Monday 20 November 2017

How Cameron could pay a heavy price for his bored demeanour

David Cameron
David Cameron

Charles Moore London

IN the wake of the big debate the latest YouGov Plc poll of voting intentions, shows David Cameron's party two points ahead of Labour at 37pc.

The debate was seen by an average of seven million viewers.

Mr Cameron only agreed to one televised debate and insisted on there being seven parties involved to dilute the impact of Ukip's Nigel Farage, whose party has been stripping votes from the Tories.

'The Guardian' newspaper quoted Mr Cameron as saying he wanted the debate to be incoherent and dull as a result of the large number of participants. The lack of a clear winner suggests it may have turned out that way.

But dullness is not something to cultivate. I am a believer in inherited wealth. This is not, sadly, because I have any strong personal interest here: the total amount I have received from legacies in nearly 60 years on the planet is £1,000 and a grandfather clock. It is just that I think society as a whole is stronger if some people are exempted - through no merit of their own - from the endless struggle to survive. They are well placed to help others, take long views, cultivate beauty and knowledge, and make life a bit more relaxed.

But I do also notice something else. The majority of people with inherited wealth - the nice ones, at least - sometimes feel weak and inauthentic beside those who have had to earn their daily crust. They are therefore more likely to lack cutting edge and to shun conflict. They tend to buy off trouble, not to make it. Both literally and metaphorically, they are not hungry.

I was reminded of this watching the first television non-debates with David Cameron and Ed Miliband. It was clear to me that Mr Cameron won. He was more pleasing, more collected, more obviously a leader than his opponent. He was much more believable than Mr Miliband as Prime Minister, and not only for the simple reason that this is the job he has held for five years.

As the evening unfolded, however, and Mr Cameron admitted a few errors and regrets and confirmed that this would be his last election as leader of his party, I picked up from him the subliminal message that is often discernible from the heir to a fortune: "I don't have to be here, you know. If you're bored with me or I'm bored with you, I'll go and do something else." This is not a good way of inspiring people to follow you.

Mr Miliband was not pleasing. He trumpeted that he was a man of ideas, principles and decency without explaining how these fine things would translate into action. He was gawky and confusing, by turns robotic and almost childishly boastful. This Primrose Hill Frank Sinatra telling us how he did it his way (he hasn't done it yet!) was embarrassing. But the viewer did pick up one strong and, to many, new impression about the man. He is not in any take-it-or-leave-it mood - he wants to win. He proved something.


In 2010, Mr Cameron and his advisers casually sacrificed his challenger advantage. By the unprecedented, complacent act of letting the Liberal Democrats into the debate on equal terms, the Conservative leader turned himself into part of the establishment and let Nick Clegg become the insurgent. To be fair, Mr Cameron's misreading of the Paxman 'Q &A' was much less grievous than the 2010 debacle, much less watched and much earlier in the campaign.

But the Prime Minister seemed underprepared, even under-motivated. I wouldn't say that he seemed smug, but he was somewhat static, not fighting a war of movement. He has decided, under the influence of his campaign manager, Lynton Crosby, that he has two strong points - the progress of the economy and the fact that Dave is much better than Ed. He has agreed to stick to these to the exclusion of almost everything else, but seems a bit bored by them, pining, perhaps, for the now-abandoned Big Society.

The ultimate strength of the Crosby strategy is that it reminds voters that they face a choice - that there is a cost if they make the wrong decision. This can only be truly decisive, however, if they can also be convinced that there is a benefit if they make the right one. There are a few more weeks to go, and that deal remains unsealed.(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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