David Cameron – political Wonga man

Mr Cameron is Focus Group Man made flesh. This is not altogether surprising since his only known employment, other than politician, was in public relations. He appears not to know what to think until he has consulted a variety of gauges of public opinion, and then he announces his own opinion as if from deep conviction.

First came his commitment to further Scottish devolution, thus conjuring constitutional problems from thin air. He was panicked into doing so by a single Gallup Poll, whose authors must be very proud that a single poll of theirs affected a significant power so profoundly.

Then came his pledge to protect the funding of the National Health Service, because he knows through focus groups, opinion polls, etc., that the British people worship the NHS as the Israelites once worshipped the golden calf. But he also promised tax cuts for half the population. His focus groups have told him that, from the point of view of the electorate, it is not only cuts in the funding of the NHS bad, but tax cuts good. The fact that expenditure on health accounts for nearly a fifth of the government budget suggests that these promises may not be altogether easy to reconcile, unless the tax cuts yielded more tax overall through increased economic growth.

However, Mr Cameron cleverly kept his options open. He said he would maintain expenditure on the NHS whatever happened to the rest of the budget, but he did not say whether he meant at constant or nominal prices. Either interpretation would be compatible with his words, but if the latter he would be able simultaneously reduce expenditure on the NHS and keep it the same.

It is not difficult to predict the nature of the debate that would follow if Mr Cameron chose that interpretation. He would be accused of going back on his promise while he maintained that he had kept it. The debate would become a squabble as to the true meaning of words, as arcane as the squabble in its way as that between the Sunni and the Shia. Meanwhile, there would be no debate as to whether the Golden Calf (to change the religious metaphor slightly) should be worshipped or melted down.

I suppose it is naïve to want politicians to believe in something and to say what they mean. When you come to think of it, those who have done so have probably done more damage than the equivocators. There is no escape from the squalor of politics.

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