Coffee House

Cameron: I’m a common sense Conservative

2 September 2011

David Cameron weathered an awkward interview on the Today programme earlier this
morning, in which the Strategic Defence Review was savaged and the recent riots were compared to the Bullingdon Club, of which Cameron was once a member. He stood by the defence review,
with reference to the successful British contribution to the Libyan intervention, and he blithely ignored the Bullingdon Club question. He reiterated his belief that parts of society have undergone
‘a slow motion moral collapse’. 

His gruff tone might have surprised some listeners. The interviewer, Evan Davis, offered Cameron the chance to retreat from the firm, almost draconian line he took at the height
of the riots. But Cameron refused, comfortable to risk appearing ‘morally certain’, or, even more daring, ‘nasty’; two impulses that the Tory detoxification process was
supposed to have eradicated. Cameron went on to say that the phrase “tough love” summed up his views on this issue: rioters must be shown the stick as well as the carrot.


Even his compassionate points were couched in slightly unflinching terms. He defined his social conscience as the wish to “save a lot lives that would otherwise go to hell in a
handcart.” These brusque colloquialisms issued from Cameron’s plummy voice, as if Norman Tebbit had been given elocution lessons. The studio seemed far away from huskies and huggable
hoodies, which might have warmed some hearts on the right. 

Speaking later on the programme, Matthew d’Ancona and Andrew Rawnsley noted that the interview perhaps signified the end of a conscious policy of de-toxification, adding that Cameron
is a mixture of liberalism and Toryism ruled by instinct. Certainly, Cameron’s answers sounded intuitive rather than ideological. He seemed at ease with the fact that there was
no one answer to Britain’s social crisis, saying that a multitude of policies must be deployed. Finally, he described himself as a "common-sense Conservative", governed by circumstances.
This implies that he thinks he can match the rarified clothes of a liberal with the hobnail boots of a traditional Tory.

Diverting though the interview was, some will have been left exasperated by it: nearly one month has passed since the riots began and Cameron is still talking not acting.

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  • Damon Hager

    @ Cynic

    ‘… the Zeitgeist has changed. The mood of the country has generally shifted to the right.’

    Really? Says who? DC is operating in an uncomfortable position: a conservative politician in a country where the electorate’s default position is centre-left.

    The British public are essentially leftist. Look how they worshipped Blair. Look how they treated Major, despite the latter’s economic success. Look how they mindlessly worship the wasteful NHS.

    In a way, I sort of hope that Labour do win the next election. I can’t think of any party, or electorate, who deserve each other more.

    Meanwhile, well done to Dave Cameron. He’s doing a reasonably good job of playing out a hand in a game where all the cards are stacked against him.

  • Augustus

    “…and the recent riots were compared to the Bullingdon Club.”

    Bullingdon Club loutishness, like weekend drunkeness all over Britain, is not nice, but who ever equates this with grandscale arson, rioting and looting? That’s sick!

  • Frank P


    Tks for the Standpoint link; good article.

  • Trev

    Cameron….the ultimate spin doctor??


    Here accessed via a link from Guido is an absolutely splendid and objective piece on Cameron by Iain Martin in “Standpoint” magazine.

    Best thing I can say about it is that it most emphatically is not the kind of piece that the ever so respectful Editor and Political Editor of the Speccie could ever bring themselves or,indeed, be allowed, to write.

  • Cynic

    The thing is, if Cameron were ANY sort of a Conservative he would have won the last election outright. As it is, his wishy-washy liberal backtracking and lack of trust in the people (re the referendum on the EU) cost him dearly. Before any commenters trot out the “Howard tried this before and failed” argument, I ask them to consider that the Zeitgeist has changed. The mood of the country has generally shifted to the right.

  • lescam

    “I’m Dave, the Brave. I’m tough and I’m rough.
    No-one messes with me. I’m the Boss. Pick a fight with me, and I’ll have your guts for garters”.


    “Er….. you do the fighting and I’ll do the talking”.

  • Boudicca

    Remaining in the EU when it iscosting us a fortune we don’t have; is quite patently an undemocratic entity which ignores the terms of its own treaties and seems to be doing its best to destroy what is left of the UK, is NOT commonsense – it is stupidity.

    There seems to be a considerable lack of commonsense amoungst all our political elite.

  • coljohn

    Your description of DC ‘weathering an awkward interview’ is misleading.
    For once he refused to alllow constant interruption from a weak interviewer Evan Davies – the modus operandi of all interviews on the Today programme when interviewing Conservative contributors.

  • Publius

    Oh, really, Mr Blackburn! Just reread your penultimate paragraph a few times. Such nonsense.

    I think you care for words. But don’t let yourself be beguiled by them.

