If Cameron is “potentially the best all-round prime minister of the modern era”, it’s thanks to the Coalition

by Stephen Tall on July 10, 2010

That’s the hyperbolic claim of The Guardian’s Martin Kettle:

These are still very early days. The coalition has to get through difficult votes on AV and negotiate the most difficult spending round in a generation. The economy may tank. Yet in these first weeks even opponents should concede that Cameron has played a blinder. He is showing himself as potentially the best all-round prime minister of the modern era. Labour’s hopefuls should learn from him. No doubt about it, Cameron wins this season’s political golden boot.

Wildly OTT? Yes. But it’s not completely without its justification. For example, Mr Kettle points out, rightly, one of Mr Cameron’s best moments to date:

In the last two months, nothing has become the prime minister more than his Commons statement of regret for the Bloody Sunday killings. The speech was a model, and when Cameron said, “On behalf of our country I am deeply sorry”, the applause outside Derry Guildhall almost seemed to wash away 40 years of hurt.

He also fairly points out Mr Cameron’s highly positive ratings among the public, a turnaround from the sharp decline his popularity suffered in the six months leading up to the election.

There are, I suspect, two key explanations for Mr Cameron’s high public approval since becoming Prime Minsiter.

First, there’s the gravitas which is bestowed upon the holder of the office merely by taking up its mantle – after all, even Gordon Brown enjoyed three months of ‘Not Flash, Just Gordon’ honeymoon before reality set in. Mr Cameron is still a novelty, and the British people are going to give him a fair crack of the whip.

And, secondly, Mr Cameron is performing well, comporting himself into an object lesson in popular pragmatism. As, more surprisingy, is his deputy-in-all-but-name William Hague, much to the distress of the uber-right-wing ConservativeHome.

Perhaps Mr Cameron would have been just as good a Prime Minister (to date) if the Tories had won a majority. Perhaps … but I strongly doubt it. What is making Mr Cameron a good Prime Minister (to date) is that he is a coalition Prime Minister. He is not having to tack to the right to keep his extremist MPs happy, but rather he is having to tack to the centre to keep the Lib Dems happy.

I suspect it suits his temperament better, but that’s not why he’s doing it. He’s doing it because he has to, because that is what the British public voted for.

Consciously or not, deliberately or not, David Cameron’s responsible performance as Prime Minister (to date) is a function of coalition government. Before he casts his vote against moving to a fairer voting system, Mr Cameron should consider carefully whether his place in the history books wouldn’t be rather better served by continuing as a coalition Prime Minister.