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Answer the question

I was at a small dinner tonight at which the speaker was a Minister from the Treasury.

He was speaking under Chatham House Rules, which precludes my naming him. But it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference because he didn’t really say very much. Or anything at all you couldn’t guess at from reading the paper, in fact.

Towards the end of the evening, I got to ask him a question; but the one I came out with was quickly classed by most of those present, including the BBC’s Daily Politics presenter Andrew Neil and the Spectator’s political editor James Forsyth, to be a stupid one.

The question was this: “If [hypothetically speaking] David Cameron were to lose the next election, which decision do you think he would most regret?”

Andrew Neil, who was chairing, immediately let the Minister off the hook. It was, he pronounced, “an impossible question to answer”.

Really?

For me, it got to the heart of whether David Cameron’s aims are long- or short-term; tactical or strategic. Is he there to court popularity, or to change the world, as he sees it, for the better? Is he populist, or driven by conviction?

Would he really regret going down the route of gay marriage, or would he wish that he had taken a different economic path at the outset of his Premiership? Would he genuinely beat himself up about not having replaced Andrew Lansley earlier, or not backing Andrew Mitchell; or did he wish he had not cut faster and harder, in order to take the immense pain that would result in the first three years in the hope of getting the benefit before the election? Or would he perhaps have eschewed austerity completely?

When he settles down with his pipe and slippers at the age of 65, will he regret more not having been re-elected; or not having taken a chance to change the narrative and the shape of the country, assuming he believed it to be possible? To be damned in the short term but to be thanked by history, perhaps? Given that it was suggested that cutting the top-rate tax cut to 45p gave him all the pain and none of the gain, perhaps he wished he had been bolder? Or given his time again, would he not have done it at all? Who knows?

Even when I asked the Minister privately afterwards, as I sought to get some sort of solid picture, the weak response I was given was that “you’re asking me to put myself in David Cameron’s shoes, and I can’t answer for him”. Good grief.

It intrigued me that even in a world where politicians are criticised for taking short-term views and not looking at the big picture, major media commentators should deem it to be “unfair” to ask Ministers questions that focus on the latter. It wasn’t a press conference. The answer wasn’t going on the front page.

I know perfectly well what my biggest regret of the last five years is, and I happily admit it in a private forum. I’m sure that anyone who has worked with me could take a guess at it, and if they got it wrong, who cares? Their answer would give an insight into their view of me, which could be interpreted by their audience in whichever way they saw fit. So?

What makes it so difficult in politics?

Posted in Politics.

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2 Responses

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  1. colston says

    I can’t say i blame the Minister for not embarrassing the PM, would’ve been a bad career move!
    I’m sure WHEN he loses the next election, they’ll be queuing up to tell you all the mistakes he made during his time in office.

  2. bigdipper says

    It’s the PC!

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