Cameron’s summer blues

The PM's political woes have deepened in the last two weeks.

Unlike some in his party, David Cameron never expected the Tories to receive an Olympic poll bounce. “People are too sensible to confuse a sporting event with their day-to-day lives,” he shrewdly observed before the Games began. But as he left for his holiday in the Mediterranean, the Prime Minister still had cause to reflect that his woes had increased over the preceding two weeks.

During the Olympics fortnight, he endured the loss of his proposed constituency boundary changes – a significant blow to the Tories’ chances of winning a majority in 2015 – saw Boris Johnson celebrated, and suffered the resignation of Louise Mensch, putting Labour within touching distance of its first by-election gain of this parliament. While Boris was cheered by crowds at Hyde Park, Cameron was booed when he watched the boxer Nicola Adams fight at the ExCeL Centre in east London.

Even before Nick Clegg’s veto of the boundary changes, a Tory majority was looking unlikely. No sitting prime minister has increased his party’s share of the vote since 1974 and Cameron is failing to make progress among those groups – black and ethnic minority voters, public-sector workers, Scottish voters – that refused to support him in 2010.

Economic revival remains the precondition for the Prime Minister’s political revival, yet it is increasingly uncertain. Britain is suffering from a crisis of demand, but the Tories’ self-imposed fiscal straitjacket has left them fixated with supply-side reform. There is talk again of making it easier for firms to hire and fire workers, of building new runways at Stansted Airport and of permanently relaxing the Sunday trading laws. Yet the presence of the Liberal Democrats makes it impossible for most or all of these proposals to become government policy.

Unable to deliver the supplyside revolution demanded by Conservative MPs and unwilling to pursue the Keynesian expansionism favoured by Labour, Cameron and George Osborne have nothing resembling a strategy for growth.

Soft leads

For now, the Tories console themselves that Cameron retains a personal 8-point lead over Ed Miliband as “the best prime minister”. In Labour circles, the party’s poll lead is regarded as “soft” and vulnerable to what the welfare minister Chris Grayling calls “EU veto moments”. As a Labour frontbencher told me: “The polls say we’re 10 points ahead but our real lead is 6 at best.”

The Tories are quietly hopeful that they will be the beneficiaries if the next election is fought over austerity. They will attempt to portray Miliband as the defender of a bloated welfare system and an overmighty public sector. The Chancellor’s promise of another £10bn of welfare cuts is a preview of this strategy. Labour is uncertain how to respond.

One Tory told me that private polling showed voters were more inclined to support Osborne’s austerity measures when informed that the coalition had reduced the deficit by a quarter since coming to power. “Let us finish the job” will be the Tories’ message at the next election.

The promise of another five years of austerity is far removed from Cameron’s original talk of “sunlit uplands”. But, for the PM, in danger of being remembered as one of the least electorally successful Conservative prime ministers in modern history, it is the only option left.

David Cameron has seen the chances of a Conservative majority in 2015 dramatically reduced by the loss of the boundary changes. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 August 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Back To Reality

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Donald Trump's healthcare failure could be to his advantage

The appearance of weakness is less electorally damaging than actually removing healthcare from millions of people.

Good morning. Is it all over for Donald Trump? His approval ratings have cratered to below 40%. Now his attempt to dismantle Barack Obama's healthcare reforms have hit serious resistance from within the Republican Party, adding to the failures and retreats of his early days in office.

The problem for the GOP is that their opposition to Obamacare had more to do with the word "Obama" than the word "care". The previous President opted for a right-wing solution to the problem of the uninsured in a doomed attempt to secure bipartisan support for his healthcare reform. The politician with the biggest impact on the structures of the Affordable Care Act is Mitt Romney.

But now that the Republicans control all three branches of government they are left in a situation where they have no alternative to Obamacare that wouldn't either a) shred conservative orthodoxies on healthcare or b) create numerous and angry losers in their constituencies. The difficulties for Trump's proposal is that it does a bit of both.

Now the man who ran on his ability to cut a deal has been forced to make a take it or leave plea to Republicans in the House of Representatives: vote for this plan or say goodbye to any chance of repealing Obamacare.

But that's probably good news for Trump. The appearance of weakness and failure is less electorally damaging than actually succeeding in removing healthcare from millions of people, including people who voted for Trump.

Trump won his first term because his own negatives as a candidate weren't quite enough to drag him down on a night when he underperformed Republican candidates across the country. The historical trends all make it hard for a first-term incumbent to lose. So far, Trump's administration is largely being frustrated by the Republican establishment though he is succeeding in leveraging the Presidency for the benefit of his business empire.

But it may be that in the failure to get anything done he succeeds in once again riding Republican coattails to victory in 2020.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.