At the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, UK, leader David Cameron announced his interest in becoming the UK’s next prime minister come the general election. It’s not far off, as it has to occur by the first week in May 2010, and it is pretty clear that Labour under their current leader will not win. This past set of “party conferences” are the last ones, for all parties, until the general election.
Cameron needed to deliver the speech of his career. For the most part, observers — especially those more aligned to the party — agree that he delivered what he needed. His political opponents are apoplectic about his “attack on the state,” as one would expect.
The conventional wisdom now predicts David Cameron and his party will storm to a huge victory in the elections, whenever they might occur. However, there are some factors that may urge caution.
Labour might change leaders between now and the election. They know that Gordon Brown, barring a miracle, would go down to a crushing defeat and cost many a Labour MP his seat. Their clamoring for change was mostly pacified at their party conference, but as their doom looms larger and larger, it seems hard to believe they will not attempt to rid themselves of the loathed Brown.
There is no guarantee that any other leader would win the general election and keep Labour in power — in fact, it is almost certain they would not. However, a new leader might be able to significantly reduce the majority held by David Cameron. It is even possible that there might be a “hung” parliament, where no party has overall control. This would bring up the possibility of a “minority” government, which are notoriously weak. Worse, it could lead to a “coalition” government made up of everyone who wants to keep the Conservatives out of government.
There is another problem for Cameron. While his speech riled his activists, it did not necessarily have the same effect on the populace. In fact, over the course of the Conservative Party conference the Conservative lead in the polls was reduced.
There are several factors that might have caused this. Cameron has a very hard time appealing to the working class of the UK. What many people remember is that Margaret Thatcher, another prime minister who came in after a run of Labour government, appealed to the working classes. Some of her appeal came from her humble background. (Thatcher is the daughter of a green grocer.)
Cameron, on the other hand, is straight from the pages of P. G. Wodehouse. While at Oxford, he was a member — along with Shadow Chancellor George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson — of the ultra-exclusive Bullingdon Club. (A good comparison would be the Skull & Bones secret society at Yale.) He is a direct descendant of Queen Victoria’s uncle, King William IV, and his mother was the daughter of a baronet.
While Cameron speaks of less government and more freedom, his policies can be seen as patrician and nannying. His policy on raising taxes on cheap beer to prevent “anti-social behavior” will not go over well with those already suffering greatly in the weak economy. The fact this policy was announced at conference while delegates and MPs alike quaffed champagne was a bonus for his opponents:
We will increase the price of a four pack of super-strength lager by £1.33. We will more than double tax on super-strength cider. And our planned increase on alcopops will raise the price of a large bottle by £1.50.
After the record of Labour patronizing and punishing the working class with high taxes, ignoring their concerns, and questioning their motivation, this is not exactly a good start for Cameron.
He also risks turning off libertarians by continuing with policy ideas bent on influencing behavior:
There’s also the huge cost of policing areas that are already dominated by pubs and clubs and off-licenses. Under a Conservative government late night problem premises will pay more for their license. So we can pay more for policing in our town centers to tackle the blight of antisocial behavior after closing time. I know some of those in the drinks industry will complain about the impact of these changes. But I think there are times when it’s right to put the interests of communities ahead of the interests of business.
This also does not endear him to the hard-pressed pubs and clubs of the UK, already reeling from the cigarette ban and poor economy. Cameron claims he wants to help business by reducing government, yet there are no signs of his wanting to end the public smoking ban that has done so much harm in the UK.
Having the uber-smug Saint Bono endorse him via video link might seem clever to the “it” crowd, but did nothing to endear him to the British public.
Cameron has continued to skirt the issue of Europe despite the serious problems emanating from Brussels that threaten London and may affect his ability to carry out the plans he has for the country. EU regulation has become such a burden that some have suggested withdrawal from the EU might be the only option:
Both London and Geneva could find themselves losing out to New York if Brussels’ controversial new rules to regulate the alternative asset management industry are fully implemented. A recent survey by the think-tank Open Europe found that nearly half the UK’s fund managers would be “more likely than not” to move abroad if the EU directive is implemented as it stands.
David Cameron has given his activists the boost they need to go out and plug for him come rain or shine when a general election is called. However, Cameron has yet to give the suffering British public something to get excited about. He still seems more intent on playing to the urban elites than he does to those struggling from Labour experiments in social engineering. His only “hook” at this point is that he is “not Brown and not Labour.”