Cameron hasn't "closed the deal"

Guardian front page ignores signs of Labour comeback

The latest ICM poll offers some good news for Labour. The party has cut the Conservatives' lead by 4 points, rising to its highest level in an ICM poll since April.

But you wouldn't know it looking at the Guardian's front page this morning. The paper proclaims, on the basis of a few non-voting character questions, that David Cameron is "closing the deal" and that voters now see him as "PM-in-waiting". It's not surprising that Cameron leads Brown on the question of who would be a "good prime minister", but we don't live in a presidential system, and so the election may not be won or lost on that basis.

Given that Labour is eating into the Tories' poll lead (and could deny Cameron a working majority even though 10 points behind), it's rather premature to declare that the Tory leader is "closing the deal".

Over at PoliticalBetting, Mike Smithson suggests that the paper's deferential coverage could be a reward for Cameron's decision to abandon a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

This seems unlikely. Europe is one of the few policy areas on which the Guardian has genuinely attempted to hold the Tory leader to account. The day after his U-turn on Lisbon, the paper led with the French Europe minister's outburst against the "autistic" Tories.

The Guardian's distorted coverage instead reflects the reality that, in the current climate, "Cameron is closing the deal" is a sexier headline than "Labour comeback begins". All papers like to appear on the side of the future. That's the reason several right-wing titles (including, remarkably, the Daily Express) endorsed New Labour. The Guardian, in its own way, is no exception to this rule.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.