Lightwater blog’s person of the year 2010

Fraser Nelson was my 2009 person of the year. He was often a courageous lone voice, which is a key reason why he got my vote.

The chief personal characteristic that I look for in choosing person of the year is courage. Courage is a rare commodity. It means overcoming fear, which so often debilitates. Courage is taking a measured risk, not a careless risk.

I imagine you’ll not be surprised when I make David Cameron my 2010 person of the year.

I do so for a number of reasons. Primarily for the courage in forging a coalition government. Not easy to give up on a party’s sole grip on power. Although the other reasons are just as important, which are to have brought order and balance back to the office of Prime Minister. No longer do we blanch at the bullying, rudderless, and chaotic Brown government, nor the vanity and self-awareness of Tony Blair. Cameron seems made for the role.

Cameron’s joint press pre-Christmas press conference with Nick Clegg was a clincher, an accomplished performance. As they always say about leaders, be in it in sport or elsewhere, they have headroom. They make it all seem easy, and you know that they’ve more to give when required. In a complex and interconnected world this is a vital attribute.

Benedict Brogan offers his judgement on Cameron, as does Iain Martin.

PMQ’s analysis: Not waving, but drowning

Wowee, a game changer of Prime Minister’s Questions, where the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, was so soundly trounced by David Cameron that there are already mutterings from Labour about how long Ed Miliband can last as Labour Leader.

PMQ’s was full of references to England’s bid to host the World Cup, which made for a lighter atmosphere.

Going back to Ed Miliband’s performance, while he was heroically weak and ineffective, it was by comparison to Cameron’s stellar performance that he was shown in such a poor light. Cameron was absolutely on top of all his briefs, shown by minimal use of his briefing notes, and wasn’t discomfited by Ed Miliband or any backbencher.

The commentariat talk about PMQ’s not affecting public perception of a party leader’s standing. I’m not so sure. While the general populace won’t watch PMQ’s, the quality of performance directly affects party morale and press commentary. Refer Peter Hoskin, Quentin Letts, Paul Waugh, and Simon Hoggart.

Here’s the final question from Ed Miliband and Cameron’s answer:

Edward Miliband:With that answer, it is no wonder that today we learn that the Foreign Secretary describes this gang as the “children of Thatcher”. It sounds just like the 1980s-out of touch with people up and down the country. Why does the Prime Minister not admit that he is complacent about the recovery and complacent about the people who will lose their jobs? And it is they who will pay the price.

The Prime Minister: Not waving, but drowning. My mother is still with us, so she is able to testify that what the right hon. Gentleman has just claimed is not literally true, but let me say this: I would rather be a child of Thatcher than a son of Brown.

PMQ’s analysis: Cameron peerless

Just checked when last I wrote an analysis of Prime Minister’s Questions, it was back in July this year. Anyway, having a day working on some projects [emailing like crazy], I found time to watch the whole of today’s PMQ’s on my computer.

There’s not a huge lot to say, other than David Cameron is mightily impressive at the despatch box [read Hansard report]. Ed Miliband’s questions were on cancellation of funding for school sport partnerships, and the failure of the PM to meet his previously stated promise to ensure all ‘require banks to disclose the number of employees paid salary and bonuses of more than £1 million’.

A couple of tricky questions from the Labour leader. David Cameron handled them with accomplishment, while also delivering a few well-placed barbs that didn’t allow the Labour leader to leave the chamber on a happy note. 

What I did observe in Cameron’s answers was an ability to moderate his tone to reflect the questioner. If it’s Labour front bench, then it’s all guns blazing. Yet, if the question is from a backbencher, then it’s respectful consideration and desire to be helpful, all delivered sotto voce. I hope he keeps doing this. Generous recognition of the role of backbench MP’s shows a respect for parliamentarians, whomever they may be.

If you watch a repeat of the programme – HERE – just look at the careful attention that Cameron gives to the ‘Beast of Bolsover’ Denis Skinners’s question.

Cameron’s China mission

Didn’t Cameron say ‘Britain is open for business’. He’s certainly proving it, assembling heavyweight trade and cultural missions to both India and China within six months of taking office. Forget the ‘anti’s’. We need to pitch for business and solid cultural links with the world’s biggest economies.

Today, Guido notes that David Cameron once spent time working for Jardine Matheson in Hong Kong, which may not play well with the Chinese. Bunkum, I say. It’s this very experience that should give him the necessary humility when dealing with China.

