By Peter Hoskin
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there was one line in Boris’s post-Olympics
speech that summed up the whole it came after his gag about British
athletes, sofas and sex. “I can get away with that,” he said by way of an aside
— and that’s precisely the point. He can get away with it, certainly in a way
that other politicians can’t. He can joke about us socking it to the French and
the Germans. He can talk of “paroxysms of tears and joy”. He can even praise
the efforts of G4S. And the crowd laps it up, as they did today. By the time
Boris had finished, they were chanting his name yet again.
This was in illustrative contrast to David Cameron, who — completely unsurprisingly
— has been more sober in his appearances today. Of course, he too is trying to reflect
some of our post-Olympics glow, but he is using more formal methods such as the
letters of thanks being sent out to the Games volunteers, praising them as “an
essential ingredient in a remarkable summer”. His own
speech at the culmination of the Olympics parade, outside Buckingham
Palace, was full of similarly fitting words for the occasion. “The whole
country salutes your brilliance,” he said to the assembled athletes. He left
G4S off his list of people to be thanked. And, of course, the crowd processed
all this and didn’t whoop and holler half as much as they would for Boris. There
are even some suggestions that the Prime Minister was booed a little, although
I didn’t hear it myself.
thing is, the contrast between Boris and Dave today is one that many of Mr
Cameron’s supporters believe will work in his favour in the long run — whether against
Boris himself, or against Ed Miliband. Their man is more prime ministerial,
they say, and I tend to agree with them. What works at an Olympics party (or,
in Mr Miliband’s case, a think-tank debate), the theory runs, needn’t work
during an actual election, when public finances and
nuclear buttons are at stake. When it comes to it, voters like their statesmen
more traditionally statesmanlike.
comes down to a split in how Mr Cameron presents himself; one that has existed
since before he became Prime Minister, although the premiership has exacerbated
it; and one that concerns some of the strategists along Downing Street. Is he a serious
man for serious times? Or is he Dave, someone whom you’d join for a drink downt’
pub? There are ways, I think, of resolving these two personas — but I suspect
that, if anything, the Prime Minister will veer more towards the former after this summer.
There is no way he can out-Boris Boris, after all, so he might try to offer
something different: a side-parted, tie-knotted politician not here to have
fun, but focussed solely on the country's economic and social problems.
which case, the open letter that YouGov’s Peter Kellner has written to Mr
Cameron today is probably worth the time reading. Prime Ministerial is all well
and good, and well within the range of the current Prime Minister’s capabilities,
but he has also eroded some of that aura over the past few months. As Mr Kellner
points out, Cameron’s personal ratings are currently among their worst. 53 per
cent of people regard him as indecisive, against 32 per cent who regard him as
decisive. 51 per cent say that he’s weak, with 33 per cent saying he’s strong.
No doubt we’ll see an attempt to right this during conference season —
starting, you hope, with fewer u-turns.