The elusive Mr Cameron: how long can the ploy last?
Cameron’s low-profile strategy is fine for now – but the public might soon need to see some action
Contrast Cameron's first months in office with Tony Blair's in 1997. In the summer of 1997, the new British Prime Minister was here, there and everywhere, announcing new government initiatives on what seemed to be a daily basis, hob-nobbing with 'Cool Britannia' pop stars at Number 10 and stealing the show with his reading from 1 Corinthians 13 at Princess Diana's memorial service.
This summer we've seen plenty of Nick Clegg, deputy PM, of George Osborne, the Chancellor, of Foreign Secretary William Hague and of Business Secretary Vince Cable. But of the man who is supposed to be running the country, we have seen remarkably little. Dave has been almost as elusive as Mrs Mainwaring in repeats of Dad’s Army.
It's true that Cameron has had family matters to deal with - the birth of his fourth child, Florence, last month and the death of his 77-year-old father last week.
But that doesn't explain why Cameron has been so inconspicuous. After all, many people turn up for work after their children are born or when one of their parents die: if Stoke City manager Tony Pulis can put in a half-shift after his mother's death, as he did on Monday night, then some people would say it's reasonable to expect the PM to do the same.
It's hard to escape the conclusion that Cameron's low-profile is part of a deliberate strategy by a politician far shrewder than most commentators gave him credit for before the election.
Cameron may feel that after the shameless egotism of the Blair years - and the personal flak which Gordon Brown received - that a low-profile PM is exactly what British voters want.
Cameron, a man who appears to enjoy the self-confidence of a class which believes it is born to rule, clearly feels no need to be on television night and day to remind us that he is the most powerful man in the country.
Another more cynical reason for his elusive behaviour could be that Cameron prefers his ministers - and particularly the Lib Dem ones - to be in the firing line of rising public discontent as government cuts begin to bite.
If that is indeed his motivation, then it appears to be working. Left-wing opponents of the coalition are mainly targeting their fire at the 'turncoat' Nick Clegg, the pro-privatisation business minister Vince Cable - who last week announced the sell-off of the entire Royal Mail - and, of course, 'Slasher' Osborne.
The favoured targets of the government's right-wing opponents are the 'wet' Justice Minister Ken Clarke and the Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt. There has been, so far, remarkably little anger directed at the Prime Minister himself.
Cameron's low-profile strategy may soon receive a boost from an unlikely quarter - the BBC.
The BBC unions are threatening to black out the Prime Minister's address to next month's Tory party conference. Though the coalition-supporting newspapers claim such action would be an undemocratic outrage, the walkout by journalists and technicians could easily work in the Prime Minister's favour. Another day out of the limelight.
But Cameron's tactic of keeping above the fray at a time of great political division is not without its pitfalls.
If we do get a new 'winter of discontent' - as seems increasingly likely, if you believe the threats from the TUC Congress in Manchester - the public will want the Prime Minister to take a lead, taking action on a daily basis.
Jim Callaghan never actually said 'Crisis, what crisis?' in the winter of 1979, and the right-wing tabloids, desperate for a Conservative government, undoubtedly hyped up the problems facing Britain at the time.
But the image of a sun-tanned prime minister jetting in from a conference in the West Indies, when he really should have stayed at home, did Labour considerable damage.
If Cameron's low-profile strategy is to succeed, then his timing must be spot-on. British voters might not want their Prime Minister to be in their face, but they will soon want to know that he is putting in a full shift. ·
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