ANALYSIS: How and why Camerlot is losing the persuasion battle

The Prime Minister’s entourage and attitudes are getting in the way

Because of the unexpected and undignified nature of his passing, the content of Christopher Shales’ last memo on Earth has passed most people by. On reading it again this morning, I was struck by the obvious point it was making: that many of the Coalition’s actions are seen by the electorate as not only lacking legitimacy; the general demeanour of the Tory Party in general and Camerlot in particular are adding to this feeling. Bizarrely, Lord Tebbit of all people said something very similar in a press interview last weekend – that knee-jerk action to curb strikes would be seen by the electorate as gratuitous and lacking in public support.

The interesting thought here is that it may not just be the hopeless incompetence of the communications team around David Cameron that is to blame for the Government’s failure to win arguments against the predictable avalanche of liberal criticism. It may not even be the persistently truculent behaviour of the LibDems in only grudgingly approving any of the legislation at best, and sabotaging it into meaningless muddle at worst.  Rather, the main problem might be the insouciant boorishness and arrogant assumptions that underlie most things said and done by the loyal boys club around Dave; and the complete lack of conviction with which these ‘professional’ technocrats then turn tail and run at the sound of gunfire. The hallmark of bullies is, after all, that unattractive mixture of threatening bluster and then desperate cowardice.

Considering that the Tory Right regards Camerlot as ineluctably wet, the Round Table has a remarkable ability at times to represent all that is ghastly about assumptive privilege. The casual way in which the Prime Minister approves of  ‘the family leg-up’, for example, I find profoundly distasteful. The similarly insensitive manner in which he dismisses those who want out of the EU as ‘BNP lite’ is more typical of a spoilt popinjay than a politician with an instinct for what’s on the voters’ mind. (Let’s face it, if you have to hire Andy Coulson to read the punter’s mind, then you don’t know much).

On the few occasions when I’ve raised it with them, the inability to engage any of Camerlot’s elite in my feelings of repulsion for the values of Rupert Murdoch has set me hard against them. The intelligent stupidity of Jeremy Hunt’s sleazy grin is one of the few sights capable of making me want to thump somebody – him – very hard. The remark of a Cabinet minister to me least year that the utterly undemocratic EU could be safely ignored as ‘an imponderable’ disappointed, for I have always found him a caring man. And so on and so on. It all adds up to a sense that these are people looking down on ‘popular opinion’ as something which can be circumvented – until such time as it becomes a threat, at which point it must be slavishly indulged. Prison sentencing is perhaps the best example of this: the overall impression given is of people who care for populist power, but not the hard duties of leadership.

I am on many issues several leagues to the Right of this mob, but their ability to irritate with this electorally superior attitude never fails to strike me as uniquely repellent in British Conservative politics. Heath was chilly, Thatcher slightly mad, and Major simply boring: but none of them got on my tits to quite the extent that Cameron, Osborne, May and Hilton do. Only Harman, Jowell, Brown and Blair have ever beaten the ire they can evoke in me. In that context, I’d rather have the Goves, Duncan-Smiths, Clarkes and Tebbits of his world. To be honest, I’d probably rather have Frank Field than any of them.

An unattractive melange of U-turn, half-hearted Thatcherism and polemic bigotry, for example, probably led to the astonishing vote at the BMA Conference yesterday, when delegates backed, by 93% to 5%, a motion arguing that ‘competition should not be forced on the NHS by imposing any duties on commissioners to promote choice as a higher priority than tackling fair access and health inequalities’. I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment, because it represents a form of moral common sense: why does choice matter to a patient staggering into A&E with chest pains?

The latest set of opinion polls to come out of UK Polling Report (an excellent site if you’re a former research anorak like me) represent fascinating support for this view of the Coalition as an entity that shoots itself in the foot with a carelessly cocked, hand-crafted Purdey on every occasion. Comres, for instance,  asked last June 19th if people agreed that “public sector workers” were right to take strike action over maintaining their pension plans. They found 48% agreed and 36% disagreed – a reflection of just how many people are employed in the public sector, but also of Camerlot’s spectacular failure to convince the one fifth in between.

On the same day, Populus conducted fieldwork asking Brits whether it was ‘fair’ to strike in Britain’s current circumstances. A relatively high 54% thought striking legitimate in this climate: but only 18% disagreed. The Coalition should surely see its inability to persuade what seems to have been the 28% middle-aged, middle England  in between as a communications disaster. I have no designs on the right to strike: but I do object to the highly-paid opportunism of Dave Prentiss and Bob Crowe – and I have little faith in a Tory Government that can’t win that argument.

