The Sketch: Memo to Mr Cameron: That's not the way to do it

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister applied three sequences of scientific brutality that had his opponent flame-faced with humiliation. The fact Mr Blair didn't break a sweat or lapse from his normal standards of courtesy made his victory yet more complete.

Cameron showed he simply hasn't understood the strategy with which he had begun so well. When he uses his Tory position to sympathise with the Prime Minister, he weakens him; when he attacks, he strengthens him. It's a very simple symmetry.

When he chummies along with the Tory parts of the PM, Labour backbenchers go white with fury and make gargling noises of horror and contempt. When he insults and disparages the PM, Labour rallies with relief.

Thus, Cameron's correct approach yesterday was: "Dear me. These concessions to the Labour old guard are very regrettable. Did the Prime Minister really feel he had to go so far? He knows best about his own party, so perhaps he did. But the X and the Y and dear-oh-dear, the Z! And all natural Tories (I include some parts of the Prime Minister's multi-faceted character in that 'we') had such high hopes! However, the Bill is still a step in the right direction. We Tories will be able to use the core of the reforms as a start.

"We can build on them after the next election. Own buildings: good. Own culture: good. Control over own admissions: good. It's half the job, and as much as he can be expected to get through his own party. A step in the right direction is as much as we could reasonably hope for."

Alas, he reverted to Tory type and produced a childish attack that provoked a second-level response from the (by now) hoary old Prime Minister. It was more than enough, under the circumstances. Levels three and four may never be needed.

Cameron began with a trope he'd used in his first outing. That suggests a lamentable lack of preparation. Do they really not realise what they're up against? Then, referring to the recent concessions, Cameron said: "Instead of flip-flopping, why ..." And that was the end of that.

The great, carnivorous roar from the Labour benches had much relief in it. Punch and Judy politics was back. "Since he has raised the subject of flip-flopping," Mr Blair began, hardly able to believe the gift he'd been made, and then ran through the evolution of Tory policy in its various iterations of the past 12 months (it's an impressive list). He finished with one he'd prepared earlier: "No wonder he's against identity cards." Cameron sat there with (in one Tory mother's phrase) "a face as red as a smacked bottom".

If you take out the Christmas break, David Cameron's easy ascendancy lasted a couple of months. Roughly as expected.

The heir to Blair may have run through the inheritance already.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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