Yesterday morning David Cameron was spotted giddily whirling in the garden of no. 10. What had made the PM so happy? The opportunity to bask in the reflected glory of the success of others on Twitter of course. We all know how that makes the perfect start to his day.
Because I’m open to the criticism of being just as biased as Cameron, here’s Jaguar Land Rover’s press release, which makes no mention of confidence in the UK economy (it cites the support of the Government as one of its stakeholders but that’s not the same thing). Not surprisingly it focuses on crediting itself with its own success. It’s confident in itself: its products and r&d. My own interpretation of its repeated assertion of its commitment to the UK is that it remains wary of public criticism in the UK, following the sale out of UK ownership.
It would make very little sense to argue that the Government’s economic policies have led to Land Rover’s growth or that its growth signals confidence in the UK economy. What matters is the number of buyers of Land Rovers and they’re not here in the UK. The biggest market for Land Rovers now is China. The instant I saw Cameron’s tweet I thought “I’ll bet sales in China have gone up” so I checked. Growth in sales in China reflects the confidence of the people buying them in China. Land Rover is also looking at other emerging markets and has said it’s constrained by limited production. If Cameron can demonstrate a dramatic rise in UK sales, I’ll acknowledge that those buyers are sufficiently confident in the UK economy to splurge on new cars. That may even be true – generally UK new car sales were better than elsewhere in Europe last year – but that’s not what Cameron either contended or proved in his tweet. Until he does, I’ll stick with the belief that China can be proud of its consumer confidence in the sector of luxury goods (mind you, I’m hardly about to suggest everyone in China benefits from the same buoyancy that generates sales of Land Rovers) and that Land Rover has a decent business plan.
Someone on Twitter complained that I shouldn’t be questioning a British success story, saying more jobs are good for the UK, so what’s my problem? I do think Land Rover’s current growth and future plans are a good thing for the areas where they operate. If an independent news organisation had stated that Land Rover was expanding and stuck to the release or gone down the line of the second link above, I wouldn’t have commented at all but a tweet from David Cameron is different, despite the tweeter’s claim that Cameron made a “dispassionate observation”. He’s not a news broadcaster (not that many of them don’t have political axes to grind on both sides) and his account exists to promote his Government, his party and himself. There will be people who support him who trust what he says and take it as objective gospel. There will be people like me who mistrust him and go looking for information which contradicts him. For that matter, I mistrust politicians from all parties and find it difficult to understand the kind of unswerving, unquestioning loyalty some people give them. Then there will be people (potentially a lot of them) who aren’t quite sure what they make of him but have been trained to trust what they’re told (I didn’t look elsewhere but I noticed his tweet was used as a quote without further elucidation by Sky News by lunchtime). That bothers me because the fact is that Land Rover hadn’t said they have confidence in the UK economy or credited the UK economy with their expansion. I’d be equally annoyed if Ed Milliband was our prime minister and tweeted the same thing because it’s disingenuous. It’s propaganda.
I’m also tired of Cameron’s basking in reflected glory, whether in relation to business, sports or anything else. I’m tired of the implication that as captain of HMS Britannia he’s actively involved in every success. My very first post on this blog was a rant on his early tweets and it’s all become so ridiculous that I almost expect him to take credit for the royal baby on his first birthday next July (what a fun constitutional crisis that would be). In the case of the Land Rover tweet, I believe the primary goal was to make some political hay because there wasn’t a particularly positive response Osborne’s underwhelming growth figures. It feels like part of his shell game: shift blame or take credit, whatever works.
Something about Cameron’s tweets hadn’t occurred to me before his cringe inducing Little Britain speech though. Sorry, his cringe inducing Small Island speech. What if he genuinely believes his job involves sticking a plaster, some BB-cream or polyfilla (take your pick) over the flaws, not as party leader but as Prime Minister? This is the man who dreamed up happiness surveys (recently axed by budget cuts at the ONS if I remember rightly). The cynical stance is there is no way his party can win an election without some good news and it’s his job to create it. That’s his party leader hat and I don’t doubt the truth of it but what if he’s also genuinely elated at every British success? The hyperbolic nature of the Small Island speech just makes me wonder. As laughable as it was in some ways he did seem sincere. Maybe he’s also sincere when he bangs on about Wimbledon, the Ashes etc. If that’s the case, we’d better hope for more British success stories. Imagine if the poor man was reduced to tweeting. “little Johnny in Ealing took the class hamster home for half term and didn’t kill it. Well done! We’re for hardworking boys like Johnny”.
Still, the fact remains that he is a party leader and there is often the potential for political capital in basking in reflected glory. This is particularly true when it comes to anything connected in even the loosest possible way with the economy. Regardless of whether good news pleases him, it seems painfully naive to suggest Cameron is an impartial disseminator of good news any more than any other politician, regardless of party, would be and I believe it’s people’s right to fact check and/or challenge statements by politicians of any stripe.