So, if the BBC story is right, whilst David Cameron and Co were condemning Ed Miliband as a crypto-Marxist for thinking ‘the State’ could do anything about energy prices, the government was trying to develop its own plan to get the energy companies to keep prices down.
I have said many times that Mr Cameron’s main strength is his ability to look and sound the part of Prime Minister. His big weakness – which ultimately is far more important – is his inability to differentiate between tactics and strategy. It is the reason why he did not win a majority when it was there for the taking – he put out too many confusing messages and created doubt as to who and what he is, and what he wanted to do with power.
One of the most revealing answers he ever gave in opposition came when he was asked ‘why do you want to be Prime Minister?’ to which he answered: ‘I think I would be good at it.’ Not ‘I want to change the country and the world for the better, and here’s how,’ but: ‘I think I would be good at it.’
But by most definitions, he is not meeting even that yardstick he set himself. Big goals on the economy, debt, infrastructure, welfare reform, immigration and public service standards are not being met. His Big Society project is Resting In Peace somewhere with the Arctic huskies. The pledge to lead the greenest government ever is now dismissed by the author of said approach as ‘green crap.’ His Europe strategy is written for him by Nigel Farage, and he is reduced first to putting at risk our membership of the EU with his unnecessary and tactical lurch towards a referendum and now to fag packet proposals which feed rather than challenge scapegoating of Romanians and Bulgarians. His Party is so unpopular in Scotland that he and his Chancellor feel disabled from joining the campaign to save the Union in a meaningful way. He points first one way on cigarette packaging and then the other and now back again, finally appearing to side with the health lobby. On alcohol he performs the same dance, but in the opposite direction. On payday loans, same story. And on any of them, because we are still no clearer who and what he is, and what he wants to do with power, he could change his mind and set a different course, at any point, dependent on which way the wind blows. In, out, in, out, shake it all about. Government as a hoky-koky dance.
John Major has been high profile of late, last night trying to get back on message for the Tory machine against Labour after a couple of off message whacks at the lack of compassion in compassionate Conservatism. Margaret Thatcher is always high profile in the Tory Party and Boris Johnson’s clumsy and offensive attempt to ally himself to her politics was another reminder that as things stand, Cameron’s leadership is seen by his own tribe as being closer to Major’s than Thatcher’s. In office but not in power, as someone said.
Political leadership is about making the weather not responding to every squall. That is why Ed Miliband can take considerable credit for the way he was turned the debate on the economy into a debate about living standards; and for launching a plan on energy prices which struck a chord with the public, and has unsettled the government for several months now.
Cameron looks and sounds like a PM, say his supporters, and Miliband doesn’t. But power is about what you do. And when it comes to what he does, Cameron is all over the shop, casting around from issue to issue, on the news night after night being passionate and determined about something, anything, but hardly ever the same thing two days in a row. Ed, presenting his energy green paper today, looks rather serene and strategic by comparison.
Labour need to press home the advantage on energy prices, show how their plan can work, and then come forward with more policy ideas that show an understanding of the real struggles facing British people, those with an IQ too low in Johnson’s eyes to get them into Eton, Oxbridge or a seat at the Cabinet table, but enough intelligence and experience of life to know this is a government that doesn’t really know where it is going; not a good place to be in the second half of a Parliament.