I remember very clearly standing on a manifesto pledged to oppose a third runway at Heathrow on environmental grounds, so it would not have surprised me in the least if the Conservatives had committed another U-turn and decided to build one. However, the long-term consequence of the debate will have nothing to do with the environment or transport, but with David Cameron’s grip on his party, which becomes more tenuous by the day. It would not surprise me to see Mr Cameron out of Number 10 by the end of next year.
Tim Yeo’s challenge to him to prove whether he was a “man or a mouse” is damaging not because it shows disrespect for his Leader, not because he has not committed a U-turn and is thus (in Yeo’s terms) “a mouse”, but because it actually resonates with the public. The context of the comment was the need to determine what Mr Cameron’s vision is. The idea that he has no vision is now almost universally accepted by the British public. Few find this a good thing.
Mr Cameron’s best trait, perhaps, is his loyalty to those close to him. However, like it or not, loyalty is an over-valued trait in practice – Robin van Persie was right to leave Arsenal, Luka Modric was right to leave Spurs. Mr Cameron’s over-zealous loyalty to a small cabal of advisers leaves him with few allies in the broader party, the broader Coalition or the broader country. Few – Conservative or otherwise – would mourn his departure. Shorn of any affiliation to the Leader of its largest party, Parliament is an ugly place, full of josting for position and intrigue and counter-intrigue, at just the moment it needs to be focused not in on itself but out on the country’s economic future. Mr Yeo was merely saying overtly what is commonly said covertly.
Just like Mr Major’s “greyness”, Mr Duncan Smith’s “quiet man” or most obviously of all Mr Howard’s “something of the dark side”, Mr Cameron is now “a mouse”. If he lasts more than 18 months, it will only be because his party is too factionalized to agree a replacement.