Is Mr Cameron out of touch, cowardly, lazy...?

He allowed Andrew Lansley to lose his marbles and sent Oliver Letwin in to help him find them

Share

Once upon a time, Bernard Levin ranted in The Times: "I long ago concluded that the present Government was worm-eaten, exhausted, dishonest, incompetent, lazy, mendacious …", ending 122 words later with "to say the least."

That was in 1994. Poor John Major. The hostility towards David Cameron is not yet of that order. Most commentators concluded nearly a year ago that the present Prime Minister was out-of-touch, arrogant, dishonest, incompetent, lazy, cowardly, indecisive, unprincipled and isolated in Europe.

I am not particularly a defender of Cameron, although I think he has been all right as Prime Minister. However, I do think that the criticisms commonly made of him are wrong. Some of them, indeed, contradict each other. First it is said that he and his ministers don't listen to advice; then that they make "humiliating" U-turns. An equally valid account of Michael Gove's decision last week to keep GCSE exams, for example, would be that the Education Secretary made a proposal, listened to views about it, including those of his coalition partners, and modified the proposal accordingly.

Other criticisms are contradicted by events. When Cameron promised a referendum on Britain's European Union membership, Labour and the remnants of the join-the-euro commentators said you do not get anywhere in European negotiations by threatening to walk away. Yet on Friday Cameron secured the deal he wanted on the EU budget, in alliance with his friend "Angela" and in opposition to his colleague "President Hollande".

Then there are the criticisms that cannot be contradicted exactly, but which can be undermined by imagining what the conventional wisdom might be if Cameron did as his critics suggest. Earlier last week, for example, it was suggested that he showed a deplorable lack of leadership in failing to come to the Commons to argue for gay marriage. We could see it in our mind's eye: he would do it well, swashbuckling and Blairite, as he persuaded the last five waverers needed to secure a majority of Tory MPs for equality.

But then we were reminded why that might not have been a good idea. The day after the vote, Cameron said at Prime Minister's Questions how "proud" he was to have brought the Bill forward. The MPs behind him listened in silence. If he had done a big Blair number the day before it could well have been counterproductive. And all the chin-stroking columnists would have said what a bad idea it was for Cameron to copy Tony Blair by defining himself against his party. As it was, a historic gain for equality was achieved without too much internal damage.

Finally, let us take the persistent notion that Cameron is lazy. Many of his Government's troubles, it is said, arise from his inattention.

I should confess that the unacceptable non-word "chillax" was first linked to Cameron by my colleagues James Hanning and Francis Elliott in the revised edition of their biography of him in May last year. They quoted a friend of his who wondered, admiringly, at his ability to put work aside and to chill out (or relax as we say in English) with family and friends. Hanning and Elliott thought that they were describing one of the healthier attributes of an unusually effective politician.

Again, we do not have to imagine what the conventional wisdom would be if Cameron spent less time playing Fruit Ninja on his iPad; we simply have to have a memory longer than a goldfish's, and to recall Anthony Seldon's assessment of Gordon Brown in his book, Brown At 10: "the most damaged personality to have become chancellor or prime minister since World War II".

So, my view is that Cameron consults about as widely as he should, and changes policy when the people he consults make helpful points. His policy on Europe is a Gaullist defence of the national interest that respects the right of the people to decide. His tactics on the gay marriage vote were right, and obtained the right result. And he works hard and effectively; he is good at absorbing a brief, at making decisions and at switching off to preserve his sanity.

The criticisms of him that matter, I think, are of his judgement. He didn't criticise Brown for borrowing at the peak of a boom. He opposed the nationalisation of the banks. In government, he allowed Andrew Lansley to lose his marbles at the Health Department and, when the NHS reforms started to go seriously wrong, he sent Oliver Letwin in to help him try to find them. He didn't see the danger to fairer constituency boundaries of messing up Lords reform until too late. And he misjudged the symbolic importance of cutting the 50p top rate of income tax. That error means that, no matter what the boring statistics say, which is that the richest 10 per cent are bearing and will bear the greatest burden of austerity, no one believes it.

Those are the criticisms of Cameron that should be made. If Levin were alive today, I hope it would be to Cameron's critics that he would address his tirade against the worm-eaten this and the lazy, incompetent that.

twitter.com/@JohnRentoul; j.rentoul@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition