David Cameron’s plans for a first term remain largely a mystery—to the public and his own party. But his inner team of true believers think they can transform the British stateby Julian Glover / September 23, 2009 / Leave a comment
“If you believe,” Peter Pan cries, towards the end of JM Barrie’s novel, “clap your hands; don’t let Tink die.” Barrie observes: “Many clapped. Some didn’t. A few beasts hissed.” David Cameron is no Peter Pan, but he too is facing snorts, silence and unexpectedly sparse applause this autumn as he invites Britain to place its trust in him. He wants people to believe—but what he offers seems hardly more solid than fairy dust, carried on the wings of hopes, ambitions and untested confidence. It will take power to make it real, and then the effort may founder amid the hellish tasks of cutting the budget and ending a war.
At the core of the Cameron project stands a small group of people who all say the same thing, believe the same thing and want to achieve the same thing. None of them knows if it will work. All admit to being filled with gloom and optimism.
This bid for power is full of paradoxes: revolutionary and modest; intensely centralised and profoundly devolutionist; traditional yet potentially transformative; open and yet run by a tiny group of a few dozen true believers. More striking still is that Cameron has become Britain’s likely next prime minister without conveying to his fellow citizens, except in the sketchiest of terms, the least idea of what he intends to do. Some say this lack of clarity is an asset. If so, the asset will diminish fast as opposition yields to government.
The Tory leader has been a genius at the mechanics of politics. The well-timed, eye-catching speech and the adroitly handled reshuffle come naturally to him: in early September he dropped Alan Duncan from the shadow cabinet without a murmur of protest one day and beat the chancellor in a race to the headlines on spending cuts the next. To say that Cameron has transformed the way his party is seen has become a truism only because it is true. His reinvention began with apparent trivialities, such as tie-less suits and unabashed stunts involving photos with sled dogs, symbols shrewdly selected not for their intrinsic importance but for their potency as markers of change.
Even the smallest things have been cleverly done. While Labour wallowed in dismay this summer after the parliamentary expenses scandal, the Conservatives turned the embarrassment of one of their own MPs being forced out over expenses into a publicity coup: they…