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David Cameron - Liz Lemon Or Basil Fawlty?

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DAVID CAMERON
David Cameron Seems To Career From One Botched Announcement To The Next | PA

Forget David Cameron's alleged resemblance to Iggle Piggle from In The Night Garden. These days it seems like the PM resembles a character in a sitcom, where political slapstick and farce seem to have replaced any sense of direction or strategy.

There's a good line in the American TV show 30 Rock, where Alec Baldwin's character Jack Donaghy turns to Liz Lemon and offers some sound advice - "Don't start unless you've got something."

Obviously David Cameron isn't an afficionado of 30 Rock - otherwise he might have thought twice before making the grandiose announcement that he might offer the country some kind of referendum on the EU. The PM currently lacks any detail on when and how any referendum might happen. He's started before he's got something.

The suspicion must be the announcement was hastily rushed once it became clear last week that Liam Fox was about to deliver a broadside on the EU and call for major renegotiations on the UK's relationship with Europe. Unfortunately because Cameron lacked the detail to back up his promises there was a backlash from the press and backbench Tories.

The reality is there wasn't really any need for Cameron to rush into a non-announcement this weekend. The banking scandal has a long, long way to go before it's fully played out. For once, it's someone else on the back foot. Yet instead of sitting back and taking a breather while someone else gets horrendous headlines, Cameron somehow managed to wade in and turn the bad attention back on himself.

Normally David Cameron behaves less like Liz Lemon and more like Basil Fawlty, hastily concocting solutions to crises at the hotel, only for those solutions to themselves start fires which need putting out. Almost every day for the past week the government seems to have tried to engage in news management to deflect attention from a previous crisis, only for each new announcement to backfire and put Downing Street on the back foot.

Cameron's Jimmy Carr intervention backfired spectacularly, but the whole business was the government's making. We're told the series of tax avoidance articles in The Times over the past week were helpfully supplied by the government.

HM Revenue and Customs gave The Times most of the material for their strong of stories, according to Private Eye, because that paper was the only one not to have "monstered the Budget." But Cameron somehow managed deflect the attention back on his own flaws by wading in on a specific case but then refusing to provide a "running commentary".

A cynic would say that the subsequent U-turn on fuel duty seemed to be designed to take the focus away from the tax avoidance cock-up. The timing of the decision to defer the rise in petrol tax seemed bizarre when petrol prices were already falling. But then somehow the government managed to mess it up again, throwing the inexperienced treasury minister Chloe Smith to the lions on Newsnight, prompting people to draw parallels with The Thick Of It.

To cap it off The Sunday Times then ran a highly unflattering story about how "Tories tell rich backers how to dodge tax" (£), a nice little wheeze where donations to the party left in people's wills could help to reduce the inheritance tax burden. Shambolic news cycle complete.

It's not quite "Don't start unless you've got something," more like, "Don't start, unless you know they haven't got something on you."

One wonders whether a scene similar to this one from Armando Iannucci's new series Veep is currently playing out in Downing Street (some coarse language here):

The real worry for David Cameron's inner circle at Number 10 should be how the government is very quickly becoming a long-running joke, one which goes beyond the normal run-of-the-mill satire. It happened to Gordon Brown and John Major, and before long both found themselves out the door.

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