Melanie Phillips

14 November 2011

A blast of abuse -- but the Prime Minister has few friends

Published in: Daily Mail

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Who would have thought that going to a party meant entering a social minefield?

To the risk of being cornered by the bunfight bore, forgetting the name of your hostess or having red wine chucked over your occasion-wear must now be added a new party peril: the fellow guest who surreptitiously switches on a recording device as soon as you open your mouth.

The Tory MP Patrick Mercer is alleged to have been secretly recorded making a series of deeply disobliging comments about the Prime Minister at a party thrown by The London Magazine.

These remarks — which Mr Mercer has denied — included describing David Cameron as ‘the worst politician in British history since William Gladstone’ and claiming that he would be deposed in a coup by Tory MPs next spring.

Worse, it is claimed that Mr Mercer added ‘I loathe him ... he’s a most despicable creature without any redeeming features... I’ve never come across anyone less suited to the job in my life.’ Asked where the Prime Minister went wrong, the MP is said to have replied: ‘He was born.’

Not exactly a meeting of minds there, then.

Mr Mercer is known not to be the Prime Minister’s greatest fan. Four years ago, Mr Cameron sacked him from the Tory front bench after the then homeland security spokesman remarked he had met a lot of ‘idle and useless’ ethnic minority soldiers and that racist abuse was just part and parcel of Armed Forces life.

Mr Mercer, however, has denied making the remarks about the Prime Minister attributed to him, maintaining he merely expressed scepticism that Mr Cameron’s stated confidence in Home Secretary Theresa May over the Border Agency fiasco meant her job really was safe.

Of course, none of us knows what actually happened at The London Magazine party. Some reports have suggested that the poor quality of the recording, which was made on a guest’s iPhone, leaves it unclear whether it was indeed of Mr Mercer’s voice.

Clearly, the comments were totally over the top and suggest that the speaker (whoever it might be) was — how to put this delicately? — rather well refreshed.

The problem for Mr Cameron is that numerous MPs and Tory activists will be sniggering at this story behind their hands, and even feeling that the onslaught was not entirely undeserved.

That’s because the Prime Minister has allowed himself to become dangerously unpopular — on matters of both style and substance — among those whose first instinct is to support a Conservative PM.

These concerns first arose while Mr Cameron was still in opposition.

Traditional conservatives worried that he was both too liberal and too arrogant. When he failed to win the general election, these concerns grew — but were stifled by the need not to rock the boat while the Tories were in government.

These tensions were, of course, greatly exacerbated by the perception that Mr Cameron was allowing his agenda to be dictated by Nick Clegg.

But even more poisonous was the suspicion that Mr Cameron didn’t really believe in anything very much himself apart from winning and holding on to power at all costs.  

These tensions have come to the boil over Europe, and particularly the way in which the Prime Minister behaved over the public petition for a debate on a referendum over the EU, when he dragooned Tory MPs into voting the proposal down. Such contempt for both parliamentary process and the public shocked and appalled many Tory MPs.

Subsequently, the way Mr Cameron has responded to the crisis in the eurozone has appeared in turn hesitant, petulant and — most lethal of all — ineffectual.

To be fair, these are events whose magnitude would tax any politician. Such a crisis, however, shines a relentless spotlight on a Prime Minister’s character — and so far, Mr Cameron has not been illuminated in a flattering light.

For presented with the overwhelming evidence that the EU boat is holed below the waterline, the Prime Minister seems to be in denial.

Moreover, he risks making a total fool of both himself and the UK. For he is hectoring Germany that it is in danger of breaking up the eurozone without appearing to realise that, with France and Germany trying to stitch up a solution to the crisis, Britain’s true marginalisation within the EU has been cruelly underscored as never before.

What’s needed now is statesmanship, which in turn demands attributes such as courage, vision, unshakeable principles and a backbone of steel.

Instead, the Prime Minister appears like a rabbit frozen in the headlights of a juggernaut whose brakes have failed.

The reason is surely obvious. For in his slavish devotion to politics by focus group, he has constantly shown that he is all about strategy and process rather than principle and substance.

As we all know, his overriding aim was to show the Conservatives were no longer the ‘nasty party’. That’s why he adopted so many New Labour-lite policies — political correctness, international aid or punishing the middle class.

The enemies of this agenda were characterised as the Neanderthal Right — aka traditional conservatives — who were, among other things, deeply Eurosceptic.

