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Evening Standard comment

David Cameron: the Prime Minister that London now needs

Evening Standard comment
05.05.10

The new Evening Standard has been determined to approach this election with an open mind — open solely to what is best for London. And tomorrow's General Election, more than any since 1997, represents a real choice about Britain's and London's future.

We need a party and a leader with the steel to take the unpopular decisions that undoubtedly lie ahead — yet with the compassion to address the inequalities exposed recently in this paper's Dispossessed series on London's poor.

The choice has become much clearer over the past four weeks: that is the value of election campaigns, democracy at its most frenetic. Party leaders have been tested to the limit, both in the TV debates and on the campaign trail.

Labour wants us to stick with them, as this paper did in the past three elections, endorsing Tony Blair. But by any measure, Gordon Brown has had a wretched election. He looks exhausted. The choice he represents has become more explicit than ever: more of the same, sticking with the devil we know for fear of change and instability.

We should not be too quick to discount the appeal of stability, after two years of recession. Labour's record in many areas is respectable. Crime is down; there has been investment in transport; there have been important constitutional reforms, such as a Mayor for this city, and civil partnerships for gay people; and there has been improvement in the NHS and schools, albeit at enormous cost. Indeed, voters may not end up being quite as keen on change as they tell pollsters they are, especially since the biggest change ahead, whoever forms the next government, will be savage spending cuts.

But even for loyal Labour voters, another five years of Mr Brown can hardly seem an appealing prospect. It is not simply that Mr Brown looks tired and careworn, the face of the past. The inevitable riposte to any of his promises is: why didn't you do it years ago? Labour has had 13 years to reform the economy: instead, as Chancellor, Mr Brown let the banks rip. He had years to repair the public finances. Instead, we now have the biggest peacetime deficit ever. On issues from immigration to schools to soldiers' kit to welfare reform, Mr Brown could have acted for real change years ago — but did not.

The Prime Minister should have used this campaign to present a compelling, fresh vision for Britain and a renewal of his party's purpose. He was unable to do so. Labour appears utterly exhausted, without either new ideas or the energy to campaign for them convincingly.

The Conservative alternative is far fresher. Since taking the party's helm almost five and a half years ago, David Cameron has wrought huge change. There are those both inside his party and out who deride his commitment to the environment and to fighting poverty as mere spin. But people said the same of Tony Blair's embrace of business — and it turned out that, at least under him, Labour had changed. Mr Cameron has shown flashes of steel that belie those critics who doubt his commitment to that modernisation.

He has campaigned on the centre ground and that has made the Tories look like a party of government again, for the first time since 1997. He has a decisive ruthlessness that Mr Brown does not — and it showed over crises such as the MPs' expenses row.

And this is the most important revelation of the past four weeks. Mr Cameron has grown in this campaign. If the point of British elections nowadays is largely to test the characters of the would-be premiers, Mr Cameron is the clear winner. Despite the challenge of Mr Clegg, he stuck with it and learned from his mistakes. Few could now doubt that he has the strength and clarity of vision to lead the country.

The Conservatives have as yet not given enough detail about how they would reduce the deficit, but we can take seriously their promise to do so faster than Labour. And while Labour has claimed that too-early cuts would damage the economy, it is hard to see how the extra £6 billion of cuts promised so far by the Tories would seriously undermine the recovery. At the same time, they promise a return to an approach of empowering individuals, in part through holding down taxes — for example through their pledge to cancel the planned National Insurance increase — and partly through devolving power to individuals.

This is Mr Cameron's “Big Society” idea. Whatever the inevitable gaps in the plan, it represents a far more comprehensive and compelling vision of a changed society than Mr Brown's big state. It is an idea with personal responsibility at its heart, rather than reliance on government: to many people, that instinctively makes sense. After 13 years of an encroaching state, it has an appeal that transcends party lines. And Labour has no equivalent vision.

The Lib-Dems, meanwhile, are every election's wild card; this time, “Cleggmania” has fuelled a heady campaign. In fact, they have deserved serious attention since the start of Mr Clegg's tenure as leader, in 2007, and this paper has paid it to them. Mr Clegg has done much to modernise his party's policies — the policy to raise tax thresholds so as to remove the poorest workers from tax has real merit. The Lib-Dems have been more honest than the other two parties about the tough fiscal choices ahead, refusing to ringfence NHS spending. Mr Clegg has freshness and can claim to represent real change from the big party duopoly. His party has won the right to greater respect and status in the next parliament.

