Britain's Cameron Remains Popular Despite Bad Press

After a tumultuous 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron has still come out on top and is more popular than others in his coalition government. Linda Wertheimer talks to Mehdi Hasan, a senior editor at the New Statesman magazine in London, to gauge what the year ahead looks like for Cameron.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

By any measure, British Prime Minister David Cameron had a bad year last year. His director of communications quit and was arrested - part of the News of the World scandal. Cameron's defense minister resigned in an influence-peddling scandal. And the prime minister has been forced into a series of tight u-turns in his deficit-cutting campaigns, while the U.K. faces the very real possibility of slipping into a full-blown recession. Yet somehow, David Cameron remains personally popular - the Teflon Mr. Cameron, in fact. But what will this year bring?

Mehdi Hasan is senior editor at the New Statesman magazine in London. He writes about politics. Thank you for joining us.

MEHDI HASAN: Hello.

WERTHEIMER: What's your assessment of David Cameron right now as he heads into the new year?

HASAN: I think he's had a very good of the year. He's ended on a high. He is leading in the polls - not just personally, as you mentioned in your introduction, but a couple of polls show the Conservatives ahead of the opposition Labour Party.

He went to the European Union and exercised the infamous British veto, preventing the Europeans from creating a whole new treaty to deal with the debt crisis, which made him very popular with his backbenches.

WERTHEIMER: Looking ahead in this new year, what do you think will be the big issues for Prime Minister Cameron?

HASAN: The economy is not going away. It's going pretty badly here in Britain. His austerity measures aren't working. And Europe's not going away. He's got a big summit on the 13th of January, where his party will again expect him to stand up to whatever Chancellor Merkel Or President Sarkozy propose.

WERTHEIMER: We in the United States, of course, are watching with interest what happens to David Cameron, because we have some conservative candidates that the American people are looking over in the next few months. Do you think that the idea of conservativism is what attracted the British people, or was it they didn't like the other guy?

HASAN: I think in 2010, when the electorate here threw out the Labour government of Gordon Brown, it was more to do with a time for a change, 13 years of Labour, we were off the back of a financial crisis. And the Conservatives looked like they had moderated a little bit.

What's so interesting, of course, is that David Cameron has presented himself always as a compassionate conservative, as a moderate, as a modernizer. And yet, here he is, the defining issue of his premiership is cuts to spending, is rolling back the state, you know, the archetypal Thatcher-Reagan symbol of conservativism.

And what you'll see in America, interestingly, is you've got a series of candidates who are much to the right of our own conservative leader on social issues, climate change, etc. But one issue they all share a belief in is austerity.

And here in the U.K., austerity isn't working so well. Our growth has ground to a halt. Unemployment's at a 17-year high. If that's the path the Americans choose, well, good luck to them with conservative economics.

WERTHEIMER: The one bright spot, though, that I see in the immediate future of Great Britain are the Summer Olympics. Is that going to be a good thing for the U.K.?

HASAN: I think cynics amongst us will look at 2012, will look at the calendar and see a series of troublesome European summits for the government, will see a recession on the way and think, well, good for Prime Minister Cameron to have the Olympics in the summer and the Golden Jubilee - you know, the British people still love the royal family - coming up in 2012 as - almost as distractions from the gloom, the squeezed living standards, the rise in unemployment.

I suspect it won't work. I think there's already a lot of irritation in this country about the Olympics, the fact that they've gone over budget, the fact that they only kind of will help London, and the rest of the country will really see no benefit from the games. And I think living standards will be squeezed so much next year that it'll take a lot more than some sport to distract people's attention from historically high levels of unemployment.

WERTHEIMER: Mehdi Hasan is senior editor at the New Statesman magazine. We reached him in London.

Mehdi Hasan, thank you very much.

HASAN: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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