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Monday, June 20, 2011 

How to put a crack in Cameron's façade.

As someone who at least attempts to try and understand politics, albeit badly as this blog's archives palpably demonstrate, it's slightly embarrassing to admit that I simply don't understand the appeal of David Cameron. Having rid ourselves of a messianic, slick, smarmy centrist authoritarian from a public school, we've now given power to a slick, smarmy Eton-educated self-described liberal Conservative, who will doubtless turn to authoritarianism when the wheels begin to fall off. This isn't necessarily a slur on the good sense of the British people: when faced with a choice between Cameron, Gordon Brown or Nick Clegg and (one hastens to add) their respective parties, it was little surprise that the fresh, somewhat detoxified Conservatives came close to winning a majority over a tired, clapped out Labour party. Clegg excited opinion temporarily, only to have to then row back on everything he said that won him support in the first place.

We have then a coalition government that still defies easy categorisation. Sure, it's nominally of the centre-right, regardless of the Lib Dem component and it's slamming through public sector reforms in education, health, welfare and pensions that are all built around traditional Conservative values and economics, including those influenced by the Blairite reforms, yet with the exception of a few big beasts from both parties this is a government where the prime minister is in effortless control of everything it does. It took a while for the so-called TB-GBs to consume New Labour, and that still could happen with Cameron's Conservatives considering the influence George Osborne wields, but for now it's this apparently deeply ordinary upper middle class gent who bestrides the nation.

If I can't quite get my head round the apparent genius of this particular PPE-graduate from Oxford, then I can at least humbly suggest one of the areas where he's especially lacking in that rare quality, genuineness. Prior to winning power one of his big motifs, rather than the big society, was the broken society, whether it be welfare dependency, crime, anti-social behaviour or a perceived lack of responsibility. Since the election we have heard precisely zilch about it, which is temporarily perplexing when you consider how the Sun ran with it for a good couple of years in a low-level campaign which effectively pointed towards Dave as the man to fix it. Considering that in the short-term the coalition's policies are likely to exacerbate social problems through the cuts and changes to benefits, it's only when you remember that the populist tabloids fully support such measures that the reason becomes fully clear.

While we've heard about some of the above themes in isolation, there's been no attempt to tie them together. It would be nice to imagine this is because society was never broken in the first place, simply frayed in places, and that Cameron now recognises this; more likely though is that Cameron simply couldn't carry the theme into power without now being required to do something to improve matters, or without being accused of doing the country down. Moreover, while he was good at painting a picture of a fractured and uncaring nation, his solutions were either poor or deeply questionable. One of his main speeches on the topic given back in July 2008 suggested that it was choices rather than circumstances that shaped the lives of individuals, rather than it being those very circumstances that determined and limited the choices on offer. Combined with his views on the breakdown of responsibility which were similarly flawed, it was symptomatic of his apparent failure to understand the lives of those even a couple of steps removed from his own privileged upbringing.

This weekend's foray into commenting on how we should treat absent fathers, wrapped up in an otherwise comfortable piece on Father's day and being a father, was a seeming return to this ill-advised territory. Get beyond his warm, fuzzy anecdotes about his own father and quotes from Mark Twain and Kent Nerburn and there he is urging us to be intolerant, hostile even to "fathers who go AWOL. They "should be looked at like drink drivers, people who are beyond the pale". Even if the relationship with the mother can't be patched up, they should "financially and emotionally support their child" through doing things like "taking them to the football or the playground" or going to their "nativity play". Even if we're to conclude that Cameron's reasoning is sound, this is a far more nuanced and difficult subject than the black and white of getting into a vehicle when intoxicated: being urged to demonise men (and we are taking purely about men here, rather than even considering that women can and do act in a similar manner) when we can't even begin to know the full details behind each separation isn't just unhelpful, it's downright ignorant.

Behind this fundamentally is the old Tory prejudice in favour of the nuclear family, the often mythical happy unit, with Cameron promising that marriage will eventually be recognised in the tax system. Much as this is in part a cynical sop to the Daily Mail and part a bribe to the middle classes, who get a tax cut for no reason other than they're of a certain age and have settled down, however chaotic or dysfunctional their families may actually be, it's also what he and his party still continue to believe, even as society itself has moved on: that what was once a "family", even if only for a matter of days and weeks, should be firmly encouraged, with money and "relationship support", to stay that way. Labour was accused of nanny statism, but one area they stayed more or less out of was passing judgement on the make-up of families, the odd stunt as a link from Cameron's article reminds us aside. So far attempts to portray Cameron as out of touch have failed miserably, mainly because they've focused purely and hypocritically on class rather than his actual beliefs. Showing him as imagining that one-size-fits-all when it comes to everyday life could just begin to crack his façade.

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