Yet the Lib-Dems still do not look like a party of government. Partly it is the residue of unrealistic policies such as support for British membership of the euro. Partly it is their dearth of serious talent: after Mr Clegg and shadow chancellor Vince Cable, they have few other heavyweights. And they cannot expect to win an outright majority. They will instead hope for a hung parliament, most likely led by the Tories.

A hung parliament might look an attractive option for many voters alienated from politics. Yet it would be a recipe for bickering and drift at a time when, even more than usual, the nation's dire economic straits demand clear leadership.

The stakes for London in all this are high. On Heathrow expansion, Mr Cameron has opposed a new runway. That should prove a popular promise, in west London especially. Meanwhile this paper's series on London's dispossessed has highlighted the extremes of wealth in the capital and the way in which the very poor have continued to suffer under Labour. The Government now offers them nothing convincingly new; tackling deprivation would be the greatest test of David Cameron's Big Society.

Today, we believe that only the Conservatives can offer Britain — and London — the possibility of real change and firm leadership.

Their offer is incomplete. If they are elected, we will watch them closely and critically to see that they serve this nation's, and above all this city's, interests. We will not hesitate to call them to account if they fall short of their promises.

But the Conservatives are ready for power: they look like a government in waiting. They have a charismatic leader in David Cameron. He has proved himself under fire in this campaign. And he now emphatically deserves a chance to succeed where Labour has failed.

Reader views (15)

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I sincerely hope Cameron wins with a clear majority as labour have already proved they are useless with money and have no idea how an efficient business works. However one of the most depressing things in this election so far are the utterances coming from those who help to maintain the deeply destructive belief in a class system in this country. These mutterings tend to come from certain areas of the working classes that still believe that anyone with a 'posh' accent is greedy and rich. As someone who was born into a working class family and became successful through hard work and effort I deeply despise these people with such limited vision. Cameron is a man of the people, so what that he went to Eton, and I trust him to make class war a thing of the past.

- Paul, London, UK, 06/05/2010 13:01
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Whoever wins, it will be by God's leave,
and it will be a test, no matter what the atheists
and those who think God has no business in what Man do hope...
The first thing that will happen is a test...
It could be easy, or it could be devastating...
This is God's Way...

- Nabil H, London, UK, 05/05/2010 23:30
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Nahummer, you need to stop listening to Brown. "Pulling money out of the economy" (what does that mean? stuffing it in a mattress?) is not the same as "the state taxing, borrowing and spending less". Propelling the national debt into the stratosphere will not help the economy.

- Kevin T, Beckenham, Kent, 05/05/2010 17:13
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I am going to sum up this article and its careful argumentation in a haikuesque abridged version as follows, borrowing sentences from the article above.

"The Lib-Dems still do not look like a party of government. But the Conservatives are ready for power: they look like a government in waiting."

- k in Shoreditch, London, 05/05/2010 16:41
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We need proportional representation.Not Lord Snooty looking after his pals.Heaven help the vulnerable and needy if enough take the advice of The Standard.

- colin, barking essex, 05/05/2010 16:31
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Show me any party that was soaring in the polls that didn't lose some of that lead on the run-in to the elections! It is normal. There is only one poll that counts - the election.

That's when people who point at an alternate article and state categorically that this proves another wrong just because that is their belief in the first place (yeah, that comment niggled me) , have one opportunity to get what THEY want for a government. A single vote.

Use it, and you'll have done your part. Of course I personally think a vote for socialism, be it LibDem flavour or Labour (or similar), is a wrong minded vote, but at least it is performing the DUTY of an eligible adult to participate in the government of their country.

Failure to vote, if you're able to, means you have no right to complain about what you get! Note, though, it also means you are responsible, left OR right, for what you get if you do vote.

- Rogan, Irving, 05/05/2010 15:50
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There's a lot of scaremongering on here.

As a young man from an ordinary upbringing, I am sick of this constant referal to Thatcher and outdated cries of 'only helping the rich' from Conservative opponents.

The conclusion I have reached in this election is that Conservatives will provide the over all fairest and most sensible approach to government out of all the available parties.

It wont be pretty in the short term, but cutting costs and stimulating growth is the only way out of this rut. 5 more years of Labour statism will be catastrophic.

