19 March 2012

Rentoul on Parker on Cameron

On 18 March in his Independent blog, John Rentoul praised a profile of David Cameron (£) by the Financial Times’ political editor, George Parker, which had appeared the day before:
Congratulations … for proving that long-form journalism is not purely an American thing. His assessment of David Cameron’s premiership … is a fine one with some nice quotations from the man himself and his friends.
I had found the article not particularly informative despite being over 5500 words. There seemed to be disappointingly little that was new and some of that was trivial – eg the PM holds meetings at 8:30am and 4:30pm – and:
At weekends Cameron tries to alternate between his constituency home in Dean, Oxfordshire, and Chequers, … Angela Merkel, German chancellor, has taken a break from the euro crisis here, watching DVDs of her favourite television series – the bucolic Midsomer Murders … [he jokes to his visitors] “As I said to Angela, if things had been different all this [a nearby panorama across southern England] could have been yours”
Last month, Cameron convened his MPs for a pep talk at Westminster, where his rightwing critics were treated to a polling presentation that showed Cameron polled 16 points above the Conservative party. “The message wasn’t very subtle: he’s the best thing they’ve got,” said one ally of the prime minister.
As well as watching DVD sets of The Killing, Cameron, we were informed, also likes Wallender, 24 and he is “fascinated by Strictly Come Dancing”. These aperçus are attributed to “Andrew Feldman, Party co-chair, Cameron’s oldest friend in politics, Feldman is a confidant and crucial link between the PM and the party on the ground.” Parker gives the impression of having relied on Feldman for quite a lot of his material and seems to have got quite star-struck when accompanying Cameron and team on a Tube trip to an east London branch of Tesco. The PM is:
... an imposing figure in the cramped Tube carriage.
... looks noticeably healthier than most of the people around him.
Although he goes on to quote Feldman:
One thing I’ve noticed about him is he looks a little tired: I mean it’s ageing – the process of being prime minister.
which supports my pet theory of accelerated prime ministerial ageing. Otherwise, there are a lot of the nice things that we’ve heard before: Baldwinesque, easy charm, “born-to-rule” demeanour, happy in his own skin, cool under pressure, always has good manners and is courteous. The criticisms are familiar too and few by comparison: does not put in the hours, Flashman, out of touch. They are, not surprisingly, mostly anonymous, so we can’t tell whether it was the same official who said:
He doesn’t have an inquiring mind – he never asks for more
For him, adjusting to life before becoming prime minister, that was the difficult bit
The two open critics had appeared in the FT before:
“He talks a lot about social mobility but in reality he knows nothing about it,” says Mark Pritchard, a Tory MP and secretary of the 1922 committee of backbench MPs. “It is impossible for him to empathise with people struggling to pay their gas bill. He has never wanted for anything and that is a problem with the electorate.” (5 March)

“The problem is policy is being run by two public school boys [Cameron and Osborne] who don’t know what it’s like to go to the supermarket and have to put things back on the shelves because they can’t afford it for their children’s lunchboxes,” says Nadine Dorries, another Conservative MP. “What’s worse, they don’t care either.” (6 March)
In reality, the likelihood of the UK ever again having a Prime Minister brought up in straightened circumstances, let alone hardship, is slim. The last one was probably Jim Callaghan, although, as a child of the manse, Gordon Brown would have had a plain upbringing. Tony Blair, although from a comfortably-off background himself, had a wife and mother-in-law who had been through tough times. However, “Cameron’s Gang”, as Parker describes them, seems to consist entirely of clever men and women who, if not fat, are “sleek-headed … and such as sleep a-nights” eg:
Gabby Bertin, press secretary
The stylish media adviser has been by Cameron’s side since the dark days when he was struggling as Tory opposition leader and is liked and respected by the Westminster press pack. Bertin, posh and prepared to speak her mind, is Cameron’s kind of woman.
And, to judge from the overall impression of her boss conveyed by this article, she is doing her job well. In fact the whole team is comes over as being of a higher calibre than the equivalent put together by Blair, as far as one can judge from the records of, for example, Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell. But perhaps the lack of eclecticism in Cameron’s team will turn out to be its major weakness.

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