Sunday, 17 April 2016

Charm Offensive

The great Neil Clark writes:

The #PanamaPapers leaks have exposed David Cameron as a hypocrite and consequently done great harm to his reputation.

If the political fall-out from the leaks does eventually bring the British Prime Minister down then he can't really complain as he's had a dream ride up to now.

He didn’t deserve to become Conservative Party leader in 2005 as his main rivals for the job were better qualified and more experienced and he most certainly, given his track record in office, didn't deserve to get another term as Prime Minister in 2015.

In fact, if we look back at Cameron’s career, it’s apparent that from very early on he was placed on the 'Fast Track' to power.

It’s hard to think of another leading political figure in recent British political history who has had it quite so easy.

Cameron didn’t have to fight his way to the top as others have to do: He was eased into his position by influential Tory neocon ‘modernizers’ who were confident that he would serve their interests better than his rivals.

Cameron had three major advantages to help kick start his career: He was from a very wealthy Establishment background (with money on both sides of the family dating back several generations), he went to Eton, the country’s most prestigious public school, and then studied at Oxford University.

During his gap year between Eton and Oxford he worked as a researcher in the House of Commons for his godfather Tim Rathbone, a Tory MP and former banker - who incidentally also went to Eton and Oxford.

At Oxford, Cameron was a member of the Bullingdon Club - an exclusive all-male dining and drinking club with a reputation for wild, outrageous behavior (George Osborne, Cameron’s Chancellor since 2010, was a fellow member).

After he got his degree, Cameron spent five years working at the Conservative Party research department, making valuable contacts within the party.

In 1994, feeling he needed experience in the private sector to boost his career prospects in the Tory party, he entered the media/PR world, landing a job as ‘Director of Corporate Affairs' at Carlton TV.

"The manner in which he obtained the job says much about how men of Cameron's background tend to progress through life," James Robertson and David Teather noted in The Guardian in 2010.

"With no experience outside politics, he did what any old Etonian might do and worked his contacts", Robertson and Teather continued.

"The mother of Cameron's then-girlfriend Samantha, Lady Astor, was friends with Michael Green, then executive chairman of Carlton and one of Margaret Thatcher's favorite businessmen.

"She suggested he hire Cameron, and Green, a mercurial millionaire, obliged. The 27-year-old was duly recruited on a salary of about £90,000 a year (the equivalent of more than £130,000 today)."

Nice work if you can get it, eh? But you’ll only get it if, like Cameron, you have the ‘right connections’.

Experience and indeed ability has nothing to do with it: Camerons career is proof that Britain is a long way off from being a ‘meritocracy' - a place where people get jobs because of their talent and not because of who they know.

Carlton TV’s ‘Director of Corporate Affairs’ was selected for the winnable seat of Stafford for the Tories in the 1997 general election, but lost out in the Labour landslide.

However, three years later Cameron was selected for the very safe Tory seat of Witney in Oxfordshire, and was duly elected as an MP in 2001.

Just four years later, at the age of 39, ‘Call Me Dave’ was Conservative Party leader. How was it done?

Cameron’s main rivals for the Tory leadership in October 2005 had stronger CVs.

Ken Clarke, aka Big Beast’, was a former Home Secretary and a Chancellor of the Exchequer who had presided over an economic recovery from 1993-7.

David Davis, a successful self-made businessman who had been born and brought up by a single mother on a council estate, had been a Minister of State for Europe, a Chairman of the Conservative Party, and was now Shadow Home Secretary.

Not only did Clarke and Davis have far greater experience than Cameron, they also had greater voter appeal than the Old Etonian.

A BBC Newsnight poll in September 2005 revealed that Clarke was FOUR times as popular with ordinary voters than his nearest rival in the Tory party leadership race: 40 percent said Clarke would be the best Tory leader, 10 percent said Davis, but only 4 percent said Cameron.

Yet ‘Mr 4%' David Cameron was the candidate anointed in editorials and comment pieces by influential Tory-supporting media pundits and the novice cruised to victory.

Why did Cameron get such a leg-up?

