David Cameron needs to show he's earnt the right to move on from Hackgate and then he needs to move on. Quickly.
By Tim Montgomerie
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My own view is that David Cameron is proving to be a very average Prime Minister doing very average things. He didn't win an election he should have won and he's now governing without a narrative and without a growth agenda. Up until now this mediocrity has been hidden by the even more significant uselessness of the opposition. I still don't see Ed Miliband as a credible PM-in-waiting (£) but he doesn't look quite as incredible as he did two weeks ago.
It's not too late for all this to change. It's not too late for Cameron to raise his game. He is capable of greatness. He is capable of capturing the public mood but this last fortnight shows that he needs to move up a couple of gears. The looming Euro crisis presents him with a huge opportunity.
Europe is suffering a debt crisis. The two Eds don't seem to understand that you don't solve a debt crisis by increasing your debts. Because of George Osborne's deficit reduction strategy Britain has reassured international markets and is, to use the Chancellor's phrase, borrowing at German interest rates while servicing Portuguese-level debts. But the weakness is a lack of supply-side ooomph. I've written about this subject too many times but go to the IEA (deregulation), IoD (tax reform), Policy Exchange (union law modernisation), CPS (productivity), CSJ (employment reforms), Reform (public service reform), and GWPF (energy costs) for ideas to avoid what Fraser Nelson has described as the danger of a "low growth, high debt" trap. Osborne must use the crisis to convince the Lib Dems that this is no time for half measures.
Cameron also needs to reinvigorate his team. He should begin with getting a half decent Party Chairman. In tough times like these you'd normally see the Chairman all over the TV, defending the leader and lambasting Labour. Where's Sayeeda Warsi? She's been completely invisible. I asked CCHQ where she was. Is she ill? Is she out of the country? No, she's preparing for party conference which is still three months away. Pathetic. She needs to be replaced as soon as possible.
And what about today? I've spoken over the last 24 hours to political strategists I respect in America, Australia and Canada. All have been watching the Murdoch saga with fascination. All are united in the view that this isn't fatal to Cameron but that he's mishandled the episode. I summarise but they recommend that Downing Street adopts two key messages and sticks to them ruthlessly:
- Show that you've earned the right to move on: All of these problems occured when Labour was in office. We have done more in two weeks to start a clean up of the press and police than Labour did in thirteen years.
- Move on - away from media obsessions and to the public's priorities: Hacking is not the biggest problem in Britain whatever some in the media might think. The biggest challenge is the economy. Labour want to talk about hacking because they have no ideas on jobs or welfare or crime.
There are ingredients to this government's agenda (deficit control, schools and welfare in particular) that can still make this a government that is better than average but unless Cameron gets a communications and growth strategy it's going to be a very unhappy few years.