David Cameron is a funny colour for a politician. Compared to the tanned orange of Tony Blair close up, he’s positively pink. For some reason it doesn’t look that way on TV, but when he walked a few feet in front of me on his way to the lectern at Demos yesterday, it was the first thing I noticed.
Cameron doesn’t project the strange charisma of Blair either. He speaks quietly, his body movements are understated. He’s not surprisingly tall, as Blair is. There’s nothing remarkable about his clothes. His verbal mannerisms don’t stand out except that there’s something about his pronunciation and intonation that reminds me of another New Labour architect — Peter Mandleson.
Cameron’s people rang Demos last week to ask if they would host the talk. They obviously wanted the undertone of the speech to be following in the footsteps of Blair. Demos played the most important role of the think tanks in developing the ideas that propelled Blair to power when he was leader of the opposition in the mid 90s.
I spoke to old friends of Demos afterwards who remembered Blair giving similar talks in 1995. For them the parallels were almost spooky but nobody was blown away. ‘Cameron doesn’t have the intelligence or drive of Blair’ one told me, ‘but he’s found a position that has a lot of mileage’. That position is the centre ground of politics and having a narrative about what the future could be like.
But of course it’s not about Cameron and Blair, it’s about Cameron and Brown — the elephant in the Demos office during the speech. And it’s Gordon who will have to make the next move. Cameron is holding back on specific policies because he wants to force Brown to go first.
My guess is that if nothing were to change between now and the next election, David Cameron would win and Gordon Brown knows it. So Brown has to do something drastic or inspired to ensure he becomes Prime Minister. He can’t just rely on his past record.
From what I saw on Monday, Cameron isn’t a natural but he has picked the right strategy. Brown will need to come out into the open if he wants to take him on and develop a story about where he will take Britain next.