Cameron, the Master Popularist

Listen to David Cameron speak with your eyes closed and you could easily be forgiven for assuming you are listening to Tony Blair, not least of all because every sentence seems to start with "Look..." before going on to list the great things he claims his party will do.

Like Blair, Mr. Cameron is a master popularist, highly skilled at correctly guessing what the public will want to hear and saying it at the right time - ie; before Gordon Brown says the same thing, which serves to give the impression that it was his idea in the first place - even if he's actually just repeating in a louder (and much posher) voice what Mr. Brown has already said.

A: Stegosaurus. Had an arse with a brain inside it.
B: David Cameron's Face. Looks like an arse with a brain behind it.

A case in point is the two leaders' reactions to the ongoing expenses scandal. While Brown was still flustered, wondering what on Earth he needed to do and whether or not there might be a way that it could all be made to look like nothing very important (some hope of that!), Mr. Cameron had already realised that it was on the cusp of becoming the biggest and most damaging event in British politics for decades, one that would forever taint Parliament's reputation amongst voters. Rather than even attempting to argue that his MPs had done nothing wrong, he seized a prime opportunity for some point scoring and announced that Conservative Party members would be expected to explain their claims and begin paying money back, regardless of what was eventually decided. He knew that, no matter what happened, as far as the electorate were concerned the MPs had been caught with their sticky fingers in the till and nothing was going to reduce their anger so instead of trying to defend them he contrived to give the impression that his party knew it was in the wrong, was very sorry and was now going to make amends. That's still not a very good impression to give, but it's a lot better than looking as though you're futilely trying to get away with your misdeeds in the face of damning evidence which, until very recently at least, is precisely the impression Labour were giving.

Labour have caught up, but it's too late. They may have now paid back more than £316,000, 66% of the total amount repaid compared to the Tories' £131,000 - 27%, and that may be at least partly because Labour have had a lot more MPs but as far as the public are concerned, Cameron forced the repayments before Brown did and therefore, if not honest, must surely be less dishonest than his rival. Now, the Conservatives have said they will pay back a further £125,000, bringing their total to around a quarter of a million - very close to that repaid by Labour.

Look at their body language in the Commons, during Michael Martin's resignation. Mr. Brown - slumped on the bench, reading his notes, looking for all the world as though he'd enjoyed a wee dram or two of Laphroaig in the Commons bar (not that any of us here can find fault with a wee dram or two of Laphroaig, the enjoyment of which is a basic human right in our opinion). Mr. Cameron, meanwhile, sat upright on his side of the debating chamber, watching and listening with rapt attention. A few bloggers shared their thoughts on it at the time, whereas we are not great believers in body language, feeling that too many people attach too much importance to it; but regardless of what we think, a lot of people will have seen it and formed the impression that Cameron listens to people while Brown isn't interested in others. His sincerity may be doubtful, but he still comes out looking better.

Back in 1994, Blair used the Labour Party conference to announce his plans for Labour's future, beginning with the radical changes to Clause IV of the party's constitution. At that time, the Conservative party was at its lowest ebb - John Major was a highly unpopular Prime Minister and his party had been rocked by a series of scandals popularly known as the "sleaze allegations." Blair took advantage of this and followed up his '94 action with further moves in a special 1995 conference when he replaced the Clause entirely with a statement declaring the party to be one representing democratic socialism, and in doing so created what was to become known as New Labour. The rest, as we all know, is history - in the 1997 General Election, Labour trounced the Tories, who suffered their worst defeat since 1832, and began the long period of government that we remain in to this day.

Right now, Labour are still recovering from their awful results in the recent local and European elections, a contest that saw them attract their smallest share of the vote since the party began. The expenses scandal has hit all of the main parties equally, but it's Labour who look as though they'll end up with the greater amount of egg on their faces (with the possible exception of Nick Griffin, who isn't even involved) because many of the most notorious claimants - ie; Elliot Morley, Shahid Malik, Baroness Uddin, Margaret Moran - are Labour members. Hazel Blears hasn't helped matters either, as she now realises. Lord Mandelson may yet prove to be Labour's albatross - Mr. Brown may have an enormous fondness for him and he may be gaining popularity amongst Labour MPs, but when the public hear his name, they immediately think of his two forced resignations and associate him with controversy.

Meanwhile, only two Tories have achieved infamy on such a scale - David Chaytor, who is by far the most damaging of the two and may even face criminal prosecution, and Peter Viggers with his duck house which would have cost £1600, had he have been granted the requested money, which is a sufficiently low amount and a case just funny enough to have become used as a little light relief amongst the many claims for far larger sums (the LibDems, on the other hand, seem to have come out of it all smelling relatively rosey - it was one of their MPs, David Howarth, who has managed to achieve virtual sainthood by claiming nothing other than basic costs strictly related to his job. Precisely why they are not making the most of this is unclear - perhaps they don't want to attract attention to themselves right now, hoping that the other parties will draw fire and that small matter of Micheal Brown's £2.4 million will be forgotten about).

What goes around comes around, and fortunes change. Twelve years ago, it was the Conservatives who suffered a run of bad luck and Labour took control of the game. Right now, Labour have been dealt a phenomenonally bad hand and as much as the party bluffs, they can't change that. The Tories may not have any aces, but David Cameron is a far wilier player than Mr. Brown.

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