What Is David Cameron Waiting For?

This column was originally featured at Big Jolly Politics:

By Steve Parkhurst

I look to Great Britain, and I wonder what they stand for, what they would be willing to fight for, and why they do not seem to be fighting for anything.

The unbelievable terror attack in broad daylight near London recently, where a solider was beheaded with a machete and a meat cleaver, was yet another example of suicidal levels of tolerance that have come to pass in the United Kingdom. Prime Minster David Cameron was in Paris when the killing in Woolwich took place. In announcing his return to London after the attack, Cameron said:

“I’ve been briefed by the Home Secretary about this absolutely sickening attack in Woolwich in London. It is the most appalling crime. We are urgently seeking, and the police are urgently seeking, the full facts about this case. But there are strong indications that it is a terrorist incident. Two people at the scene of the murder were wounded by the police, and they are being treated as suspects.”

That is benign enough. Cameron continued later:

“The police and the security services in the UK will get all of the support that they need to deal with this, or indeed with any other incident.”

This sort of comment about “all of the support that they need” is reminiscent of US leaders saying such things after massive weather events or other tragedies. It is starting to become vague and meaningless, it lacks teeth.

Cameron concluded his statement:

“Tonight our thoughts should be with the victim, with their family, with their friends. People across Britain, people in every community, I believe, will utterly condemn this attack. We have had these sorts of attacks before in our country, and we never buckle in the face of them.”

Sounds tough. Sounds like a leader. But is it hollow rhetoric or is it a call to action?

The leader of the UK Green Party promptly condemned the attack, before taking the typical Leftist route of blaming the UK’s foreign policy for the attack, rather than the cold-blooded murderers. This is what Natalie Bennett said:

“It’s absolutely tragic what happened in Woolwich and you’ve got to feel not just for the family of the serviceman but also for the people and bystanders that saw it happen and the emergency services that had to deal with it afterwards. But if we’re going to stop that happening again in the future, one of the biggest things we have to do is stop regarding ourselves as the world’s policeman.”

Such cowardice is typical, but it is also what fills the void in place of a lack of bold leadership, or bold actions. And let it also be understood that when you follow up on the acknowledgement of a tragedy with the transitional, “But,” you are losing the argument, and maybe your country too if you’re not careful.

I like what the Prime Minister tried to do with and continues to work toward with his Big Society initiative. The Big Society consists of re-focusing the efforts of government to be more limited, efficient and effective, and instead encouraging the private sector to take on more responsibility for taking care in their communities via charities, churches, non-profits, schools and the like.

The Big Society was launched once, rather stalled out, then was launched again. While there are mechanisms and speeches and logos and slogans in place, one would be hard pressed to find whether the Big Society is in operation, stalled out waiting for revival number three, or scrapped altogether.

The London riots in the summer of 2011, where the vermin of the country gathered to wreak havoc and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in destruction to various neighborhoods night after night, would have been a great opportunity for the Prime Minster to set a new national standard for decency and a new direction for the nation as a whole. Kit Malthouse, the Deputy Mayor of London, condemned the actions from his position and he also went on the offensive:

“Obviously there are people in this city, sadly, who are intent on violence, who are looking for the opportunity to steal and set fire to buildings and create a sense of mayhem, whether they’re anarchists or part of organised gangs or just feral youth frankly, who fancy a new pair of trainers.”

Sure, the Prime Minister said many of the right things that needed to be said:

“So this must be a wake-up call for our country.

Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face.

Now, just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated.

Our security fightback must be matched by a social fightback.

We must fight back against the attitudes and assumptions that have brought parts of our society to this shocking state.”

The world watched. The world waited. The Prime Minster waited as well.

Do not get me wrong, there is some good stuff in that speech. If you see the video of that speech, it is tough to believe that Cameron believed any of what he said that day. That is part of the problem and part of where my argument hinges, Cameron may be too carefully scripted for his own good.

In April of this year, with the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, came a unique opportunity for the current Prime Minister to effectively re-launch his term in office. Speaking in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister delivered some eloquent prose in his tribute to Margaret Thatcher:

“They say that cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Well in 1979 came the hour, and came The Lady.

She made the political weather.

She made history.

And let this be her epitaph: that she made Britain great again.”

Once again, the words were right. But, the opportunity was missed.

As the gutter rats celebrated Thatcher’s death with signs and celebratory protests, there were many people of all political beliefs who rallied to celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s life and her deeds. She held beliefs that were not always popular. She made decisions she felt were in the best interest of her country. She obviously did not just make decisions to be liked, or to be popular. In some cases, a vocal minority just effectively looked like a vocal majority. Not everyone agreed with her, but most everyone respected her as a woman, and as importantly, as a leader.

A disaster or a catastrophic event is not necessary in order to create a situation where David Cameron could emerge as a leader, or as a hero. David Cameron does not need a President George W. Bush-like “bullhorn moment” on top of a pile of rubble. What I’m talking about is the opportunities that arise. The opportunities that demand a leader take action. The opportunities that can make and shape a nation. The opportunities to be better. The opportunities that turn to regret in the absence of action, and in the clarity of light.

David Cameron has had these opportunities. There is no such thing as knowing how many more opportunities he will have. Will he ever take the chance to grab greatness?

I think David Cameron can be a great and transformative leader, he has already had to take on many reforms and make unpopular spending decisions because of the collapse of the world economy. And as I suggested before, I like some of the moves he has made while being part of a bizarre coalition government between the conservative Tory party and the left-leaning Liberal Democrats. And what I’m talking about is not a piece of legislation, but instead a vocal declaration, a mandate from the top, that shows a path and does not need legislation, just leadership and direction. Given the current economic conditions where there is a limited amount of money for government to spend, leadership without legislation may be exactly what the world ordered.

Isabel Hardman of The Spectator points to some of the eloquence I have referenced with regard to Cameron, especially in the aftermath of the Woolwich killing:

“It goes without saying that when it comes to serious national tragedies, David Cameron is the right man to give a statement from Downing Street. His response today to the Woolwich killing underlined how good he is at producing sensitive and thoughtful speeches which, though written swiftly, avoid any knee-jerk reaction.”

As you can well imagine at this point, I find the phrase “give a statement” both humorous and insulting. There is not really a doubt that David Cameron can deliver a speech. The question is going to be can he deliver anything beyond words at any point. His re-election in 2015 may hinge on such a thing. His country’s fate may hinge on it even sooner.

I continue to wait for Prime Minister Cameron to get tough, to get bold, to set some lofty standards. I continue to be disappointed on that front. Winston Churchill had his moment. Margaret Thatcher had hers. Tony Blair stepped up when terror called. David Cameron is waiting.

But, what is he waiting for?