  • MilkSnatcher

    “we should understand a little less and condemn a little more” who said that? John Major. Would that it were possible in our sewer of moral relativism. The left are now perpetrating another form of pernicious relativism: rioters are no worse than bad bankers.

  • AAE

    Oh, young David’s becoming all poetic these days! I can imagine him sitting back oh so ever so pleased with himself with that flourish of phrase at the end of his penultimate paragraph, but, for instance, since when did the ideas that all should be equal before the law, property rights respected, and individual freedoms maintained, become the preserve of hobnail boot wearing Tories? Blackburn shares with Cameron the vain habit of speaking mindlessly without thought or reference to anything remotely empirical, and I ask the question which many have asked before, what is he doing here?

  • Tiberius

    Very poor style, David. “Blithely, gruff, brusque”? Perhaps hesistant, falsetto, and limp would have drawn a favourable analysis from you. You also show you don’t understand “brand detoxification”, which only sought to eradicate losing elections.

    As for charges of inaction, Axstane says it all really.

    As time goes on, The Speccy’s editorial policy becomes increasingly confused and irritating. It seems there has to be a regular attempt to hammer Cameron but the pieces are never quite convincing. James is the worst offender in this.

    Guido posted yesterday that the blog on the undeserving rich could draw the wrath of the owners. But are they the source of, or are they just complicit in, these odd offerings? Perhaps the answer lies in the increasingly juvenile presentation of This Week.

  • Banquosghost

    IDS and Gove are doing or attempting to do a good job with their briefs but, as ever, their message is not getting across because the BBC and other media outlets simply aren’t interested. If Cameron has more positive or dare we hope, Conservative policies to come then I cant imagine he will disclose anything until the Conference when he can get maximum exposure and of course…the best ovation!

    Ah, feck it, its all a load of bollocks anyway, politicians do what they like and the populus bend over and get into position.

    (walks away muttering)

  • michael

    Slow motion moral collapse… Society is capable of bouncing back faster than ‘academy’ exam results given the same antithesis of this socialist inspired apathy, the ‘bottom of the pile’ myth.

  • 2trueblue

    Gosh won’t it be lovely to have Balls/Millipede/Cooper/Harperson, and the rest back harping on about what a mess was made by the coalition? BBC cn’t wait and Sky are there too. Get a grip, parliament will be back and things will go forward. It must be the lack of sun that is causing such brainstorms.

  • Hard Romantically Heartless Perry

    For all his fine words, the H2B is to me, a talker, – not a doer. True, like many others, I had high hopes. But I fast approach the belief that he is, like his hero, a charade, a con-man, – no pun intended.

    Recent history and simple truth points to the lack of zeal, fine tuning, and uncompromising effort in over-turning the previous sham government, and then revealing in all its socialist arrogance the dreadful long-term damage wrought on this land. Future historians will find more evidence.

    And, almost as an eerie and spine-chilling gift, the riots. Proving in so many ways the truths that numerous people who write here have known, or seen developing, for decades. If ever there were proof of the rot and canker at the heart of our society, they were it’s most purulent form. And what in response do we hear most? – the apologists, most persistently via the shamful BBC.

    Although hampered in every move by the dragging weight of the limp-wristed unprincipled party over the past year, I maintain there are few signs of anything more than an extended PR campaign. And as for the police response to the riots, was there anything more – or less that even an idiot in high office could do, but order that the riots either a. cease, or b. be made to cease, and that the perpetrators be punished, – yes punished (again, an un-PC word).

    But even there, creeping signs of backtracking emerge in the form of reviews, and other convenient ploys to dilute punishment.

    Maybe it’s time that what the H2B understands as common-sense should lead him to understand he’s done his best, reached his limit, and make way for a more able person.

  • pottsy

    I am glad he ‘blithely ignored’ the Bullingdon Club question. Typical knee-jerk toff-bashing you expect of the BBC. Has anyone proof that Cameron ever trashed a restaurant? Yet this tired old line keeps being trotted out by the forces of envy.

  • Span Ows

    Sure it wasn’t “I’m a come-on sans Conservative”.

  • Olaf

    I wonder if this will extend to enforcing the planning laws in Crays Hill?
    The place that’s full of travelling people who like to stay in one place use all the local authority services but not pay council tax.

  • Nicholas

    Ed S – your post reminds me of Sosabowski’s question before Operation Market Garden. “But the Germans, General, what about the Germans?”.

    Even if we assume the initiatives you mention translate into outcomes (and apart from Free Schools I haven’t seen much outcome beyond aspiration for the other two), the concept of Cameron doing little ignores Labour, who can be relied upon to do too much, both in order to secure power and then afterwards.

