Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Signposts from the Kiwi Cameron

There are many intriguing similarities between the styles and strategies of David Cameron and John Key, leader of New Zealand’s National Party. [For my earlier blogs on this, click here and here] The Nats and their allies won NZ’s 2008 general election and Key has now been prime minister for six months. The PM and his party are travelling very well in the opinion polls.

The respected NZ political commentator, Colin James, has offered an interim assessment of the Key government’s performance so far. Here’s one of his more interesting comments:

"Before the election National presented the differences as competence and efficiency plus a different tax and regulation lean. It adopted large chunks of Labour policy it had earlier opposed.

"In office a more distinct National is emerging, one which might over time make some big changes. This is part-driven by necessity -- the financial shock -- part-driven by opportunity -- don't waste a good crisis -- and part-driven by predilection."

Inevitably, the PM is the main driver of the government and its fortunes. James describes Key as “decisive . . . tough-minded . . . flexible, smart” and his style as “ equable and relational”. He says:

"If big policy changes are coming he has more capacity to take the country with him than any Prime Minister for many decades."

Perhaps. But Key’s sunny image, his reputation as a “centrist” and the recession, have camouflaged some signposts as to what the government may really be about. The confusion over climate change policy is one example. The plans set down by the previous government to address the gender pay gap also seem to be in big trouble.

Back to the UK. David Cameron’s preference would surely be to be run a “low risk, minimum target” campaign, of the sort that Key ran last year. The idea would be to call for “change”, for which read “get rid of Labour”, whilst offering voters as little sense of risk as possible. With the recession and the turmoil over expenses scandals, that will be much harder. The Conservatives are the favourites to win, meaning that Cameron will be under more pressure to come up with details about policy, especially on spending and economic management. That won’t be nearly enough to rescue Brown and Labour, but Cameron will need to offer a clearer sense of where he wants to take the country and how he will get there.

The parallels with John Key are still relevant though. David Cameron’s “moderate” image enables the Conservatives to gloss over a few things that may not go down very well with the public. See, for instance, their likely new MPs’ conservatism on social issues and lack of interest in the environment. The Conservatives’ first campaign broadcast for the current elections aimed to present their leader as being in touch with, and engaging directly with the people – the sort of image that Key has cultivated (see above).

And Cameron has tried to look decisive and tough, especially over parliamentary expenses. He is trying to demonstrate all the qualities needed of a long-term, reforming prime minister. But will Cameron tell us, before the general election, what big changes he is planning?

No comments: