The Sketch: Cameron deploys the honesty policy

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The Independent Online

[Legal warning: this column may require nausea suppressants]

David Cameron excelled himself at PMQs; he may yet succeed in his David and Goliath endeavour (you always want to bet on Goliath). But there's an unexpected element in his approach that may be the deadly factor. Honesty, deployed tactically, may be the best policy after all. I had thought that he should support the education reforms but then pull back at the last minute to engineer a defeat. But then that would make him look bad, or weak; he has pledged himself to support the Bill: his public utterance may be the best guide to his intentions. That really hadn't occurred to me.

The possibility that he means what he says has also thrown the Prime Minister off balance. At the end of the education exchanges, Mr Blair launched into a long and frankly boring recital of the Opposition's policy evolution (cries of "Order!" were ignored by the Speaker). This is unlike our silvery premier; it smacked of desperation (we don't expect that).

And Cameron had a rather deft answer to charge of inconsistency: Tony Blair had been "soak the rich and ban the bomb, now he's sucking up to the rich and dropping bombs!" Tory delight and Labour silence. Abuse very rarely works for the abuser, as we know; this worked marvellously well.

The teasing, public school tone helped. Cameron deployed two or three fatal phrases: "Does the Prime Minister agree that he should not compromise with people who think creating good schools is a bad idea?"

And yet more viciously, "Will the Prime Minister accept our support in the division lobby so that he can put the whole of his Bill to the House?"

Ah, this is where the magic is. The silence from Labour was golden.

It's hard for backbench Tories to understand the effect of their leader's strategy; not because they're stupid but because they are such an attractive and companionable body of men and women. The idea that they are profoundly repulsive to anyone is one that simply doesn't compute. They look in their morning mirror and see a clubbable, worldly-wise individual whose only fault may be a slight excess of integrity, generosity and high intellect... Labour looks at the same individual and sees a vast, ambulatory wart.

For Labour, consorting with Tories is the worst social or professional experience they could possibly have. It will be like finding a leper in the lobby. Trying to kiss you. Trying to French-kiss you. Albeit with only partial tongue-work [I did warn you]. Those Labour rebels will be coming out of the division lobby heaving and retching. It is they who will need the nausea-suppressants. And they may refuse to take it again.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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