There’s a lot of it about in right-wing parties at the moment. For John Key, John Banks and David Cameron it appears to be becoming the strategy of choice. It’s not working very well for any of them – Banks and Key have become walking Tui billboards. You can’t believe a word any of them says, and no-one does.
I’m currently in Britain, where Cameron’s problem may appear minor besides the debacle Key is deliberately avoiding presiding over. Andrew Mitchell, Cameron’s recently-appointed chief whip, known as “Thrasher” at his public school, had a hissy fit inside the gates of Downing Street, calling the police “plebs” and telling them to “best learn their “f***ing place” because they wouldn’t let him out the main gate on his bicycle. He did this on a day after two women police constables were lured to their death in Manchester, and at a time when police numbers are being cut.
Mitchell offered a completely unconvincing non-apology, and Cameron, off on his way to the UN and a David Letterman interview, has “looked him in the eye” and accepted his non-denial denial. Cameron’s first problem is that Mitchell’s “pleb jibe exposes the Tories’ Flashman thinking”, as Polly Toynbee points out in this scathing article from the Guardian.
“Pleb” says not just how Cameron and co think, but it defines with deadly accuracy who they govern for. This stamps them as a Mitt Romney regime – not bothering with the plebs, not with the bottom half. This crystallises how they ignore those who are not their voters, not their leafy shire constituents. They govern for those who their class sometimes calls PLUs – “people like us”. The social class of Cameron’s crew hardly matters: what counts is whose side they are on. Without a shadow of a doubt, they rule for their own ruling class.
The same is true of Key and Banks. Cameron’s Conservatives are now ten points behind Labour. Banks is dog-tucker, and I’m picking Key’s numbers will also start to slide south very soon.