore over the threat to the eurozone and to the integrity of the EU as a whole coincides with an initiative by Cameron to launch a 'happiness' index.

You don't need earnest statisticians to realise that there is not much happiness among UK voters these days. The angriest of all are those caught up directly or through friends and relatives in the government's controversial plan to push up university fees.

If you come to Westminster this week, you will find 'Revolution' and 'Smash the state' scrawled in red paint across the office walls of Whitehall civil servants, a reminder of the large-scale protests against the fees last week.

Despite the efforts of some would-be anarchists, the protests have been mainly peaceful but even the most law-abiding of protesters have been angered and dismayed by the police tactics of 'kettling' them in freezing temperatures for hours so that they cannot move more than a metre or two.

As a way of ensuring the safety of people like Cameron, who is renowned for refusing to take any but the most elementary precautions about his security, this works well. Unfortunately, it is also a guaranteed way of vastly increasing the number of radicalised protesters in the future.

The student protests are a massive embarrassment for the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader. He vowed to oppose the university fees plan during the general election campaign. Several of his leading colleagues are now going to vote against it but, under the terms of the coalition deal with Cameron, the most that Clegg can do is abstain.

All of this should be good news for the new Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who, like Cameron, is being kept awake at night by a newborn baby in his home.

Miliband, however, is so far proving a big disappointment to his MPs. Although Labour has a narrow lead in the opinion polls, he has failed to find a way of explaining just what kind of a party he wants it to be in the future.

He has already alienated middle ground voters by proclaiming that he is a 'socialist' and has managed to get into a foolish public row with his new shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson, over whether or not to keep the maximum 50p in the pound income tax rate.

To the delight of David Cameron, Miliband has now tried to buy time for himself by setting up a two-year review of policies for the next election, thus ensuring a string of headlines over the coming months about splits and arguments as the various factions within the party fight for control of its future direction.

Irish Independent

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