« Bruce Anderson: Sir John Major is the right man to build on our Olympic success | Main | Peter Hoskin: Paul Ryan has at least tried to educate the American people about their debt challenge »

Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: It’s time David Cameron took charge and forged a serious narrative for his government

The festival is over. There will be a lot of talk about the Olympic spirit and the legacy. Though both have their place, the Olympic torch has been extinguished and the public will rapidly become irritated with politicians who try to blow on the embers. It is time to depart from the God-haunted groves of Mount Olympus and return to the forbidding slopes of Mount Economicus.

It looks just as barren as it did in late July, with the Eurozone as far as ever from a solution. Apropos of irritation, there is no end in sight to that most futile of athletic pursuits: kicking the can down the road. In ten years time the peoples of Europe will look back and marvel at the stupidity of intelligent men. But how many more months and years will be wasted before sense prevails? Everyone is suffering. China's exports to Europe are sixteen per cent down on a year ago. The world is neither a safer place nor a more stable one than it was a year ago. European ideas, European initiatives — European leadership — could all be helpful. Instead of which, there is a steady loss of confidence: a constant haemorrhage of prestige.

To economic uncertanity is now added political unpredictability. David Cameron has by no means given up on the coalition. He is sympathetic to Nick Clegg's difficulties. But at present, the momentum of events is moving against agreement. Apart from their reluctance to consider an early election, it is not clear what can unite the two leaderships. Few Tories understand Liberals. (How many Liberals understand themselves?) Once upon a time, there was a Tory grandee in South Yorkshire, called Lord Scarbrough. Dickon Scarbrough was talking to a prominent local Labourite, who said: "Thou art Tory: we expect that of thee. If thou wert Labour, we'd be suspicious of thee. If thou wert Liberal, we'd 'old thee in contempt". A lot of Tories would cheer.

Unable to take the Liberals seriously, few Tories understood how seriously they took their own daft plans for constitutional reform. Tories concluded that they were shallow, thoughtless nonsense. So they were. That is why the Liberals embraced them. The point has been made before, in this column. If the Liberals could only come up with a proposal that was sensible, popular and would only cost about half an Olympic Games, David Cameron would be delighted. But if the Liberals could behave like that — they would not be Liberals.

So: a grumbling economy, a stumbling Eurozone, a resentful Coalition partner; David Cameron has no alternative. He must emulate Marechal Foch. "Mon centre cede, ma droite recule: situation excellente. J'attaque". Mr Cameron may not be able to restore sanity to the Eurozone, or to the Liberal party. He will just have to remember that he is a politician. In this country today, there is a vast unmet desire for leadership. Only one politician can provide it, and it is not Boris Johnson. Unless a world war breaks out. August is usually a silly season where politics are concerned. It has been claimed that this was the greatest-ever Olympics. I am in no position to comment on that, but if the idea of Boris as PM has been taken seriously for as long as thirty seconds by one single person outside a lunatic asylum, this was undoubtedly the silliest silly season of all time.

David Cameron has not done nearly enough to reinforce his position. He has been both lucky and unlucky in Ed Miliband. On the one hand poor Milipede is simply not prime ministerial: on the other hand, his ineptitude encourages Tory complacency. The PM must go on the political attack. As a result of the last Budget, 24,000,000 people are paying less tax. How many of them realise it? When the public are told about the welfare and education reforms, there is a lot of enthusiasm. How many people realise that these are the most radical changes since the war, implemented in order to restructure failing institutions? Apart from Andrew Lansley and his devoted acolytes, I am not sure that anyone understands the recent Health Bill. Is it not time to explain what has happened and why?

The Blairites were obsessed by the narrative, which often meant that they subordinated everything to the battle for a favourable headline. It was no way to run a government. But the Cameroons have gone to the other extreme. There is no narrative. Events are left to speak for themselves. No wonder there is so much confusion, such a demand for leadership.

The worst outcome would be endless harking back to the Olympics "which showed what Britain can do if only..." Yuck. In exhortatory mode, the PM can sometimes sound like the vicar jollying along the church outing when it is pissing with rain and the verger has forgotten half the sandwiches. We need a rhetoric which is altogether more muscular; serious, even sombre at moments, but realistic and ultimately encouraging.

It is curious. David Cameron is articulate and thoughtful. But after seven years, we are still waiting for his narrative: his beliefs, his Britain, his foundations for leadership.

"Britain can deliver", he said yesterday. So can he. It is time that he did.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.