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People tend to laugh

Posted by Richard Saturday, July 21, 2007

Judging from the many attempts by some of the commentariat on Tory Home and elsewhere to spin the results of the Sedgefield and Ealing by-elections, it is clear that a goodly proportion of "Dave Cameron's Conservative Party" have no idea of the extent of the disaster that has hit them.

Even the Tory-leaning Daily Telegraph is unable to put much gloss on the debacle with the House pundit, Anthony King, serving up a gloomy prognosis under the headline, "By-elections show Tories lack public confidence".

Columnist Simon Heffer – predictably – takes a more robust line, his analysis sporting the headline, "Ealing tragedy threatens Project Dave".

Neither does the editorial leader offer any cheer, telling its readers, "The Conservatives need to stop digging", observing, rather mildly, that David Cameron has not succeeded in engineering any "mood-swing" in the Tories' favour so far.

But, it is Peter Hitchens, of the Daily Mail, who puts the boot in. Above all, he writes:

…I think the Grammar School fiasco put an end to David Cameron's strangely charmed political life. It did so because it told several important truths about the Tory Party. That it remains irreconcilably split between traditionalists and liberal 'progressives', and that the split will not heal.

It reminded them that Mr Cameron himself is definitely on the liberal side of that split, that he is inexperienced and intolerant, and that he is a son of privilege who has little clue how most people live. He had sort-of survived 'Hug a Hoodie' and 'Let sunshine win the day', but this argument took us back to the dreary dank wastelands of normal bread-and-butter politics. The bread was stale, the butter rancid.

And that did it. For some time, Mr Cameron had been like one of those cyclists one sees in London who cannot bear to admit that they have stopped. They are much preferable to the ones who ride through red traffic lights, because at least they observe them.

But instead of putting one foot on the ground and waiting for green, they writhe and twist as if infested by savage biting insects, doing anything to keep both feet on the pedals and to maintain their balance. Sometimes, they manage to stay like this until the light changes. Sometimes they have to give up. For all I know, Mr Cameron actually does this. I have yet to see him at a traffic light. But the moment when they abandon their attempt to stay up is a pretty hard one. People tend to laugh.
It is that last, short sentence, that will do for the Boy: "People tend to laugh". Outside the Westminster bubble and the chatterati of the media – out on the streets – Cameron is being summed up in one word: "prat", offered spontaneously when you ask what they think of the man. The man is seen as lacking gravitas, conviction - anything and everything that ordinary people might expect of a leader of the opposition and potential prime minister.

And once you have acquired that reputation, no amount of policies, no amount of spinning, no amount of point scoring at PMQs is going to make any difference. Prat he is, and prat he will always be. When assessing him as a future prime minister, as Hitchens writes: "People tend to laugh".

The tragedy is that now is the time that we need a robust, effective opposition, especially as now there is insistent murmuring about an early general election. We, on this blog, have tended to dismiss these rumours but, if Brown reads the state of the Tory party in the same way that we do, he might indeed be tempted to go to the country in October.

That would be more than a tragedy. It would be a disaster. Such is the disarray of the Tories – and their general incompetence – that even with a new EU treaty hanging, support for a referendum would not be enough to turn the electoral tide in favour of "Cameron's Conservative Party". With a new electoral mandate, an emboldened Brown could then ignore calls for a referendum, sliding the new treaty through Parliamentary ratification with minimal opposition from a shattered Tory Party, reeling from the impact of their fourth successive defeat.

In a time when it is fashionable for politicians to talk about their "legacy", that could be Cameron's. Any failure to lead the Tories effectively will allow through one of the most dangerous EU treaties yet. And that could all be because of one simple but lethal reaction: people tend to laugh.

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