Also supporting my view was the YouGov research of three days earlier, which did demonstrate that on the issue of whether people supported specific strike action by teaching unions over pension changes, job cuts and a pay freeze, 39% supported it, but this time 42% opposed it. I would strongly contend that this was an experiential and profoundly cultural expression by private sector strugglers and hacked-off parents about the pompous inadequacy of Lefty teachers – and that almost none of it was down to anything said by Camerlot…most of which had been wishy-washy: the sort of lets-be-nicey-even-though-we’re-nasty that was so transparent during the 2010 General Election.

Yet when it chose to get heavy – and for once the Coalition did now set off on a well-designed and executed programme of positioning the teachers as reform Luddites – things quickly swung in its favour. Eight days later, YouGov found only 38% in support, and 49% against strike action.

I doubt very much if the Round Table will take note of any of this – its inability to analyse research with thoroughness and insight has been a hallmark ever since the Camerlot triumph of 2006 – but they should. Its very lack of conviction about anything means that it rarely bothers to speak from the heart. And that empty cynicism in turn means that when Ministers do demonstrate passion, the tendency is to dismiss it as the worst kind of ham acting for the cameras. Michael Gove is an honourable exception to this rule, in that while he rarely shows passion, he is passionate about education reform – and it shows.

In this context, I also feel sorry for Ian Duncan-Smith. A spurned former leader, he is completely out of place in this Administration: a quiet, well-meaning and dedicated bloke with the needs of welfare users as important to him as taxpayer value for money, he is dismissed by Cameron’s lightweights as a plodder. Nothing could be further from the truth: both he and David Davies, for all their faults, easily detect the public pulse, but refuse to be slaves to it. They have insight and the genuine love of the Rule of Law and a level playing field. They are public servants in the best sense of the term. Along with Malcolm Brady and his passion for the social mobility that flowed from Grammar schools, they represent an element which, if it predominated in the Conservative Party, would effortlessly attract my vote.

But what we have instead here is a quite incredibly unrepresentative oligarchy – the triumph of One School Oxbridge Toryism over One Nation Conservatism. A largely ineffectual mafia with no qualms at all about dealing with gargoyles like Murdoch for their own advantage – or doing the banks’ bidding because one’s uncle was a stockbroker, don’t you know. They fail in the persuasion battle because – as every good negotiator in history has always known – the secret of success is finding out what the clients want, and then selling what you think they need -  without compromising your principles irrevocably.

Some level of compromise is inevitable. But understanding and believing in your principles is vital if one is to persuade honestly and convincingly. The Blairites failed because of this. And so too will Camerlot.

17 thoughts on “ANALYSIS: How and why Camerlot is losing the persuasion battle

  1. It’s the case as I pointed out before of “politically light” and “politically heavy” and the “short termism” attitude to most elements of politics and the action / reaction

  2. Really the problem with the Tories is they only have one idea, and it’s the same one that they’re had for the last 4 decades – introduce competition and subject the institution to market forces.

    Problem with the NHS? Introduce competition and subject the doctors to market forces.

    Problem with education? Introduce competition and subject the schools to market forces.

    Problem with constipation? Introduce competition and subject your arse to market forces.

    The main problem with it is that a) nobody really likes commercial values being introduced to areas of society that they feel should be above such things, and b) it’s not really clear if the institutions ever do get more efficient, but there’s always a few insiders who get rich from selling state assets to foreigners.

    Personally, I don’t consider myself to be left-wing, but I do find myself hating the Tories and their wretched ideological followers because for all their Union Jack waving it was them that handed the power stations, railways, car factories etc. to foreigners, and not the likes of Scargill and Red Robbo.

    The Tories have always been the real enemy within, a toxic mix of greed and stupidity driven by a one-note ideology that is well past it’s sell-by date, and they’re incapable of realising it. I hope they and their supporters are driven into the sea with pitchforks.

    • Not totally certain about that
      Think that constantly awarding percentage pay rises (at all levels), striking when you didn’t get them and then not apparently realising that the costs of what ever was being produced was more than elsewhere (even with extended transport) had a lot to do with it as well

  3. Still Intensely Relaxed we can always wait for the IMF to flog off the NHS and schools for us. I cannot wait for a bond crisis so the the socialist sacred cows can be slaughtered.
    If the NHS is so marvellous why haven’t the French copied it? Because they know it’s merde.

    • Well, there you go you see, you can’t imagine a way of shrinking the NHS, and making it more effective without subjecting it to the dictates of the market. QED.

      I’m convinced that all British people nowadays, and I mean all of them, are idiots. They can only see two models for Western civilisation – centralised socialism or tooth-and-claw (more gum-and-paw these days) market capitalism. The Tories are responsible for 50% of this stupidity.

