Why David Cameron should follow Ed Miliband again, and seek solace in The West Wing

With their leader having taken a firm grip of the news cycle and positioned himself as the leading proponent of the public voice, Labour advisers are said to have taken to finishing meetings by declaring ‘Let Bartlet be Bartlet’. A reference to award-winning US television series The West Wing, the line reflects Ed Miliband’s new-found sense of certainty and direction amidst the swirling storm of ‘Hackgate’ – apparently we’re incapable of naming both our own crises and our leaders without an envious glance across the pond – as well as his status as the UK’s leading geek; he originally fed his aides the line ‘Let Miliband be Miliband’ some months ago.  The links between the idealistic vision of capitol politics and the seemingly increasingly-flawed reality of Westminster are not, though, confined to one rather generous metaphor.

West Wing

David Cameron - things to learn from The West Wing?

Indeed, enabling me to display my full West Wing fanboy credentials, there is another quote from the series which also seems particularly apt, considering the political context in both America and Britain today. With White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry reluctant to make a controversial appointment, aforementioned President ‘Jed’ Bartlet states “Leo, hard as you might try, the Republican Party isn’t going anywhere”. Now, facing the consequences of his own controversial appointment, though his was far more high-profile, David Cameron is no doubt wishing the NOTW scandal and questions over his appointment of Andy Coulson would disappear. No such luck; the turmoil even followed him to Africa, and then back home again as he cut the trip short. With Miliband making hay over the scandal and its implications for the Prime Minister, it is significant that the government’s most effective retort has been to accuse the Labour Party of ‘playing partisan politics’ with an issue of such importance.

While we attempt to rebuild the fragile relationship between press, police, politicians and the public, in America the issue is one of a collapse in economics, rather than simply trust. With the deadline for raising the debt ceiling approaching fast and the broad consensus of opinion making doing so a no-brainer, real-life Democrats are now wishing away their Republican rivals. Obama has taken the lead and, like Miliband, the public seem to be on his side in doing so. However, while Miliband’s recent success relies so heavily on the very partisan politics fictional President Bartlet is seeking to transcend, Obama’s public backing may fail to prevent a full-blown economic meltdown precisely because his rivals appear intent on clinging to it. With Obama having made concessions to the extent that his proposals are near indistinguishable from Republican wishes, his rivals’ continued procrastination highlights their determination to not merely prevent Obama from being Obama, but to prevent him being a functioning President altogether.

Though the FBI is now investigating claims that the News of the World hacked into the phones of 9/11 victims, this economic saga may well explain why the scandal has not yet taken hold in America as it has here, despite Rupert Murdoch’s high-profile and controversial presence as a major media player. It now seems that David Cameron’s strategy will be to convince the British public to go the same way; to highlight the economic fragility of the Euro and America, and its possible implications for us. He may well struggle to do so, it would be too easy for opponents to paint it as the Prime Minister running scared from his responsibilities in the scandal to limit the political fallout. However, it is perhaps the best way for Cameron to avoid dealing with the scandal publicly while maintaining a position of responsible action.

Indeed, the spotlight has now fallen on Mr Cameron’s Chief of Staff, Ed Llewelyn. In his evidence in Parliament on Tuesday, John Yates claimed Llewelyn had insisted Downing Street were not informed of the findings of a Met investigation into Andy Coulson in order for them to remain “entirely clear”. With ongoing disputes over whether or not Llewelyn passed warnings over Coulson from the Guardian and others to Cameron, the country’s leader and his Chief of staff are now embroiled in a row over a controversial appointment.

Back in the liberal fantasy of the West Wing, the appointment that revealed the extent of Leo McGarry’s disdain for his political rivals proved justified, as the Republican in question fulfilled their role without a tinge of controversy in office. Cameron has attempted to use this as a defence, as if his judgement could not be questioned because Coulson didn’t break a law while in Downing St. Given every chance, Boris Johnson offered the most limited support of his party leader, while even the Cabinet has struggled to present a strong, coherent case for Cameron to move on from what has almost certainly been the most worrying period of his tenure.

With every defence he offers, Cameron seems less in control. His best bet now seems to be to distract the British public from the scandal with the claim that there are more serious matters at hand. With that in mind, he’ll certainly be hoping President Bartlet is right; the Republican Party seem to be offering a greater escape route than his own.


Posted on July 22, 2011, in Coalition Government, Comment, Conservative Party, Labour Party, Looking Forward, Party Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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