More and more, David Cameron reminds me of Harold Wilson.
Both became leaders of their party when a sequence of election defeats forced change upon it. Both briefly were the young leader with a new purpose for their political tradition; the white heat of technology in the 20th century, huskies in the 21st.
Both struggled to win over the public, with neither getting an overall majority at their first attempt. Both turned out to be heavily beholden to their party’s traditional, backwards-looking wing.
Wilson’s opportunities to be a dominating figure who reshaped society and rejuvenated the economy were wrecked on the Labour Party’s trade union problems. He had a reputation as always dodging, looking for the political tactic to get himself out of the latest corner, rather than standing firm to his principles (if indeed he had any, critics would quickly add). Oh, and he had to dance some fancy political steps in order to keep his party together over Europe.
Along the way, Harold Wilson managed a more than respectable collection of general election results, especially by the standards of the Labour Party (three times sneaking into power just, once winning a convincing a majority).
But his post-retirement reputation was fairly dismal for many years until Ben Pimlott rehabilitated him, arguing persuasively that yes, Wilson was the arch-political tactician, always fighting battles with his own party – but given the state of that party, to have managed simply to keep it together and achieve even a little along the way was a massive achievement.
Cameron’s negatives increasingly look to be the mirror of Wilson’s. Will he match his positives too? The Tory right is certainly increasingly making it look like simply keeping his party together and at somewhere over 30% of popular support is quite an achievement in itself. Though not much of a reason for people to vote for him, of course.