Leadership is in large part about how you react under pressure.
Pressure does not come much greater than that which faced Gordon
Brown when an economic whirlwind struck, and the world feared a plunge
into a 30s style depression.
This morning I look at a Financial Times front page headline
which says ‘Manufacturing surges back’ and above it a strapline
recording ‘fastest growth since 1994 – hopes rise for swifter recovery
– exporters buoyant.’
At least some of the credit for that must go to GB and the
government for stepping in as they did, making some very big calls
which have helped prevent recession becoming depression, and helped
limit the impact in terms of jobs, homes and savings. Not a bad year’s
work. Under pressure.
David Cameron, as Opposition leader, is always inevitably under some
pressure. But with so many economic and political factors stacked in
his favour, he can count himself lucky that thanks the the tamest media
coverage of any leader in our political lifetime, the pressure on him
has been less intense than on any leader in our political lifetime.
The narrowing of the polls suggests not simply that the economy is
beginning to pick up, and that some are able to make a link with
government actions, but also that the public are ahead of the media in
their questioning of Cameron and Co.
The weekend confusion over their plans for cutting public spending
are the result once more of Cameron’s failure to do the strategic and
policy heavy lifting needed to turn an Opposition party into a party of
So when they sensed the mood felt right for an austerity message,
that is what he delivered. When he realised that he had in fact got the
mood wrong, he trimmed his sails, then did so again, and again, until
now people are unsure what he is saying at all.
As part of his ‘rundown Britain’ strategy, he tries to put the UK in
the same bracket as Greece, whose economy is close to kaput. But in his
own plans he has now retreated from the obvious medicine such an
economy needs. This exposes the hollowness of his strategy – he lacks
the courage to take the tough decisions required by his own analysis.
So all he is left with is talking down Britain, which in turn erodes
the sense of hope and optimism an opposition leader should be able to
So whilst he traipses around playing back a line one of his people
heard in a focus group – namely that we can’t go on like this – his
poor shadow chief secretary is reduced to mumbling that first year cuts
are going to be ‘one billion, one and a half, something like that.’
Never mind the vagueness of it – back to not having done the work – it
is a pinprick if they are serious in their view that we face a
‘Greek-style budget crisis’ as George Osborne calls it.
Throw in the impact of the airbrushed posters, the far more creative
doctored versions of it, and you realise doubts about Cameron are
growing just at the time he should be cementing the deal with the
British public, making them feel it is both inevitable and right he and
his team should now be running the country.
He’s ignored my advice on strategy before, and I hope he will do so
again. But I’ll give him a bit more anyway. If Labour had been asked to
devise a policy that reminds people that Tories care more for the rich
than they do for the poor or the middle classes, it would have looked
something like the inheritance tax cut for the richest families in the
country that Dave and George came up with. He should drop it, even if
it means losing the donors who pressed for it.
And he would be wise to scrap his other tax commitment, to give a
tax break for marriage, which has already created enough confusion at a
time the Tory leader needs a bit more clarity in what what he’s saying.
GB may not be the greatest communicator in the world, and he may lack Dave’s touchy feely grasp of the instant soundbite.
But if they were to look back on the past twelve months – one has
steered Britain reasonably safely through economic crisis, the other
has created nothing but confusion in his tax and spending plans, and
blown half a million quid on the most ineffective and ill-advised
poster campaign since ‘are you thinking what we’re thinking?’
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