A mischievous question, I know, but one prompted by Janan Ganesh’s latest Financial Times column. It is eight years since David Cameron became leader of the Conservative party and three and a half since he became Prime Minister. He may only have 18 months left in either post.
We know – or think we know – a lot about Cameron. He is what he seems to be. Decent fellow, capable in a crisis, unruffled. A better-than-average product of his class and background. Thought he should be Prime Minister because he reckoned he’d “be good at it”.
And yet the thought nags: what is he for? What is Cameron’s ministry about? As Ganesh says, the Prime Minister lacks a project. The economy is George Osborne’s infant, education belongs to Michael Gove. The NHS and welfare reform are best forgotten about (at least for now). Does Cameron have a big idea? (And does he need one?)
He had several once upon a time. But the Big Society disappeared long ago, lost in a guddle of confusion and incoherence. Cameron never quite explained what it should be or how it could make a real difference. A shame, since it was a good idea but plainly too difficult for Whitehall – and Fleet Street – to grasp. Power to the people? A tad too dangerous, that.
The modernising Cameron conceded defeat too. He was going to be the man who made Britain like the Conservative party again. That hasn’t quite happened either. The economy played a part in that disappointment and so, perhaps, did the compromises of coalition. But rather than face down his internal critics Cameron has generally preferred to assuage them. The perception that the Tory party is the Nasty Party has been resurrected. It will hurt the party at the next election.