John Kampfner: In our politics you're either up or down

Suddenly, Cameron's charm is toxic and Miliband has discovered his Mojo

John Kampfner
Sunday 13 May 2012 20:02

Remember when Gordon Brown walked on water? Not literally, of course, but one could be forgiven for imagining so, such was the hype and, in many cases (I include myself), wishful thinking when the son of the Manse finally ousted his rival from Downing Street. The new Prime Minister dealt with terrorist threats, swatted away the floods, "breathing new life" into an "expectant" Britain. Then, a few months later, it all went wrong as he failed to call a General Election. From that point he was known as the ditherer, the man with no mission except to throw mobile phones at advisers.

Political journalism is notoriously fickle. It is also, with some exceptions, conformist, following the narrative established at the time. That narrative is invariably binary. Someone is either up or down. The advent of the Coalition produced a new ingredient, the Liberal Democrats, previously largely ignored. The cycle of eulogising and kicking had to be divided into three. First in the stocks was Nick Clegg, in the autumn of 2010, after the tuition fees U-turn. From then it was open season and the man could do nothing right.

Attention turned to Ed Miliband. Here was a man known only for knifing his brother, a man with the nasal voice, a man doomed for opposition. It was surely only time for a leadership challenge against him. That lasted about a year.

All the while David Cameron had the Teflon factor. No matter how doggedly the economy refused to budge or how many banana skins his ministers slipped on, the PM rose above it all. The "omnishambles" that began with the botched Budget removed Cameron's protective coat. Attributes deemed by some helpful – his "heir to Blair" charm and ideological flexibility – became toxic. The extraordinarily close friendship with the Murdoch clan was a symbol for a wider malaise.

There was only way to turn – to Miliband. Suddenly the performances at Westminster are "transformed". The boffin turned adviser turned statesman has suddenly discovered his Mojo. With some commentators now contemplating electoral wipe-out for his party, Clegg has reasons to be worried. But with three years to go before the likely General Election date and with voter allegiances unaligned, his party can still carve out a message that enough electors might respect. As for Cameron, as long as he does not sink further into the Murdoch mire, he enjoys the elevated status of office to help him recover.

There are still several cycles to endure for each of the leaders, several political dog houses to enter, before the real reckoning takes place. The more sensible strategists and politicians would be advised to rise above the rhetorical fray.

John Kampfner is author of 'Blair's Wars' and 'Freedom For Sale'

Twitter: @johnkampfner /

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