POLITICAL antipathy runs in the family. A text arrives from one of our three offspring about the Prime Minister’s speech to the Tory Party conference. It reads: “Just seen a clip of Call Me Dave crying at a conference. Crocodile tears pffffffftttt.”
Well it’s a comfort to know we have brought the children up properly. I read the speech online and heard snatches on the radio, but mostly steered away from the television news. There is only so much stress the blood pressure can take.
It was a long speech so a skim was required. While there were meaty bits floating in this thin stew of compassionate Conservatism, two things jumped out – not perhaps the most serious aspects, but there you go. Aside from the inevitable attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – a wet-dream of a target for a Tory audience – Man On Ledge was struck by Cameron’s sideswipe at Twitter, and his reference to being a father of two daughters.
Cameron’s towel-flick at Twitter was headlined “Britain is not Twitter” as the speech was going out. With fitting irony, I read that on Twitter.
What Cameron actually said, rather than the headline, was: “Let me put this as simply as I can: Britain and Twitter are not the same thing.” This was mostly a mild rebuke to journalists who spend too long on Twitter and believe everything they read there. But it set a riff running through my mind.
It is true that Britain is not Twitter. Britain it is also not the Daily Telegraph. Britain is not the Sun. Britain is not Eton. Britain is not the Conservative Party. Britain is not the Labour Party. Britain is not Ukip. Britain is not The Times. Britain is not the Daily Mail (although it just might be, scarily). Britain is not The X Factor (although it might be Strictly Come Dancing or the Great British Bake Off).
You could play this game for ever, compiling a pointed list of what Britain is and is not. It doesn’t really get you anywhere or mean anything. Britain is and is not many things, and its true heart lies in a multiplicity of meanings and definitions, in its many cultures and the many different people and races who have settled here through generations, and in our rich and complicated history.
If you want to turn Cameron’s adaptable phrase into a positive, how about Britain Is The BBC? The corporation can have that one on me for free. Yet while Cameron is happy to trash Twitter, he won’t speak up for the BBC. It is hardwired into the Tory soul that the BBC is wrong and anti-competitive, and “not one of us”, to borrow a doodle from the torn pages of Thatcherism.
Of course, Cameron thinks that Britain is the Conservative Party, as he made clear in a bit of Blairite rhetoric early on in his speech yesterday. On the morning after last May’s election, he said that: “As dawn rose, a new light – a bluer light – fell across our isles.”
Cameron has never quite shaken off the desire to be the ‘heir to Blair’, and here he echoed Tony Blair’s victory speech in 1997 when Blair said that “a new dawn has broken”.
Winning the election in May certainly went against expectations, yet that ‘bluer light’ is going it some, isn’t it? A small majority win does not turn the whole country blue, just slightly bluer than if it had turned a pale tint of red.
The next part of the speech to jump out was Cameron’s Dad Moment. The day before we had Jeremy Hunt’s Wife Moment. How these politicians do like to drag their families into everything.
What Cameron said in his daddy aside was this: “I’m a dad of two daughters – opportunity won’t meant anything to them if they grow up in a country where they get paid less because of their gender rather than how good they are at their work. The point is this: you can’t have true opportunity without real equality.”
The colloquial mateyness of that phrase – “I’m a dad of two daughters” – is both clever on a cheap emotional level, and meaningless too. Fair points as far as they go. But, Dave, those girls are the daughters of a rich and successful man from a wealthy family, and therefore they are unlikely ever to be troubled by lack of equality or opportunity. Insulated by wealth and privilege, they will almost certainly follow the same gilded path as their father.
This isn’t right or wrong, but it is true, so David Cameron was using his daughters to exemplify a problem they are unlikely ever to face. I am the father of one daughter and two sons, and it doesn’t make me any better or worse a person than a man who has no children. Dragging the kids into your debate adds a bit of emotion, might even raise a tear or two, but it shouldn’t win any arguments.
Now in my own dad aside, I should reply to that text: “Ah how true. Do read today’s blog. It has you written all over it. Daddio.”