THE SATURDAY ESSAY: Why tactics only work for today, and real politics is about tomorrow

David Cameron represents the triumph of fashion over future. He will not last.

Just 48 hours after he had tweeted with joy at the election of a new Pope, Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday said he disagreed with that very same new pope, Francis I, over the future of the Falkland Islands. Pope Francis, who is the first Argentinian pontiff and a former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has previously described the disputed islands as ‘Argentinian soil which was usurped by Britain’.

There is something about Dave that requires the engagement of gob long before any part of the brain swings into action. Not only is this something the Pope said years ago (when he wasn’t the Pope, merely an Argentine priest) Cameron clearly hasn’t bothered to take a close look at Francis I’s view of Cristina Kirchner. It is far, far from being anything one could describe as approving. How much more wise it would’ve been for the British Prime Minister to ignore the Pope’s temporal view of one small territory, and focus instead on his aims for the papacy. Then – in entirely different contexts – he could’ve talked generally about the easy socio-religious ideas adopted by Kirchner, and why the Pope doesn’t like them.

Two years ago, a close chum of mine told me admiringly that Cameron has an IQ of 142. Several years before that, another acquaintance (sadly no longer extant) opined to me that “Educated knowledge tells the self-styled élite the tomato is a fruit, but common sense tells real people not to serve tomatoes with ice cream”. The vast majority of MPs, senior Mandarins, Westminster lobby correspondents and other media pundits will never grasp the importance of that truism: offered réduction de tomates sur son lit de glace vanille, they would I’m sure all jump at it as a starter.

The reality of this eternal clash between clever soundbites and sound sense is that it reflects short term gain’s triumph over delayed gratification. It drives a great deal of The Slog’s content, because in the end human existence boils down to the difference between that which is clever, and that which is wise. To call out the Pope on the subject of Falkland Islands sovereignty may seem clever to the spin doctor – the Pope is after all an easy target these days – but to engage with the universal order of what Francis I seems to want would demonstrate the genuine thirst for truth of a wise person….even more so if you don’t agree with his viewpoint.

Of course, our politicians today prefer the short to the long term, and a national electoral success to the human victory against darkness. In doing so, however, they tie themselves in such knots that they emerge as oxymoronic clowns. They search for for fusions and Middle Ways, unable to grasp that they’re merely writing the satirist’s script without getting paid.

What are we to make, for example, of the Communist libertarian Federal Reserve Chairman Mao Tse Bernanke, a calm student of monetarism applying command economics and Five Year Zirp Plans to the US recession – with all the aplomb of a Chinese regional commissar setting lending targets for local bank managers?

And how should we view Svetlana Merkel, the former DDR Youth Leader who became obsessed with laissez-faire wage depreciation, insisting that much of southern Europe should starve itself to death as a tribute to her Stalinist interpretation of Friedmanite economics?

Where next, we ask ourselves, for the UK’s Labour Leader Che Miliband – a man able to forget his allegiance to Gordon Brown, plus all things good about banking and Rupert Murdoch, in order to become leader of the Labour Party, and the scion of all things bad about banking and Rupert Murdoch?

My intention in this essay is not to deliver yet another sermon entitled All Pols are Plonkers, but rather to suggest that those who desire power being put to good use should heed one simple piece of advice: reject today’s fashion, and embrace the future.


The mindlessly received political truth in Britain today is that everything is about soundbites, tactics, and listening to what the electorate wants. The thesis I want to put forward is that, by diametric contrast, the best route for any politician here – or indeed anywhere in the angst-ridden first world – is to offer a clear, harsh view of reality: an undoctored, uncompromising and unbiased approach to putting citizens (not minority interest groups) first.

Pragmatic compromise, eclectic promises and economic bromides play well at Awaydays, seminars and wonk sessions, but they have nothing to do with the way the world is heading. What every Western world electorate cries out for is unfiltered truth, genuine passion to change things for the better, and policies that don’t sound like they were pasted willy-nilly onto paper by 3rd year infants.

The way forward for any truly game-changing politician of principle is to tell the truth about the mess we’re in, offer creative solutions, and engage those who feel squeezed and/or left out. There may be no immediate votes in this (although my own view is that there are millions of votes in it) but such an approach is bound to reap rewards in the end – for one straightforward reason: the future is not a straight-line extrapolation of today and yesterday. We are heading for an econo-cultural sea change, and the leader who discerns this now will benefit exponentially when it becomes apparent to the media and the electorate later.

By 1937 in Britain, Winston Churchill was an isolated figure in Westminster politics. Seen as a lush and a warmonger by almost all MPs, his views on the Empire were thought increasingly outdated, his intervention in favour of Edward VIII ill-judged, and his rearmament ideas impractical in the context of a country on its knees after the depression. Yet, although himself an avowed enemy of Communism, Churchill understood that Nazi Germany was expansionist and its leader a psychopath. In an era dominated by the well-meaning pacifism of appeasement, he appeared to be a dinosaur reliving his exploits in the Boer War.

