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Is Cameron strong or weak? Imperious or dismissive? Genial or bland? Calm or equivocal?

By Tim Montgomerie
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Matthew Parris is at his best in The Times (£) this morning. In a beautifully written piece he argues that at some point soon the British people will decide about David Cameron as they decided about Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Despite lots of evidence to the contrary they decided she was the Iron Lady. They decided that John Major was "hapless" and grey. Mr Parris writes:

"From the philosopher David Hume onwards, thinkers and psychologists have noted the human brain’s predilection for finding — in apparently random or even contradictory data — pattern, form and explanation; a predilection for reading a sharper picture from a scatter of data than the scatter may seem to insist. Political news is composed of such a scatter. Are we to draw a lion or a crab in that night-sky miscellany of points of light?"

What do voters think of Cameron? Parris lists two groups of words that seem to apply to the Prime Minister:

  • A good set... "Breezy, smooth, imperious, confidence, command, sleek, superior, genial, unflappable, cool, relaxed, calm. These (many would say) are kingly qualities: the attributes of a natural leader."
  • A bad set... "Vague, waffly, dismissive, windy, inactive, unclear, “don’t know what he stands for”, equivocal, bland, blank-seeming: some of these are potentially weakness words, others more suggestive of genuine bafflement as to a leader’s intentions."
He goes on to say that Mr Cameron can wait upon events and his reaction to them will determine whether he is seen as either a kingly leader or a weak leader. The alternative is for Cameron to take the initiative. Matthew Parris suggests he might pick a big fight with someone like Sarkozy or Merkel. Alternatively he suggests that Cameron embraces a grand idea or two, like supporting the Thames estuary airport plan or a new national forest.

Opinion polls regularly suggest the Prime Minister is the best-regarded of Britain's three major party leaders but they also suggest that the majority of voters is underwhelmed by the qualities of Cameron, Clegg or Miliband.


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