How Cameron lost the election

Peter Stead gives his verdict on last night’s ‘game changing’ debate

I have a feeling that David Cameron lost the Election in last night’s Leaders Debate. Some had feared that this historic event would be dull. In fact it turned out to be what the American call ‘game-changing’. Cameron’s was by far the weakest of the three performances. He looked nervous, his hair and make-up had been handled disastrously and he stood too far back from the lectern. His elegance gave him all the substance of a tailor’s dummy, and his weak mouth and featureless face suggested a cartoon character.

Above all Cameron’s failure was intellectual. The tactic of the old street-fighter Brown was perfectly obvious. He was out to secure his traditional vote by promising that their jobs and benefits were safe only if left in his hands. Meanwhile parliamentary reform would allow an alliance with that nice chap Nick and his mate Vince. As he aggressively spun out his defence he sensed Cameron’s unease and could afford to tease him.

It never seemed to occur to Cameron that he was being given the opportunity to analyse the causes of thirteen years of economic failure and to offer an alternative economic and social strategy. Why, I asked myself, doesn’t he refer to that level of debt that almost destroyed the country’s credit rating and why hasn’t he focussed on Brown’s record on defence expenditure. Above all, though, what was missing was any sustained attack on the bloated public bureaucracy that now clogs effective education, policing, local government and health provision in this country. At no stage did Cameron promote any political credo that would appeal to those workers, young people, or professionals that have any social aspirations.

Was Cameron just overwhelmed by the occasion? Is he intellectually second-rate? Is he too nice a chap to fight dirty like his Scottish opponent? Certainly Cameron’s politics seemed to be rooted in aristocratic guilt. That would seem to be the only explanation for his constant references to ‘a broken society’ and his rather woolly and unrealistic vision of citizen power. What is clear is that the Tories have lost that appeal that they had for the aspiring working-classes in the 1930s, 1950s and 1980s. Perhaps that is a symptom of a post-industrial society. It is also a manifestation of political-correctness.

As things stand today no Tory leader can say that a vote for his party is a vote for capitalism, free-enterprise, business and individual improvement. Cameron’s unease was merely an indication of the strain of trying to remember all the words that he was unable to use.

Peter Stead is an historian, cultural commentator and Agenda columnist.

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