The world of politics has entered a confused and yet fascinating stage. Even if you take the view that Labour has entered a ‘lunatics have taken over the asylum’ phase, the Tories are hardly faring much better. With David Cameron – their version of Tony Blair – having publicly announced that he won’t be seeking a third term as Premier the likely contenders to replace him are hardly giving cause for future confidence.
George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer) is a notable case in point. He’s got a tough remit – anyone who took on the role of ‘repairing the shop’ after the 2008 global crash was always going to get little thanks for administering the unpalatable medicine – but he occasionally shoots himself in the foot (cue the ‘omnishambles’ Budget and the current controversy over ‘in work’ benefits).
The Tories are all too aware of the unpopularity risks of applying tough measures, especially to sacred cows such as the NHS, but the rhino-trap when you keep ring-fencing more and more big spending departments is that the only option left is to hit the few departments remaining with increasingly savings/cuts if you are to hit your stated targets. Currently despite all efforts, it currently looks as though George is still going to be wrestling with a borrowing requirement going the wrong way.
I have no greater sense of where the truth on funding lies than anyone else. Whenever ‘crisis’ events such as the Paris bombings and ISIS/Syria hit the fan, the twin emotive subjects of military and police spending rapidly move centre stage with inevitable results and suspicions.
No ‘special interest’ lobby is going to waste an opportunity to fight its funding corner and in this instance and circumstances it’s damned difficult to decide whether those tasked with delivering ‘security’ are crying wolf once more or simply stating the blunt truth in maintaining that they cannot be cut any further and/or need more resources, which they invariably do every time spending being becomes a live issue – as it does this week with the strategic military review and the autumn Budget statement now due.
George is one of those ‘Marmite’ political figures. He comes across as an austere – one-trick-pony, ‘convinced he’s right’ – Cromwell-type figure to all those who believe he takes delight in inflicting pain, especially on the vulnerable. No amount of cosmetic reinvention (e.g. the new haircut) will soften that image for those that feel he’s got it in for them. This is a major issue for any Prime Ministerial ambitions he harbours. Not, of course, for non-Tories or those who hate him – they’ll never change – but for Tory MPs and grandees generally: why elect as your leader someone who’ll turn off large swathes of undecided voters?
The NHS is a perennial toxic smell in the corner of the room for the Tory Party. Its spending is vast, almost to the point of being a bottomless pit, but every initiative they devise to try and deal with the problem – inasmuch as it proposes funding cuts or ways of finding and implementing ‘efficiencies’ – immediately causes howls of protest from both those who work inside it and those who revere its ‘tablet of stone’ status in the scheme of what counts for British civilisation.
Responsibility for health is a poisoned chalice/graveyard for any prospective Tory because by definition ‘whatever they do is wrong’.
Step forward the hapless Andrew Lansley – who retired hurt under the huge pile of brickbats chucked at him from all sides – and now Jeremy Hunt, whose generally-suspect competence and cold dispassionate delivery in his public pronouncements prompts a ‘red rag to a bull’ Pavlovian response in every interest group he takes on.
Currently – for good or ill – Hunt seems to be on course to achieve a similar heady status in left-wing folklore as the ‘Milk Snatcher’ herself, the Blessed Margaret.
Who else is there in the ‘non-race’ to replace David Cameron?
Her problem is her Cruella De Ville public image and its attendant impression that, when those with authority for these things came to hand out her life attributes, a sense of humour or ‘the common touch’ were never considered, still less made the short list.
Everything is equally and terribly serious, whether it’s a review of which paperclips her civil servants will be allowed to order next time, or the Government’s rapid response’ plans to deal with a potential central London multi-bomb terrorists attack. This lack of ‘accessibility’ is a major drag on her chances of reaching Number 10.
Going to the other end of the spectrum, of course, one cannot finish without addressing the issue of Boris. I must declare an interest here – the very idea of him at all, never mind as potential Prime Minister, never fails makes to me smile. If someone like him didn’t exist, he ought to have been invented.
I’m talking, of course, of the concept of some eccentric, amusing (political) public figure being wheeled out from time to time to meet and greet visiting dignitaries, award a prize, hang from a hire wire waving a flag wearing a suit and hard hat, or simply do a turn as chairman of Have I Got News For You.
I’m all in favour of it – and Boris – in that context.
My problem, or rather Boris’s, (and I’m sure I’m not the only one with this view) is that I’m not at all convinced that I’d want to send him out into the world to do anything serious or statesman-like on behalf of the UK.
Those in the know (and/or whose opinions I respect) tell me that I shouldn’t be fooled, he’s highly intelligent but deliberately hides it behind the entertaining veneer and buffoonery.
That might even be true, but it’s not the point. When it comes to electing a Prime Minister, or even voting at all, people like me are not readily going to place their trust in someone whom they suspect – even if he were addressing the United Nations, or placing his hand over the nuclear ‘fire’ button – would be unable to help himself going for a gag, simply out of his enjoyment of the limelight and ability to be funny.
When things get deadly serious, you want representing you someone who, okay maybe wears his deep intelligence lightly, but can be relied upon to make a sound, reasoned and convincing case – someone who makes you proud that he, rather than anyone else, is out there batting for the UK – not someone who hides his brain-power under a bushel and presents himself to the world as a ‘loose cannon’.