Matthew Norman: Has Cameron's lucky streak just run out?

An exceedingly bad week for the PM has implanted long-term doubts about his judgement

Share
Related Topics

In the current Bizarro World of British politics, where everything looks eerily similar but is profoundly different, you have to be crazy to make predictions. Not so long ago, it was easy to be cocksure. When Gordon Brown cluck-cluck-clucked up the snap election in the autumn of 2007, for example, you need not have been a sayer of the utmost sooth to declare that he was doomed. The second Nick Clegg cut his coalition deal it was clear that the Liberal Democrats were finished as an electoral force for a generation.

Alas, the age of certainties is passed. Today, no one knows how this economic crisis will pan out. To be more parochial, not even the bookies have a clue whether the next government will be Tory, a Tory-Lib Dem coalition, a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, or even a Labour majority. Ed Miliband, although regarded as a nerdsome irrelevance by the country, for now looks to be the rock-solid leader of a united parliamentary party. David Cameron, widely admired for his smooth touch and self-assurance, suddenly seems vulnerable at Westminster. Paradox stalks every corner of the political land.

For all that, I feel emboldened to ask this. Is this the week Mr Cameron's luck ran out? Until now, ever since seizing the leadership with a perfectly timed late run, he has led a charmed life so far as the dodging of bullets. In 2010, but for Mrs Duffy of Rochdale he would probably have won fewer seats than Labour, and swifty retired to his study with the brandy balloon and trusty Luger.

No one could deny that he parlayed that luck into the premiership with Houdiniesque, opportunistic brilliance, or that it has held in government until now. Despite consistently making the right calls, Milibandroid Jnr has proved a stylistic disaster. Mr Clegg obliterated his credibility over tuition fees, and effectively became his captive. Liam Fox, his main internal threat from the unreconstructed right, self-destructed in hilarious fashion. The PM was the go-to guy when it came to picking your Euro Lottery numbers.

The danger about luck is that a long run of it tends to instil a sense of invulnerability, which breeds arrogance and recklessness. Mr Tony Blair was dead lucky over Kosovo, a morally justified but dangerous war he proselytised to a US President and narrowly won. After that, with hindsight, the Iraqi die was cast.

Mr Cameron's success in Libya, another morally decent campaign that threatened to go horribly wrong, may have played its part in emboldening him to fight that civil war skirmish over the Europe referendum. But even without dwelling on such similarities as a disabled father and having a fourth child while in office, the parallels with Mr Blair were always compelling enough.

Disliked and mistrusted by their own sides having effectively hijacked a movement by bloodless coup d'état, both have appealed most to their party's natural enemies. Old-fashioned liberal lefties like me warmed to Cameron, or at least thawed, because he is so much less authoritarian than we expect of a Tory PM. Equally, surviving Blair fans tend to be right-wing Tories who could scarcely believe that a Labour leader was secretly (and eventually not so secretly) one of them.

Nowhere does the Blairite flame burn so brightly as in the upper reaches of the Cabinet, where the regnant trinity of Mr Cameron, George Osborne and Michael Gove openly worship the great peacock-charlatan of global statemanship. They reportedly read his chilling yet intriguing memoir A Journey on a loop in the hunt for secrets to his election-winning run. They are, bless them, besotted.

In this context, Mr Cameron's decision to challenge his party over such an arcane and nihilistically pointless Commons vote makes some sense. Blair was above all an oppositionalist, defining himself not by what he believed (whatever that may have been), but by contrast with those he opposed. He picked fights with his MPs and the unions on the cynical but logical grounds that this gave him dominion over the centre ground, while natural Labour voters would by and large hold their noses. For two elections, it worked a treat. By the third, the act was losing its allure, although he still won the kind of working majority that is the stuff of Mr Cameron's wettest dreams.

This is where Cameron's performance as Mr Blair's mirror image has broken down. Going to war with his back-bench critics and wider party over Europe, when he could been absent for a free vote that would have been widely ignored, was a classically Blairite ploy. This, one assumes, is primarily why he did it, though a nasty fear nags that – having led the way over Libya in Blairite Kosovan fashion – embryonic misplaced faith in his supernatural powers of persuasion played a part.

What he appeared to forget is that, not having a majority, disenchanted MPs who regard their leader as a sopping wet cuckoo befouling the Thatcherite nest are infinitely more dangerous to him than those who reviled his hero as a traitor to the memory of Attlee and Bevan were to Mr Blair. The vote itself will be quickly forgotten, but the perception of hubris in needlessly reopening an old schism will linger.

This has been an exceedingly bad week for the PM, not for any short-term opinion poll damage, but for implanting long-term doubts about his judgment. He asked for trouble from Nicolas Sarkozy, whose vicious rebuke to him for his impertience in demanding a say over the euro rescue plan drew praise from, of all stout Eurosceptics, Norman Lamont. He asked for it again from his own backbenchers, 81 of whom showed his babyish bully-boy tactics the contempt they deserved.

Some of the gloss has been stripped from him, and you sometimes wonder what there is to Mr Cameron other than gloss. He made an inexplicable howler by acting tough from a position of weakness against the ideologically driven. As the poker legend Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson said, you have to be a real idiot to bluff all your chips against a player you know is sure to call you.

"Better to be lucky than good" is another old poker saw, and Napoleon agreed with that when it came to his generals. But when the luck runs out, there is no option but to follow Gary Player's advice, stop coasting, and work harder to earn some more.

React Now

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

Senior Data Warehouse Developer - (Oracle, PL/SQL, ETL, OLAP, B

£65000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: One of the global leaders in fina...

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager (permanent ...

Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

ICT Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Lightning over central London as major storms kept the city awake overnight  

The less we hear about a project to predict the unexpected, the better

Oliver Wright
 

This ‘school in the clouds’ teaches us a valuable lesson about learning

Andrew Buncombe
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering