Leading article: The emperor's new clothes

Share
Related Topics

After three weeks, scores of speeches, hundreds of fringe meetings and thousands of journalist-hours devoted to the careful reporting and rigorous holding to account of our politicians, party conference season is over. In an echo of Tony Blair five years ago, the Prime Minister has made a statement about his health that somewhat obscures what went before. But that uncertainty aside, how do we stand after the party conferences?

In some quarters, you could be forgiven for thinking that we might as well not bother with our trip to the polls next April, May or June, and simply hand Dave the keys to No 10 now. This is truly far from the media's finest hour. In the collective rush to anoint the Conservative leader, in the fevered anticipation of change, and no doubt in the hope of preferment under a new administration, the press and television, bloggers and twitterers are focusing on the outcome, rather than on something more important: what do we believe?

Here at The Independent on Sunday we take a deeply unfashionable view. Yes, Labour is tired. Yes, it is prone to terrible errors. And yes, Gordon Brown, for all his abilities (and, deep down, voters, you know he has them) is a turn-off. Yes, yes, yes.

But excuse us for refusing to rush to join in the coronation. Call us terrible stick-in-the-muds, but did you listen to David Cameron's speech? It was poor, despite what you may have read elsewhere; the type of meaningless nonsense that Tony Blair did so well. It sounded as if it was scripted for Paul Whitehouse's Ron Manager character: "My beliefs. I am not complicated. I love this country. The state is your servant. Never your master. Young boys with footballs. Jumpers for goalposts." You get the idea.

To extend the analogy, three weeks of party conferences culminated in Cameron's speech. The goal was gaping. All he had to do was stroke the ball home. But he fluffed it and, as John Rentoul today, the game is still on – just about.

This newspaper rather approves of David Cameron, actually. He is extremely able, quite liberal, compassionate and green, and it is possible that he would be a good prime minister. We were looking to be convinced last week, but we have not been.

On Europe and on the economy his judgement is in question, and last week he failed utterly to make his case. On Europe, he and William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, engaged in obfuscation. This may be tactically clever, but causing such gratuitous offence to our mainstream partners in Europe is foolish and dangerous.

On the economy, he and George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, failed to make the case for early cuts in public spending. Instead, they announced a cut in state pensions in the parliament after next. Instead of taking on Mr Brown's argument that we need to maintain public spending to kick-start growth, we got a simplistic Thatcherite lecture about spending more than we earn. Instead of a credible plan that would be tough on the causes of poverty, we got the unconvincing assertion that "We're all in this together". Set that against policies – such as an inheritance tax cut on estates up to £1m – that tend to favour the better off.

Mr Cameron's speech was a missed chance to keep a progressive section of the electorate in play, a section well represented among readers of this newspaper, many of whom will have regarded the Conservative leadership as reverting to type last week.

We have not, therefore, been moved off our belief that the Government is broadly right about the economy. The corollary of that belief is that Labour's main weakness is presentational. This newspaper has held out longer than most against the media consensus that Mr Brown is not up to the task of modern political communications. "Britain can have upgrowth," he said yesterday. But we still hope that he will be given credit for the substance rather than the way he expresses it.

It may be that this hope will be frustrated. Politics can be a cruel, unfair and unforgiving business. It may be that there is another member of the Cabinet that would be better able to lead the party into the coming election than Mr Brown; the Labour Party has perhaps two or three months finally to decide that question.

Paradoxically, Mr Cameron's disappointingly flat speech, by failing to press home more definitively his advantage, means that it is all the more urgent that Labour gets the answer right.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Army reservist Corporal James Dunsby  

Whether it’s in the City, the Army or at school, this ritual sadism has to stop

Chris Blackhurst
Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender Olympic champion formerly known as Bruce, unveiled her new name on Monday  

'I'm the happiest I've been for a long time and I finally know where I fit': Here's why role models matter for trans kids

Susie Green
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific