"A Tory Blair" .... A Word In Your Ear About David Cameron
For those who have not yet caught up with the news, he is the new British prime minister, six months into the job. What a difference an election makes. A man whose grandfather about 500 times removed was the 1st Tudor Henry VII (1485-1505) is suddenly Dave the Rave according to the swooning pundits of the British media. Whereas he once used to ride a bike to work, he now walks there on the grey waters of the Thames. He has been in Downing Street for about a quarter of an hour in historical terms, but already he is ranked with British All Time Greats such as Asquith, the great pre-WW1 liberal who invented the Welfare State before he turned to drink: Clement Attlee, who nationalised everything that could not hide or run away after WW2: and of course she of the super-glue permanent wave, Boadicea the Second, Margaret Thatcher.
As William Yancey, orator and great Dixie secessionist is supposed to have said about Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy in 1861: “The man and the hour have met.” In the subsequent scuffle both man and hour diverged in sharply opposite directions. It is also said of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair that he sailed the good ship New Labour to victory without a clue what to do next. So he asked another greenhorn, George Dubya Bush. The rest is history. The question posed in these terms is who or what is our Dave?
He began his spell as Opposition leader bent on fixing a windmill to every loft in the country. He was Green Man. Dave the Brave didn’t care about the brickbats from climate-challenged non-believers, even when the neighbours complained about the noise from the whining turbine he parked on his own tiles. The famous cycle rides through the smog of London traffic somewhat lost their gloss however when the wicked snooping tabloids discovered a government chauffeur was following at a discreet distance with his Thermos flask and sandwiches. Oratorically, Dave fell somewhere between one of the bygone street corner newspaper sellers who forgot his lines and a walking autocue.
On foreign affairs, Dave took the view once enunciated in The Times of yore: ‘Fog in Channel. Continent Cut Off.’ He refused to parley with people who reeked of garlic, or worse. He ordered his little gaggle of Tory Euro MP’s to leave their comfortable quarters in the big Christian Democrat wigwam that rules the EU and bed down instead with extremist fanatics from Eastern Europe, some of them known for strapping their right arms to their sides, like Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove.
The British people regard the European Union as some kind of super-enlarged Guantanamo Bay. So Dave struck a popular chord when he stuck out his old Etonian chin, shaped as that apparently is by a line of at least seven ancestral earls, and firmly declared he was going to play hardball with Europe. No doubt about it. One of my friends who refused to toe the line, a sitting MEP of long standing and a decent patrician old Tory of the Whig tendency, was slung out of the party on grounds of heresy.
Dave was mute on the economy, even though it was in a dire state: home owners sand bagged, big banks made wards of the state, unemployment climbing, doom and despondency the order of the day. Opposition politicians always like to say they need to inspect the books left by the departing incumbents before they announce what rectifying measures they need to take. So said Dave, even though a glance at web world could tell him in an instant how far United Kingdom Limited was up the proverbial swanee.
In the course of paying the traditional Imperial tribute in Washington, Dave the Very Good spent most of the time he was allowed in the Oval Office – approximately eleven minutes and thirty-two seconds – lecturing the slowly nodding president how anti-American those Euro Wallies were. These were the selfsame Euro Wallies who sent troops to the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, fully paid-up members of that US-dominated engine of humanitarian war, NATO. The Special Relationship thus refurbished, the Leader of the British Opposition sped back home, leaving the president wondering who the hell he was and how he got past security.
These triumphs behind him, Dave now proceeded to his first all-time great. He lost the election. Well how then, in the British system, do you lose and win an election at the same time? It happens, of course, because the United Kingdom is governed by the Westminster model of parliamentary governance. The prime minister of the day, unlike the US president, has no standing if he cannot – when trapped in a corner – either count on a majority or survive a vote of No Confidence.
Dave was up against one of the most unpopular Labour administrations of all time. Gordon Brown, the incumbent of Downing Street, had survived the long civil war between himself and Blair at the cost of wrecking his authority and that of his own ranks. This should have been a 1979-style Thatcherite Tory walkover. Instead, the country watched with astonishment as the small centrist Liberal party waltzed between the Conservatives, then Labour, and then the Conservatives again, on the terms of joining a coalition.
There have been coalitions before in the UK, notably in the Great Depression pre World War Two. They are commonplace in Mainland Europe, where the haggling in certain countries to scramble a government together often resembles the bargaining in the Old Bazaar in Cairo. But British eyes had forgotten this spectacle. The Liberal leader, Nick Clegg, another Etonian graduate, derided in the Guardian as a ‘weetabix with a mobile phone’ (the Liberals’ colours are yellow) became deputy prime minister. Liberals were mesmerised at the prospect of being in government for the first time since 1922.