    This is the crux of Cameron’s lazy approach to politics. He thinks it sufficient to talk a good fight and presume all will be well if he means well. That somehow his mantle of a “decent chap” will overcome the cynicism and mistrust, the deeply tribal, mendacious and combative nature of his political opponents. This completely ignores Labour’s activities and the need to take the fight to Labour. They hold all the media cards, control much of the establishment and operate effectively on the basis of propaganda rather than truth. In fact watching Cameron from the TV debates until now, he seems utterly incapable of attacking and challenging Labour except during PM’s Questions, when it is largely in defensive rhetoric. Gordon Brown, you will recall, spent much of his time in office attacking (and harming) the Conservatives.

    Your viewpoint, whilst admirable by itself, complacently ignores the forces of darkness in this country. And, actually, what you write about low taxation is proving, under Cameron, to be an illusion.

  • FvH

    @Ed S – I would disagree – the government needs to reform – even if it is to cut back state involvement – doing nothing actually lets the state grow which equals higher taxes in the long run
    24 Free Schools is a start BUT only that and Gove has had to row back on a couple of other areas
    IDS has already had to abandon plans for a welfare “ceiling
    And as Fraser N points out the deficit is still INCREASING
    All of us on here should be watching progress on these fronts very carefully over the winter
    BUT my concern is that Cameron can’t “walk the walk” to get real momentum behind these reforms
    His solution is always firs fighting, fancy words and eloquent speeches – meanwhile the Libdems find him very easy to “play”
    Doing nothing is NOT an option

  • normanc

    One problem is apart from the Big Society (is that still with us?) that was foisted on a bewildered public a couple of weeks before the election there’s no real coherence to the Cameroons so they spend all their time fire fighting.

    As Axstane lists above, all the measures taken so far (and it’s only been a month when Parliament has been off on extended hols) are just more fire fighting measures.

    That’s the worst possible way to do anything as anyone can tell you.

  • RCE

    As for the riots – the problem is that vast tracts of society simply do not respect the law (and institutions in general) in this country. It really is that simple, and if you look at the last 50 years, so very obvious and predictable.

  • Jeremy

    David Blackburn:

    “(Cameron) thinks he can match the fancy clothes of a liberal with the hobnail boots of a traditional Tory and not look preposterous.”

    Cameron is a liberal conservative, a centrist – call it what you will. This is hardly a new phenomenon.

    So far as the interview went, I thought that he handled himself very well. It was a case of the sinewy interviewer meeting the equally sinewy interviewee. The result? Much fun was had by all.

  • Frank P

    No Prime Minister! As a founder member of the Common Sense Conservative Club I hereby blackball your application for membership; Please don’t ask me me to cite my reasons for your ineligibility, they are numerous, based on much accrued evidence, it would require the rest of my life to delineate it and you would be extremely embarrassed to be reminded of it. On second thoughts you might not, because on reflection I think it probable that you don’t understand the meaning of the phrase “common sense”.

  • stephen bennetts

    ” Common sense “? much of what is comming out of the government machine is nonsensical.Tkae the new planning ideas, on the one hand we are told that the change to planning law is to give local people the power to make more decisions, however the overarching guidance from government is that local people should presume that developers get their way. Sorry yet another piece of incoherent rubbish from this government !

  • RCE

    Cameron will not win the next election. He has not done anything to gain any new votes and has (seemingly deliberately) alienated many traditional Tories.

    Osborne will fail to meet his economic targets by not cutting spending and taxes; people will thus not have the disposable income to buy the things that make the economy grow.

    All the immigrants and welfare dependents will vote Labour no matter what.

    It’s over.

  • Ed S

    Nicholas, FvH – I strongly disagree. We obviously need the government to “do something” but last time I checked we were about to see the opening of new Free Schools, the reform of the welfare system and (most importantly) plans to cut our deficit.

    What we definitely don’t need is another knee jerker who reacts to public opinion by constantly announcing new initiatives. Tories are, after all, meant to support lower levels of state intervention.

    Happy to see Cameron and co do very little indeed provided that I can eventually start paying less tax.

  • Derek Pasquill

    D’Ancona writing in the ES a couple days back:
    “What many Conservative traditionalists still refuse to acknowledge is that Cameron’s early strategy of “detoxification” – huskies, tree-hugging, recycled trainers – was designed to give the party “permission” to address delicate issues such as immigration without arousing suspicion. Nobody worth listening to thinks that Cameron is a racist, or in secret sympathy with racists.”

    So there we have it – the liberal left equation of detoxification = racism divided by the square root of immigration, and so on, probably with a few irrational numbers thrown in.

    Why would d’Ancona be so presumtious as to believe he represents any kind of consensus?

  • perdix

    FvH – can’t see why Gove should be frustrated by lack of support, his policies are making excellent progress. And IDS’s programme is beginning to be implemented. You are mistaken.

