Sunday, December 11, 2005

David Cameron: Not just more right-wing than you think...

...more right-wing than you can imagine. Think about it - here we have a character who having paffled through the election campaign saying that Tory foreign policy has to be about more than Zimbabwe and Gibraltar, but has just made William Hague his shadow foreign secretary. Hague's brief is apparently to "target Jacques Chirac".

How insane is this? Target him with what precisely? To what end? Wouldn't it be better to target the Labour Party? Seriously, he seems to think that he is campaigning in a French election. Now, I remember Hague babbling about Britain being "a foreign land", but I didn't realise Hague's response to this would be to inner-emigrate to France. Does he think Jacques Chirac knows who he is? Given the state of the EU budget talks, a fit of anti-French ranting backed (no doubt) by the tabloids would do more to strengthen Tony Blair's bargaining position than anything else, a curious aim for an opposition.

Billy Hague's judgment has never been great, something conventional wisdom tends to overlook in favour of assuming it was all to do with his looks. He never got over the impression that his party thought a Labour government was a bizarre workplace accident and didn't take it seriously, except for a sub-set of madmen who were convinced the sky was about to fall in. His initial centre-ground strategy failed due to a serious lack of commitment and policy ideas; except for donning a baseball cap, who remembers any policies of his that went in that direction? He then swung over to the hard right, chiefly I think because it was easy, forgetting that Blair was quite happy to see the Conservative Party celebrating its tribal hard-rightness. He lined up with some very odd people, drank too much dotcom koolaid (he was still going on about funding universities from radio spectrum licensing after the 3G auctions were over and it was abundantly clear no-one would ever pay those sums again), and went ape by falling in love with fascist killer Tony Martin.

Now he is convinced that, far from being in opposition, he is actually the real foreign secretary. Chirac, if asked, would probably think you were talking about the nuclear reprocessing plant at La Hague in Normandy. Which is quite accurate: Cameron's cabinet looks like an industrial facility for the reprocessing of spent political fuel rods. Here we have Francis Maude, a man whose record of continuous failure since 1997 does not seem to be any bar to his continuous promotion. Here David Davis, slowly twisting in the wind. Here Dr Death, Liam Fox, whose continued failure since 1997 awards him the defence portfolio and the title of Maximum Leader of the Tory Right. Cazart! Is that Oliver Letwin? Even Iain Duncan Smith has the chairmanship of a committee. For a Young! Modernising! influence, they all seem terribly familiar figures.

But the real problem is the man himself. He quit politics in 1994 to become Director of Corporate Affairs at Carlton Communications, a TV channel remembered in the joke that "we are entering the age of narrowcasting, of hundreds of specialised channels instead of a few general ones like BBC1 that everyone watches. For example, there's Sky Sports for sport, the History Channel for documentaries about Nazis, and then there's Carlton for utter shit.." The joke points out a deeper truth. Remember "narrowcasting"? Remember hundreds of TV channels? Remember when that was the future? Yup, that's right - 1994. Next year the Web happened as a mass phenomenon and the tellycrats have been feebly trying to keep up in terms of ideas ever since. Well, David Cameron did something similar. He spent the years 1994-2001 as a glorified PR man for a fourth-rate TV channel, then returned to politics...and he hasn't changed a bit.

He is quite evidently convinced that PR, earnest and slightly posh public speaking, looks out of Lisa Simpson's favourite magazine Non-Threatening Boys, and utter intellectual blankness is still the New New Thing. Tony Blair is still the Modern Age for Cameron, not a tired pre-internet model one step from the scrapheap and two steps from the ultimate cultural death, nostalgia. It took time, but it became clear with Blair that, when the veneer of telly wore through, there was something ugly, writhing and dripping from its leathery fangs. It won't take five minutes with Cameron; the antibodies have been produced.

His failure, by the way, began at his first PMQs when he turned on Hilary Armstrong. Apparently those present thought it was a good performance. I disagree. He came across as even more arrogant than Tony Blair, some feat, and more of a bully. "Has she finished? HEV YOU FINISHED?" Christ, it's a stretch to imagine Boris Johnson gaining votes anywhere but Henley, but this was forty times worse. He sounded and looked like the most obnoxious and boorish pub poshster you've ever met. Most people have had this experience at least once, and it's not a good association to trigger.

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