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Monday, August 18, 2008 

The book of Dave.

Being around 9 months behind everyone else as usual, I'm still reading the Alastair Campbell diaries, which I'll probably eventually post a review of. One of the things that hits you, apart from how unpleasant Campbell is towards anyone who steps so much as an inch out of line, Clare Short being a perennial target, is how much of his time is taken up by the most inane and vacuous garbage which made up both New Labour's modus operandi and much of the press coverage which accompanied it. It's all focus groups, policy discussions which resemble Blair's verb-less speeches, and Blair's constant panic attacks over delivering those self-same speeches. It's little wonder that Campbell is such a misanthropist; such bumpf would be enough to turn anyone stark raving mad.

As this blog has noted on a number of previous occasions, the Conservative party under Cameron wants to be the new Blairites. It's increasingly clear also that they're using Campbell's diaries as a sort of Bible as to how to present Cameron and their policies, or at least those ones which they've sketched out. Labour's response has been to paint Cameron as the ultimate vapid spokesperson, the shallow PR salesman. This attack doesn't work because we all know that's exactly how Blair presented himself; as the thoroughly straight kind of guy who wasn't Anthony but Tony. This got Blair an almost free ride until half-way through the second term, when it turned out that he did in fact have principles, but they weren't ones that the bulk of the Labour party shared. By then it was too late.

The vital difference with Cameron is that he's all the things that Blair was whilst at the same time being an undoubted dyed-in-the-wool Conservative, albeit a Modern One. To soften this slightly, the Conservatives have gone through the self same PR-tricks that New Labour did. Perhaps the ultimate summation of everything that Blair has bequeathed is that he vastly preferred the sofa on This Morning and later Richard to Judy to being interrogated by either Paxman or on the Today programme. That's understandable, but it made a mockery of serious politics. At the same time as Campbell was moaning endlessly about media triviality, his boss was preening himself in front of the execrable daytime TV couple.

Cameron and his media suits are slightly more canny than that. While there's no doubting he'll be occupying plenty of sofas in the times to come, in the here and now he's given a series of interviews to the editor of GQ magazine, Dylan Jones, published today as a book which Jones describes in the introduction as "the book of Dave". It's described, entirely accurately, as being a book about a politician for people who don't buy books about politicians. In about the only political entry in the entire thing, or at least in the excerpts the media have provided us with, Cameron informs us that he intends to be as radical a social reformer as Thatcher was an economic reformer. Even this is hardly an exclusive, as he's said it already on more than one occasion. Still, with the politics out of the way, Dave can get on to talking about himself some more and who he really is: he, like with Blair, wishes to be seen as classless, lest anyone have any illusions about the nature of his rather privileged upbringing; his favourite novel is Goodbye to All That; he prefers dogs to cats; his favourite soap is Neighbours, when Kylie Minogue was in it; and he prefers Little Britain to Alan Partridge, proving he really does have no taste whatsoever. There's only two questions that he doesn't seems to have been asked: boxers or briefs and pink or brown.

All this feels fairly sordid. I really don't care what soap the potential prime minister prefers, and rather resent the idea that I either need to know or want to know. I'm far more interested in why he thinks it's a good thing to act like someone with no knowledge of history whatsoever, or at least with no proper analysis of it, apropos his visit to Georgia and comments before it. Thing is, I have a horrible feeling that I'm in a minority here. This man of the people crap, as phoney and see-through as it is, seems to sell. After all, we put up with Blair for ten years, and even as he left the myth that he was the "great communicator" was still going round. As long as you're young, reasonably good-looking and can do a decent speech, even if it means precisely nothing, you can apparently get anywhere.

This is where Labour has gone wrong in attacking Cameron. However much shit you throw at him, for the moment nothing is sticking. Blair wasn't called Teflon Tony for nothing. It will probably take a couple of years, if not longer before people start to tire of his face and his complete analytical failure. Politics, ladies and gentlemen, however much we wish otherwise, is now all in the presentation, and Cameron and co are winning hands down.

Yvette Cooper, for her part, almost gets it. Unlike Miliband's shambles earlier in the month, she does hit a few of Cameron's weak spots, focusing as she does on the economy. As much as she quotes Clinton however, it's not just the slowdown, it's also the fact that it's Gordon Brown who's the leader of the country and that he's overwhelmingly responsible. We all know that Cameron's wheezes on tax are either focused directly at those who can afford it (inheritance tax) or those who don't need it (the long married middle classes who will overwhelming benefit from whatever amount the Tories decide marriage should be worth), while stamp duty is a side issue. She's right that the Conservative position on Northern Rock was a shambles, where they didn't have a clue what to do, leading to Vince Cable, who did know what he was talking about, being the first person the media went to for comment.

She, like all the others though, has almost completely ignored his "Broken Britain" gambit, which is just screaming out to be knocked into touch. There is no getting away from the fact that in the inner cities especially there are real intractable problems, whether involving worklessness, crime or family breakdown, but to apply this simplistic, solipsistic diagnosis to the entire country isn't just wrong, it ought to be seen as laughable, amateurish, and most of all, insulting. What's even more outrageous is that their solutions to this, whether they be the welfare reform they propose or the tax cuts mentioned above, are only likely to make things worse. The only real obstacle to an all-out assault on the Conservatives over this, and really, when better a time was there to do it than after the last set of crime figures, is that the tabloids themselves have been promoting the idea, especially the Sun. Again, if we're meant to be learning from New Labour's rise to power, their soundbite that was Britain deserved better, and that things could only get better. It was an attack on the Tories while at the same time being positive. It wasn't especially meaningful, but it was better than half of the other stuff they'd come up with. Broken Britain instead is wholly negative, giving an image of a nation which is in such a state that radical social reform on the scale of Thatcher's economic reforms, which ironically caused much of the social stagnation we now have, are the only solution. There's a huge open goal, and Labour are refusing to score. Vacuousness it seems, as always, is here to stay.

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How can Labour attack Cameron? "His policies are shit because they are the same as ours, tax cuts for the affluent and more privatisation."
Cameron can attack Labour. "Labour's policies are shit, mine aren't. I'll tell you what they are one day"
The electorate won't vote Cameron in, they'll punish their current tormentors by removing them from their privileged positions. That's all the power they have in a pseudo-democracy.

Labour may not be able to but we can. Cameron must, at some point, be exposed.

Another great post, btw.

A late tip, from today's Telegraph.


"At a police station in Bolton, we took a tour of the station ...

...Cameron was dumbfounded. But when he asked why the photographs couldn't simply be put up in every off-licence and bus shelter in West Yorkshire, again the blank stares returned."

Possibly because Bolton is geographically in East Lancashire and falls under the Greater Manchester Police Authority.

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