Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why is David Cameron losing it?

In a few hours, David Cameron will deliver a make-or-break speech in Brighton to the Conservative Party faithfuls. It is ironic to note how political cycles run: Only a few months ago, we talked about Gordon Brown fighting for his political life in the run up to his speech to labour party faithfuls in Brighton. The world seems to be coming a full circle.

If opinion polls are any indication, this election seems to be slipping away from Cameron's grips. Oddly, the news from Downing Street has only got worse, but still, it seems, the British public is steadily started giving Mr Brown the benefit of doubt. Conservatives are already sounding defeatist, and talk of a hung parliament and the dangers of indecision that brings is the best they can talk about. If such an eventuality does happen, or as Sunday Times is predicting, Gordon Brown can manage to form a minority government, it will certainly destroy the conservative party with some finality.


One can account for such shifting of allegiance in the light of the great love for underdogs Britain always displayed. However, in a way, the Conservative Party has been a perennial underdog for quite some time. They seem to be being beaten by Gordon Brown in their own game now.

Besides, in the light of the recent controversies about bullying, and the accounts of conflicts with Tony Blair reported with vivid imagination, Gordon Brown's public persona as a fighting man, odd but solid, has only been reconfirmed. The more people point fingers at him, the more he appears to be an underdog, fighting against an array of well-heeled adversaries and not giving up. Gordon Brown, in his latest Avatar, appear Churchillian, though gifted with none of his oratorical qualities, but somewhat the same out-of-date, yet solid and lovable rogue. At times like this, people of Britain surely wants a solid man, who is fighting side by side with them, rather than a bunch of Etonians doing smooth talk on television.

However, despite Gordon Brown's bounce, this is still an election for David Cameron's to lose. He started off with huge advantages, and received a lot of help along the way from labour's fratricidal tendencies. Yet, he seemed to have failed - by his own admission - to convey his message. What caused such a colossal failure, at least upto this point of time?

I guess there are three interlinked factors that are working against David Cameron.

First, he had no message. That's the truth. He, true to his PR and communication background, believed in the meaninglessness of the message. That is quite true, going by the popularity of the trash TV and the earlier success of Blair's Spin Doctors, but the current recession has put politics firmly back in the spotlight. Also, David Cameron was trying to push the Conservative Party to the Centre, and the Centrist position is already quite crowded because all parties, New Labour as well as the Lib Dems, are jostling for space there. Cameron's conservatives were bound to appear as a bunch of Public School boys trying to dress themselves as common men. They were bound to get lost, except for their stiffness.

Second, the stiffness. However much the conservatives move to the centre, their stiffness and disconnect with modern Britain still remains unmistakable. Remember the MP's claims for the duck-house? That image would outlast the scandal itself. Besides, all these slush funds, an offshore billionaire as Party's fundraiser, the cosiness with Russian Oligarchs, these are true Conservative symptoms, and in this regard, Lord Mandelson and his clan are pretenders in turn. This is really so far away from the realities of Modern Britain. All that fine oratory in the parliament, political correctness of the statements, suitable vagueness of policies and a paternalistic attitude towards the people of Britain are so last century, so distant. Conservatives preach family to children who idolizes John Terry and read OK!, and sing mantras of savings to the benefit generation. Conservatives depend on Newspapers to carry them to victory, when they are so irretrievably dead themselves. Their only scoring point: they talk against the bureaucrats; but then, Gordon Brown, as we know now, bullies bureaucrats, abuses them physically and shouts at them all the time. That should surely please Conservatives.


Third, Conservatives offer no hope. This is what people want now: Hope. Britain appears in terminal decline, whatever the newspapers or the leaders may think or say. It is struggling for its place in the world after America voted Obama in, and he seems to prefer a more multilateral approach than his predecessors. It is likely to run a huge deficit, and with its politically mandated closing of gates on immigration, cutting of funding to universities and scrapping of incentives for enterprise and innovation, it is likely that it will soon lose the competitive edge it held in the creative industries. The seat of Finance is going to shift to the East, with all the money in China and India. One is looking at a pretty dispiriting, long term picture here, and the wait for the last man to leave the British Isles and switching off the lights seems to be on. At this time, what one needs is a messenger of hope, who stands up and says - we shall not go down - and offers a fresh agenda for the British people. Strangely, no one seems to be doing that. But, then, Gordon Brown is at least showing the spirit and seems to have some conviction in his own ideas, while David Cameron and the conservatives have none.

To illustrate how off-message the conservatives are, they are proposing to come to office with a huge deficit staring at their face, and the first solid idea [and subsequent flip-flops] they offer about their 'emergency' budget is a corporate tax cut! This is what it means: We are in for tougher times and everyone must tighten their belts, but hey, businesses should keep an extra 2% of their profits. They are struggling to explain how they will account for this tax cut financially, suggesting that they will withdraw some of the business tax exemptions linked to business investment to fund the tax cuts. Read closely and you see a policy pattern: Let's have less manufacturing capacity and more 'pure' businesses, like banking. This is not the vision that ordinary Briton, who wants a job, would easily agree with.

It may all change again between now and 6th of May. But what may not change is the fundamental disconnect that Conservatives suffer from reality. They may manage to come to power and wreck Britain's future, but David Cameron, surely, has plundered his chances to create a new agenda for Britain's future.

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