Magazine article The Spectator

Time for David Cameron to Reach beyond the Media Class

Magazine article The Spectator

Time for David Cameron to Reach beyond the Media Class

Article excerpt

We have entered an equivocal and shiftless passage in British politics. Tony Blair is in the situation of a relegated football club towards the end of the season. He is going down, and there is a zero statistical chance that he can survive. He lingers at top table, but has reached the stage where even victories cannot save him.

David Cameron finds himself in exactly the opposite position. Formally, he is still a mere contender. But the issue is in practice decided. This means that Cameron no longer needs to use the two-and-a-half remaining weeks of campaigning to secure votes. The imperative need is rather to work out strategies for the moment he officially becomes Opposition leader on the afternoon of 6 December.

This is important because there are at present two versions of David Cameron in circulation, each equally plausible. There is the Cameron as portrayed in the newspaper columns of Matthew Parris and Lord Rees-Mogg, arguably the two leading Conservative commentators. Both writers view Cameron as an uncomplicated Conservative of the old school, moderate, decent and reassuring. Rees-Mogg usefully compares Cameron with Harold Macmillan, the last Tory leader to have been educated at Eton and to have won a general election.

Rees-Mogg takes heart from the Cameron family connection with the Earl of Shrewsbury, first minister to William III and architect of the Glorious Revolution. Parris maintains that the victory of Cameron marks the 'return of the toffs' to the leadership of the Conservative party, after a long period in the wilderness, which dates back to the election defeat of 1964.

To the extent that this analysis is correct, Cameron is the most recent example of an important new trend in Britain around the start of the 21st century: the re-emergence of the former British ruling class, after a longish period of comparative obscurity, in important public roles. The prodigious success of the singer James Blunt, formerly of Harrow School and the Household Cavalry, is one manifestation of this renewed self-confidence. The arrival of Radley-educated Andrew Strauss as a formidable opening bat in the England cricket team is another. There are numerous other cases in point.

But the alternative analysis is equally potent. Those closest to Cameron --- his friends, advisers and political strategists -- emphatically deny that Cameron is the candidate of continuity. For them, the crucial point is that he offers not merely change but a violent break with the past. His task as leader will be to turn his back on tradition, established structures and the Conservative party itself in order to create a fresh and potent political force capable of matching New Labour.

According to this analysis, the key fact about Cameron is the class which he has chosen as his natural base, and from which he draws many of his friends: the political/media elite. This media class is far narrower in outlook than the traditional upper-middle class, which had connections with all walks of life and an all-embracing geographical stretch.

The media class exists only in London, and then only along a straight and tightly defined line stretching from Notting Hill in west London through Soho to the Guardian building in Farringdon Road. Members of this media class, whatever their notional party affiliation, have far more in common with each other than with ordinary politicians.

(There was an interesting manifestation of this on Monday night, when David Cameron's tactician Ed Vaizey, the Guardian columnist turned Tory MP, was seen hugger-mugger in a bar with Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, the newly appointed director of strategic communications in Downing Street. …

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