This is our truth, tell us yours
One of the things I know about politics is that those who do it for a living are not always the most skilled people at it.
The small clique around Gordon Brown were the exemplars of this in the mid-noughties. They had absorbed the language of American tactical practice (triangulation was a favourite) and spent their entire lives searching for dividing lines the could draw between their master and others.
They were akin to musicians who spent every waking hour mastering scales and techniques but never played an emotionally engaging tune.
Nevertheless they were good at it, and in the absence of anything more compelling, they were an effective act. It’s noticeable, however, that the obsession with technique over emotion is precisely why Brown was always in Blair’s shadow; however shallow his moral base Blair engaged two key constituencies; aspirational voters who believed he shared their ambitions, and well-intentioned liberals who could be rallied to the cause of liberal interventionism abroad while accepting an ever more interventionist crime and anti-social behaviour strategy at home. Those engagements were on an emotional, not an intellectual level, and served Blair well.
One of the cliches of our time is the idea of the tipping point, the moment in time when the balance of events, or history, significantly shifts. In terms of the life history of David Cameron we may well be at that point. Not just because of the personal disaster that is the unravelling of his decision to believe Andy Coulson, and keep on believing no matter what the mounting pile of evidence, but because his own Chancellor is increasingly parking his tanks on the Prime Ministerial lawn.
George Osborne’s speech this week on the need to create a Northern Powerhouse by connecting the cities of the M62 corridor with high speed rail was an assertion of the Chancellor’s right to make big speeches independently of the PM. It was also a significant shift in strategy, suggesting that an interventionist infrastructure policy might help to re-balance the economy.
Now, ignore, if you can, for a moment, the way in which successive governments have ignored the obvious East-west route across the Pennines, via the Woodhead Tunnels (rejected by the government as a rail route in 2012). Ignore the fact that Manchester is only in the north if you live in London, and that other cities are more northerly. Ignore too the fact that there’s another lightly used Pennine crossing (Carlisle Newcastle) than links the east and west coast mainlines and instead ask yourself why Osborne is speaking now.
The answer is that the key tipping point that is approaching is not the one relating to how Cameron is viewed by the electorate, but how he is viewed by his party and his chancellor’s faction.The chancellor’s flexing his muscles and arguing for a more interventionist policy, using infrastructure to drive growth may be to little, too late and too badly thought out, but it’s an assertion of the chancellor’s right to lead. Like Gordon Brown before him Osborne doesn’t seem to understand that he lacks the emotional and empathetic skills of his leader, and seems to believe that he, too, could lead his party.
Less than a year before an election is ab ad time for a senior minister to start looking askance at his leader and speculating if he too, could wear the crown -that may be the tipping point we’re approaching.