  • Edward McLaughlin

    ‘comfortable to risk appearing “morally certain”, or,even more daring, “nasty” ‘

    That these two qualities are regarded as being variables on a common scale, by a Speccie writer, is further illustration of the designer rudderlessness which has come to prevail here.

  • FvH

    @Nicholas – exactly!! that’s the real worry – if Cameron doesn’t actually DO anything then there is a real danger of losing the next GE !!

  • Axstane

    Not doing anything? Arrests are still being made and sentences being passed.

    Two enquiries are in progress.

    Over 1500 people have been charged in London alone.

    What do you want him to do? Criticism for the sake of it is a barren exercise.

  • Nicholas

    “4 more years of endless speeches and no reform will be unbearable!!”

    Indeed, with nothing to look forward to but Milliband and another wave of socialist doctrine translated into stifling law and repression.

  • arnoldo87

    Sometimes you just can’t win.

    Who would have predicted, on night two of the riots, that it would have all finish by night four.

    This was in no small measure down to the messages of intent from Cameron alongside the change to a more robust police response. When this was followed by equally tough sentencing from the judiciary, the thugs were deterred. In summary – very effective short-term action.

    Long -term preventative action is a much bigger problem and will only follow calm and detailed consideration.

    Whatever that action turns out to be, we should be delighted that the government is signalling a tougher policy on law and order.

  • FvH

    The final paragraph here is spot on “talking not acting”
    It’s because his main adviser is an ex advertising planner – constantly talking and theorizing about positioning and tone but not actually “executing” (i.e. doing anything)
    Most people on here really don’t care how he describes himself – we all just want some ACTION – at home NOT abroad !! –
    Also Tim Montgomerie’s analysis from a couple of weeks ago was telling – i.e. Cameron can’t or won’t do the “hard yards” behind the scenes to make sure that reforms are actually followed through
    So many u-turns, so much watering down – Cameron can talk the talk but he does not seem to be able to walk the walk
    Please no more eloquent speeches about “what I stand for”
    Gove and IDS are getting frustrated at the lack of real political action to support their projects
    Lansley has long since given up and his “baby” has ended up a useless mutant
    4 more years of endless speeches and no reform will be unbearable!!

  • Nicholas

    I agree. From what I have seen so far “common sense” and “Conservative” are not the attributes I most associate with this man. His ‘social conscience’ is expressed in personal, somewhat shrill and emotive tones that I find inappropriate for a person in such high public office. Cameron talks as though trying to bring order to a class of unruly children and this parochial, somewhat dogmatic intervention is one of the problems in modern Britain not the solution.

    But watch out for the sly innuendo of people like d’Ancona and Rawnsley as they parrot the latest Labour propaganda trying to make “right wing” an accepted pejorative for their political opponents.

  • GDT

    Perhaps a period of reflection is what is needed.
    I find it refreshing.
    Unlike the Labour years of knee-jerk response, much of which was ill-informed and counter productive.

  • Forlornehope

    Pretty good interview by the Prime Minister. Evan Davis was his normal polite yet penetrating self for most of it allowing the PM to get his points across. Once or twice, though he did seem to be somewhat suffering from Humphrys’s tendency to think that we want to listen to him and not the politician he is interviewing. We can only hope that he checks this tendency before it goes much further.

  • Vulture

    ‘Cameron is still talking, not acting..’

    Of course he is – what on earth do you expect?

    There is a telling quote from an Iain Martin article about Dave in this month’s Standpoint magazine. It comes from an unnamed ‘veteran Tory MP’ who after listing to a typical Cameron performance in the Commons is half-lulled into a dream that he means what he says. Then reality kicks in : ‘No. It’s all hot air and he’ll never do what needs doing’. Says it all.

  • les

    Wow! a whole month!

    Bullingdon Club, Nasty, detoxification, hoodies – such lazy questions and lazy journalism – boring!

  • RCE

    He’s certainly something beginning with ‘c’.

  • oldtimer

    Experience tells us that what politicians do is what matters. And what they do is usually to our disadvantage, because so many of them often lack common-sense and, in the worst cases, are bungling incompetents.

    What they say is, more often than not, spin. I did not hear these exchanges but based on your report, and the timing of the interview ahead of the party conference season, it sounds like spin. As you conclude, he has not yet actually done anything in response to the riots. He does not look or act like a “common-sense Conservative” to me.

  • Jebediah

    And what pray can you reasonably do in one month? Very little sensible I suspect, very little that will hold up to scrutiny, very little to solve a problem generations in the making.
    I expect quite a lot of people are working on this, and when they have something that will stand up to the withering cycnicism of the press, the relentlessly left-wing BBC and satisfy the population (very much conservative on crime), then you might hear something.

    This is typical of the press… solve the deep seated problem. NOW.

  • telemachus

    Perhaps instead of lambasting the rioters he should spend more time giving help to the disadvantaged so they do not need to riot

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