The true root of this 'omnishambles' government is a lack of leadership

David Cameron must remind Britain who he is and what he stands for... alone, not via a Director of Strategy

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One more chance for Cameron to assert himself?
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Benjamin Harris-Quinney
On 26 April 2012 08:28

Leadership and achievement must be the mark of any government. Spin can still just about keep the ball rolling from crisis to mediocrity and back, but when scrutinised, especially with hindsight, any government relying on it withers.

I recall fondly a meeting with Lady Thatcher last year, where she said in usual unswerving bluntness, ”The great crisis of the world today, is an absence of leadership. “

We can expect little more, as a generation who elects leaders barely achieving 40. Kennedy was not a model for government; he was an anomaly, though sadly brief.

I doubt I could run a nation without any real life experience, and I don’t know anyone that could. The trouble is they will, and do.

In the same week as the ”omnishambles” was hauled out of Armando Ianucci’s lexicon to make sense of the current political diaspora, following three of the worst months for the government, news broke that a new director of strategy was being lined up to take up the slack left by Steve Hilton.  Problem solved? A vague sense of strategy and direction to be restored?

Whether in name or in practice the Prime Minister’s “Director of Strategy” should be the Prime Minister, with no architects above him. As one of Kennedy’s predecessors had etched in a plaque on his desk “The buck stops here”. The continuation of government by focus group and communications consultants that began under Blair has created an environment where the buck starts, stops and goes nowhere; without leadership, without principle, without direction.  This is the true root of the ”omnishambles”.

The problem that has always haunted David Cameron’s tenure in the Conservative Party, is that when he became leader in 2005 no one really knew who he was, and 7 years later, we still don’t.

The younger a man is, the more he cares about popularity, the older, the more he cares about legacy. Cameron came of age not only at the height of British populism, full of the optimism of being the “heir to Blair”, but also at the zenith of his own personal populism, not yet ready to say what he truly believes, for fear of derision.

History teaches us that the ramp up to leadership is most often to be paved with hatred, bitterness and derision, so when one reaches the top, there tends to be a degree of certainty as to what one believes in. A persons very being is tested for decades under the harsh heat of scrutiny and often lack of popularity, but those that emerge, emerge leaders; Churchill, Thatcher, Reagan.

We still hope in the Conservative Party that David Cameron is the man who went to the UN in March 2011 to lead the world in arguing for a no fly zone over Libya, and the man who went to Brussels that December. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the issues, there was clear leadership, there was principle, there was something you could point to and say, that is David Cameron, this is what he believes in.

But for every one of these examples, there are ten to the contrary, that confuse the nation as to what he and his government stand for. Andy Coulson, cash for dinners, government surveillance powers, multiculturalism, localism, gay marriage, religion, justice, charity, the NHS, infrastructure investment, competitive tax, the green/anti-growth agenda, Lords reform, the EU, the military covenant. Cameron’s people have spun and re-spun all of these issues to the extent that I have no idea where he truly stands on them, and those that do can be counted in the obscure Oedipal Downing Street community alone.

Cameron certainly can be the leader he has shown promise of, the danger is it takes him another ten years to realise it.

As the political calendar revs up again, it’s worth giving our once best hope another chance, though as a true Conservative, probably not more than that.

Ben Harris-Quinney is the Chairman of the Bow Group, the UK's oldest centre-right think tank. He tweets at @B_HQ and you can find out more about the Bow Group at www.bowgroup.org

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