The chancellor, in fact, bears a heavy responsibility for Cameron's troubles. His recent budget was swiftly declared an "omnishambles." This withering phrase, borrowed from the satirical TV show The Thick of It (penned by the same team bringing Veep to HBO), became an omni-purpose description of a government that has lost its way. Although the budget lifted some low-paid workers out of the burden of income tax, it also dragged millions of middle-earners into higher tax brackets while cutting income taxes for the wealthiest 3 percent of Britons. Added to that, changes in regulations governing serious subjects (such as tax relief for charitable donations) and trivial matters (slapping value-added taxes on hot meat pies or pasties) dominated headlines for days.
Meanwhile, the government's relationship with Rupert Murdoch's media empire threatens fresh embarrassment at every turn. On May 15, Rebekah Brooks, previously editor of the Sun and chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper holdings, was charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Her husband, the racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks and a schoolboy friend of Cameron, was also charged as part of the ongoing police inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal that persuaded Murdoch to close the News of the World and withdraw his bid to increase his shareholding in the satellite TV company BSkyB.
Cameron's determination to win Murdoch's support once seemed a prudent political investment. That worm has turned; now it seems like a gross, unsavory miscalculation that no longer seems appropriate in a political climate in which Murdoch has, at least temporarily, been declared persona non grata. Cameron's government was happy to allow Murdoch to purchase BSkyB (a position that antagonized every other media company in Britain), and the discovery that the minister charged with ruling -- in a "quasi-judicial" manner -- on the bid appeared to be in regular discussions with Murdoch's representatives further fuels the suspicion that the government was flying too close to the Murdoch sun.
Last week, Cameron's former chief spin doctor, Andy Coulson, appeared at the judicial inquiry that is currently investigating links between politicians, the media, and the police. Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World, survived relatively unscathed, but his mere appearance reinforced the extent to which the Tories were linked to Murdoch's empire.
Nor did the embarrassment end there. The fact that the prime minister sent a text message to Brooks commiserating with her when she was forced to step down from her post at News International was bad enough. Worse still came the news that, as part of their regular text-friendship, Brooks had to tell Cameron that LOL appended to the end of text messages is not, in fact, generally understood to stand for "Lots of Love." (It means, for any reader not familiar with the youth-inspired conventions of text-speak, "Laugh Out Loud.") One can only imagine how awkward and deeply satiric some of his messages must have been perceived.
These discoveries, seemingly trivial, help foster the impression of a prime minister simultaneously out of touch with ordinary people and far too close to "powerful special interests," whatever they are. No wonder the government is struggling to make itself heard. If these were happier economic times, then much of this could be dismissed as just the usual political froth and chatter that's a large part of the Westminster universe. But, of course, these are not happy, sunny, economic times. Consequently, every setback, every presentational blunder, every set of dreary economic figures reinforces the suspicion that something has gone wrong and that Cameron's government is adrift and urgently requires a new rudder.
In time, and with some luck, the ship of state may yet be righted. The government will hope that Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics produce a feel-good factor to cheer Britons. Perhaps these summer entertainments will prove a tonic, but most of all, the electorate wants economic growth and a government that appreciates the difficulties faced by ordinary voters. As Cameron's government reaches half-term, the message, delivered by voters and the newspapers alike, is simple and stern: Must Do Better.