Has David Cameron had a ‘back to basics’ moment?
David Cameron has today launched what the Guardian describes as a “blistering personal attack” on the Prime Minister, claiming there is a “thread of dishonesty” running through his premiership.
Among the examples he gives of such dishonesty are “cancelling the election and then saying it had nothing to do with the opinion polls” and the Prime Minister’s insistence that Alistair Darling was his first choice of chancellor, to which Cameron adds: “We all know that wasn’t true.”
Like most observers, I’m not close enough to the day to day government process to know what really went on in either of these instances. I get my news from the Guardian, the BBC News, Radio 4 and other such outlets.
But what I do know is that no politician can be totally open about decisions regarding the calling of elections or the make up of Cabinets. To do so would render politics as we know it impossible. I know it. Politicians know it. So do journalists and so do voters. It’s the nature of the game, that’s all.
What’s more, it holds as true for Oppositions as it does for Governments. So when the “will he, won’t he?” arguments were going on about a possible election in 2007, David Cameron argued in favour of such a poll. Reviewing this debate in the Observer on 23rd December 2007, Andrew Rawnsley wrote: “David Cameron was perpetuating a huge bluff every time that he told Gordon Brown to bring it on. Nothing like ready for an election, the Tories were terrified of another ballot box massacre.”
To illustrate my point further, Cameron’s Shadow Cabinet includes the eurosceptic William Hague and the euro-enthusiast Ken Clarke. If both join a real Cabinet next year, David Cameron can hardly be expected to repeat publicly the heated arguments – and they will be heated – that take place around the Cabinet table on Europe. When asked about those debates, he will paper over the cracks to the best he can. That won’t make him dishonest, it will simply mean he is doing the job that leaders have to do.
But I wonder if in suggesting Prime Ministerial dishonesty today, David Cameron is having a ‘back to basics’ moment. Those of us with long memories remember a previous, embattled Prime Minister, John Major, saying it was time to get “back to basics”. Major argued afterwards that his speech was not to do with personal behaviour, although that’s how it was interpreted. And every time one of his MPs found themselves in trouble, it was used as a stick with which to beat him.
Real dishonesty has no place in politics, but honesty is not always the same as total openness. If David Cameron is introducing new standards into the way politicians should be judged, he must be prepared to be judged by them himself.