One of the great Spitting Image sketches portrayed Margaret Thatcher dining out with the Cabinet. “Steak, please,” she says. “How would you like it?” inquires the waiter. “Raw,” replies the Iron Lady. “And what about the vegetables?” he asks. “Oh,” she says, “they’ll have the same as me.”
One of Mrs Thatcher’s most cunning tactics was to distance herself from the government she led when it was under-performing. Routinely, she would refer to her own administration as “they” – signalling that her deeper loyalty lay with the electorate. Now, in a smoother, less combative fashion, David Cameron is borrowing this very technique.
And, a day later, Cameron pops up on the One Show. When asked about the “bit of a rodent problem at Number 10”, he joked:
Don’t talk about the Cabinet like that!
A couple of months back there was much chatter in and around Labour circles about whether using the phrase “Tory-led government” would make criticisms stick better than “coalition”. I joined in myself. On reflection, this was inane.
The government’s (and the Conservative party’s) strongest political asset, and the name that Labour needs to tar with all government failures, is David Cameron. Never mind Clegg: there are more votes and more seats that need to be won from the Tories and that will require knocking down their figurehead. He can’t be allowed to float above the day-to-day grind of governing, a hands-off national leader rather than a politician. Because whether he delegates or micromanages, he’s still in charge and he’s still responsible.