I suspect that this
was always going to be a programme that appealed to people who already disliked Cameron and was never going to win over those that did. Iain
, understandably, disliked it while Andrew Ian Dodge
seemed to have liked it more. I found it - gasp - entirely unconvincing, dominated as it was by long build-ups to shock horror revelations. Sadly, it relied for too many of these on such strictly impartial commenters as the Labour MP who defeated David Cameron at Stafford in 1997, and Labour Party press officers.
There were essentially two key allegations: firstly that David Cameron is 'posh' and secondly that he is an unprincipled opportunist. Taking the first one - I don't think it can be disputed that Cameron is 'posh'. Eton and Oxford, married to a baronet's daughter: these are the hallmarks of the privileged. But, in the words of Francois Mitterand when told by a journalist that the papers had proof that he had an illegitimate daughter et alors
Is there seriously anyone in England who hasn't worked out that David Cameron is posh? Are we supposed to throw our hands up in horror and rush to disassociate ourselves from this appalling product of the haute bourgeoisie
? Where, to coin a phrase, is the beef? As for the Bullingdon club, I've written about it before
, and won't focus on it much again, except to note that, for a couple of toffs who spent their entire time at Oxford buying tailcoats and pouring champagne on poor people, David Cameron and Boris Johnson didn't do half badly in Finals. If they can spend three years doing nothing but debauchery, and come away with firsts in PPE and Greats, then they bloody well deserve to run the country. I suspect, however, that the reality is rather different.
So, on to political opportunism. As far as I could tell, this charge was based on the accounts of Cameron when he was in the Conservative Research Department - apparently in his early twenties DC wasn't possessed of a burning and all-consuming political ideology. This might sound hard to believe, but Cameron actually went into politics as a career! You get that? Not because at 24 he wanted to change the world for the better, nor because he had a cast-iron set of beliefs that only politics could realise, but because he saw it as a career. I think I'll give you a small break to recover from that one......Better? Right.
It also called as evidence the fact that Cameron has a small windmill on his house (which even I think is fatuous) but has described wind farms as 'vast bird mincers'. Well, at least he's right about one thing, you might think. But it's certainly not hypocrisy/evidence of his lack of true belief in 'green' issues. Giant wind farms and domestic windmills are different things. It is entirely consistent to be in favour of one and not the other.
The final point of substance on this was that, in the elections of 97 and 2001, Cameron campaigned on traditional Conservative issues - thus 'proving' that his focus on 'compassionate Conservatism' (gah) is a sham. Well colour me unconvinced. If Hitchens is suggesting that as a new candidate Cameron should not have campaigned on the Conservative manifesto, he's being deliberately disingenuous. Junior candidates, first-time candidates especially, do not have much of a say on the issues they campaign on - that's life.
The rest of the piece was an attempted hatchet on Cameron's 'phoneyness'. He's all media spin; he forms part of a metropolitan elite; his victory of David Davis was entirely because the media played up his speech and played down Davis'. I saw the speeches - I thought that Cameron was good if a little thin content wise, but sparkled on the presentation, and I thought that Davis was reasonable on the content but dismal on the presentation. Hitchens' criticism that this is unsubstantial flim-flam must be contrasted with the evidence - Hague was consistently good on matters of substance, Howard regularly bested Blair in the Commons - what let both of them down was their lack of presentation.
It's not a side issue - politics is, and always, always has been about personality. People hark back to the glory days before personality mattered, when it was about Tony Benn's 'ishues' but it's rubbish. Stanley Baldwin spent hours perfecting his radio manner: all that guff about corncrakes and plough teams; Gladstone spoke to vast public meetings, and in his Midlothian campaign personally rushed around the country getting maximum personal exposure. Politics. Is. Personality. If you don't get this, you don't understand politics.
Anyway, the end result is that Hitchens' polemic will have changed the minds of very few - and missed an opportunity to highlight where Cameron is potentially weak. I don't think, for all the rumblings of Edward Leigh, that the Tories are going to be particularly vulnerable from the Right in the next election. I believe, and have done for a while, that most of the current focus is on re-positioning, rhetorically and image-wise, to a situation from which more traditional Tory policies, tax simplification (if not immediate tax cuts), law and order and defence can firstly be guaranteed a hearing and secondly (you knew it was coming) be presented as part of a coherent and popular narrative. If Hitchens had attacked Cameron from this angle - presenting him as being Tony Blair from the other direction, talking the talk of the enemy, but lining his troops along traditional lines, damage might have been done to the Tories' battle for the middle ground. By shouting about Etonians and wind farms, Hitchens has raged into the wind, but converted nobody.