Even accepting that the media’s shift to a more negative take on the government is in part dictated by David Cameron’s decision to set up the Leveson Inquiry, he would be wise not to dismiss the change as an act of revenge pure and simple. Because in many ways I believe the media, which has bent over backwards to be fair to Cameron, and broadly to buy his ever changing message as he flits from issue to issue day by day, are catching with the public who have been less easily convinced.
We are back to the problem he has had throughout his leadership, and which stopped him from securing a majority in an all too winnable election, namely a lack of strategic clarity, a lack of clarity about what he really wants to do with power, a lack of a really clear vision for Britain.
Say what you like about Tony Blair, but his actions in government flowed from the policies, beliefs and values he set out in Opposition. But just take a few recent issues at random. The Tories want to go back on the decision not to have a third runway at Heathrow. As it happens, I think they’re right. But why did they oppose it in the first place, when as some of us argued at the time it was blindingly obvious it would lead to problems in government? Answer – opportunism. Remember the vicious attacks on Gordon Brown over cuts to defence and the poor equipment supplied to some of our troops in Afghanistan? And what of his record on this since? As for the latest row, over surveillance of emails and related security issues, in part he is in trouble on it because in Opposition, again for opportunistic rather than philosophical reasons, he sought to portray himself as a defender of civil liberties. Like he sought to portray himself as environmentally friendly (nice pictures, shame about the policies)
And so slowly the media is catching up with something many members of the public have thought for a long time – that he is not very sure why he is there. This contrasts with George Osborne, who is very clear why he is there. He is a much more ideological Conservative who believes that if we take care of people at the top, all else will be fine in the Downton Abbeyisation of our country. The reason the Budget was such a disaster is that in the absence of a clear philosophy from the highly visible and hyperactive Cameron, a very clear philosophy emerged from his less visible right-hand man. And it is one, in case they hadn’t noticed, that has been rejected several times in the years leading to their non-victorious ascent to power.