Rafy Hay examines Cameron’s response to increasing pressure on all sides
This week at PMQs, among the depressingly constant jeering and shouting, some key points shone through. The first was that David Cameron is still pushing his economic rhetoric. The second is that Labour still can’t shake off the myths Cameron relies on, continuing under Jeremy Corbyn, a tradition started under Ed Miliband.
However, Cameron’s bluff style and broken-record rhetoric exposes a much more precarious position. The prime minister is faced with opposition from all fronts, including behind, from the Conservative backbenches. His early mention of the EU pre-empted a question from an aged Tory representing rural Devonshire, a clear symptom of the divisions Cameron has to manage during his second term in government. These traditionalist, older Conservatives, specifically from South England, are becoming a thorn in their leader’s side especially on the EU issue, as Cameron frantically tries to secure support from a more moderate urban demographic, as well as from big and small Business.
The government also faces increasing pressure from anti-austerity opposition, as Labour under Corbyn continue to articulate sentiments expressed across the country. Particular focus was given in this session to the Tory cuts to Employment and Support Allowance for cancer patients—as has become JC’s customary style, a question from his constituent Martin was used to lead into a question about the unfair nature of the cuts.
However, on this question, and on one about NHS waiting times, Cameron was as slippery a customer as always: instead of answering, he brought up the record of Labour-controlled Wales’ NHS. In a textbook piece of politician’s dodging, he deflected from the perilous state of England’s underfunded NHS and its failure to meet waiting list targets by linking Labour, Wales, Scotland, income tax, and welfare. The exasperating quote in all its terrible beauty is as follows:
“Labour runs Wales, and what has Labour done in Wales? Labour has cut the NHS in Wales. What Labour’s great plan is is now emerging [sic]: it wants to cut the NHS in Wales and put up income tax on hard-working people in Scotland. That is right. What are Labour going to do to radiographers in Scotland? Put up their taxes. What are they going to do nurses in Scotland? Put up their taxes. What are they going to do to dentists in Scotland? Put up their taxes. We now know Labour’s plan: higher taxes for more welfare. They have learned nothing in the last decade.”
It’s really quite impressive rhetoric-wise, and is worth studying in more detail. Cameron uses populist rhetoric (appeals to hard-working people and their tax returns), references economic blame and harks back to 2008 (tax is mentioned five times), and attempts to portray cuts as the result of Labour, rather than Tory, ideology. Corbyn’s failure to roundly rebut these points falls into what might be called the “Miliband Trap”: a perception of economic weakness dogged the former leader of the opposition and, according to the recently-released Beckett Report, was a key barrier to his election in May last year.
Cameron’s distraction, however, is starting to wear thin. JC could definitely have hammered the PM far harder on his mismanagement of the NHS and selling off the family silver, and his gentle reserve is becoming less endearing, and more infuriating as the weeks go on. There’s a strong case to be made that righteous fury over the mounting number of those dispossessed, deprived, and even driven to death by the Conservatives’ cuts would now be a more justified response to Cameron’s obfuscating than what we see now.
Cameron exposed, despite an ostentatious and theatrical performance, the cracks forming in his wall, as his kowtowing to China on industry was brought up twice, without a real response at all. His decision over the EU may drive even further wedges into his party, and if Corbyn can effectively rally support against Tory cuts, and combat myths still propagated about Labour’s economic credibility by the government, Cameron may have several serious problems on his hands.
Featured image credit: Wikimedia Common