Thursday, December 08, 2005

Unlikely Virtues

"A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them." P.J. O'Rourke.

The love fest that the British media are indulging in over the new Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, is reaching ever higher levels of hyperbole. It is certainly true that Mr. Cameron appears to have a cardinal virtue in a politician- he is lucky. The way he has risen without trace (or any real organisational experience) is a testament to luck. The fact of his coming to the leadership when Gordon Brown is facing the first breath of the storm that his policies have created is also lucky. Even the fact that Lady Thatcher has been taken ill on the second day of his leadership may also be considered to be lucky- at least there is no chance of "backseat driving" now.

However, I view the drooling of the British media over Mr. Cameron with a jaundiced eye. Sure, he does not look actively sinister as his predecessor, Michael Howard, does. True too, he has an easy, breezy charm. However his sole entry into the field of policy- his co-authorship of the 2005 Tory Party manifesto- was pretty catastrophic. His knowledge of economics is thin, and the decision to stick with the lightweight George Osbourne as Shadow Chancellor, while a tribute to personal loyalty, is not a sign that the Conservative Party can engage with hard policy.

While it may be that the Conservatives can fashion a coherent policy agenda, focusing on the soft issue areas, where they have perceived weaknesses- such as the environment, health or education- I am sceptical. Mr. Cameron and his somewhat callow team have a pretty narrow set of personal experience- largely upper middle class white males- so their attempts to court groups from outside that circle already looks rather patronizing. Furthermore, there is little intellectual fire power on the critical issues of economics. This is a humanities based shadow cabinet with very limited business or commercial understanding. Amidst all the media bally-hoo, these fundamental facts have been lost. When the inevitable disillusion sets in, it will become very easy to remember that "all political careers end in failure".

As I skim the newspapers this morning, I find myself thinking on another P.J. O' Rourke comment, made concerning the Kennedys, "It's always easy to impute / unlikely virtues to the cute".

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