David Cameron at the RSA - some more thoughts


A couple of snippets following on from the lively debate about politicians and about David Cameron.

On the former, I still hold to the idea in my post last week of doing more to celebrate those times when politicians are inspirational and demonstrably public spirited.

But my bigger concern is that we try to understand the limitations of the view that power simply resides with those in government - politicians whose only motivation is to screw everyone else by lying and conniving. The fundamental problem with this view is that it allows us as citizens to avoid facing up to the fact that progress requires that we think and behave differently. That we can’t have what we tell pollsters we want – Nordic welfare but American tax rates or action on climate change but cheap energy – is not because we have evil or stupid politicians but because the conversation between us and those we elected is immature and inauthentic.

In search of a more interesting and nuanced view of the world I can strongly commend a wonderful piece in this month’s LRB by Slavoj Zizek.

A number of people accused me of being superficial by praising David Cameron’s communication style. But a Fellow who was at yesterday’s event stopped me in the corridor to make what I thought was an interesting observation. The Fellow felt that, for all his polish, the Prime Minister didn’t really grab the audience in the way that a great political orator –like for example Obama on a good day – might. We chatted and came to the conclusion that Cameron’s style is more about making his own case clearly understood and less about trying to win over the room by connecting with his audience.

If this is right, it may be simply the way Cameron is and, let’s face it, some people would prefer a more conversational style to attempts at emotional bonding. Or is it that our Prime Minister knows what is coming and has reconciled himself to unpopularity over the next two or three years?  Rather than try - and fail -  to win people over he sees his task as explaining what he is doing so at least people understand it even if they don’t agree with it. And this – as I was saying on the Today Programme this morning – is my main concern with the way the NHS reforms are being presented.

Taken together I believe the reforms shift us from a National Health Service to a National Health Franchise. I am not saying whether this is a good or a bad thing – there are arguments on both sides and shades of grey between. But it feels less than direct for the Prime Minister to present reform – as he did here at the RSA – as a pragmatic response to aspects of performance and budget pressures when it is in fact underpinned by a much bolder and more radical reconceptualising of health care.    

Anyway, it was an honour to host the Prime Minister making such a big speech and let’s hope the RSA can start to establish itself not just as a venue for great lectures and events but a place people choose when they have something important to announce

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