Paul Newman, an Islington Conservative, has admitted on his blog that Dave Cameron may not be being entirely frank with us. His response to my challenge that "You may buy the line that he can change the balance of the tax and welfare system to benefit married couples without disadvantaging unmarried couples" (based on DC's dance round the issue in his interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday AM) was:
"I do not.They will of course be relatively disadvantaged compared to the current position when they are absurdly favoured. How would you like him to put it. 'We're going to hand single mothers out to dry'. Be serious. Political language is artfully nuanced and you have to read the signs with some care."
What about the desirability, in my view, of "a politician who comes in talking about hard choices and being honest about (short-term) losers as well as winners":
"I think you entirely misunderstand the complexity of the relationship between words and the electorate. Possible losers set their antennae to detect any hints and these are in turn amplified by the opposition. Read the rhunes and he is offering a a softened Conservatism."
But, I believe, "we need a politician that is prepared to start being honest about that [i.e. the hard choices] to the public":
"How would you know when you see him. Isn`t this bordering on the childish ? I don`t wasnt to be rude but I think my mother would say( as she does) Oh for god`s sake their politicians ! Romantic would be a kinder way to describe your wishes."
To sum up: we, the electorate, couldn't tell an honest from a dishonest politician. It is childish (or romantic) to expect politicians to be honest, because that's just not how politicians are (for God's sake). What they are speaking is not normal English to be taken literally, but a political language whose symbols - words, signs (hieroglyphics?) or runes - provoke a complex reaction in the electorate, and which therefore need to be translated carefully by true believers to discover that it means what they want it to mean (e.g. softened Conservatism). The purpose of this language is to ensure that none of the electorate's antennae picks up the slightest signal that someone might lose out. That isn't going to give much of a mandate for reducing the size of government, nor to do much else for that matter, but never mind - it will get these cunning linguists elected to power, and that's the main thing.
Perhaps he's right that it is naive to hope for honest, forthright political leadership. I hope and believe not - that the public want and will reward honesty, if a leader can explain how the tough choices are the right ones for the country as a whole in the long-run. But whoever is right, this certainly tells us something interesting, if long-suspected, about the attitude of Cameroonian Conservatives to the electorate and to their leader.