I’m a bit late weighing in on the British election because I’m not quite sure I can put into words sufficiently politely my contempt for David Cameron. It’s too easy to say, as some commentators I respect have done, that “everyone lost“. Even by that measure, Cameron lost more than the rest. This election was his to lose, and he did – in a couple of days in the middle of last month when his numbers slid off the cliff and he proved unable to get ‘em back up. He may have, in the narrowest of technical senses, “won” the election but he lost the campaign.
Two months ago, the Labour government was exhausted and discredited, under an unpopular leader presiding over the ruins of an economic policy he was largely responsible for and which had finally caught up with him. “Dave” Cameron, on the other hand, had signed up to every shallow, pandering fancy the slickers had recommended (I seem to recall more than a few Republican “reformers” recommending the Cameronization of the GOP).
And what was that worth in the end? There was a swing of over six per cent against Labour, and barely three-fifths of that went to the Conservatives. I can’t say I’ve ever cared for Cameron, but, whenever I raised the point with Tory heavyweights, I was told that they didn’t personally care for him either but “he smelt like a winner”. As I wrote over four years ago:
This is dangerously close to the rationale of Democratic primary voters in 2004, when they told pollsters that what they liked most about John Kerry was his “electability”. Sadly, electability isn’t enough to get you elected.
Or, at any rate, not with a working majority. Cameron was supposed to be Blair ‘97. All the irritating metrosexual modishness, but without the electoral results.
To open the door of 10 Downing Street, he has to reach an arrangement with the Liberal Democrats that doesn’t involve him selling out Britain’s electoral system (the LibDems want a switch to “proportional representation”) in a way that would greatly advantage the left in perpetuity. Even if he accomplishes that, could he function as a minority Prime Minister as Stephen Harper does in Ottawa? I don’t think he has the skills of Harper, and Britain’s finances are in a far worse state than Canada’s and require the kind of dramatic reform that’s usually the first thing to be discarded by a minority government hostage to trimmers and accommodationists. A couple of days back, Jay expressed enthusiasm for Michael Gove’s interesting education theories. I would bet on them remaining theoretical. The Conservatives will be in office but not in power. And, as the reality of that sinks in, it will play to all Cameron’s worst instincts.