Harold Wilson was memorably accused during an election a generation ago by Willie Whitelaw of “going round the country stirring up apathy”.
David Cameron is doing something much more dangerous, going round the country stirring up low productivity. Goodness knows how many precision gauges and laser telescoping ballbars the skilled employees at engineering firm Renishaw in Gloucestershire could have completed for export while they were waiting for – not to mention listening to – the Prime Minister today.
It’s in the nature of these Cameron Direct events that the management ensure that the workforce are in their seats long before he arrives. Today, although he spoke for about half an hour, this whole process meant being off the job for 90 minutes. Time is money, Prime Minister.
Are companies like Renishaw not supposed to be leading us out of what he again reminded us was “the Great Recession” inflicted in the last decade?
To be fair, Cameron is sensitive to this, it seems. Promoting the Government’s programme to filling in 2 million potholes, he described how he had asked a worker doing just that to a “huge” one in his constituency how long it would take. “It depends, Mr Cameron, how long you waste your time talking to me,” the man had replied.
But anyway, Cameron was worth waiting for today since he unveiled his startling new weapon against the Ukip threat in the European and local elections: “The politics of the answer.” At first sight this concept seems a little nebulous. It’s not after all, as if political parties generally frame their manifestos as a series of interrogatives.
Shall we scrap Trident? Shall we put up taxes? Shall we build HS2? Vote for us, the party that poses the tough questions. Put us into office and we’ll ask you what to do.
But the PM was contrasting the new concept – which he mentioned twice – with the “politics of anger”, represented by what it became rapidly clear today he regards as the main enemy in this election. Once, David Cameron could hardly bring himself to mention Ukip, or its leader. Today, it was the only other party he really wanted to talk about.
Which was as well, since many of the questions either mentioned Ukip – just two words: Nigel Farage, began the first one – or were rather Ukip-ish in tone. And to a question on immigration he said: “What we’ve got to have in our country is the politics of the answer rather than the politics of anger.” What was needed was people who could “fix” immigration, welfare, and lowering taxes – not people who just mouthed “attractive soundbites?”
Asked about Scotland, he insisted he did not believe it would secede because the arguments were so strong against it. But he took the trouble to defend his decision to grant a referendum.
Cameron was at his normal, highly fluent best, of course. But you couldn’t help thinking of the monstrous spectre haunting him as he moved round the country – 2014 as the year of Farage and Salmond.