- Leo, London, 05/05/2010 15:21
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We stand much more chance of ending up like Greece if we fail to make major public spending cuts. Greece got into the condition it's in through colossal and reckless state spending, paid for by borrowing rather than revenue. Brown has done likewise. We're not in the same state yet because (1) we're a richer country and (2) we're not shackled to the Euro so we have access to ways of alleviating our debt that Greece doesn't. However unless we take steps to reduce our debt, we will be in the same situation. I'm sure many who depend for their income on public spending will find it unfair but the fact is we cannot afford this anymore. Even Labour won't dispute that. The question is whether they will have the heart to alienate their union donors and key voters by making the required savings. I find it a lot easier to believe Cameron will.

- Kevin T, Beckenham, Kent, 05/05/2010 14:58
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Blind. That or just willfully ignorant of the facts. Sure the past 13 years of New Labour has been a disaster, but if you think you'd of been better off under the Conservatives, think again. Tackling the debt problem by pulling money out of the economy and lowering taxes on the rich. Making you safe by committing to spend billions on cold war deterrents? A potential chancellor who makes back room deals with bankers? (even Murdoch's WSJ will tell you http://bit.ly/dxO6VP). Reality cheque please: http://bit.ly/dfUEVZ

- nahummer, Poznan, Poland, 05/05/2010 14:45
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For another view of the Tories in London, I urge you to read this piece in The Independent - http://bit.ly/bpAkDC

Based on this, I don't hold out much hope for The Dispossessed under the Tories.

- Brian, London, 05/05/2010 14:20
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Cameron hasn't changed the Tory Party (even if you believe he himself has changed from the Thatcher lover he declared himself to be, which I don't) and the fact is, he will be utterly beholden to the increased numbers of hard right, Christian fundamentalist Tory MPs in the situation of a minority or small majority government. One of whom - Philippa Stroud - believes gays are possessed by demons and can be 'cured' by prayer. Immediate Tory cuts could plunge the UK back into recession; spending in a recession is the right thing to do (the mistake they made in the 30s was to cut). Growth would then help to reduce the deficit through increased tax receipts and lower benefit spending (more people in work), while austerity would paradoxically increase the debt burden. The Tories still represent all that is backward looking and privileged in this country. Look at their homophobic, anti-semitic allies in Europe. They are not what London needs at all.

- Sue, London, 05/05/2010 14:15
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Look on the tv and see Greece. This will be London within 12 months if Cameron gets in. As he sacks normal people doing normal public services and the economy falters as unemployment soars, he will be raising IHT. If Cameron gets in, make sure you are insured to the hilt, he called it austerity...he really means chaos.

God help us.

- John Burton, London, 05/05/2010 14:08
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I completely agree with this article, I've been undecided all through this campaign.. but now as it draws to a close, Cameron is the only candidate that has emerged as the credible prime minister we desperately need.

- Leo, London, UK, 05/05/2010 12:50
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Given that so much of London's wealth comes from the City(wealth which in turn spills out into the rest of the country), the credibility of the new government to tackle the deficit is crucial if we are to avoid a rapid plunge into far worse economic problems than we faced in 2008. £1.4 trillion structural deficit. £163 billion this year alone. It's horrendous. How does anyone believe we can afford to carry on living like this? If anybody has been playing roulette, it would seem to be the government. David Cameron is absolutely right to want to start dealing with this hugely difficult problem straight away. The idea peddled by Labour (and to a leeser extent by the LibDems) that you can spend your way out of debt is utterly daft (unless you also have hyperinflation). It just gets bigger. Lenders don't like it. Interest rates go up. It gets bigger again. We have to get back to financial common sense and fiscal responisibility that doesn't stifle enterprise - Cameron seems to be the only party leader who understands that. But he'll need all the help he can get to extract us from the quagmire Brown has got us into. Having Clegg with his Socialist tendencies hanging onto his coat tails would be a disaster. Let's hope the election result is decisive, or the markets will snap back with a vengeance.

- London Lass, London, 05/05/2010 12:43
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"They have a charismatic leader in David Cameron. He has proved himself under fire in this campaign". How can you say that?! he had a lead of 28 and is strugling to get above 37%!!! Is that not a failure of leadrship. People dont want another 5 years of the same one party rule of spin-driven politicians.

- John Sot, London, 05/05/2010 12:22
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