Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why David Cameron will end in failure

One of the more commonly used political quotes is from Enoch Powell:
"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs."

At a time when David Cameron's Conservative Party appears to have broken out above the level in the polls where the party can achieve a comfortable working majority, it may seem a little perverse to think about the failure of David Cameron. "Surely", many of my Conservative friends will say, "He is poised to lead the Conservatives to a dramatic electoral victory". Well, perhaps he may indeed cross the threshold of 10 Downing Street as a victorious party leader. However, even if he does, that is no guarantee of a successful leadership. The Greeks often said "Call no man happy until he is dead", and as with any good Greek tragedy, the makings of disaster lie in the tragic flaws of Mr. Cameron's own personality.

The Conservatives have been putting out "signals" to the Liberal Democrats- suggesting that since both parties now agree on the need to transfer power back to local communities from Whitehall, then surely this could be the makings of a "Progressive Consensus" between the two parties in order to oppose the Labour Government more strongly. Of course, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. However, it is still hard to forget that it was the Conservatives, at least as much as Labour who presided over the centralising process in the first place.

David Cameron, like any politician with no experience of administration or management confuses an aspiration with an achievement. The current Labour government have this deficiency in full measure. They set targets with no idea how to achieve them. The result is that the system responds by attempting to achieve the target and nothing else. A good example is my local Doctors surgery. The target is that no patient should wait more than 48 hours for a Doctors appointment. However there is no excess capacity. What happens is that I, for example, can only book an exact time to see a specific individual doctor on a non-emergency basis, and wait up to two weeks. Otherwise I may phone early in the morning to get a doctor allocated randomly to see me at any time over the next 48 hours. Unfortunately I work very long hours and can not randomly leave the office. As a result the service I get from my NHS GP is actually much poorer than I would have got if the 48 hour target was not there.

This shows the difference between the aspiration that no-one should wait more than 48 hours to see a GP and the effective implementation of that aspiration. Another aspiration- masquerading under the name of policy- is that "Matrons" have the right to close a ward that is deemed to be inefficiently clean. However the backlog that an unscheduled ward closure creates renders it all but impossible to take that decision, there is simply not enough slack in the system, and the result is that MRSA and Clostridium difficile and other difficult to treat infections can flourish in our hospitals.

Cameron too has many aspirations. However, "fine words butter no parsnips". The PR presentation of his ideas show, all too clearly, that he does not have sufficient understanding of the administrative process nor of simple management to be able to achieve any but the most simple of his policy goals. One reason why the Liberal Democrats are often accused of being political anoraks is because much of our policy ideas understand that the aspiration hides the real difficulties of implementation- the devil is in the detail.

As Alan Clark once observed Yes Minister was as true to life as any documentary. David Cameron, like Tony Blair before him has not even been a junior minister, he has not been involved in any executive management. The fact is that his inexperience will not allow him to even understand the basic tools of administration for several years. By which time he will have already have made irreversible mistakes.

As with most politicians, David Cameron is an extrovert- perhaps not as extroverted as Lembit Opik, who really does seem to have the hide of a Rhinoceros- but there are certainly risk taking elements in his personality. He is not, I guess, too interested in the details of administration. He has, reputedly, a short temper. Already one can see the confusion and isolation that the office of Prime Minister will lay upon him. He has built his career seeming to be a cheerful Pollyanna, but confusion, frustration, and failure are likely to be his personal rewards for the achievements of high office. The limits of power can not be overcome unless one has a single overarching vision: a Churchill at war, perhaps or some aspects of Margaret Thatcher's second government in the 1980s- but they of course had a far broader experience, including long periods as senior ministers long before they assumed the top job. Neither Tony Blair, nor David Cameron ever served in cabinet before they became leaders of their respective parties, neither had either been a manager at any level in either the public or the private sector.

The fatal lack of experience, combined with the failure of understanding and a lack of introspection could lead to the same outcome for Mr. Cameron as for Mr. Blair.

For all of these reasons and many others, Liberal Democrats argue that changing the party of government will not alter things. Only a change to the system of government can do that.

That is a far bigger question than Mr. Cameron's PR driven mischief on the "progressive consensus" and it is the centre of Liberal Democrat ideology and its detailed policies.

5 comments:

Praguetory said...

"The fact is that his inexperience will not allow him to even understand the basic tools of administration for several years. By which time he will have already have made irreversible mistakes."

A gloomy diagnosis, but also nonsense on stilts. The first thing that Dave did on gaining leadership was to surround himself with the wisest and most experienced minds on the Conservative benches. From IDS Social Justice work to John Redwood's report on competitiveness through to Ken Clarke's work on democracy, it's the Conservatives who are building authority and devising ground-breaking policy ideas (in stark contrast to the Lib Dems I might add). In addition to his highly developed delegation skills (Michael Howard's weak point imho) Dave has shown an ability to learn from mistakes. If Cameron's rise had been seamless there would be a high risk of hubris - and there still is - but he has had a bumpy ride and learnt from it.

If things continue to play out as they are by the time the Conservatives come to power in 2010 we should have a tremendous goodwill from the public to make the radical changes needed. I'll certainly agree that we need to do far more than simply gain power to change things for the better.

Cicero said...

Hello Praguetory, but party loyalties aside, you might want to take a look at The Economist this week, where senior Conservatives are briefing that David cameron is concerned at the dearth of, particularly mid level, talent that he has to work with. While I agree that being collegiate would be a good thing, there is an obvious concern about any leader- that they retreat to the bunker when things get tough: this is what I think would happen to Cameron.

Praguetory said...

I'll take a look, Cicero. I agree that the next administration (whatever its composition) is going to have some extraordinarily tough challenges, but I think your post is unfairly dismissive.

Re talent, I'm more concerned about the dearth of it in the Labour Party and the demonstrable negative impact that is having. Take Labour's Treasury Team - there is nobody with financial or business experience! Imho that amounts to wilful negligence.

Cicero said...

Certainly agree with you on the dearth in Labour- my repeated concerns about the problems of professional politicians are particularly acute when I see Alistair Darling (LLB and former solicitor) as Chancellor and Andy Burnham (MA in English and former Parliamentary researcher) as Chief Secretary to the Treasury- not a second of business experience nor economics trainng between them...

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