It’s been a strange summer for David Cameron and the Coalition Government. News on the economy remains pretty bleak. But holding firm on their (relatively) tough debt reduction policy seems to be serving the Coalition reasonably well – as does the absence of a credible alternative from Labour.
Certainly no great shift in public opinion against the Conservatives on the economy – although much trickier for the Lib Dems, as ever. The second major domestic issue was, of course, the riots. Too slow to deliver political leadership when the lawlessness broke out, the Government have turned things around pretty convincingly and are now cleverly retro-fitting their broken society/big society agenda as a response to the riots. Certainly the Coalition’s welfare and education reform packages look even more convincing now than they did before the start of the summer holidays.
The Government has been helped enormously by the tough sentencing approach adopted by judges and magistrates, which – despite predictable noises off from the liberal left media – has been well received by the public. Although it now seems like ancient history, the third and final major issue over the summer was the News International scandal.
Cameron faces a trickier challenge here, with serious question marks still hanging over his decision to appoint Andy Coulson. So, overall, it’s been a pretty torrid couple of months on the domestic front, but the PM and his team seem to have come out on top – News Int aside.
Any political lessons? Three that I can think of.
As I’ve posted before, Cameron needs to be more nimble; more fleet of foot. He’s an intelligent and thoughtful leader of an intelligent and thoughtful Government. But the role of PM is that of a Chief Executive, not Chairman. He cannot afford another lapse of judgement in responding more quickly to events.
Second, the public have a reasonably strong appetite for radical reform. Enough of them know that Government needs to better cut its cloth than its predecessor – and that lots of public spending hasn’t solved some of society’s deeper seated problems, of which the recent riots was a symptom. So have the political courage to up the radical ante.
Third – and as a counter to my second point – every wise head I know who has a deep understanding of Government is deeply worried about the Coalition’s bandwidth – its ability to get coherent bits of policy through Parliament whilst holding down the day job of actually running the country. So The PM’s greatest challenge in the months ahead? Prioritise.