Saturday, 23 February 2008

Why the knives came out for Cameron

There's nothing the old dames of Fleet Street like better than a good gaffe and last night David Cameron provided them with a corker. There may have been very little meat to the story itself. Most of the feigned outrage was in itself pretty pantomime. But what mattered was that Cameron had offered himself up for a kicking. And a very good kicking he did get. So why did it happen?

Well as I say below, Team Cameron's handling of the Northern Rock saga was amateurish. Osborne's histrionics were misjudged and for once Brown's attack at PMQs (that the Tories were playing student politics) hit home. Now that policy fluff up, along with yesterday's PR gaffe, has provided a focus for those who think that team Cameron needs an injection of seriousness.

Secondly, the impression is forming that Cameron has become too confident for his own good. To put it simply, no bugger likes a cocky bugger and at the moment there's no bugger cockier than that cocky bugger Cameron. Whether its comparing himself to Arnold Schwarzenegger, or making personal and braying attacks on the Prime Minister, Cameron's recent time in office has brought an ever increasing display of chutzpah. It is this chutzpah which got him elected of course, but in recent weeks it has looked increasingly perilous. Fleet Street have noticed it, and if it had been accompanied by success in the polling they probably would have ignored it. But chutzpah can only take you so far and if the fish aren't biting, then its time to reel in the lines.

This chutzpah was still in full force last night of course. Having called the Auschwitz trips a gimmick, he then clarified that they were a gimmick that he supported and how dare Labour suggest he had called them a gimmick. Hurt by the grammar school row last summer, Cameron was probably desperate to avoid a similarly embarrassing climb-down. 

But what the Tories should be really desperate to avoid is the impression that the Green Team Cameron in just a little too green. Cockiness can only get you so much and if you want to look like a Prime Minister in waiting you have to act like a Prime Minister in waiting. As Barack Obama has shown, youth is only appealing to voters if it is accompanied with dignity and restraint. It is a lesson Cameron would be wise to learn.

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