So GB trounced Cameron at PMQs yesterday. That was the word used by my taxi driver, who had been listening on Five Live, and by plenty of others who texted, called and variously communicated the view that GB had been on form and DC on the floor.
I subsequently watched it myself – don’t you just love the Parliament channel, shorn of commentators whispering that Nick Clegg is the leader of the Lib Dems, and pundits telling you what you ought to think – and I would have to agree with the cabbie.
Strategy is the key here. GB is right to keep banging on about inheritance tax because it speaks to what people are instinctively beginning to feel about Dave – that he is a pretty standard Tory who thinks if he sprays on a bit of ‘I care about poverty’ and smiles more nicely than Michael Howard, nobody will notice.
The Tories and their media friends will try to present this as class war, as they will any reminder to the public that Cameron went to a school that is a symbol of a system of class and privilege, and a fairly big barrier to Cameron’s efforts to present himself as someone who gets the life of most people.
This crazy inheritance tax policy, one of their few firm commitments, dreamed up a couple of conferences ago, is fast becoming a potent symbol of the politics of privilege, that those who have should be helped to have some more. At a time of plenty, it might have seemed a jolly good wheeze. Right now, with the Tories ready to make savage cuts to public services, it doesn’t look too clever.
One PMQs does not a political summer make. But the reason these exchanges matter is because they are often the place where competing strategies are forged.
Tony Blair worked out his opponents’ defining weaknesses over time, over the despatch box. Major’s weakness in facing up to the issues that divided his party. Hague’s poor judgement which no amount of wit (a strength which became a weakness) could conceal. Duncan-Smith’s unclear direction and all too clear opportunism. Howard’s opportunism, nastiness and bandwagoning so extreme that he (with Dave at his right hand) at one point made gypsies the centrepiece of his campaign. (He’s got form on the conkers front you see).
Cameron’s weakness is that he has failed to do the strategic and policy heavy lifting to persuade the public his party has really changed. The reason is that he knows deep down his party hasn’t changed and it doesn’t really want to.
His highly effective presentation of the pretence of change can only take him so far. But the reality of a standard Tory toff who knows his party hasn’t changed so he can’t do much on the policy front and when he does it is right-wing nonsense like inheritance tax cuts for the rich or vacuous rubbish like his speech on conkers and goggles – oh my God did he really deliver that speech? – will eventually catch up on him. And it is. He can’t say I didn’t warn him. I’ve been saying it for yonks.
He does not have a clear sense of direction for his party. So why should the country think he has a clear sense of direction for Britain?