The Blog

Political Review: Those Shambles Explained

Mr Cameron has an odd relationship with this section of the population. He appears to want more of them, which is why he is anxious to cut the amount of tax they pay; except that he is always at pains to point out that this is being done by making them pay more tax.

David Cameron took time off from his official duties, flying round the world being photographed with famous foreigners who poll well on the respect-o-graph, to start the week with the launch the Conservative Party's local incompetence campaign. Clever young men in Central Office have come up with a slogan for this event: the omnishambles. With its Latin root, there is a suspicion that the term may, in fact, have been coined by Boris Johnson, or someone else who went to Eton at any rate. Even when inventing pithy words for what they are up to, Mr Cameron's Conservatives have a unique talent for demonstrating their out-of-touchness. As my old Latin teacher said to me as I wrestled with the future simple tense in the third conjugation verb: you just don't get it.

Naturally, competition for who serves as Mr Cameron's wingman in the omnishambles campaign has been intense. In hindsight, the last few weeks can be seen as an extended audition. So it was a shock to find that the person who most of us would say had won hands down - George Osborne - was nowhere to be found. Nor was there sight of his closest rival, Francis "come into the garden shed where I have laid down a run of jerrycans" Maude. Mr Maude, as the weaker of the two contenders, may have been receiving coaching from Sir Tom Jones. Mr Osborne, we suspect, has been scouring his Budget for the bit where he triples the duty on kittens playing with balls of wool and ends tax-relief for re-runs of Dad's Army so that he can tell us about it very soon.

Instead, lead role in the omnishambles went to a dark-horse contender Theresa May, the Home Secretary. As one of the Government's incompetence czars, Mrs May has disappointed. Despite being placed in perhaps the world's most stimulating environment for uselessness, the Home Office, she has, other than a couple of lacklustre tilts, singularly failed to live up to that position's potential. On the most important metric by which the ineptitude of Home Secretaries is measured - enforced and early resignation - she has flopped.

Nor did Mrs May begin promisingly this week, arriving in the House of Commons on Tuesday, to announce, with something alarmingly approaching efficiency, that Abu Qatada, a bad man with a beard, had been arrested and was about to be deported. It is true that, as Mrs May started to tell us more of her plans, this concept of "about to be" stretched potentially far into the future, but that wasn't incompetence. It was lawyers, an entirely different genre of pestilence weighing upon the governance of our nation.

It wasn't for a few more hours that we could see that Mrs May was being incompetent after all. Mr Qatada appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, despite the Home Office believing that the deadline for appeals had passed, and that Court, which has a long tradition of siding with bad men with beards, was sympathetic to his entreaties. (David Blunkett, who, as Home Secretary, never got much change out of the ECHR, should realise that this is because he is a man with a bad beard - an entirely different legal concept.)

As a result, a new stream of judicial activity was set in train, beginning, it seems, with a panel of judges getting together to decide how long three months is - a calculation most of us would feel qualified to make without the benefit of extensive legal training. Mrs May, in various television interviews, explained that the European Court does not have a mechanism for deciding whether or not an appeal against one of its judgements has been lodged in time. In less recondite circles, this is called a calendar.

Unluckily for David Cameron, who was anxious to advance the incompetence campaign, all of this was still gestating by the time we arrived at prime minister's questions. Therefore, it was only possible to dwell upon earlier manifestations of the omnishambles, such as the Budget. And, even there, Ed Miliband wasn't in the business of helping the prime minister. He homed in on the cut in the upper rate of income tax, hardly a decent case of incompetence at all but, as the leader of the opposition would have it, a calculated attempt to bring relief to the country's beleaguered millionaires.

Mr Cameron has an odd relationship with this section of the population. He appears to want more of them, which is why he is anxious to cut the amount of tax they pay; except that he is always at pains to point out that this is being done by making them pay more tax. Perhaps the theory is that since a high proportion of the country's millionaires are footballers, they won't notice the prime ministerial legerdemain.

After explaining his position on the taxation of millionaires, Mr Cameron changed the subject to Ken Livingstone, Labour's candidate for the mayor of London, who, he claims does pay his share of tax at all. This was because, absent a better political strategy, Mr Cameron hopes that Mr Livingstone, who it is said doesn't pay tax, will lose to Boris Johnson, who it is said does, upon his gargantuan earnings. This, by some mysterious process of Westminster alchemy is expected to switch the focus back onto Mr Milliband who is Mr Cameron's secret weapon. The megashambles that is the omnishambles, you see, is only a precursor to the real imbroglio in British politics which is the Millishambles.