Greasy Pole: Private(?)Lives
Political nerds will have found some excitement in the Tories’ leadership election, if only because of the possibility that it would repeat the mistakes of the recent past – like John Major, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith. Spending so many years in opposition has caused the Tory membership to ask the unbearable question of whether they are any longer the natural party of government – a nightmare from which, many of them have been hoping, the new boy David Cameron will awaken them. Perhaps Cameron’s rise in the Conservative Party announces that they have moved away from the Thatcherite style, as the favourite of estate agents and car salesmen. For Cameron, like Carrington, Whitelaw and Hurd before him, is a toff; he is related to the 6th Duke of Somerset, the 7th. Earl of Denbigh, the 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury and others of that ilk.
With so much blue blood in his veins it was entirely natural that he should go to Eton and then to Oxford, to Brasenose College where they expect everyone to be touched by “the tranquil consciousness of an effortless superiority” (which is not meant to include Jeffrey Archer, who was an undergraduate there). Perhaps being superior led Cameron to join the Bullingdon, a club of upper class yobs whose only reason for existence is to drink and eat to excess in some defenceless restaurant before they smash the place up. As might be expected, Boris Johnson was in the Bullingdon; recalling an evening of their typical revelry, he refers to his fellow members as a “proud phalanx of tailcoated twits”. The idea is that after the Bullingdon had had their fun they would evade being arrested by offering to pay generously for the damage – a tactic denied to working class rowdies causing problems in their local Tandoori, who have to pay for the damage as well as being arrested, fined or even sent into custody. There is no record of how active Cameron was in the Bullingdon; in any case he obviously devoted some time to work as he emerged with a first class degree in something other than Criminal Damage, which was his passport into a job in the Conservative Research Department.
From there he ascended the greasy pole – although this was not always smoothly. He was a “special adviser” to Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont when the financial strategy of the Major government lay in ruins and Lamont had to make his wretched announcement that British capitalism was getting out of the ERM. Then he worked at the Home Office under Michael Howard who became memorable, not as an effective Home Secretary but for his regular defeats by the judges and for the memory of his minister for prisons, Anne Widdecombe, that there was “something of the night” about him.
After a spell in what he called “industry” – the TV company Carlton Communications – and after the obligatory contest in a safe Labour Seat, in 2001 Cameron was selected to fight Witney for the Tories and at the election romped home. He was then closely involved in writing the Tory manifesto for the 2005 election, which was widely blamed for their third defeat through its concentration on the many negatives of Labour rule without persuading the voters that the Tories would be noticeably different. On the now-sensitive matter of drugs that manifesto declared: We will stop sending mixed messages on drugs by reversing Labour’s reclassificatíon of cannabis as a less serious drug, changing it from Class C back to Class B.
Well times have changed and with them Cameron’s ideas; he now refuses to commit himself about re-grading cannabis and his aides say he prefers a full debate of the issue involving academics and doctors.
Of course drugs are a delicate matter for Cameron, made even more so by his refusal to give straight answers to questions about him using them in the past.” I did a lot of things before I came into politics that I shouldn’t have done” was one of his evasions. Another was “I had a normal university experience…We’re allowed to have had a private life before politics in which we made mistakes and we do things that we should not and we are all humans and we err and stray”. That may have convinced the more gullible among the Tory party but it is not good enough. Using any controlled drug is breaking the laws which Cameron and the other MPs have laid down. He may try to avoid the matter by calling it part of his “private life”, which in any case happened some time ago, but this simply does not answer the question.
All over the country, every day, members of the working class are arraigned in the courts for using controlled drugs, or stealing, or breaking other laws made by the likes of Cameron. They are not allowed to excuse their offences by referring to them as part of their “private life” and as an outcome of their being human and so liable to err and stray.
It is also noticeable that Cameron is capable of taking refuge in the concept of a “private life” only when it suits him. For example he makes a lot of the fact that he has a sadly disabled son, who suffers from epilepsy and cerebral palsy and who is unlikely ever to be able to walk or talk. Cameron has made references to this child in terms which his listeners have found deeply moving, so that none of them ever asked whether a disabled child was not essentially a “private” matter not to be used to boost a politician’s desired image as a caring father, a man fit to be a parent to the entire nation.
Then there was the matter of Cameron’s pregnant wife and of the TV publicised act of him fondly placing his hand on her anatomical bump while the audience swooned and the votes in favour of him as party leader mounted up.
It says something about the Tories’ panic and how desperate they are to erase bad memories, that they should promote an MP as inexperienced (although practised in cynicism) as Cameron as the man to become prime minister in a few years’ time.
It may also say something about arm twisting and bullying behind closed doors, about cynical deals done in elegant Notting Hill houses and discreet restaurants. Among all this Cameron strives to persuade us that he is a new style of politician – candid, trustworthy, sincere – even if this is just like Tony Blair and his “I’m a pretty honest kinda guy”. But Cameron’s character and his motivation have been shown up in his campaign for the leadership, in the attempt to stifle inconvenient memories and the fashioning and selective exposure of his “private life” while asserting a right to protect it. A Cameron premiership would have nothing different to offer from all those wretched failures in the past. The most we can expect is that his wife, who is said to be a talented designer, does something to spruce up the wallpaper in Number Ten.
Clarification: In the November Greasy Pole column we stated that the men who threw Walter Wolfgang out of the Labour conference were “beefy, enthusiastically respectful, Labour Party members”. This was spin put on the incident at first – that the stewards were party members, so amateurs, so if they went a bit over the top it was understandable… It quickly came to light that in fact they were hired “stewards” from some “security” company (perhaps with a target for the number of people ejected?).