— PolPics (@PolPics) November 22, 2013
Was this a ‘Ratner’ moment for the PM?
Gerald Ratner once famously described his jewellery as “total crap” in an after-dinner speech before seeing the remarks picked up in the press. He mocked his own products and in doing so he fatally undermined his relationship with his customers, which led to a collapse in the businesses’ fortunes.
The Sun’s front page report that Cameron is said to be going around Number 10 saying “we’ve got to get rid of all this green crap” won’t prove as fatal given the environment isn’t top of voter priorities, but could prove corrosive with some non-traditional voters who invested their trust in the Conservative leader over his party.
In the 80s pretty much everyone accepted Ratner’s was cheap and cheerful, but many bought into the mirage of exclusivity for the masses. Few would objectively describe David Cameron’s government as “the greenest ever”, but this week this particular mirage is over too. This isn’t just about the pros and cons of energy levies, HS2 ripping through the Chilterns or renewable energy versus gas. Instead it’s about a core part of David Cameron’s pre-election identity dying before us.
Zac Goldsmith MP is credited with influencing Cameron’s environmental understanding and commitment when in Opposition. Goldsmith has now said tea-room chatter among Conservatives is on the lines of “if the PM can so casually drop something that was so central to his identity, he can drop anything.”
Are such levels of pragmatism such a bad thing in politics? For Cameron, yes. If Ed Miliband were in business he’d be in Research and Development but for David Cameron it’s sales. But a salesman can never, ever afford to trash his product and ridicule his customers without doing undermining himself and the chances of selling new products in the future diminishes.
Lynton Crobsy might think the “green crap” remarks will play well with UKIP supporters although some may not have forgiven past promises they feel ought to have been honoured. UKIP voters will likely be more numerous than those who ‘voted blue to go green’ in 2010. But put alongside the wiping of pledges and youtube speeches from the web and the message is a Cameron pledge, no matter how sincere it seems, can expire at any time.
The Tory leader remains more popular than his party and so what happens to his standing will have a disproportionate impact on the next election. If a promise from David Cameron is proven to be worth the same as a pair of Ratner’s earrings then that is problematic for the Prime Minister.