Sunday, July 10, 2011

Strong and Weak David Cameron

The Economist explores the two sides of David Cameron's leadership: He is self-assured and confident in the matters of High Politics (read, making speeches), but radar-less and weak when faced with the raw politics of mass fury and indignation. Examples abound: His approach to the crisis in Libya and war in Afghanistan is markedly dissimilar to his handling of NHS reform and now, the News of The World saga.

It is possibly easy to see why. David Cameron is a showman rather than a politician. His skills of communication, something akin to Tony Blair and far ahead of Gordon Brown, hides an important weakness: He is indeed out of touch. His government has so far done a good job painting a grim picture of economic crisis and unveiling the Welfare State under the cover, but the success of this depended more on 'selling' the story to gullible public than taking thoughtful action.

The great flaw in Cameron's governance style is that his publicist instincts make him follow the public opinion, rather than leading or shaping it. This makes him vulnerable when he gets it wrong: Because he is trying to be all things to all people, his messages become confused. This is possibly one crucial difference he has with Tony Blair: Blair, for all his faults, was decisive and rather Presidential, and used his skills of persuasion not just to stay in power, but to change public opinion. Indeed, Cameron has to cope with his coalition partners all the time, but Blair had a greater problem with Gordon Brown, which he handled rather well.

Most of government's policies so far are deeply muddled and half-baked. Its NHS proposals have to be withdrawn. The Pension reforms may yet stall. It is so far getting away with immigration reform, but one would suspect this is deeply damaging to the British economy. The government went ahead and cut Higher Education funding too much too fast and one could expect chaos sooner than later. Despite the apparent self-assurance of the ministers, the British economy looks as weak as ever, racing towards a double-dip recession later this year while maintaining a high inflation. The interest rates are abysmally low, capital formation is down and productivity growth, which used to lead Europe, has all but stalled. Despite government's talk of unleashing enterprise, its confused approach would only discourage entrepreneurs as the access to foreign talents become limited and social unrest takes hold.

The twin strategy that kept the government in power - the blackmailing of clueless liberal democrats and the frightening of British public - may come to implosion by the end of this summer. Lib-Dems may just wake up in time for their conference and kick their offending leaders out to save themselves a slender hope of surviving as a party. A more confident Labour party may eventually emerge, calling the Government's bluffs and forcing action.

It will only be good for Britain if this happens sooner.

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