      • @IR: Your comments ignore that the Tory Party has moved its position considerably to the Left over a number of years to accomodate and counter the lies and propaganda spewed by the socialist Labour Party. When Labour repeatedly promise the electorate something for nothing/a free ride at other peoples’ expense, it picks up votes from the simple-minded, selfish and free-riders. That is what happened since the inception of the NHS and the Welfare State and throughout my lifetime.
        The Tories had to go along with these absurd socialist promises or face obliteration at elections. They now limit themselves to making the giant monoliths to socialism work better and in the public interest, but with great difficulty because of the strong Left resistance within them.

        There is plenty wrong with today’s Tory Party as John and others regularly point out because of the above, but it is the socialist Labour Party who wreck Britain every time it gets into office. Why do you think Comrade Brown spent two years when he became Chancellor kicking his heels on spending and producing his scam “independent” BoE? Well, it was to fool the City and electorate that this time round, Labour had learnt how to run a successful economy. We now know he was talking bollix: Brown wrecked the economy and broke society just like his socialist predecessors.

        It is socialist Labour who are the enemy within and always have been.

        Let me remind you what Marxist Red Ed Milipede said back in March/April about dealing with the huge govt debt crises left by his Labour Party: “I think we should more on tax.” Meaning that after 12 years of raising taxes and taking govt spending to ~53% of GDP, he wants to solve the debt crises by raising taxes even more, not by cutting spending. The man is a mad Marxist.

    • Also, I forgot to note that like all Tory supporters (which you clearly are), the idea of foreign takeovers of British institutions turns you on.

      • the problem with the great proportion of those from this Isle who wanted to take over (be CEO) is their short termism controlled by the way accounting is controlled. That is something that both (all) colour politicians have fiddled with at some time

        There is no real profit in short term, low volume, highish unit cost, high unit profit what is really needed in respect of adding value is something that sells high volume over extended periods, low cost where the percentage profit can be high but the actual amount being small is for the most part all but ignored by thoes consuming it

      • If the French wish to take over our health service and run it the way they run theirs I’m all for it. I don’t give a toss who owns my local hospitals, its the standard of care that matters and Mid-Staffs is the tip of a rather large septic iceberg.

      • Well you should care who owns your local hospital. You paid for it.

        I expect the French, if they were sensible, would follow the model of EDF Energy – get their British customers to subsidise their French ones.

      • Actually I haven’t paid for my local hospital. It’s one of Gordon Clown’s PFI scams so I will be paying for it for the next fifty years. All the more reason to get foreign HMOs to set up their own hospitals and let the likes of Mid Staffs et al go to the wall.

  4. The problem is that all parties currently offer an unrepresentative oligarchy.
    As you state Davies, Duncan Smith and Frank Field are eminently sensible, but stand no chance whatsoever of having influence (unless we get really lucky-and we won’t).
    Had Blair had the courage to sack Gordon Brown rather than Frank Field, many of the current problems would not have arisen, or would be on the way to being resolved.

  5. Well, I do not know who is right or wrong here,but there is an awful lot of international money around,ready to go long or short,and Greece is a small country with a big overdraft,and the UK is a relatively large country planning to increase government expenditure and borrowing for the next 4 years.And the pound has been a dog against the almighty Euro,PIGS and all.So, bye bye Greece,hello an autumn sterling crisis. Gr

  6. On top of all that Call me Dave scores a massive own goal with Chinese Premier Wen relegating us to sixth place in Europe on the trade front with his cheap schoolboyish mannr of handling the human rights question. Heck, even the Americans have handled that better and they expect to have to go to war with them one day.

    Meantime he knobbles our two leading export industries, the City (yes I know) and the universities with stupid ill thought out visa policies. They are really clueless. I’m closeto giving up!

  7. Young dave and his old etonian bum chums are only concerned with the health of whats in their short trousers and their own financial dynasties.
    Integrity, honesty, experience or vision are not in their breeding.
    They will continue to enjoy the self importance of the pomp and ceremony in westminster at any cost for as long as possible, riding on the profits of their own infrastructure investment decisions, inviting their friends in high places to join the exclusive gravy train, while bowing to the real interests of this great nation. They will go down in history to join tony blair and his cronies as spineless losers who sold their country down the river.
    The British people know all this, they see the fascist totalitarian euro state around them owning more and more of everyday life, and they will say to themselves, many already do …. we can’t stop this on our own, but we can make sure by our own contrivances that our contribution to the state coffers of this vandalism to our country is negative, until we have respect for our leaders, and not before.

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