In possibly one of the least surprising development in recent political blogging, I was rather underwhelmed by David Cameron’s speech.
Apart from some rather strange linked arguments – like “I hate big Government! I love the NHS!” – which worked OK as soundbites but dissolved in fatuity at a moments thought, I found it a curiously banal speech. The whole hour was full of statements of good intent, without much in the way of connective tissue that allows you to get from here to there.
Cameron is, we learnt, in favour of society, family, responsibility, community. Well, so am I, and so is every man, but do these values come when call for them?
This is the essential problem with what Cameron says – his policies do not achieve anything close to the grandeur of his claims. Take schools – the Tories will allow institutions to start their own schools – but this policy can only work with funding for sustained overcapacity and genuine independence from the centre – but Micheal Gove can promise neither – he demands uniforms, and setting and a particular way of teaching history and significant funding reductions for the education system.
Or welfare reform – here the tory policy of support for getting people back to work has the right intentions – but all the research shows a support into work policy is more expensive than a maintenance approach, meaning any policy requires big government cheques, even if you abandon big government agencies. Yet Cameron seems to believe he can achieve Welfare reform and lower welfare bills simultaenously- which is why, while Cameron appoints Iain Duncan Smith to be in charge of social justice, Tory wonks quietly elide questions of the cost of the programmes which IDS proposes.
Yet my analysis has a fatal flaw in judging the success of Cameron’s speech, or that of any leading politician.
It treats Cameron as the leader of a potential government. As a leader of a political party, however, his aims must be different, and as the commentators of both left and right tend to judge political speeches not as a coherent argument for policy, but as pieces of political theatre, it’s no surprise that it Cameron is often being judged by how successful people think the speech will be at convincing swing voters.
This is, as I’ve said before, is more our fault as political operatives than it is that of journalists. When politicians treat politics as theatre, we can’t really complain when journalists become theatre critics*. I would rather the next generation of politicians abandoned this theatrical style, and confronted the hollowness of our political discourse head on. Wonkery ahoy, say I! (Though you also might argue that to carry this off successfully would require an extraordinarily talented poltical actor.)
Still, until then: This is pretty funny.
* Though the likes of Alistair Campbell would rightly point out that politicians did this because the journalists themselves demanded such an approach – think how Labour were treated when the theatre was regarded as bad, in the eighties.