Government ministers are being deserted wholesale by David Cameron as he seeks to avoid bad headlines in papers like the Daily Mail and the Sun.
There is a growing feeling across Whitehall that any policy that meets resistance from the tabloids or from Tory backbenchers is likely to be severely revised or even ditched. Meanwhile the Minister responsible for the policy is likely to be hung out to dry in the process.
This short-term thinking is reminiscent of Tony Blair’s government but we should not be surprised. TheOpinionSite.org as stated previously that David Cameron has always modelled himself on Tony Blair and in doing so, is likely to cause as much damage to the country as his predecessor.
Because there is no policy unit in number 10 to shadow the work of individual government departments, there is no structure in place to defend the government against unpopular decisions. This decision not to have a dedicated department is to some extent at least determined by the cost of running it. Nevertheless, it also means that every time there is opposition to any radical proposal or change put forward by the government, Cameron and his cabinet are left wide open to attack from both his own backbenchers and also from the popular press.
Cabinet ministers are getting fed up with being left out in the cold and having to take the blame for proposals that are supposedly agreed by the entire cabinet before being put into the public domain.
Whether it be the reform of the criminal justice system, green issues, social security and benefits, employment policy, overseas aid or defence – not to mention the NHS – ministers ultimately have little hope of being supported in implementing necessary reforms should the tabloid press object to what is being proposed.
Just three examples illustrate the problem:
- Kenneth Clarke and knife crime. A consultation paper, Breaking the Cycle, which was agreed with No 10, ditched Cameron’s election campaign pledge to jail anyone convicted of carrying a knife. Downing Street sources briefed against Clarke after tabloids reacted against his plans.
- Lady Warsi and her speech in January in which she said that Islamophobia had “passed the dinner-table test”. Downing Street sources said that Warsi’s office did not clear the speech properly. But even her critics believe she was treated harshly.
- Caroline Spelman and forests. The environment secretary agreed her proposals to change the ownership of 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland. But a backlash, led by the conservative Sunday Telegraph, prompted a U-turn and an apology from Spelman ordered by No 10.
This short-term thinking by David Cameron is not only potentially highly damaging to himself and his party but also to the country. With the coalition government already looking fairly shaky, the last thing Britain needs is a Prime Minister who can only think of tomorrow’s headlines and who is so weak that he cannot stand up for his own policies.
TheOpinionSite.org would for once like to come to the defence of the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg who has been highly criticised in recent weeks for being weak and for not standing up for Liberal Democrat policies.
Whatever criticisms of Mr. Clegg may be justified, his transgressions pale into insignificance when compared with the traitorous behaviour of Mr. Cameron and the way in which he, as prime minister and head of the Cabinet, is prepared to do a sharp U-turn every time he encounters opposition to any radical change or proposal.
Worse, it forces us to remember that Mr. Clegg may well be the head prefect but David Cameron is determined to remain the head boy.
The Secretary of State for Justice, Kenneth Clarke is likely to make some reference soon to the results of the consultation that has been taking place on his Green Paper, “Breaking the Cycle” which promises radical reforms to sentencing and other aspects of the criminal justice system.
Whatever is contained in Mr. Clarke’s proposals, they are certain to meet with stiff opposition from the Tory right wing and the tabloids, as well as individual groups across the social spectrum.
The fact that these reforms are undoubtedly necessary will no doubt be forgotten amongst all the shouting and screaming that follows Mr. Clarke’s eventual statement. Mr. Cameron has already caved in to his right wing colleagues over prisoners voting rights and revisions to the sex offenders register, both of which are subject to rulings from very senior judges.
Meanwhile, Cameron may have given Nick Clegg slightly more freedom to express himself by putting him on a longer lead but he will still only be allowed in the house when Cameron allows.
Ministers cannot therefore expect much support from the liberal side of the coalition, for even if that support is there, any expression of it will be suppressed in order to satisfy the blood lust of the Tory right wing and the tabloids.
TheOpinionSite.org warns that the alarm bells are beginning to ring for Mr. Cameron as he seeks to maintain his already much reduced credibility. He may very well have succeeded in allowing the Liberal Democrats in the coalition to take most of the blame for recent political problems.
Now however, the writing is very much on the wall for Mr. Cameron and if he is to have any chance of being remembered as a worthwhile Prime Minister and not hated like Tony Blair, he is going to have to pull himself together and stand up to the tabloids in general, Rupert Murdoch in particular and last but not least, his own backbenchers.