This shift caught the government on the hop. While the Labour leadership contest captured the commentariat's attention, the tabloids in particular spent the summer whipping up hate toward the three thousand or so refugees camped in Calais. Stories abounded of men jumping onto trains, hiding in storage containers, clinging beneath lorries ... and of holidaymakers inconvenienced during their short Eurostar hop over to Paris. The BBC got in on the act showing how the refugees lived, and profiling their determination to get into Britain. This allowed Dave to show the "strong leadership" trailed heavily by the Borg-like message discipline of the general election. A little bit of hand-wringing was allowed to acknowledge the plight of Syrians and Mediterranean boat people, before Dave "got tough", rhetorically speaking, with the French for lax security around the port and Channel Tunnel entrance. Aspersions were cast on their bona fides. After all, wouldn't a genuine refugee claim asylum in the first safe country they landed in? The PM showed "leadership" by offering assistance with security, and reassured the baying press that "the swarm" would not be reaching British shores, no matter how bad it got across the Channel. Being strong against the weak about sums it up.
And then that photo. All of a sudden, the plight of refugees braving the Med went from insects scurrying toward Britain's shores to desperate people fleeing war. Completely unprepared for this about turn in popular attitudes, Dave did what came naturally: he dithered. Now, I'm not one to talk about dithering seeing as I've had a recent bout of the undecideds as well, but for Dave it's a characteristic of his premiership. He dithered over energy prices. He dithered over the 2014 floods. His government are dithering still over Universal Credit. And, in-keeping with the ruling tone, the Chilcott Report is setting new records for procrastination.
Dave's paralysis all of last week, and today's miserable announcement that the UK would be prepared to take 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years has triangulation stamped all over it. After getting an easy press ride all summer, he was mindful of right wing raggery turning on him at the moment they could be running blood-curdling smears about Jeremy Corbyn. Worse, too much sympathy and this hard right flanks becomes dangerously exposed to UKIP. They might be suffering at the moment, but persistent anti-immigrant bile and Europhobia will surely see a return to form in the not too distant. And as Dave wants to win the EU referendum, stoking their fires is the last thing he wants to do. Yet, at the same time, our Dave isn't nasty. Believe it or not, putting the poor under the Tory kosh is tough love - what His Royal Blairness used to call "compassion with a hard edge". He knows what's bad for them is what's best for them. Appearing callous in the week public opinion changed made this posture impossible to sustain without severe reputation damage. Hence the dogs dinner we're left with. 20,000 is too many for the bigots. It's too few for anyone not undergone a compassion bypass.
Will Dave's gambit work? "Doing something" will only work if, like the US bombing raids in Syria, they are tied to specific ground operations a la the Kurdish YPG. Militarily, the RAF taking up some of the slack from the US Air Force won't add much, apart from making Dave look like a war leader. But given the intractable nature of the conflict, air raids and drone strikes by Biggles and co. are likely to cause IS to implode and/or be put out of commission. And as tangible results refuse to show themselves, so the ticker starts running down and the refugee crisis comes back to haunt Dave. Like everything else about this government, questions of war and peace have become matters of day-to-day Tory party presentation.