Three years later he was Prime Minister. Although to the death the appeasers preferred Halifax, for the Tory Party and the country, he was the only logical choice: for he had called the game early, and proved himself a visionary.

David Cameron is a sort of human interregnum: a stooge for those dragging the Conservatives to the Right, and a magnet for all things contemporary. He is anti-EU when addressing the 1922 MPs, pro-women’s rights to the letter, anti-Murdoch after everyone else is, pro-McAlpine when that gets the public’s sympathy and, as of yesterday, the man preparing to dump the hopelessly distracted and yet controlling Leveson recommendations in favour of….something else. ‘A tougher press regulator’ we are told.

Although even the watered-down 2,000 page Leveson Report found press behaviour was “outrageous” and “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people”, Cameron senses that the public outrage about Newscorp (and tabloidism in general) has dissipated sufficiently for him to ignore Leveson’s desire that tougher regulation should be supported by equally tough legislation.

A visionary would’ve taken what to me is the obvious wise view: outlaw the worst forms of tabloid harassment, outlaw super-injunctions that lack public interest, insist on higher-profile front-page apologies, outlaw non-dom media ownership, dump the regulatory apparatus entirely, and broaden the phone-hacking investigation dramatically. But Cameron isn’t a visionary; he’s just a privately status quo sort of bloke with an eye for the main chance….and a need to protect the powerful – especially himself.

Being a trimmer and a U-turner, David Cameron had no choice but to do what he did last Thursday, because he lacks the balls to be his own man. Had he supported any form of control over mogul misuse of the media, Johnson, Gove and Hunt would’ve had him out by the end of the summer. He is a creature of those who see the future as more of the same and, in particular, “more and more for me and less and less for you.”

For the same reason, he bows to the banks, hires Lord Green, looks shifty when paedophile rings are mentioned, engages in deceit about the NHS, and tilts at the EU windmill when his electorate want the millers to be evicted forthwith.

Compare and contrast this last viewpoint with Beppo Grillo, a man naturally enough dismissed as “a comedian”, but as of last night the most popular politician in Italy – because he has thought about how Europe is going to change, he is ahead of the curve, and he has a passion for justice. Watch how in less than a year, Alexis Tsipras has captured the imagination of ordinary and middle-class Greeks because he says there is an alternative to remote control and tribalist corruption. He too has thought about the Left, and why its own unwillingness to engage will condemn it to history’s dustbin. He speaks well, he builds bridges, he thinks geopolitically, and he wants the citizen to be in charge, not the State.

In some form or another, that is going to be what’s coming. The tramline thinkers who envisage a globalist world dominated by quasi-slave labour and mega trading groups have got it wrong. We are taking a slow, elliptical turn that is neither right, left, forward or back, but instead into another dimension called the future. This future isn’t going to be one dominated by insolvent banks, where footballers earn sillier and sillier salaries, economies return peacefully to normal, Merkel is forever, and a bunch of unelected scarecrows in Brussels continue to go “shoo!” every time sanity lands among their Brussels sprouts.

A wind of change is blowing through Europe. Anti-euro and anti-EU movements, pressure groups and political Parties are appearing in every member country. Were David Cameron a visionary, he would’ve gone all-out for a ‘no more immigration as from now EU change or secession’ strategy in 2010, won an outright majority easily, and now be the leader of Europe’s anti-fascist revolt. UKip would be nowhere, Labour wouldn’t have a policy alternative of any kind, Jeremy Hunt wouldn’t be Health Secretary, and Murdoch would be languishing on the fringes of political life…..exactly as Cameron’s adviser Steve Hilton recommended he should be once Dave became Conservative leader in 2006.

Earlier this week, UKip leader Nigel Farage dutifully turned up for a ‘secret’ meeting with Rupert Murdoch at which, it is rumoured, they discussed the brokering of Cameron extraction alongside a Tory/UKip electoral pact. Well I’m sorry, but this confirms my long-held view about our Nige: he is simply somebody left out of the system who wants to be in it. Grillo and Tsipras want a different, more citizen-focused system, and they won’t rest until it is changed. Neither will I – and millions like me. This is what our Prime Minister doesn’t ‘get’….any more than Ed across the gangway does.

They say fortune favours the Brave, but the opposite is also true: fate kills the coward. Political election hoofing is about fast footwork, tactics, organisation, and soundbites on the ground. Politics isn’t. Political success is about far more than noticing the tide goes in and out; it is about discerning that there are very few fish left in it, and then taking advice on what to do about that pressing reality. As I’ve been saying for years, the mark of all opportunists is their ability to miss the golden opportunity every time. David Cameron had that chance, and he blew it. We must look for the principled principal who won’t.