3 January 2014

David Cameron’s Spectator Interview

The Christmas issue of the Spectator published on 14 December carried an article, David Cameron on tax, coalition, ‘green crap’ and Team Nigella, by its editor, Fraser Nelson, based on an interview which he had secured with David Cameron. To some extent, it was a precursor to an article Cameron wrote for The Times (£) on 1 January and his New Year’s Day message. The interview generated some media attention at the time of its publication in December, for example, the PM’s remark in the context of the constraints imposed by being in coalition with the Lib Dems:
I’m happy to tell you — and Spectator readers — privately that there’s a good list of things I have put in my little black book that I haven’t been able to do which will form the next Tory manifesto
… he is ‘obsessed’ with Why Nations Fail, by two American academics who argue that a nation’s fate is determined not by the quality of its politicians but on the strength of its institutions — courts, schools, banks, government. ‘Someone said to me: you only like this book because it’s two academics who have written a very complicated book that confirms all your prejudices. I said, well, what’s wrong with that?’
and his “Team Nigella” remark which probably caused more comment than the PM or Nelson would have expected.

But I thought it would be interesting to analyse the article from another point of view, starting with the logistics:
It’s 9.30 a.m. on a Friday and David Cameron is about to head for his Oxfordshire constituency and work from home.
There is no date but presumably it was Friday 6 December because:
This morning, he has paid a visit to Tech City, London’s answer to Silicon Valley, and travelled to South Africa House to pass on his condolences following Nelson Mandela’s death. His last appointment, which will last for as long as it takes to drive to Beaconsfield service station, is an interview with The Spectator.
According to Google, it takes about 45 minutes to drive from South Africa House in Trafalgar Square to Beaconsfield service station, just off the M40. Nelson’s article attributes about 600 words as being spoken by Cameron. On 1 January Isabel Hardman posted the PM’s New Year message on the Spectator’s Coffee House website on YouTube and as text. In a tad under three minutes (2’ 58”) he delivered 478 words, so he was speaking at more than 150 words per minute. So the 600 words in the article would have taken him only four minutes out loud.

Nelson, when I’ve heard him on BBC2 Newsnight or Channel 4 News, is an articulate Scot with plenty to say, so one might think that his questions could easily take longer than the PM’s answers. However, on 26 December, again on Coffee House, Nelson published a supplementary to his magazine article titled David Cameron: the press may regret its defiance over regulation. This included some verbatim Q & A text where Nelson’s 99 words of questioning received 245 PM words in response. There were another 299 new words of Cameron direct speech as well.

So, in summary, the Spectator has now provided its readers with about 1150 words direct from the PM’s mouth which would have taken him less than 10 minutes to utter. If Nelson was more prolix than his Q& A section suggests, he might have spoken for 10 minutes too. From which it seems that less than half of their time on the car journey can be accounted for by the Spectator reports so far. Nelson started his Coffee House piece:
In my interview with David Cameron in the current Christmas edition of The Spectator, there wasn’t enough space for everything.
Well quite. Even allowing for pleasantries and perhaps a few guarded telephone calls (one assumes Nelson's phone would be deferentially in airplane mode), as much again as was reported must have been said but was certainly not intended for the consumption of “Spectator readers — privately”!

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