Starring David Cameron as Dirty Den
The reappearance of the former Prime Minister as Rishi Sunak's Foreign Secretary turned political reporters into so many soap fans.
Previously: Review — Dorries and the Plot against Reality
Nadine Dorries' book – a fan fiction for her beloved Boris Johnson blended with some dull WhatsApp chats and half-remembered Bond scripts – manages to make a shadowy conspiracy boring...
This is a short edition (we’re moving house this week) but there’ll be more tomorrow.
It was a jaw-dropping, cor-fuck-me moment when the car pulls up in Downing Street, you see the Range Rover open and you think: ‘Oh my god, it’s David Cameron gettin’ out and going into bloody Number 10 Downing Street. Unbelievable plot shift that nobody saw coming!
— Jon Sopel, ‘Cameron In, Suella Out’, The News Agents podcast
As cor blimey moments go in politics, this is one. David Cameron is back — or Lord Cameron as he now is — as foreign secretary… the return of a former prime minister to the cabinet table has wowzers value to it, there’s no doubt about that.
— Chris Mason, ‘Cameron’s return has wowzers value — but can it unite the government?’,
The giddiness of hacks and commentators at David Cameron’s return to the cabinet was another unnecessary reminder of the extent to which they treat politics as a game. The quip from US Democratic Party strategist Paul Begala that it is “show business for ugly people” is so well-worn that it is threadbare. Politics is meant to be more serious than the giddy grammar of celeb tittle-tattle or transfer deadline day in the Premier League, but that’s not how British journalism treats it
The appearance of Cameron in Downing Street yesterday provoked flustered hooting in the studios of Sky News and left BBC Chief Political Correspondent, Henry Zefferman — who was outside Number 10 — into burbling befuddlement:
I’m a bit tired but I don’t think I’ve had a funny turn. But David Cameron has just gone into 10 Downing Street.
Zefferman’s colleague, BBC Political Editor, Chris Mason, developed a different affliction, DickVanDykeitis, calling Cameron’s return a “cor blimey moment”. The dangerously irritating disease seemed to be infectious; later in the day, Jon Sopel of the endlessly matey News Agents podcast talked of a “cor-fuck-me moment”. Iain Dale — Sopel’s colleague at LBC — was even worse, spreading the phrase “daddy’s back”, first in a post on X and then in a classic ‘will-this-do?’ Daily Telegraph piece.
But Dale is a mere dilettante when it comes to disgusting prose compared to Quentin Letts, a hobbit so execrable that even the Sackville Bagginses won’t give him the time of day, whose Daily Mail sketch begins:
With a loping gait and a tug on his Charles Tyrwhitt cuffs, David Cameron strolled up Downing Street as though he had barely been away… Walnut-veneer suntan, salon-schmoozer crow’s feet, the receding hair now a little greyer: he is ageing like Fonseca vintage port. The foreign secretaryship and a seat in the Lords? How very agreeable. How very Edwardian… He strode past without vouchsafing small-talk to the reptiles but his ripely pursed lips betrayed velvety pleasure. With his beaky nose and that glassy avian quality to the eyes, he could have been a Harris’s hawk that had just gobbled up an unexpectedly plump dormouse.
It’s ‘vintage’ Letts: Vinegary, old, and infused with tastes about as contemporary as pilchards. Elsewhere in the Mail, Richard Littlejohn serves up the same old gruel, mistaking repeating a nickname for someone ad nauseum (in this case, “Call Me Dave”) for comedy and combing it with the common columnist trick of decrying “the establishment” through a megaphone supplied by a fourth-generation Viscount.
Moving from the Mail to The Times, we slip from angry to oleaginous. Making sure the reader knows she was a guest alongside Cameron at “a drinks party in Notting Hill last week, Alice Thomson writes:
‘Look behind you’, shouted the cameraman, ‘he’s back.’ And just as the rain stopped and the sun came out, there was David Cameron striding along Downing Street towards the black door of No 10. It really was him in his patrician Savile Row suit with his long trousers, blue shirt and blue tie. only now his side parting is slightly more grey, and his once smooth face is a little more ruddy from his time in exile bodyboarding on Cornwall’s beaches and striding across those muddy Oxfordshire fields.
‘Daddy’s back,’ texted one Tory MP. ‘Fire up the Quattro, it’s time for change,’ texted another. More than seven years after he left office, sadly humming a little tune to himself after he announced his accelerated departure, Cameron and his Cameroons are making a comeback. Love him or list him: for some, he can never be anything other than that reckless man who destroyed the country by triggering the Brexit referendum as prime minister, while for others he was at least a grown-up centrist dad, and there are precious few of those any more.
It seems Thomson was messaging with the same Cameron fetishist as Ian Dale. The oh-so-contemporary reference to Ashes to Ashes, a TV show that went off-air 10 days after Cameron was first elected Prime Minister, is actually quite appropriate but possibly not for the reasons the bumptious Tory texter meant; [spoiler] Gene Hunt was actually a scared man, done in before his time, brought back to play the part of a no-nonsense ‘hero’, but with a history of corruption. *cough*
The painful analogies in Thomson’s piece don’t end there:
‘Dave is making a late-game comeback,’ texted a Cameroon who played with him a decade ago. ‘But it’s not even off the bench, not even off the stands, he was watching the game at home on the sofa.’
