Leading article: Cameron's shaky grip

Share
Related Topics

It is becoming harder to escape the growing realisation that the Prime Minister's supposed virtues might be vices. The collegiate chairman of the Cabinet, who delegates to his ministers and floats above the fray, is beginning to look like a broad-brush front man who has been forced into a series of U-turns to limit the damage caused by his inattention to detail. The well-meaning advocate of greater civic responsibility and collective sacrifice is beginning to look like someone who thinks that the Big Society is for the little people. The leader who wants to be the heir to Blair, but to learn from Tony Blair's self-confessed failure to press ahead with reform quickly enough in his first term, is beginning to look like someone urging his ministers to rush into changes that they have not thought through and about which he finds out too late.

Needless to say, the ability to admit a mistake and to reverse a foolish policy ought to be a strength in a politician. Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs, did as well as she could last week in ditching the plan to sell off public woodland. And no government can prevent public-relations disasters of this kind emerging from the bureaucracy or from the Department of Unintended Consequences. But there comes a point when the number of U-turns becomes a sign of weakness rather than of strength, and the compilation of climbdowns since the election that we report on today, suggests that the Prime Minister is close to reaching that point.

Meanwhile, the ambitious reform programmes in health, education and welfare are having a bumpy ride. The changes to the NHS seem to have taken David Cameron by surprise, almost as if he did not know what Andrew Lansley was up to until his brother-in-law, a cardiologist, got on the telephone to complain. And last week, Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, published a welfare reform Bill that drops one of the most important cuts in housing benefit (10 per cent for people unemployed for more than a year). It will also raise the average rate at which benefit is withdrawn for people who take low-paid work – which contradicts the declared intention to "make work pay".

Elsewhere in today's newspaper, we report on the trouble into which Mr Cameron's Big Society has run. His attempt to present himself as a conviction politician has faltered because so few members of his government seem to know what he means by it.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, had to be pressed repeatedly in a radio interview before he said: "Of course I support the concept of the Big Society." And our round-up of the contribution of Cabinet ministers to Mr Cameron's Big Idea, reveals not only a patchy record of volunteering but divergent views of what the concept means.

As our ComRes opinion poll suggested last week, most voters have a rather clearer idea – by a margin of two to one, if they think it means anything at all – that the Big Society is "merely a cover for spending cuts". Yet Mr Cameron seems to be rather touchy when confronted in a personal way with the impact of his policies.

As we report today, the plan to close nearly half the libraries in Oxfordshire, which includes his constituency, was abruptly halted and subjected to "review" by the county council last week. Whether the Prime Minister intervened personally, or whether zealous intermediaries acted on the "turbulent priest" principle, it looks as if some of us are more equal than others.

Mr Cameron's strength, that he seemed comfortable with the responsibility of leadership, is beginning to look like an arrogant sense of entitlement and a petulance about his personal reputation. The slogan, "We are all in it together," never very convincing, is beginning to look like a caddish joke at the expense of the majority.

The Independent on Sunday is not persuaded that Mr Cameron is an ideologically driven Thatcherite whose ruling purpose is to shrink the state. He may be, but it seems more likely that he does not in fact believe in much at all. We were once prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt over his claims to be greener than Gordon Brown's government. Since May, and with the exception of Heathrow, we have seen little evidence of the "greenest government ever" and the doubts have grown.

We are beginning to wonder whether the deeper, and just as worrying, truth is that the Prime Minister is simply somewhat incompetent.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The rules were simple: before the results are announced, don’t mention the S-word

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Howard Jacobson has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for the second time  

In praise of Howard Jacobson

Simon Kelner
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week