There is no doubt that the local election results last week were seriously disappointing for David Cameron. The Conservatives lost 405 seats and fell nine points from 2008. A recent YouGov poll saw support for the Tories drop to 29%, the lowest it has been since 2004. At the same time, Cameron is facing condemnation from his backbenchers as the strength of his leadership is questioned.
But what else should he expect? Austerity on its own terms is never popular, hence the condemnation of public spending cuts that have dogged the Prime Minister since 2010. Therefore pursued austerity when it doesn’t seem to be working will not create popularity either. As support for Labour increases and Ed Miliband jumps on the proverbial bandwagon claiming that “Labour are winning back people’s trust”, how does the Prime Minister respond? He responds with more austerity.
…point to a conspiracy at the highest level…
Maybe I am naïve but I trust Cameron’s decisions are in the best interest of the country. He believes that he is making the right call in vicious economic conditions. Dealing with the recession required a response founded in economics. The double dip that has occurred recently demonstrates what a significant gamble Cameron made. The responsibility on that man’s shoulders for the livelihood and welfare of millions of people is staggering. No wonder he is unpopular. How he can sleep at night, I don’t know.
With that moral responsibility aside, I imagine Cameron’s sleeping patterns would improve slightly if he was getting more help from those around him. Whether it be pastygate or the granny-tax, the Budget or News Corps, these last few months have been a public relations disaster for the government. Regardless of whether cutting the 50p tax rate is indeed going to raise more money for the Treasury, it is criminal that the Budget was presented in such an amateur, sloppy fashion. It is no good George Osborne accepting responsibility now, the damage has been done. Together with allegations of cosy relations with Rupert Murdoch and News Corps that seem to point to a conspiracy at the highest level, it is no wonder that people blame the Conservative Party for being out of touch. There can be no denying that things certainly don’t look good and they are not due to improve any time soon. This week Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks are due to appear before the Leveson Inquiry. What else will Pandora’s Box reveal?
Personality won the day for Boris in London…
And then there is the Boris issue. You know things are really going badly when something that is meant to shed a glimmer of light and hope in a desperate situation actually has the opposite effect. The disappointment of Tory losses in the local elections was meant to be appeased by Boris’ victory in London. What has become clear is that David Cameron had nothing to do with that victory to the same extent that Ed Miliband had no role in Ken Livingstone’s defeat. It was an election in which personality trumped policy.
Livingstone summed up well the problem that Boris’s victory presents to Cameron. “Boris has already started to undermine Cameron. He won because of his personality and his humour. Cameron just hasn’t got that”. In local elections that saw a turnout of just 32%, it is clear that the public are disillusioned by mainstream politics, demonstrated by an increased vote for UKIP. Ed Miliband’s weak leadership, general derision of the Lib Dems and the effects of Cameron’s Aprilis horribilis offer no hope to voters. Personality won the day for Boris in London this time round. Next time will he target a bigger prize? As George Eaton writes for The New Statesman, “Boris is that increasingly rare beast: a Tory who can win elections”. With his popular appeal, his electoral success and his clear ambition, who could rule out a return to Westminster, and a challenge to Cameron?