Wednesday 27 May 2009

Would Cameron really let go in No 10?

Surely one of the funniest notions to emerge from the whole expenses crisis is the image of David Cameron as the man who wants to become Prime Minister only to hand what limited power he has in Number 10 over to backbenchers and local authorities.

Yet this is what we were expected to believe from his speech yesterday (although he was quick to reject the one thing that might demonstrate that he really would give up some power - proportional representation). Sure, I can see that he might want to cut the number of (Labour) MPs and pretend this is a selfless gesture. And he might even want to improve select committees (though they are a lot more powerful now than in the 1990s).

But are we really expected to believe that when Cameron finally works out what he wants to do as Prime Minister, he will let opposition backbenchers and his own councillors who oppose his plans for Swedish-style schools tear it all up to make a constitutional point. Helpfully, Anne McElvoy has dispelled any such notions in a great piece in tonight's London Evening Standard which explains just how much of a control freak Democratic Dave really is. Referring to his handling of recalcitrant MPs, she tells us how the sight of his former PPS Andrew McKay 'prattling' on TV was enough for Dave to hang him out to dry and asks:
What does all this tell us about his way of running things? For one thing, that he enjoys wielding authority and can wear it without strain. He still relies on a small group of insiders in times of trouble - the attack on "sofa government" in yesterday's speech might be deemed a bit rich coming from a man whose inner team practically inhabit his office sofa.
She goes on to point out that
A consistent faultline in Project Cameron is that it is both devolving and centralising at the same time, and often on the same issues. The present mood has tipped the balance - without an assessment of the impact of how it fits with other Conservative goals. That's evident when the shadow education spokesman waxes Govishly about devolving power one day - and then starts insisting on traditional subjects and uniform practices across the board the next.
It is said that Tony Blair talked constitutional reform in opposition but didn't deliver in Government. Ignoring devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, an overhaul of the House of Lords, PR in non-Westminster elections and Freedom of Information, this is what passes for informed comment among political pundits. Blair introduced huge constitutional reforms with lasting impact (as MPs shamed over expenses know). But what he also recognised was that sometimes being Prime Minister required leadership from the centre; without it, reform rarely happened and was often stymied.

The problem for Cameron is that he has been making his limited proposals sound more impressive than they are. And when it comes to delivering reforms - such as those on schools - which are disliked by a professional establishment that includes many of his own agents of localism (that's Tory councillors in old money) he'll find (should he win an election) that he'll want to use any real levers available to him as a Prime Minister to get his reforms through.

Of course, by then, yesterday's speech will be ancient history.

1 comment:

LB said...

Thanks for your post, the coverage of his speech was relly getting my goat.

Plus, to bang a well-worn drum - how can parents have free choice to select a school? Should popular schools be forced to accept 4 or 5 times their normal intake to satisfy demand? Of course not. So how will parents get to choose?