Bruce Anderson: David Cameron could be Britain's de Gaulle





[Bruce Anderson is a columnist at the Independent.]

It is the most fascinating, unpredictable and nerve-racking election of all time, and Thursday will not conclude the drama. It will merely be the end of the first act. The campaign has had two surprising aspects. The first was the Liberal upsurge. The second, the Labour Party's self-control. That is almost at breaking point. Just away from the microphones and cameras, the tensions are cracking. As soon as Big Ben starts to strike 10 o'clock on Thursday evening, there will be an eruption which makes Iceland seem trivial. Peter Mandelson will need a police escort. The unfinished political realignment of the early Eighties will be resumed, leading to the end of the Labour Party as we have known it.

In the negotiations, Nick Clegg will be in a much stronger position than David Steel was in 1981. He will have many more MPs than Lord Steel had, and he has more political self-confidence. Nor will he have to worry about rivals. There are no big beasts of the calibre of Roy Jenkins and David Owen to push the Liberal leader away from the limelight. Lord Mandelson? He almost joined the SDP Mark One in 1981. After 1994, he helped Tony Blair to create the SDP Mark Two. Is it now time for Mark Three? Will he now help to finish the job of creating a centre/centre-left party, which marginalises socialism? But Nick Clegg will lead it. The least that he can hope for is to be Leader of the Opposition after the next election.

His greater ambitions depend on David Cameron. It is looking likely that Mr Cameron will be able to form a government. Then his problems will start. Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, has more or less said that anyone who wants to win this election must be crazy, and one can see what he means. These are the most unpropitious circumstances since 1940. That may explain many voters' reluctance to enthuse for David Cameron.

Can this inexperienced young man really have the necessary qualities?

We will not know the full answer to that question unless and until he is tested in the fire. But there are good reasons for optimism. In the first case, David Cameron is tough, mentally and physically. He has the inexhaustible stamina that a PM needs, and he has the hard, practical intelligence which No 10 also requires. Although he did some serious philosophy at Oxford, he has spent the last 20 years using his considerable intellect to clarify issues and solve problems. With more intellectual self-confidence than either Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair, he is not given to agonising. When he thinks something through, he assumes that it will stay thought through. He has no difficulty in taking decisions, or in giving orders...



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