“DC”…A failure of just about everything October 20, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Just on matters Brexit, a fantastic excoriating review by Andrew Rawnsley in the Guardian/Observer at the weekend of a new book by one of David Cameron’s spin doctors – Craig Oliver, which attempts to wrestle with just what went wrong with the Brexit referendum. I suspect that whatever view one takes on the issue or on Rawnsley himself who can sometimes seem a bit too comfortable in the world of British politics there is much to agree with in the piece.
It is the morning after the shock of the night before. David Cameron comes down from his flat at 7am to discuss his next move with his closest aides. Some of them have been in tears over a referendum result that will eject them and their boss from No 10. It will also, and rather more importantly, wreck more than four decades of British economic and foreign policy. And what does he say to them? He says: “Well, that didn’t go to plan!”
I would have found Cameron a more sympathetic figure had he greeted defeat by showering the room in profanities, by roaring with rage or howling with despair. The man has just immolated his premiership and accidentally amputated Britain from the European Union. He responds by sounding no more troubled than had he singed a few sausages on his barbecue.
I think in that simple anecdote Rawnsley nails one hugely significant aspect of Cameron’s approach that undermined all he did. He seemed like a man who simply did not care very much about what happened. Much has been made of the idea that Brexit signified a cry of anger against austerity/the system/political impotence/insert other according to taste… there’s some truth in all those, albeit in varying degrees and even if a number of us believe that they are often overstated and understate the centrality of anti-immigration feeling. But be that as it may perhaps another part of the vote was a simple wish to wipe a smile off that smug so and so’s face. If so mission accomplished. But it went much deeper than that. Cameron appears to have possessed almost epic levels of glacial indifference. Indeed one has to wonder reading Rawnsley’s account was there anything that could be done that would make any great impact on ‘DC’. As Rawnsley notes:
Oliver does not report this with intended malice. He is never less than adoring about the man he refers to as “DC”. He wants us to admire his boss and share his pride to “have worked for a man who had always been able to take anything in his stride”. But in this reader – and, I suspect, many others – it simply provoked fury that Cameron greeted each disaster with a flip remark. It had me wondering whether he found it so easy to sound untroubled by the unplanned consequences of his reckless actions because he was never really all that bothered about anything much.
I like this too.
To help us understand how gruelling life is at the coalface of the campaign grid, he gives us a stream of bulletins about his health. “Monday begins with a throbbing head, toothache and low-level sore throat.” “I go to bed with a low-level headache.” “I feel knackered.” “I am so exhausted now that I don’t even feel tired.” “I feel physically sick.” “I’m dehydrated.” “The campaign is making me ill – my chest is wheezy and I have the early symptoms of an ulcer.” For God’s sake, man, see a doctor.
I’ve seen, and mentioned, that curiously vainglorious approach to politics before. One of the most entertaining moments of my engagement with politics, such as it is, was hearing a bunch of people who had been involved in a policy launch – the details don’t matter – speaking in wonderment at the fact they’d been up all night and had to sleep under desks. The idea that this was not unknown on a regular basis to many workers both here and further afield appeared to escape them such was the simple pleasure they expressed in their supposed excessive effort and attachment to the project.
Michael Gove is the vain, scheming and treacherous villain of the campaign, but then I think we have all gathered by now that it wouldn’t be sensible to trust him with a pencil. Boris Johnson swithers all over the place before coming out for the Outers, but then we knew that too from his description of himself as “veering around like a shopping trolley”. We learn surprisingly little about Cameron’s true feelings towards the friends turned enemies who eviscerated him. His emotions about Gove and Johnson must surely be more vivid than the tepid observations reported here.
But as Rawnsley notes, all this is colour, not substance. What were the broader and deeper dynamics away from personalities who, without question in the case of Johnson, offered some political cover for those on the Leave side, but who aren’t the whole story by a long shot? This volume does not appear to tell us.
This is telling:
The author never tires of telling us that his team is “amazing”, which leaves him with the problem of explaining why he was at the heart of the campaign that lost. For much of the book, it is the fault of everyone except him and the boss. The EU ought to have given more in the negotiation. Tories are untrustworthy. Labour is useless. The other side has more money. The other side constantly lies. The other side’s deceits aren’t being properly challenged by the BBC. The Out newspapers are a nightmare, “becoming more and more personal, more and more destructive”. Here, he alights on one of the reasons they lost. At election after election, including the most recent one, the Tories could rely on the rightwing press to assassinate the characters of opponents and megaphone Conservative messages. Cameron had clearly not thought enough about having that firepower turned against him. He finds out what it was like to be Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg and hasn’t a clue what to do about it.
Rawnsley notes that:
It is only towards the conclusion that the author brings himself to reflect on the mistakes made by his side and the book is worth reading for that. The In campaign staked everything on the belief that “the economy would trump immigration”. He realises now that many Britons didn’t think they had much to lose from Brexit and “we didn’t do enough to understand them”.
I think that’s a fair observation. As the pound tanks and prices rise in the UK it is reasonable to suggest that for working people the next number of years – even in advance of Brexit proper – are going to be difficult. Possibly very very difficult, and all this under a Tory government that is in place after a half decade of perhaps the most extreme Tory government we’ve seen since the 1980s. That that is simply collateral damage for some is a depressing thought. But the deeper point is that there was no actual belief on the part of many who voted out that this was the near inevitable consequence of any such vote. That that vote rested on ever more apparently incorrect assumptions about the centrality of Britain to the global economy, the strength and importance of the British economy, the negligible worth (economically) of the single market, the potential for substituting that supposedly negligible market with Australia etc, and beyond that further assumptions about the position and role of the UK in the world (as well as some frankly remarkable indifference to the reality of the constitutional dispensations on these islands in regard to Scotland and Northern Ireland and how Brexit could upset and destabilise them) is something that is going to take years to unpick.
But as Rawnsley notes:
What he can’t bring himself to admit is that Cameron, the insouciant gambler, was a fool to make the referendum promise when he wasn’t certain that he could get a deal from the EU that he could sell to the voters nor sure that he could bind in the support of key colleagues. He miscalculated again by calling the vote even when it was obvious he had secured neither.
And this last is a crucial point.
Even if we accept the contention that a referendum was “inevitable” at some point, it was Cameron’s choice to hold it at a time when the chances of winning were most dicey. Oliver laments that “we struggled to communicate a complex truth in the face of simple lies”. They sure did, not least because his boss gave himself just a few weeks to build a case for EU membership after decades in which he and other Tories had trashed it.
Compare and contrast with Corbyn, a man who was clearly EU critical but had a fairly good grasp of the forces that were being played with in all this both in relation to the support base of the LP and more widely in relation to the stresses the UK was about to be subjected to.
When Cameron leaves No 10 for the last time, his faithful retainer says to himself: “I hope history will be kind to you.” It won’t.
It sure won’t.