20 March 2012

David Cameron – a gambling man?

Early on in his premiership, David Cameron stayed on after finishing the 8:10am spot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and intervened in the sports bulletin’s racing tips:
If you're a fan of the coalition you could go for Daring Dream in the 3.50 at Ayr and if you're slightly more sceptical about how our arrangements are going to work out you could try Midnight Fantasy in the 3pm at Wolverhampton. That's 10-1, Midnight Fantasy. I think that's going to be my nap selection.
Which suggested a certain familiarity with the turf, although both horses lost. As did his two choices after another Today appearance almost a year later. Again, while selecting Stormin’ Gordon and Red Samantha must have been irresistible, neither horse did well, coming in at sixth and ninth.

But the PM has some more serious races and winners to worry about. Firstly, the outcome of the election for Mayor of London on 3 May still seems as close as when I posted about it last month. Perhaps the next (now overdue) opinion poll will reflect some of the critical media coverage of Ken Livingstone’s financial arrangements. Cameron must surely want a Conservative win, for normal party reasons and to keep Boris Johnson away from the Commons.

Cameron’s trip to the US probably had far more media coverage here than there – as no doubt did Obama’s visit to the UK last year. A distinct impression was given that Cameron finds Obama more to his taste than any of the Republican candidates in terms of policies. But it’s interesting that the legendary James Carville doesn’t think Obama is a shoo-in in November. It would be surprising if Cameron hadn’t taken the opportunity to send appropriate signals to senior Republicans during the New York stage of his visit. In practice, the relationship between a future Republican president and the UK Coalition would be very likely to carry on as before. Nonetheless, if Obama doesn’t get back, Cameron might be seen in Britain as having got too close to the loser. All the brotherhood-of-world-leader type images being stored up for the next UK election would have to be junked too.

Finally, in the French presidential campaign Cameron seems to have hitched himself to Sarkozy, notably during an interview with Le Figaro in February:
Vous avez souhaité «bonne chance» à votre «ami» Nicolas Sarkozy? Comptez-vous lui adresser d'autres signes de soutien durant la campagne?
Nicolas Sarkozy est un dirigeant du centre droit et je lui souhaite bonne chance. Il a de grandes qualités de chef, c'est un homme politique courageux. Il a fait des choses extraordinairement importantes pour la France. Ce sera au peuple français de décider, je n'ai pas à interférer dans son choix. Nicolas Sarkozy a mon soutien. Je le dis clairement. Mais je ne suis pas sûr que si je sillonnais la France en bus pour le soutenir, cela serait efficace… 
You wished your "friend" Nicolas Sarkozy "good luck"? Will you send him other signs of support during the campaign?
Nicolas Sarkozy is a leader from the centre-right and I wish him luck. He has great leadership qualities, he is a brave politician. He has done some extraordinarily important things for France. It will be up to the French people to decide, and not for me to interfere in their choice. Nicolas Sarkozy has my support. I say it clearly. But I'm not sure if I were to criss-cross France on a campaign bus to support him, it would be helpful ...
In political terms this is understandable. The other main contender for the Presidency, François Hollande, aligns with the left of the Labour party (perhaps even to the left of the Liberal Democrats in the days before they joined the Coalition).  When Hollande came to London (with an eye on the French electors living in “Paris sur Thames”) at the end of February, he met Miliband but none of the Coalition. Both sides presumably had reached the same conclusion: such a meeting wouldn’t benefit them. Recent polls have been showing Sarkozy as running very close to Hollande in the first (multi-candidate) round of the election, but the latter still being ahead in the second (the two remaining best candidates) round on 6 May. The impact of the recent tragic shootings in South West France remains to be seen. The Times veteran Paris correspondent, Charles Bremner, reported (£) today (20 March):
Two weeks ago the top topic in France’s presidential campaign was not the economy or the euro crisis, but the manner in which Muslim and Jewish tradition requires animals to be slaughtered.
The matter was raised by Marine Le Pen, the candidate for the National Front, who is running in third place. She claimed that a majority of Parisians were being sold halal and kosher meat without being told.
President Sarkozy, who has taken a swing into National Front territory in his hunt for votes, then demanded that all meat be labelled to show whether or not it had been killed via Jewish or Muslim ritual. A few days later he pronounced that the issue was over — but the damage was done.
No one is making any link between the murders in Toulouse and Montauban and the presidential campaign, but the entry of the racial theme into the election left an exceedingly bad taste. It reflected the degree to which the airing of resentment over Muslim immigration has almost gone mainstream.
Cameron wrote to Sarkozy today in terms that he would, of course, have used to any French President in such circumstances:
I was appalled to learn of the recent shootings that France has suffered, including in Toulouse this morning. People across Britain share the shock and grief that is being felt in France, and my thoughts are with the victims, their friends and their families. I know that France will draw strength and comfort from your resolute leadership at this difficult time. You can count on my every support in confronting these senseless acts of brutality and cowardice.
There seem to be three very close races, two in May and one in November, on which Cameron has placed a Johnson-Sarkozy-Obama wager. While not an “accumulator” in betting terms, he is running the risk of a reputational loss at home if he is wrong on any of them. If a Republican takes over the Presidency in Washington next January, no doubt March’s visit will be forgiven and forgotten. Rebuilding bridges with a socialist in the Elysée after May might be harder work.


Most posts get overtaken by events but not many as soon as this one.

As far as the London mayoral race is concerned, the new polling data has arrived and shows Johnson at 54% against Livingstone at 46% (once down to a choice of two). So Cameron can probably start to think about his winnings on that one. I stand by my opinion that there won’t be that much damage to Ed Miliband. The poll shows that in a national election the Labour share of the vote in London is 46%, the Conservatives are on 34% and LibDems at 9%. It is Livingstone’s inability to enthuse Labour’s natural voters that’s the problem, although Miliband was probably unwise to express support in connection with the candidate’s financial arrangements.

The implications of the aftermath of the tragedy in France will become apparent in the remaining weeks of their presidential campaign. Perhaps the impact on voting will not be that great in the end.


Won one, lost one! Both were close run, but the winner is the winner. Boris Johnson took 51.5% of the votes in the London Mayoral race after redistribution of second votes. In France, François Hollande had [just under] 52% of the votes in the second round for the Presidency. From Cameron’s point of view, Boris didn’t do so well as to make him any greater a threat, but his victory might prove exploitable as the beginning of a turnaround in the Tories’ current misfortunes. However, Cameron’s having got so close to Sarkozy now looks inept. In the longer term the relative performance of the UK and France economies may be more of an embarrassment to him – or prove to be a vindication.

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