The crash should have been the warning that the Cameroons were following the wrong course. But instead of rethinking, they hastily patched together a decent position on deficit-reduction but otherwise carried on much as before in copying early Blair. That Clinton/Blair method already seemed a tired response before the last election, something the Conservative leadership failed to notice. Even when it was updated by Barack Obama, and the media joined in the hype, it only narrowly won him the presidency in the midst of a recession against an unconvincing John McCain.
It should also have been a warning when in 2005 Armando Iannucci produced the brilliant The Thick of It, lampooning control-freak New Labour and their modernising Conservative opponents, both operating on an ever shorter spin-cycle. Instead, the Westminster village bought the DVD box-set, enjoyed the joke and carried on.
In one sense the conduct of the Tory modernisers was baffling. Imagine if Margaret Thatcher had based her 1979 election campaign on the assumptions and marketing techniques employed by Harold Macmillan in 1959, or if Clement Attlee had the practices of 1925 in mind when he took on Churchill in 1945. But the supposedly modern Cameroons took as their road-map an outdated guide, and acted as though Clinton, Blair, various memoirs and Pennebaker's film had taught them how tough-minded, supposedly sophisticated operators should behave if they wanted to win.
In the end, what they produced in the 2010 election campaign wasn't even a convincing copy of the Clinton/Blair playbook. They had their war room and drilled their candidates to be ultra-loyal in the name of victory, but it wasn't clear to them — or the country — what it was they were trying to sell other than the idea that it was their turn to be in power. It was as though they were working from a facsimile that had been reprinted so many times it was only a pale copy of the original.
Recently, the Prime Minister was questioned in Downing Street about the faltering performance of his government by worried members of the backbench 1922 Committee of Tory MPs. Was his media operation good enough to cope with the attacks from a press that has turned nasty? Cameron replied that newspapers no longer matter, and that what matters are television pictures. He said that he was most proud of the footage of him and Barack Obama attending a basketball game, flying on Airforce One and dining at the White House. That the stage-managed trip looked as though it was from another age, scripted by Iannucci, seemed beyond his ken.
The Tory leader is much more than the caricature painted by critics who call him a public relations lightweight. His sensibility is classically English; his shire Conservatism has deep roots. The Tory leader is not a libertarian, being principally interested in the space between free markets and the state. Hence the attempts to encourage a "Big Society".
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