It’s bad enough that he’s back without forcing the image of him in shorts into our poisoned imaginations. The controversies, cash grabs, and corruption of Cameron’s post-Prime Ministerial career merit two sentences in the article:
[Cameron[ has been an excellent chair of the Alzheimer’s Society but the Greensill lobbying scandal was a disaster and hugely damaged his reputation even before he was pictured in the desert on a trip to meet the Saudi crown prince. And his close ties to China, where he once heralded a golden era between the two countries, even hosting Xi Jinping, became an embarrassment.
At least — and it’s the barest minimum — Thomson, in her soft-soaping piece for the cuddly Times2 supplement, mentions the fact that Cameron isn’t exactly coming in fresh and clean to the position of Foreign Secretary i. In the comment section, William Hague — a friend and former colleague of Cameron as well as a close ally of the current Prime Minister, who succeeded him as MP for Richmond (Yorks), supplies the political equivalent of sponsored content.
The headline alone, David Cameron’s decency is an asset to ailing Tories, is another nail in satire’s coffin — an object that already has more holes in it than St. Sebastian — but it gets much worse once that copy begins. Hague, with his voice like a parody Hovis advert, swoons:
Cameron’s renewed prominence is a reminder that the cabinet in which he will be sitting is mainstream and centre-right, looking to reduce taxation but only in a financially responsible way, controlling migration effectively but without divisive language, improving the UK’s relations with Europe while eschewing nationalistic rhetoric.
“Mainstream” is such a weasel word, the Overton Window having shrunk to the size of a doll’s house attic hatch. Hague’s actual problem with Suella Braverman and her ilk is similar to the complaints Republicans in the US make about Donald Trump: It’s not the content of her policies and proposals that bothers him, it’s the tone:
Braverman ruined many good arguments with language that did not sit well with the need for a home secretary to encourage calm, good order and an appreciation throughout the country that we have to understand the views of others.
Austerity, which caused many deaths in its own right and contributed hugely to the parlous situation the state found itself in when the pandemic came, was “government was conducted in a rational, methodical way” in Hague’s retelling. Cameron — as so many of the hacks hailing his return reminded us — seems prime ministerial. He has the right clothes, accent, and demeanour to sell all kinds of horrors.
Hague is like Wallace from Wallace & Gromit if his best friends weren’t a wiley pooch and a ditzy sheep but a selection of bastards that stink worse than Wensleydale left out on a hot windowsill. But he talks and writes in a mild, folksy, technocratically-tinged manner. He’s polite. And so is Cameron, who politely explained why public services had to be stripped to the bone, politely sucked up to the Chinese regime, politely lobbied government for Greensil, and politely sat with the Saudi regime.
The Times, as evidenced by the heavy promotion of Hague’s column on Times Radio, is delighted that he’s one of their ‘star’ signings but to rely on him — a player in Tory political manoeuvrings — as its featured commentator today showed contempt for the readers and listeners. With the contentment of a cartoon character who has activated his own amnesia with a hammer blow to the head, Hague assured them:
In all the years I worked with David Cameron, we would never have tolerated advisers ordering ministers around. Anyone using misogynistic language and four-letter words would have been shown the door immediately. And if there was a dark network of people secretly controlling the Tory party and bringing down its leaders, I think we might have noticed it.
That’s David Cameron who employed Andy Coulson after phone hacking; turned to ‘dead cat’ king Lynton Crosby — who called him “a posh cunt” and “a tosser” — to run his general election campaigns; employed Steve Hilton for his ‘blue sky thinking’; and — in a story that now seems to be forgotten — had a Deputy Director of Policy (Patrick Rock) who arrested for possessing indecent image of children while he was working in Downing Street. Rock’s responsibilities included working on… new policies to make the internet safer for children. He was convicted of the offences but avoided a custodial sentence as the judge decided his “loss of position and public humiliation” was punishment enough.
The Cameron years benefit from the British press’s deliberately poor long-term memory; more effective PR; and the range of ever-expanding clusterfucks that followed Dave and George’s administration of more efficient contempt, corruption, and asset-stripping. That’s what allows ‘David Cameron as Foreign Secretary’ to be presented as a reboot rather than the governmental equivalent of a soap opera resurrecting an old character for a brief burst of nostalgic recognition.
Cameron is effectively the Conservative Party’s Dirty Den; we thought he’d disappeared into the canal for good but suddenly he’s back in Walford… I mean, Westminster to star in a series of splashy but unconvincing storylines. The British political media are lapping it up and they will continue to do so. Despite their frequent attempts at pretending to be policy wonks, hacks generally care far more about personalities. The return of a familiar character suits them.
Cue the theme music…
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