Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Is he really just a copy of Blair

Peas in a pod?

Ever since David Cameron used a touch of glamour - by Tory standards - to win the leadership campaign, and promptly embarked upon a strategy of charm and, to be polite, less than exacting policy commissions, the most common charge has been that David Cameron was trying to be like Tony Blair. He even sort of admitted it himself - with an ill-considered attempt to brand himself as 'the heir of Blair'. While Blair was the Labour leader, winner of three General Elections and still more than capable of sticking up for himself in the Commons, this label was barely derogatory, though it obviously made Conservatives grumble a bit. But now, when Blair is but a distant memory as he swans around the Middle East doing something or other, it has an altogether less satisfactory ring to it.
Received wisdom among the bien pensants, who say this sort of thing to look clever, is that, in the words of 'Gitwizard' in the comments to this piece by Jonathon Freedland:
I think it's a brilliant move that the Tories have discovered Cameron, their-Tony Blair-lite, ten years too late. They're peddling a decade old model no one wants any more. Compared to Brown's seriousness, Cameron has no chance.
It's a compelling idea to be sure, that Blair, and Cameron, represent an era of image-management and presentation over policy that has departed and good riddance, whereas Brown is solidly substantial over style. It isn't, of course, true.
The first point is that party politics today is irretrievably about style and presentation. That's because party politics, as opposed to administration, exists only inasmuch as it is reported. Ming Campbell makes a speech committing the Liberal Democrats to raising tax on high earning households (incidentally - does this only cover married couples? Co-habiting couples? Flat-mates? How would it work?) and the reportage covers only his leadership wobbles. David Cameron makes a speech on the NHS and it is viewed as either a track to the right, or a track to the left, or as an attempt to rally the troops, or anything other than what the speech said.
As a result, party politics has changed. This isn't a whinge about the power of the media - that would be pointless in any case - but about how strange it is to condemn David Cameron as being dedicated to image when that is, essentially, what party politics is at the moment. To back this up a bit, lets look at the avowed champion of seriousness and solidity Gordon Brown.
Brown, as I have said ad nauseam has dedicated most of his premiership to controlling his image - from ostentatiously returning home early to take charge of the foot and mouth to relentlessly poaching ideas (for public consumption) and personnel from the other parties - but I'd be hard pressed to name a single identifiably new policy. Unless you count propping up Northern Rock I suppose. Politics has become almost exclusively the preserve of presentation and to blame David Cameron for realising that is perverse.

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