Fraser Nelson

Cameron the optimist

Cameron the optimist
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Is David Cameron just too nice? There are worse accusations to levy at a politician, but it's one I have heard suggested quite a lot recently - and I have written about it in my News of the World column today. He seems to have adopted the politics of wishful thinking. There is a "zip-a-dee-do-dah strategy" and precious little contingency if things go wrong. He makes defence cuts, because he doesn't intend to go on a massive deployment (neither did Woodrow Wilson). He will make prison cuts, because he thinks - bless him - that it won't increase crime. He signs a deal with French for military co-operation, thinking they will dump the habit of 500-years and actually agree with Britain on the next major foreign policy dispute.

The Big Society, that "Hello sunshine, hello trees" strategy copyright of Steve Hilton, has been allowed to seep into other policy areas, even tainting his negotiations with Brussels. When Cameron claimed that he had scored a "stunning" victory against the EU in the budget increase - giving them an extra £400m of taxpayers' money, rather than the £800m they were after - it was not spin. Civil servants were struck by the extent to which Cameron genuinely thought this had been a great victory. He seemed to be the only person in Britain who didn't know that the EU tactic is to ask for twice what they want, then give "concessions" until they get what they want. As one of his Cabinet allies told me, "David isn't a glass-half-full person, he's a glass three-quarters-full person. He wants to see the best in everybody, even the French."

On an overall political basis, this optimism is an encouraging and thoroughly Conservative trait. People offer various definitions of right and left. Mine is that to be Conservative is to declare faith not in dogma, but in mankind. To have faith in the wisdom and genius of the British public, and believe that the best route to success is to empower the many. (This'Big Society' idea - a powerful agenda, disguised by a criminally stupid name). To be Labour is to be angry, angry about society: leftism starts with a list of Bad People who are to be kept in check. The Old Labour way is to believe that Britain is best if power (and about half the money people earn) is placed with an enlightened elite. Conservatives want to take power away from government, and give it to the people whom they trust.

Anyway, Cameron's optimism is the driving force behind his best reforms. I'd prefer him to a misanthropic control freak like Brown any day. But there are areas where optimism can be dangerous: the military, prisons and European Union being three of them.

PS: I did the French a disservice: their help in the Falklands is summarised by John Nott's recollection here. Thanks for CoffeeHousers who flagged this up.