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There's more to David Cameron's well-being message than "Hullo clouds. Hullo sky."

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-11-24 at 21.26.14 The Prime Minister returns today to the themes of his underwhelming Party Conference speech.  In a speech on well-being, he'll announce that it will be measured by the Office of National Statistics; that the attempt's not a distraction from salvaging the economy; that peoples' quality of life can be improved, and that "the whole thing" isn't so "wooly and impractical" as to be not worth the effort.

He'll say -

"If your goal in politics is to help make a better life for people - which mine is - and if you know, both in your gut and from a huge body of evidence, that prosperity alone can’t deliver a better life - which I do - then you have got to take practical steps to make sure government is properly focussed on our quality of life as well as economic growth, and that’s what we are doing."

My initial reaction to all this is to concede that I was wrong recently to compare David Cameron to Grabber, who in the imperishable Molesworth books is "Head of Skool, Captain of Everything, and winner of the Mrs Joyful Prize for Rafia Work".  I see now that the Prime Minister more closely resembles Basil Fotherington-Thomas (see illustration above), who is described by Molesworth as follows -

"As you see he is skipping like a girlie he is utterly wet and a sissy.  He reads chaterbox chiz and we suspekt that he kepes dollies at home.  Anyway his favourite charakter is little lord fauntleroy and when i sa he hav a face like a tomato he repli i forgive you molesworth for those uncouth words."

Fotherington-Thomas's catchphrase is: "Hullo clouds, hullo sky."  Some will say that this is all there is to the Prime Minister's notions of measuring well-being - and that Steve Hilton, popularly believed to be the Svengali behind all the quality of life stuff, ought to be dispatched from Downing Street for an early bath.  But, on reflection, I think there's more to the speech than that, roughly as follows -

  • Cameron's taking a risk by going on and on about well-being... Indeed, he's taking three risks.  First, that he'll be mocked as an out-of-touch toff, roughly along the lines above but doubtless more effectively.  Second, that his persistent stress on quality of life, while inoffensive enough while the economy's booming, will not so much amuse as anger voters at a time when their standard of living is under pressure - as spending is scaled back, taxes rise, family incomes are squeezed and jobs go: in short, the Prime Minister risks looking out of touch.  Third, that any measurement of general well being will find it to be low (though it could rise later, which would be helpful, at least to Cameron).
  • ...Which is exactly why he should persist.  Establishing authenticity is very difficult for establishment politicians.  There's no such thing as Cameronism but, if there were, its essence would be his persistent interest in well being, quality of life and the Big Society.  This is part of the reason why he should stick at it, despite the scoffers and the critics.  And more importantly, the Prime Minister's got a point.  When he says in today's speech that a country being hit by an earthquake or a country being torn apart by rising crime can cause GDP to rise, he's illustrating that economics isn't everything.  People don't live by growth alone.


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