We now encounter Dave The Action Man.
It transpired that indeed he knew perfectly well that that GB Corp was, effectively, bust but preferred not to say anything about it during the hustings. In one of the basic unwritten courtesies of the British constitution, opposition leaders entering an election are given the works by the civil service on account that they may form a government and need to hit the ground running. “Woe foretold, is that Red Ink I see before me”, as Macbeth might have said, in adjusted circumstances.
Dave’s big idea was to pay off the huge overdraft of ever so many billions run up by Brown, the last of the big spenders. Most of it the Scottish bartender gave to the UK’s swindling banks, in the mistaken belief they would lend more money to people who could not pay it back. Or alternatively, attend to the Fatted Calf side of the business, namely their precious bonuses. The proposition is as thick with moral hazards as the escapades of the legendary actress and the bishop. The banksters embezzled millions, from depositors and stock-holders, and straight-faced turned to the state to bail them out.
The payback is the idea of Dave’s fellow Hooray Henry at Oxford, George Osborne. Both belonged to the Bullingdon Club, closely related to the 18th century Hell Fire Clubs for rakes of similar ilk, a swill tavern disguised as a dining society with a reputation for outlandish drunkenness and pranks. Dave at least pulled a first in politics and economics. The nearest Georgie Boy ever got to the numbers game was the back office of the Selfridges department store. Scarcely reassuring to the half million or so, probably far more, who are about to be sacrificed on the altar of crooks who indulged in mass larceny.
Search for the guilty and punish the innocent.
In the meantime, anything which is not welded to the ground is being flogged off in the usual bargain basement sale. The Channel Tunnel high speed rail link in which huge amounts of taxpayers’ money was invested is now going to be run by the owners of a Canadian pension fund. It will all turn out well, like the ‘privatisation’ of the railways which made it cheaper to fly across the Atlantic six times and back than buy an annual season ticket from Guildford to Central London.
Yet is on the issue of Europe, the United Kingdom’s offshore island, which has seen the most remarkable transformation in Dave the Deadly Eurosceptic. Behold, the gorgeous chrysalis has hatched and revealed Dave the Master of Europe and his glorious wings. Georgie Boy chopped the Royal Navy’s Sea Harriers, for which a pair of hyper-expensive aircraft carriers are being even now constructed on the Clyde, leading the Lord High Admiral to censorially pronounce, ‘Who ever heard of an aircraft carrier without aircraft.’ Quite. Over to Dave. After a few tiffins with the vertically challenged Nicholas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace, home he comes with an Anglo-French carrier-sharing strike force which seemed about as likely six months ago as deep fried Brie and chips appearing on the menu in the House of Commons.
We hear now that his cosy working relationships with that same St Nicholas and Germany’s Iron Maiden, Angela Merkel, have been recast to such an extent that the UK has suddenly achieved the long-pursued but always elusive trilateral power broker status within the counsels of Europe.
What could explain this Damascene moment?
Well, power is one thing, the love of preening Euro summitry for example. But perhaps there are more subtle explanations. I venture the following. Considering case history and the business of the ghost aircraft carriers, the old chestnut called the Special Relationship should have called for some preferential arrangement with Pentagonia. France and Britain have endured over long years the shared warmth of distant cousins quarrelling over some long-forgotten inheritance. Yet Dave’s D-Day I think shifts the UK quite distinctly away from direct dependence on American arms and might. If this is so, then the issue of the UK’s nuclear submarines, which require renewal if the ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent is to retain credibility, may assume a different context in the light of the new-born French Connection.
The French deterrent, the legacy of de Gaulle, is completely independent of the American nuclear armoury. Dave has been dragging his heels in giving in to American demands the UK should upgrade its sea-borne deterrent, on American terms, pleading hard up and so forth. But are we really beginning to understand an alternative version?
Europe’s fiscal affairs come next. The euro is an article of faith to both Germany and France, at a time when currency unrest is spooking world markets. Dollar hegemony is patently at an end. The UK is potentially conquerable territory if the incumbent authorities should choose to throw in their lot with the euro. This, at the moment, is the equivalent of uttering expletives in church, in terms of British public opinion. Yet I fancy our Dave has been having discussions in Berlin and Paris in which the untalkable has been talked. After all whoever thought of a British-French joint command, with the French pretty much on top?
Germany and France are determined to create a special reserve fund to underpin the risk of defaults and share the pain around. Neither want their economies sunk by the improvident likes of Greece, Ireland or Italy. They want to achieve that without another controversial treaty. It would be far easier to bring that about with British connivance. Lo, for Dave has said that he is – more or less – on board. Saul has come to Tarsus.
There is rough water coming in the global economy. The hour may yet maketh the man. Or, the Artful Dodger.