A Tory strategist (now there’s a rare bird) is quoted in the FT today as saying ‘I don’t think there will be a permanent impact [from recent troubles] if we can show we are a competent government.’
That may be true, though I doubt it; may be wishful thinking, indeed clearly it is; but the IF is a very big one, with a capital I and a capital F and a few nervous scribbles beneath those letters.
Because it is in part the lack of comptence that has driven the government to the bad position it currently occupies. Though the press is fairly negative about them, they cannot blame the media, as for the first two years of their incompetence, they had very benign coverage.
The Budget was the turning point, the moment when the media caught up with where general opinion was heading. Not simply because of their mishandling of granny tax, pasty tax, charity tax and every other tax they cocked up. These were all changes that Treasury officials bounced off Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling at times, but both had the political nous to say No. But ultimately these handling issues get exaggerated attention because they speak to a bigger and more underlying incompetence – the one that runs through their failing economic strategy, their lack of a plan for jobs and growth, indeed their seeming indifference to the spread of unemployment, particularly among the young.
The Murdochs have provided great soap opera this week, and some of it with serious political consequences, most obviously for Jeremy Hunt, but also for the Murdochs and for David Cameron. But in terms of what the Tory strategist calls ‘lasting impact’, the double dip recession beats the double act of Rupert and Son any day of the week.
That is not to diminish the evidence that has emerged, which writes the latest bad chapter for Mr Cameron in the story of his News International relations. Hiring Andy Coulson. Rebekah’s horse. The seeming use of James Murdoch’s Mactaggart Lecture as the basis for Tory media policy. His whack at Ofcom. His immediate denunciation of Vince Cable when entrapped into saying something unhelpful about Murdoch, compared with his rush to defend what is clearly far worse conduct in the other direction by Jeremy Hunt.
Cameron never wanted the Leveson Inquiry. I thought until this week that was because he didn’t want to put the right wing press offside. But I now see the reasons run far deeper. I have been away most of this week and missed most of the drama, but I saw and heard enough to realise why Mr Cameron stood out so long and hard against this Inquiry. For all the denials by the Murdochs and by ministers, the sense of a deal on political support for commercial support is overwhelming.
As for incompetence, it was a word on many lips last night as I stood in the long snake of people waiting to enter the country at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 after flying in from Frankfurt. At least as a European, I was through in just under an hour. But as I finally got through, I took a look at the queues for the non EU entrants, and a very attractive Japanese woman I had noticed earlier – what else was there to do as the queue shuffled forward? – was about a quarter of the way forward from where I had first seen her. She might well still be there.
Mr Cameron and Mr Hunt have both made statements to the effect that the eyes of the world will be on Britain for the Olympics and we have to show our best face to the world. Judging by the number of tourists and business people taking pictures of the queues, and pinging them back to their own countries, the eyes of the world are on us already. And if the Heathrow queues are not sorted soon, London 2012 will have a PR fiasco that will make the launch of Terminal 5 look like a ride in the back of a Bentley.
So if the Tory strategist is serious about making competence the issue, kindly get an economic strategy that works, get a political strategy robust enough to withstand a tide of events turning against you, and for God’s sake get a grip of border controls.
Meanwhile, stop your Prime Minister from making silly little speeches claiming to lead the greenest government in history when nobody in the room, least of all the person who wrote it for him, believes it.