In October 2005, I attempted to explain Cameron’s rapid elevation in The Guardian.

"Camerons meteoric rise from leadership no-hoper to frontrunner has taken many by surprise," I wrote

"But what has happened is that British neoconservatives, faced with the nightmarish possibility that in a straight fight between David Davis and Kenneth Clarke the more charismatic and anti-war former chancellor would prevail, sought to undermine support for the latter by reinventing Cameron, the pro-war Thatcherite, as the voice of Tory moderation’."

The big negative with Ken Clarke for the Tory neocon ‘modernizers’ was that the former Chancellor had opposed the Iraq war.

As I noted in The Guardian, Cameron’s leadership campaign was masterminded by the ‘neoconservative trio’ of George Osborne, Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey.

The last two men were signatories to the Statement of Principles of the uber neocon Henry Jackson Society, which launched in the UK in 2005, the same year Cameron became Tory leader.

The Tory neocons wanted a man who could be relied to carry on an interventionist foreign policy.

The fresh-faced Cameron - who unlike ‘Big Beast’ Ken Clarke had supported the Iraq invasion - could be the Tory party’s Tony Blair.

A man cast as a moderate, but who could be relied up to carry out extreme policies, like cuts and privatization at home and further redistribution of wealth to the super-rich, while carrying on UK support for wars on intervention abroad.

As Cameron himself declared during the leadership campaign: "I am the heir to Blair." We can’t say we weren’t warned.

In Part 2: How Cameron repaid his neocon backers

And here it is:

It’s questionable now whether David Cameron will be able to survive 2016 as prime minister.

The crushing combination of the #PanamaPapers and the UK Brexit referendum may well be enough to pulverize ‘Teflon Tory’ and bury him.

In Part One of ‘A Charmed Life’, I explained how David Cameron, a man born into great wealth and privilege, had been fast-tracked to power by influential neocons.

After just four years as an MP he was anointed as Tory party leader, even though his rivals had much stronger credentials and greater public appeal.  

Since his elevation ‘Call Me Dave’ has certainly not let his backers down!

His governments, under the pretext of ‘austerity’, have cut welfare payments and social services and helped the one percent become even richer.

The top rate of income tax was cut and corporation tax has also been slashed. 

Remaining publicly owned assets have been privatized, or have been earmarked for privatization with rich City insiders and party donors benefiting.

In 2013, the Royal Mail, in state hands since its inception in the 16th century, was privatized, with a hedge fund whose co-head of development strategy was the best man at Chancellor’s George Osborne’s wedding, netting a profit of £36m.   

The government now plans to sell the Land Registry - in public hands since the days of Queen Victoria.

In foreign policy, Cameron continued where Bomber Blair left off. 

In the same way that Tony Blair helped destroy Iraq, ‘Tory Blair’ helped wreck Libya. 

A country that had the highest living standards in Africa was transformed, thanks to NATO’s humanitarian intervention’, into a failed state and a haven for radical jihadists and terrorists.

Cameron and his governments also played a very negative and destructive role in relation to Syria, enthusiastically supporting ‘regime change‘ and championing the cause of violent jihadists and terrorists - euphemistically labeled ‘rebels’- who were fighting to overthrow a secular government implacably opposed to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. 

In 2013, Cameron, faithfully serving neocon interests, tried desperately to get Parliament to support airstrikes on Syrian government targets. 

Thankfully, that was defeated. Had it not been, then it’s likely that Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Qaeda affiliates would now be in charge of the whole of Syria.

If ever a British Prime Minister deserved to lose a General Election it was David Cameron in 2015. ‘Call Me Dave’ had presided over the longest fall in living standards in the country for 50 years.

His government had pledged to improve public finances, but in fact had made them worse: the UK’s debt increased by 50 percent under Cameron‘s watch.

Furthermore, Cameron’s foreign policy has undoubtedly made the world a much more dangerous place.

However, helped once again by a very friendly media, and in particular the Murdoch press, which thought it of the utmost importance that we saw a photo of Labour leader Ed Miliband eating a bacon sarnie on the front page of The Sun, Cameron scraped home in last year‘s election.

