Cameron still looks like a phoney

The Tory leader's problem is not his class, but his insincerity

It's becoming increasingly clear that David Cameron's problem is not his class, but his perceived phoneyness. Voters are rarely troubled by a politician's background or education (after all, they elected an Old Etonian as Mayor of London) but they despise insincerity.

A series of events including Cameron's U-turn over the Lisbon Treaty and the revelations over Zac Goldsmith's tax status have reinforced these concerns. Equally damaging has been the Tories' refusal to abandon their pledge to cut inheritance tax, despite their warnings that the deficit is dangerously high.

It's a thread picked up by Rachel Sylvester in her Times column today. She argues that Cameron must deal with the toxic issue of Lord Ashcroft's tax status if he's to avoid further antagonising voters.

Here's the key passage:

Of course, most voters have never heard of Lord Ashcroft -- although you can be sure that by the time the country goes to the polls Labour and the Liberal Democrats will have made him a household name. But the questions about his tax status play into the wider issue of trust. Voters are still unsure whether Mr Cameron really calls the shots with his right-wingers. If he can't even force his own vice-chairman to say where he lives for tax purposes, then it is fair to wonder whether he could assert himself on things that really mattered if he got to No 10.

The most notable finding from the latest Guardian/ICM poll is that while two months ago 49 per cent of voters said they thought Cameron and Osborne would do better than Darling and Brown, today only 38 per cent do. Clearly these isolated events are damaging overall trust in the Tories.

The difficulty for Labour is that few people will be willing to take lectures on trust from Gordon Brown, who hubristically declared that he'd "abolished boom and bust". But after the MPs' expenses scandal, perhaps the best any leader can hope for is to be mistrusted the least.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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