Brian Monteith: No reality TV from Cameron

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HAVE we just witnessed the Prime Minister’s bubble bursting? The one certain thing going for David Cameron that helped him become leader of the Conservatives was his ability to speak seemingly effortlessly at his party conference and communicate with exuberance and confidence to the cameras. This week, that ability was thrown into doubt.

Firstly, he changed his mind at the last minute and altered his speech, but only after his media team had briefed the press on what he would say. Then when he delivered the speech it was, by his standards, low-key to the point of being dull. I’ve forgotten it already.

Strangely, there were many empty seats in the conference hall – an unknown phenomena. When I used to attend, people were queuing up hours before to get a good seat and it was standing room only with tannoys outside the hall.

Thankfully, the Tories got one thing right on Wednesday – an absolutely spellbinding party political broadcast on why they are spending billions more of taxpayers’ money on boosting the foreign aid budget at a time when there are real demands for that money at home.

The concept of government ministers repeating the phrase that an African child dies every six minutes was simple but powerful. What a shame the policy does not make sense.

It was the great British economist Peter Bauer that identified foreign aid as the transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to wealthy people in poor countries – and, sadly, too much of this is still going on.

There is a strong case for emergency relief and for targeted programmes that help with immunisation and the introduction of clean water supplies to avoid disease. There are, however, too many other programmes that show a very poor return and, worse still, create a dependency on more Western aid or smother the entrepreneurial ethos that will help poor nations build a secure economic future and feed those starving children.

The negative effects of foreign aid are now widely recognised – even when the recipient countries have sound economic and governance policies – which is why there are many African organisations that have started calling for the schemes to be cut back.

Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has shown it is more important to establish property rights for poor people – even when they live in slums – as it gives them assets from which they can trade.

A 32 per cent increase in Britain’s foreign aid budget looks extravagant in the circumstances, but it does help to make the coalition government look caring – or am I just being cynical? Hence the political broadcast that was as good as any TV advert currently airing. For TV to work well, adverts have to be repeated over and over again, so unless it goes viral on the internet it will not have the desired effect.

Unlike the party broadcasts of the 1970s and 80s, there is not a fixed audience with nothing else to watch. Still, as a model of how to sell politics, the Tory broadcast was a rare moment of quality.

The Tories should try to repeat it but use some of their better policies, such as on education. Then, and only then, will David Cameron’s judgment begin to look better than his adversaries’ attempts.

Ruth caves in

DAVID Cameron is not the only person whose judgment is now being questioned. Ruth Davidson, the young Tory MSP for Glasgow region, wants to lead her party.

She is backed by the London- leaning establishment such as the 13th Marquis of Lothian, the 2nd Baron of Strathclyde and Leader of the House of Lords, as well as many others who think that if only Maggie was back all would be fine, such as Baron Forsyth of Drumlean and Sir Albert McQuarrie.

Rather than fly the flag as a moderniser or agent of change, Davidson is backed by people who have a vested interest in leaving things as they are – even though the party has tasted embarrassing failure at the last eight Scottish elections. Fine, if they have paid their dues and have a vote, let them cast it for her.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a number of paid party staff people that also support her and are prepared to give her an unfair advantage. Davidson has already been reported to the information commissioner after party members’ private e-mail addresses received communications from her campaign. Now the party’s director of media, Ramsay Jones, has been suspended until the election is over on November 4 pending an investigation into him attending a campaign planning meeting held at her apartment.

Receiving extra help from the staff who don’t want the current set-up to change is a betrayal of the party membership and shows contempt towards their democratic rights. Imagine the outcry from Tories if trade union officials were to behave in this way.

Surely she knew that to let the director of media into her flat was a breach of the rules and was unfair to others? If she did, then she was prepared to break those rules; if she didn’t, then her ability to make tougher and more complex decisions must be questioned.