Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

When David and Samantha Cameron appeared in the newspapers on Monday, photographed on the beach at Harlyn Bay in Cornwall, it was a 'defining moment'. For the first time in our history, a British political leader has clearly benefited from a holiday snap. Harold Macmillan was pictured on a grouse moor, looking socially divisive. Harold Wilson, in shorts and sandals and with pipe on the Isles of Scilly, did not look like a leader of men.

Jeremy Thorpe charged up holiday beaches in a hovercraft, wearing a three-piece suit and a trilby hat (am I making this up? ). Mrs Thatcher, also in Cornwall, but in a headscarf, was visibly impatient with the whole business of holidays. I seem to remember a half-naked John Major disconsolately holding a beer can on the Costa del something. Then there was Tony Blair, who certainly seemed to enjoy his holidays, but made the mistake of getting free ones off posh people in foreign countries, and therefore exciting envy. The Camerons got it exactly right. They are fulfilling my prediction in pre-Cameron 2005 (I shall boast about it, since no one else will remember) that the Conservatives would only succeed when they started to exemplify the life celebrated in Boden clothing catalogues.

This, I wrote, is a modern and relaxed but 'tonally English' world 'in which good careers matter, but family and friends and holidays and jokes matter more', and where the settings are 'holiday-ish and chic without being ostentatiously exotic. People ride on bicycles, stroll on boardwalks, drape themselves on driftwood.' This has come to pass. It helps, of course, that Mr Cameron is pleasant-looking and that Samantha is positively beautiful.

But, again like Boden, they did not push it too far. It was a good decision that both were more or less fully clothed (she in long, slightly bohemian skirt), but also barefoot.

The contrast with the Prime Minister and his wife was cruelly well calculated by Tory spin-doctors. Although Mrs Brown looks such a nice person, she suffered from being out in poor weather and therefore wearing a cardigan. As for her husband, he appeared pale and confused, like a post-operative patient having his first constitutional outdoors.

To test how the Cameron effect is working, I did an experiment on a friend who, I knew, was going to meet him for the first time at a public event last week. She is an independent-minded thirty-something with her own small company. Until now, she told me, she had thought of Cameron 'as the sort of annoying I-know-you-fancy-me-really sort of man I would have dreaded being put next to at dinner ten years ago'. I asked her to text me her immediate impressions of her meeting.

They were, in full: 'Surprisingly handsome; not the egg head I xpected. V piercing stare that made me rather nervous & my hands shake.

Doesn't really listen. Def has X-factor but a bit Alice in Wndrland topsy turvey that he will b PM. What an odd world.'It is odd. Exactly a year ago, the story was so strongly the other way that the media ignored any evidence that would contradict it, and old Tory friends of mine assured me that Mr Brown was a proper conservative patriot from whom we had nothing to fear. Is the same thing happening the other way round today?

Could things be less unpromising for Labour than everyone at present thinks? There are two factors worth considering. One is that Labour has not yet regressed to the condition which made it unelectable for so long. …

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