Politicians are aware of their capital – how they are trusted by their peers, the media and the public. Political PR is the management of this capital but not the sole point of politics – that is to run the country better. To achieve this a politician must know when to accrue capital and when to expend it. Tony Blair was criticised within Labour for accruing capital greedily and failing to use it to implement radical reforms. Cameron’s failure of strategy is his expenditure of capital in knocking Labour when he should be accruing it.
In August 2008, Cameron said: ‘As Margaret Thatcher mended the broken economy in the 1980s, so we want to mend Britain’s broken society.’ By December it was: ‘The broken economy and the broken society go hand in hand. You cannot treat one problem without addressing the other.’ This is a clear change of principle. Cameron can make anything sound convincing on a given day but his inconsistencies grate most harshly when his rhetoric is most passionate.
This week’s poster campaign bears the legend above a baby: ‘Dad’s nose, mum’s eyes, Gordon Brown’s debt,’ following the recent Tory ‘borrowing binge’ line. Yet this approach has consequences for Cameron. Next week America will have a new President, already committed to matching Brown’s economic strategy. In the spring, Barack Obama will be in London for a summit on the global economic crisis.
Will Cameron accuse Obama of leading an international borrowing and spending binge? He will not because the tangible nuggets of Conservative economic policy are founded on their media impact and the backlash of this stance would be immense.
Cameron tried to match the Government’s economic position for a week, and if he had stayed that course he would have been a statesman. Instead he chose a collision with a PM in his safest arena and a President at the height of his powers. By the summer this will seem a poor choice.
Alex Hilton is a Labour parliamentary candidate and founder of political blogs Labourhome and Recess Monkey