Tom Richmond: Cameron needs to be capable of improvement

NET GAIN: John McEnroe
NET GAIN: John McEnroe
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PERHAPS David Cameron should consider the results of this poll rather than fretting over the colour of his jogging shorts.

Margaret Thatcher was the “most capable” modern Prime Minister, and Tony Blair was the “most likeable” according to a new poll of voters, but only 10 per cent think David Cameron is “capable”.

It is a valid assessment, even though the Conservative leader is reliant on the support of his coalition colleagues and does not have a three-figure Commons majority that his illustrious predecessors enjoyed when they were at the peak of their powers.

There is a reason for the public’s scepticism. After 10 years of “spin” and PR stunts by Blair, voters do not want to know whether their Prime Minister went running in his football team’s shorts.

They want to know what he is doing to make Britain a better place, and what he is doing to prevent the policy muddles, u-turns, splits and so forth that are beginning to define the coalition.

If the local government and environment ministries cannot agree a joint policy on the emptying of household rubbish bins, then there’s little prospect of more substantive progress being made on some of the more complex policy reforms, like pensions and care of the elderly.

Yet, when Cameron assumed office, it was going to be very different. There was going to be collective Cabinet responsibility. A Lib Dem Minister in every department would lessen the chances of disquiet. And tried and tested Cabinet committees would be used to discuss policy differences.

It’s not happening. While the PM, and his aides, deliberate his wardrobe for his early morning runs, the Government is creaking under a welter of splits, policy leaks and a lack of co-ordination that stems, directly or indirectly, from weak leadership.

It is a mindset that needs to change – before Cameron runs out of political steam.

TALKING of sizable policy challenges, Ed Miliband offered cross-party talks this week on how the care of the elderly should be financed in the future.

His offer must be seized upon. Political unity is the only way forward and it must not be allowed to dissipate, as illustrated by Labour disowning the pensions reforms drawn up by Lord Hutton, one of the more capable Ministers in the Blair and Brown governments.

The doubt, from the coalition’s perspective, is whether Miliband’s offer is genuine – or another example of opportunism on the Doncaster MP’s part.

There is one way to find out. Given that the Commons schedule is normally so threadbare, there’s no reason why two or three months cannot be set aside for a series of debates on every aspect of Andrew Dilnot’s report, with a view to a consensus being formed ahead of publication of a White Paper next spring.

It would be a sure way of seeing whether the main parties are committed to taking challenging decisions.

One thing is certain, however: it will be a dereliction of duty if another commission is required in 10 years time to consider why the Dilnot doctrine was not implemented.

ONE of the reasons at the root of Britain’s skills crisis is the failure of primary schools to equip pupils with the numeracy and literacy knowledge that will underpin their future existence.

It is not the only reason. The number of children of Asian descent, and unable to speak English as a first language, was set out by Keighley MP Kris Hopkins in the House of Commons.

The numbers were perturbing. Some 28,000 children in Bradford do not speak English as their first language, representing 43.5 per cent of primary school children and one in three secondary school children.

Hopkins went on: “For clarification, I believe that more than 90 per cent of those children were born and raised in this country. There is a clear responsibility on parents, who are failing our children. How are we going to hold them to account?”

It is a question that perplexed the last Government. Ten years on from the Bradford riots, this conundrum must be answered by the coalition before the city, and surrounding area, is left at an even greater social and economic disadvantage.

AS Ed Miliband gave TV interviews about the phone hacking scandal, I couldn’t help notice a framed certificate on his office wall proclaiming him as “Campaigner of the Year”.

I hope that it has been there all the time – and it wasn’t conveniently positioned there by a Labour publicist to improve his image.

GOOD news for Nick Clegg. He has a fan. The bad news for the embattled Sheffield Hallam MP is that supporter is not a registered voter in the UK.

Told that the Deputy Prime Minister admits to playing his best tennis during his warm-up for matches, John McEnroe, the former Wimbledon champion, remarked: “Finally, a politician being honest.”