The Christmas message slot has been taken – the Queen got their first – so UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been bumped into the New Year’s message slot. Take cover.
Cameron is still a relatively weak Leader. Although his party did secure an overall majority at the last General Election, the Tory Party is divided between left and right wings, and it’s a hard job keeping them together. Cameron made that job all the harder by revealing, just before the 2015 election, that he would not seek a third term as Prime Minister. All the political wrangling in the Tory Party has therefore been magnified as potential contenders try to make a name for themselves ahead of a leadership contest at some point before May 2020.
Cameron’s New Year Message had, therefore, to keep his Party together – but also to try to inspire voters to back the Conservatives in this May’s elections. There will be elections for the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies – which are not Cameron’s main concern, as no one expects him to do well. His main target is London, where Tory candidate Zak Goldsmith will try to inherit the mayoralty from Boris “two jobs” Johnson. Goldsmith – and, therefore, Cameron – will be taking on Labour’s Sadiq Khan who may or may not benefit from the “Corbyn effect”. Cameron expects to win, but it won’t be an easy ride – and losing the London Mayoralty would be a disaster for him and the Tories.
How, then, did Cameron manage the task? In the main, he packaged up all the old ghastly, crowd-pleasing policies he was implementing anyway, but gave them a sparkly new gloss.
Cameron spent 2015 trying to deal with the housing crisis by subsidising home-buyers and by sending the security forces out to deal with “the terrorist threat” (at home and, with bigger weapons, overseas). This year, 2016, will, he says, be a “Game Changer”. He will spend it subsidising house buyers and cracking down hard on “the terrorist threat”… or perhaps he was trying to tell us he’ll be taking his old PS3 games down to the High Street computer gaming shop.
One of the major fractures in the Tory Party is over the European Union (EU). At a moment when he seemed to be under pressure from UKIP’s promise to hold a referendum, Cameron came up with this plan to re-negotiate the terms of the UK’s membership and then hold a referendum. This New Year, he as promised us he will “secure our future” – no one’s going to find it hard to argue with that as an objective.
Perhaps signalling how he intends to take on Labour in London, Cameron lambasted those people who “shout into megaphones, wave banners and sign petitions.” He may try to resurrect the caricatures of the left of the 1980s (as, indeed, does John Biggs from time to time) and he may even believe they are still true (as, indeed, does John Biggs from time to time). Hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom were either not even born or at least still at primary school in the 1980s, don’t recognise these caricatures at all. Time has moved on, and a whole new generation of engaged voters do believe in holding protests and using online tools to campaign.
Trying to contrast his approach to that of the politically active young, Cameron promised that he would “make the arguments and take the difficult decisions in order to defeat these social scourges and deliver real security. So while others are on protest marches, we remain on the long walk to a greater Britain.” This came alongside references to “real social renewal” which will come from how he intends to deal with poverty in the UK.
Be afraid. When the Tories talk about “making difficult decisions”, they don’t mean they are going to restore the cuts in corporation tax or stop developers building in flood plains. They usually mean they are going to scapegoat the poor and/or vulnerable and cut funding to them. Remember: the Tories still have to deliver the £2 billion cuts in welfare benefits Chancellor George Osborne promised to get his Budget to balance.
The headline phrase of Cameron’s message is that he is on a “long walk to a Greater Britain”. What he did not refer to at all is that he has chosen to walk down the road of austerity, of making the many pay for the living standards of the few. It is not in our interests to follow him.