Tuesday, 13 August 2013

David Cameron: good at the art, however poor he is on the science

Politics is an art form and no science: it's all about presentation and hardly at all about substance.

David Cameron: good reason for self-satisfaction
Take the British government’s economic competence. According to the most recent findings, confidence in it has risen from 28% of the electorate to 40%. This seems to be based on just one piece of good news: growth last quarter was 0.6%, the level the last government achieved within a few quarters of the crash, and which it has taken this government three years to reproduce.

What else have they achieved?

  • At the last election, the Conservatives fulminated that the previous, Labour, government had saddled the country with an unsustainable level of debt. So they’ve increased it (taking it from just under 80% of gross domestic product to 90%), but there’s no more talk of unsustainability.
  • They also set out to slash the government’s deficit, and they have, by as much as a quarter though a lot less than they promised. To fail to meet their target, they’ve created conditions in which:
  • As well as the mass unemployment level of two and a half million, about a million further people are on ‘zero-hour contracts’, ostensibly employed but with no guarantee of work or pay
  • The disabled are under major attack, with benefit levels being reduced by a variety of subtle mechanisms and by deeming huge numbers as fit for work when they certainly aren’t: around 30 such people die each week
Average pay has been reduced further and faster than all but three other countries in the entire European Union

George Osborne, as Chancellor of the Exchequer responsible for this performance, staked his reputation at the last election on preserving the UK’s triple-A credit rating. He’s lost it. Entirely predictably, he has failed to resign.

In only one area has the government notched up a significant achievement: it has increased the number of people on seven-figure salaries (we have more such people in banking, for instance, than the rest of the EU together) and he has provided them with a tax reduction.

So it’s clever that, with such a track record, the government still enjoys such a glowing reputation. Clever, though not entirely unsurprising. With so many targets to hit, the Labour opposition has indulged in ‘deafeningly silence’, as a critic within the party, Graham Stringer, recently pointed out. So the Conservatives, and the government, have not been called to account for their performance.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives themselves have lost no time. They’ve had vans cruising round immigrant areas with ‘go home’ signs, in what is an obvious play for the racist vote. Brilliantly – and in their campaign manager, Lynton Crosby, they have a brilliant mind at work – they are now apologising to the immigrant communities and promising to consult them first, in future.

Why is this so clever? Because it gives them the opportunity to call off the campaign now that it has achieved its aim of attracting far right support from the party snapping at the Conservatives’ heels, the United Kingdom Independence Party, while at the same time offering an olive branch to immigrants amongst whom a recent poll showed the Tories have minimal support.

What was the Labour leadership’s response? Instead of denouncing the whole shameful charade, they decided to make a bid for the same votes. They had Chris Bryant, party spokesman on immigration, make a speech about the dangers immigration represents for British workers – in other words, they also played the racist card.

To compound this dereliction on principle, they then cocked up in the practice too. Bryant’s speech was leaked at the weekend, so that it became known that he was to denounce two major firms for using immigrant staff to undermine British labour. The companies hit back and Labour discovered that it had built its brief badly and got its information wrong. Instead of making a persuasive play for votes from the far right, Bryant therefore spent most of his time backtracking from what he’d been planning to say, defending why he’d intended to say it, and generally looking incompetent.

Presentation not principle, you see. And the Tories are getting increasingly good at it – artful, you might say – while the present Labour leadership is proving completely cackhanded. Against an appallingly under-achieving government, they’re failing to get the ball into an open goal, while constantly scoring own-goals against themselves.

I pray they may still pull off a victory in 2015, but on present form, it’ll be no thanks to any skill of theirs.

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