Jonathan Freedland, writing in The Guardian, states ‘David Cameron is a mess. When will the media say so?’
It is a question I have been asking for some time, and it is nice to be joined by someone from The Guardian, some of whose reporters and commentators have been as much a part of the ‘give Dave an easy ride’ crew as the Murdoch press, the Mail, the Telegraph, the Beeb and the other broadcasters.
What is interesting, however, is that even with the tamest media coverage of any leader in our political lifetime, with both print and broadcast media applying until recently permanent double standards to the two main parties – roughly summed up Labour can do no right, the Tories can do no wrong – the question may not be as important as its placing on The Guardian’s front page might suggest.
Because as so often, the public appear to be ahead of the press on this one. That may explain the narrowing of the polls.
As Cameron may be the next prime minister, many organisations are conducting polling about him and his party. I have seen several such analyses including one, done by a private sector organisation last night, which asked people in focus groups to say what they liked, and what they didn’t like, about Mr Cameron.
The positives are almost all about either his age or his presentation skills, with comments like ‘well presented … presentable … a good talker … has energy/charisma … good in argument … more personality than the others (Tory leaders)’
The only comments that might be termed to be rooted in policy were these … he wants to cut taxes, and he praises the NHS.
Now let’s go to the negatives – ‘no substance … flaky … bit smarmy … too smooth … toff … doesn’t live in our world … does not understand the working class … can’t trust him … doesn’t have any policies … seems Tory old school … bandwagon-jumper … inexperienced … not serious … says what he thinks people want to hear … got it wrong on the economy … argues for the sake of it … just says the opposite of what Labour does … all about presentation … childish … plays to the crowd.’
There is still very little awareness of any of his policy proposals but when policies are explained – particularly his inheritance tax proposals, and his refusal to match some of Labour’s public services pledges – there is a shift away from him. The lack of policy is being seen as a form of dishonesty, that Cameron cannot say what he would do because he knows it will not be popular, and so instead he tries to make it all about presentation and communications, and the likeability of the two leaders.
It is a strategy that has served him reasonably well till now. But as I have said on here many times, it was never going to be enough. He has not done the hard graft that makes people feel he is earning his victory. That too feeds the feeling that he has a sense of entitlement , which in turn reminds people of the privileged background he is keen to airbrush from his profile.
The coverage of Cameron and his so-called modernisation has been a really bad chapter in the UK media’s history. There are signs that the pressure on him is beginning to mount and, though he seemed in confident form at PMQs today – extraordinary though it is how terrified he is to debate the economy – there are also signs that he is not very good at dealing with that pressure. As Freedland says, had a Labour opposition leader been responsible for the kind of muddle Cameron and Osborne have got themselves into on public spending, he would have been shredded by now.
Freedland also points out the way the media put next to no pressure on Cameron and William Hague to give straight answers to straight questions about the tax status of their bankroller and policy influencer Lord Ashcroft. Were this a Labour story, we would never hear the end of it. So with The Guardian appearing to recognise it’s and others’ failings in their coverage of the Tories, why don’t they undertake to ask those questions about Ashcroft, and find ways of writing about the non-answers, every day until Cameron is forced to tell the truth? If they put their minds to it, that should not be too difficult.
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