Notoriously, Mr Cameron dismissed those Tories who had sought refuge from his party in UKIP as ‘a bunch of fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists’.

What a mistake that was. For, lo and behold, events in the eurozone have miraculously turned what was once fruitcake territory into the centre ground of British politics.

That’s because Euroscepticism was always connected to reality. The real extremists were those who promoted the ruinous, anti-democratic and intrinsically unstable EU project.

Yet Mr Cameron still doesn’t seem able to grasp the terminal nature of this crisis for the EU itself. Thinking ahead to the inevitable breakdown, he should now be putting the UK at the head of a totally new European settlement based on true economic co-operation rather than trying to rescue the doomed EU project of political union.

Even talking about repatriating certain powers misses the point. It is the very basis of the EU that is the problem for the UK, because the EU is fundamentally an entity whose interests necessarily trump those of individual nation states.

The reason for Mr Cameron’s apparent difficulty in acknowledging this is surely that he is not accustomed to having to think from political first principles.

His weak response to the EU crisis is said to be due to the Lib Dems’ stranglehold on the Coalition. That must certainly be a factor. But maybe there is a deeper reason.

This is a politician, after all, whose template for action is to follow a script laid down by his pollsters and image-makers. And so now that events have spiralled out of anyone’s control, he has no idea what to do.

Faced with the evidence that those whom he demonised as extremists and madmen were actually right all along, he finds himself paralysed now that circumstances demand he brings the British Government into line with their position.   

Instead, he is even now merely throwing a few meaningless rhetorical bones to the Eurosceptics, which convinces no one.

The fury of the conservative-minded over all this can hardly be exaggerated. It is not just that they have been effectively disenfranchised, but even now their suggestions that the Government changes to a more robust position on the EU are dismissed with contempt.

Which is why whoever it was who actually let fly at The London Magazine’s autumn bash spoke for many more people than Mr Cameron can safely dismiss with his now infamous disdain.

 

Who would have thought that going to a party meant entering a social minefield?

To the risk of being cornered by the bunfight bore, forgetting the name of your hostess or having red wine chucked over your occasion-wear must now be added a new party peril: the fellow guest who surreptitiously switches on a recording device as soon as you open your mouth.

The Tory MP Patrick Mercer is alleged to have been secretly recorded making a series of deeply disobliging comments about the Prime Minister at a party thrown by The London Magazine.

These remarks — which Mr Mercer has denied — included describing David Cameron as ‘the worst politician in British history since William Gladstone’ and claiming that he would be deposed in a coup by Tory MPs next spring.

Worse, it is claimed that Mr Mercer added ‘I loathe him . . . he’s a most despicable creature without any redeeming features . . . I’ve never come across anyone less suited to the job in my life.’ Asked where the Prime Minister went wrong, the MP is said to have replied: ‘He was born.’

Not exactly a meeting of minds there, then.

Fiasco

Mr Mercer is known not to be the Prime Minister’s greatest fan. Four years ago, Mr Cameron sacked him from the Tory front bench after the then homeland security spokesman remarked he had met a lot of ‘idle and useless’ ethnic minority soldiers and that racist abuse was just part and parcel of Armed Forces life.

Mr Mercer, however, has denied making the remarks about the Prime Minister attributed to him, maintaining he merely expressed scepticism that Mr Cameron’s stated confidence in Home Secretary Theresa May over the Border Agency fiasco meant her job really was safe.

Of course, none of us knows what actually happened at The London Magazine party. Some reports have suggested that the poor quality of the recording, which was made on a guest’s iPhone, leaves it unclear whether it was indeed of Mr Mercer’s voice.

Risk: The Prime Minister has allowed himself to become dangerously unpopular

Risk: The Prime Minister has allowed himself to become dangerously unpopular

Clearly, the comments were totally over the top and suggest that the speaker (whoever it might be) was — how to put this delicately? — rather well refreshed.

The problem for Mr Cameron is that numerous MPs and Tory activists will be sniggering at this story behind their hands, and even feeling that the onslaught was not entirely undeserved.

That’s because the Prime Minister has allowed himself to become dangerously unpopular — on matters of both style and substance — among those whose first  instinct is to support a Conservative PM.

These concerns first arose while Mr Cameron was still in opposition.

Traditional conservatives worried that he was both too liberal and too arrogant.  