As I noted in an RT op-edge about the election campaign: 

“There was little, if any, proper discussion of the Conservatives’ many failures in office… If there had been proper media coverage of the way Tories have sold off public assets to their City chums, and the future privatizations Cameron and Co have planned (Chancellor George Osborne has pledged to sell off £20 billion more of state assets by 2020), then the Tories would not get anywhere near the amount of seats they did.”

Its clear that Cameron was chosen, from quite early on as the best front man for taking the neocon project on to the next stage.

The question now is: will those who helped put Cameron into power - and who did everything they could to help him stay in 10 Downing Street during the 2015 General Election campaign, continue to support him?

Up to now Cameron has been the ‘Teflon Tory’ - the man against whom no charge seems to stick. 

While Tony Blair is rightly reviled for what he did to Iraq, Cameron has largely escaped censure for his role in the destruction of Libya. 

Even allegations of Cameron taking part in a weird initiation ceremony involving the head of a dead pig at Oxford didn’t do too much harm to his ratings.

The #PanamaPapers leaks, however, could be a game changer.

In Parliament last week, Cameron tried to draw a line under the revelations by making a Commons statement.

Toadying Tory MPs stood up to declare that The Great Leader had done nothing wrong. 

One MP, the very wealthy oil trader Sir Alan Duncan, tried to make out the outrage over the Panama Papers was due to envy over people’s wealth - and made a snobbish reference to ‘low-achievers’. 

The smug, self-congratulatory mood was splendidly punctured by veteran left-wing Labour MP Dennis Skinner, who dubbed the prime minister ‘Dodgy Dave.

Shortly afterwards, I sent out a tweet saying that Skinner was a ‘National Treasure’ and asked people to retweet my message if they agreed with it.

At the time of writing the tweet has been retweeted almost 6,000 times and liked over 3,000 times.

The tweet, I note, has got more endorsement than any from establishment gatekeepers and members of the elite punditocracy, who were keen to label Skinner as ‘rude’ for having the temerity to voice the views of millions of ordinary Britons.

It’s not just on social media that members of the public are making their voices heard. 

A poll in the Daily Mirror newspaper asked readers if they thought Skinner should have been thrown out of the Commons for his ‘Dodgy Dave’ remark: 95 percent voted ‘No’.

The Mirror is a Labour supporting publication, so perhaps you’d expect such a result.

But another poll in the Daily Express - which does not support Labour - showed that 83 percent of readers thought Cameron should resign over the Panama Papers scandal. 

A few days ago, Cameron was overtaken by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn in approval ratings for the first time, with almost 60 percent of people saying that he’s doing badly as PM. 

‘Call Me Dave’ and his Chancellor George Osborne are now the least trusted politicians on tax avoidance. Meanwhile, over 160,000 people have signed a petition calling for a snap general election.  

The neocons who backed Cameron in 2005 are divided over Europe, which also doesn’t help the PM’s cause. Michael Gove, who helped mastermind Cameron’s campaign in 2005, is one of six Cabinet ministers campaigning for Britain to leave the EU in a referendum that Cameron - given the dip in his ratings – could easily lose. 

Even if the ‘Remain’ side does sneak home narrowly, Cameron would still be very vulnerable.

We know just how ruthless the Conservative Party can be when they feel they’ve got a leader who's gone past their sell-by date: even the fact that she had won three general elections wasn’t enough to save Mrs. Thatcher in 1990. 

Cameron has already declared he won’t serve a third term as prime minister, but it must now be doubtful that he will even be able to survive 2016. 

Whether it’s the #PanamaPapers or the EU referendum in June which finishes him, the dream ride for the ‘Teflon Tory’ has almost certainly come to an end.

About time, too!

2 comments:

  1. "He didn’t deserve to become Conservative Party leader in 2005 as his main rivals for the job were better qualified and more experienced"

    Ha! Blame the liberal BBC, which felt David Davis was too Right-wing, and thus spent the entire leadership contest gunning for Cameron.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember it well. I doubt that you do.

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