A historical perspective is required in foreign relations. Pretty obvious really. It’s good that the government are utilising Simon Schama to recast the way we teach history in our schools.

The government is getting everything right. But, my have they a lot to fix in our society, after the disastrous Brown years.

UPDATE: I’ve now read the entirety of Simon Schama’s superb article on teaching of history to our schoolchildren. And, do you know what the last sentence of his article said, when picking out essential areas for children to learn of our history,

“The opium wars and China: Victorian Britain using the royal navy to protect hard drug trafficking? True!”

Exactly.

Presentational failure of Cameron’s photographers

Still on the This Week theme, I was disappointed that Michael Portillo’s viewed the revelation that David Cameron had hired two personal photographers as a bad sign.

There’s divided opinion on this, more against than for the hirings:

For me, it’s a  failure of presentation by David Cameron and his No 10 press team. Where were the arguments presented for the hirings. None. I can see plenty; being on hand at important moments when the media photographers aren’t around, to capture the intimate moments of the PM and conversations with world leaders, to record life at No 10 for posterity, to present professional images of No 10 to the world, to provide the images as part of a communication strategy with the electorate. Geez, I could go on.

I agree with Collen Graffy, who’s surprised that there wasn’t an existing unit in No 10. There must be trust between photographer and the photographed, which is something that was obviously built up while he employed the two when in opposition. I’m not too fussed about his choice.

What I am fussed about is the failure of No 10’s press and PR team to see the pitfalls in such appointments, without presenting the justifying strategic reasons for them. Others, such as Martin Ivens in The Times, and Tim Montgomerie have commented on the need for a Chief of Staff at No 10. Coalition government presents more presentational challenges than one party government, so a coordinating hand is vital. Public goodwill is a finite resource, and shouldn’t be expended carelessly, as has been the case with Cameron’s photographers.

Cameron’s PM Direct success

I’m sure you’ll have seen on TV news David Cameron at one of his PM Direct events around the country. I don’t think this has had the praise that it deserves. It’s surely a positive and welcome improvement in access to the Prime Minister that the public can ask the Prime Minister tough questions, face to face.

The pundocracy, and naturally opposition politicians, are quick to point out any mis-speakings by Cameron. It would be interesting to hear what the general public thinks. I imagine that they’ll generally be forgiving for small mistakes, in exchange for the openness  of the Prime Minister to challenge by ordinary members of the public.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Cameron has held five of these PM Direct town hall-style meetings that I’ve counted, Brighton & Hove, Luton, Birmingham, Manchester, and Newquay. I think that’s pretty good going.

Review of BBC’s ‘Five days that changed Britain’

Remarkable, the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson’s ability to assemble a large cast for his Five Days That Changed Britain TV programme of how the Conservative & Lib Dem coalition government was formed.

Nick provides interesting detail on the making of the programme in A leap in the dark, and Tim Montgomerie has some useful notes on who said what.

Full of cameo interviews from most of the key players in the drama, that is all except one notable absentee, Gordon Brown. Nothing new there I imagine you conclude. What a missed opportunity for Gordon to be reflective and statesmanlike.

My star of the show was William Hague, all smiles, insight, and openness. What a change from the earnestness of David Miliband as Foreign Secretary. Hague’s lovely imaginings of what Gordon Brown, in No 10, was thinking, while the coalition discussions were taking place just yards away in the Cabinet Office.

From watching the interviews it’s easy to conclude that Labour’s players were all about grievance, while Conservatives and Lib Dems were about opportunity. Openness – that’s what Labour’s players seemed to lack; Ed Balls all indignant grievance; and from Lord Mandleson such carefully chosen words, but never quite enough to expose the truth.  

The Liberal Democrats – Clegg, Laws, Ashdown, and Hughes, all impressive. Ming Campbell less so, showing a sense of loss of what might have been.

How interesting that the Civil Service, and especially its head Sir Gus O’Donnell, had prepared for a coalition outcome, and urged on the discussions. Fed up, probably, of Gordon Brown’s indecision.

Finally, about Cameron. I think he’s showing the essential difference between Tories and all other parties, and that is while Conservatives have values and principles, the key difference is intelligent pragmatism. For a lifelong political people-watcher like me, this programme was fun. Nick Robinson, ignore all your critics, well done.

PS: Caught a bit of the Newsnight discussion on the programme, in which Ed Miliband offered the now normal Labour denial of the need for change. And he’s second favourite for the Labour leadership. Hmmm – Labour, you’ll have to find better than a Miliband to lead you.