When he failed to win the general election, these concerns grew — but were  stifled by the need not to rock the boat while the Tories were in government.

These tensions were, of course, greatly exacerbated by the perception that Mr Cameron was allowing his agenda to be dictated by Nick Clegg.

But even more poisonous was the suspicion that Mr Cameron didn’t really believe in anything very much himself apart from winning and holding on to power at all costs.  

These tensions have come to the boil over Europe, and particularly the way in which the Prime Minister behaved over the public petition for a debate on a referendum over the EU, when he dragooned Tory MPs into voting the proposal down. Such contempt for both parliamentary process and the public shocked and appalled many Tory MPs.

Concerns: Traditional conservatives worried that Cameron was both too liberal and too arrogant

Concerns: Traditional conservatives worried before the election that Cameron was both too liberal and too arrogant

Subsequently, the way Mr Cameron has responded to the crisis in the eurozone has appeared in turn hesitant, petulant and — most lethal of all — ineffectual.

To be fair, these are events whose magnitude would tax any politician.

Such a crisis, however, shines a relentless spotlight on a Prime Minister’s character — and so far, Mr Cameron has not been illuminated in a flattering light.

For presented with the overwhelming evidence that the EU boat is holed below the waterline, the Prime Minister seems to be in denial.

Crisis

Moreover, he risks making a total fool of both himself and the UK. For he is hectoring Germany that it is in danger of breaking up the eurozone without appearing to realise that, with France and Germany trying to stitch up a solution to the crisis, Britain’s true marginalisation within the EU has been cruelly underscored as never before.

What’s needed now is statesmanship, which in turn demands attributes such as courage, vision, unshakeable principles and a backbone of steel.

Instead, the Prime Minister appears like a rabbit frozen in the headlights of a juggernaut whose brakes have failed.

The reason is surely obvious. For in his slavish devotion to politics by focus group, he has constantly shown that he is all about strategy and process rather than principle and substance.

As we all know, his overriding aim was to show the Conservatives were no longer the ‘nasty party’. That’s why he adopted so many New Labour-lite policies — political correctness, international aid or punishing the middle class.

Cameron's response to the eurozone crisis has led internal party tensions to come to the boil

Cameron's response to the eurozone crisis has led internal party tensions to come to the boil

The enemies of this agenda were characterised as the Neanderthal Right — aka traditional conservatives — who were, among other things, deeply Eurosceptic.

Notoriously, Mr Cameron dismissed those Tories who had sought refuge from his party in UKIP as ‘a bunch of fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists’.

What a mistake that was. For, lo and behold, events in the eurozone have miraculously turned what was once fruitcake territory into the centre ground of British politics.

That’s because Euroscepticism was always connected to reality. The real extremists were those who promoted the ruinous, anti-democratic and intrinsically unstable EU project.

Yet Mr Cameron still doesn’t seem able to grasp the terminal nature of this crisis for the EU itself.

Thinking ahead to the inevitable breakdown, he should now be putting the UK at the head of a totally new European settlement based on true economic co-operation rather than trying to rescue the doomed EU project of political union.

Even talking about repatriating certain powers misses the point. It is the very basis of the EU that is the problem for the UK, because the EU is fundamentally an entity whose interests necessarily trump those of individual nation states.

Weak

The reason for Mr Cameron’s apparent difficulty in acknowledging this is surely that he is not accustomed to having to think from political first principles.

His weak response to the EU crisis is said to be due to the Lib Dems’ stranglehold on the Coalition. That must certainly be a factor. But maybe there is a deeper reason.

This is a politician, after all, whose template for action is to follow a script laid down by his pollsters and image-makers. And so now that events have spiralled out of anyone’s control, he has no idea what to do.

Faced with the evidence that those whom he demonised as extremists and madmen were actually right all along, he finds himself paralysed now that circumstances demand he brings the British Government into line with their position.   

Instead, he is even now merely throwing a few meaningless rhetorical bones to the Eurosceptics, which convinces no one.

The fury of the conservative-minded over all this can hardly be exaggerated. It is not just that they have been effectively disenfranchised, but even now their suggestions that the Government changes to a more robust position on the EU are dismissed with contempt.

Which is why whoever it was who actually let fly at The London Magazine’s autumn bash spoke for many more people than Mr Cameron can safely dismiss with his now infamous disdain.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography

Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie