David Cameron popped up on the news again last night, as he has done most evenings for the past few years. He was with a small group of carefully chosen people willing to play along with his daily media opportunity, as he has been every day of the election campaign so far.
He used the word ‘important’ a lot, as he has done every day of his Premiership, as he has assembled surely the largest list of Prime Ministerial ‘priorities’ about which he has been ‘absolutely passionate’ in Prime Ministerial priority history.
The ‘story,’ in so far as there was one, was volunteering, and the half-baked back-of-fag-packet plan to get more people doing it. Earlier Eric Pickles, like Michael Fallon the day before, had done a very good job of demonstrating what happens when Cabinet ministers are expected to defend half-baked plans and attacks dreamed up by Australian strategists panicking that their strategy isn’t working.
There was however something strangely nostalgic, as Mr Cameron did that weird, over managed double hand movement that he thinks he used to see Tony Blair doing when talking to the public, hearing the words ‘Big Society’ pass the Prime Minister’s lips.
Now the Big Society, I will be honest, was the one of the many Cameroonian strategies we have had, which for a time worried me, and made me think that he might just be the real deal. It sounded like something that could give real meaning to the idea of compassionate Conservatism. However, that was before the lack of policy follow-through confirmed that it was just another meaningless slogan designed to make people think he was different from your average bog standard old Etonian Bullingdon Club Tory who knew he wanted to be Prime Minister but didn’t really know why.
It really has been a staggeringly bad campaign for the Tories so far. So bad, I am beginning to doubt that Mr Cameron really wants to win, and beginning to wonder whether he may be, as they say in maternity circles, too posh to push. I know he is putting in the hours, but he just doesn’t look up for it.
A few straws in the wind to support my view. The refusal to go head to head with Ed Miliband after all he said about the importance of such debates. The fact that he signalled, under no pressure to do so, that he would not fight a third election if he won this one. The fact that his wife and children sat in the gallery for the final PMQs of this session. It reminded me of footballers taking their kids out as mascots on the last home game before retirement. Was he thinking, even subconsciously, that they might never get the chance to see him at that Despatch Box again? The lack of energy and imagination in the campaign. The lack of hunger, as shown by the decision to keep him away from any risk, any member of the public other than those his handlers know are ‘safe.’ (The media are letting him away with this but that will change when boredom really sets in.) The fact that he seems to prefer talking about his family than he does about policy and the big challenges facing the country and the world. The fact he has yet to say or do anything interesting or memorable since the campaign began.
Cameron’s 2010 campaign at least had good pictures, and when he popped up on in the news there was a bit of energy and dynamism to him. That is lacking. And so, as ever, is a clear strategy. They have been convinced themselves that the economic data and their attacks on Ed Miliband were all they needed.
But suddenly we had yesterday a bit of rail fares, a bit of volunteering, and very much a sense that they were realizing Plan a wasn’t working and Plan B hadn’t really been thought through. Hence, today adding another unfunded multi-billion pound pledge for the NHS they are slowly wrecking. Well not so slowly actually.
There is a passage in WINNERS AND HOW THEY SUCCEED, where I record how before a match Manchester United full back Gary Neville would retreat to a toilet cubicle and focus on his opponent for the day and ask the question ‘will he want it more than me?’
That desire to win is fundamental to any fight. Cameron appears almost becalmed. The passion he seeks to generate for whatever cause he is talking about seems tired and actually indifferent to the cause. He doesn’t look like a man with a zeal to win. Suddenly, Ed Miliband does.
Of course Labour also have major challenges to meet before a majority comes into view. The polls may not be where Lynton Crosby said they would be at this stage, which is good news for Labour. But the leads there have been are small. Also in Scotland the SNP lead remains large, and as Nicola Sturgeon never tires of saying, a huge win for the Nationalists there could be the difference between Labour winning or hot
For the past few years, the Tories have persuaded themselves that telling everyone the economy is recovering, and that Ed Miliband is a disaster, would be enough. But the first part of the message doesn’t chime with the way millions feel about their lives, and the second part is being eroded by Ed Miliband’s conduct in the election campaign so far.
Miliband looks, sounds and acts like he is up for the fight. Cameron doesn’t. Either he just resents all this challenging of his record and being held to account, and frankly sees this election as something of an irritant. Or, he has had enough and can’t wait for the day he is off doing something else. Whatever it is, he is not giving the sense – to the public or, importantly, his team – of a man with a winning mindset. He should get hold of WINNERS, and look up Pakistani cricketer Wasim Akram in the index. Page 161. Wanting to win is not the same thing as will to win. Everyone wants to win. Will to win is about whether you do the things needed to give yourself the best chance of doing so.
Another week like the one he has just had, and the Tories will start to think their leader just doesn’t know the difference.