Does PM Have a Death Wish?

John Rentoul

calm 300x196 Does PM Have a Death Wish?Number 601 in my series of Questions to Which the Answer is No was asked by the indispensable Paul Waugh yesterday of David Cameron’s instant footnote in history, “Calm down, dear.”

I wrote about this footnote for The Independent this morning. I thought the Prime Minister’s words would be seen by most people as a light-hearted and effective put-down of a boisterous Labour front bench.* What I did not mention was the finding from the last ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday, that only 30 per cent agree with this statement:

The fact that David Cameron went to Eton makes it harder for him to be a good Prime Minister for the whole country.

It undermines the Flashman or toff theses that 52 per cent of respondents disagree with this, even if those numbers have moved against Cameron since he was Leader of the Opposition. As ever, the class-based attack on him seems to appeal mainly to the Labour converted.

My article today was a response to what I call the Katwala critique, as advanced by Sunder Katwala, the brilliant outgoing head of the Fabian Society:

The blind spot of much of the political class lies in consistently overestimating David Cameron.

Sunder today criticises my critique of his critique.

Safe to say, we agree that no one should either under- or overestimate Cameron. And he doesn’t have a death wish.

*Update: Meanwhile, on the substance of the argument over NHS changes, Howard Stoate says Cameron misleadingly quoted him.

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  • Jeffrob445

    If he has, there is a good Swiss clinic that will help, I’ll even chip in for plane fare

  • postageincluded

    Cameron is certainly very clever, adept, and, to some, attractive; nobody should underestimate that.

    I beleive that Mr Katwala’s point is that we should not overestimate the freedom that Mr Cameron has to excercise his gifts. He seems to me to have less freedom than any PM since Callaghan.

  • Ron Broxted

    Labour may not have as many public school boys (or girls) as the Tories but as a % it is not far off. Fettes, St Pauls, Westminster, hardly Scumbag Comprehesive Deptford, is it?

  • davboy

    Why is it lefties get away with scandalous comments like this one, if a tory had said something like this all hell would have broke loose, Cameron is head and shoulders above anything in the commons at the moment,

  • oldkingkole

    Kerrrriky, thats why there are so few dwarfs at the circus!

  • coventrian

    I thought it was Tony B£air who had the death wish – wishing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

  • greggf

    Hopefully Katwala’s view that “… it will be very difficult for either major party to win the next election…” will prove to be prescient.
    Or, could this be a question to which the answer is no?

  • Europeanonion

    It would appear that there are those that want to confine the political argument. Not only that, there are those that want to codify what language we use managing that process. I cannot imagine the PM selecting ‘dudgeon control’ every time the intemperate call him a toff, or worse. Being a man, a Tory and the PM means that any combination of these factors can open him to the worst sort of supercilious parody and, because of the dignity of his post, he must bear it. If some harridan wishes to sit opposite the Government benches and scream the clichéd verbal wreckage of some bygone political dogma across the Woolsack then I believe that the PM has two resorts, a detention, or a quiet aside. Normally when children behave in the way that this woman did we would march them to the naughty step and try and make them face their inner demons. The problem in Parliament is that the whole ethos of Labour is that they must find some way of getting under the PM’s skin. Their back-up position is then to prosecute him for the way that pushes these barbs aside.

    We recently became aware that certain immigrants to the UK were actually not working to the best advantages of their lives and that of the host nations and yet all along we have been minded that no matter what we feel about these people as a matter of intuition we are to invent a plethora of laws and social linguistic contrivances designed not to offer any hint of offence. The British public has seen much of their freedom reduced to accommodate a body that sees that freedom as a changed reality beyond the narrowness if their religious/political pursuits. In teaching we have seen similar sorts of vocabularies fabricated to endow the worst behaviour and disruption and to bestow angelic characteristics on known thugs and anarchists who besmirch the learning experience for all around them. The health sector has been infested with language that means that the objectives of the process are obscured and that one can only get things done if the new forms of address and description are used. We are a nation that has expanded the explanation industry and massively increased the power of the pedant. We can not look at art or listen to a diatribe without having some lesser personage step forward and tell us what we are looking at or listening to and implanting all manner of insinuations of their own in the process. The terminological inexactitude is an enduring wonder of the British language and the fact that so much new verbiage has been created to try and modify that wondrousness has seen nothing but further confusion sown. Like passing anything through gauze causes both impurities and substance to be lost.

    The social language of the past was once very much more formalised and the pattern for address prescribed. One would have thought that the current sloppiness of language and the decline of the vocabulary would have meant that more latitude would be offered in the way that we address each other. I am appalled at the amount of swearing that is abroad in the every day discourse. Mr Cameron did not swear at that woman. I find it shocking that Labour especially can resort to a stereotypical characterisation of Mr Cameron even to the extent of identifying Mr Cameron the man as Cameron the child or university pupil; it is self-evident that not being able to argue against the man’s policies or his bravery or his eloquence then the only thing that is left is to try and besmirch his character through linguistic skulduggery against his past. Mr Cameron said nothing against that woman’s past nor in any way made any reference to her capabilities, family or education. Like some Spanish footballer falling to the ground as if his opponent had severed one of his limbs or made the sustainability of life seem in the balance, Labour went to ground and immediately resorted to waving the parliamentary red card. As in Madrid as in Westminster the whole spectacle is abject and unedifying and a return to politics, rather than this posturing, would be welcome.

    Perhaps the age of spontaneity is dead, that we should only view matters after editorial, that common usage is so dangerous that only a particularly rigorously well schooled bunch of rhetoricians should be allowed to speak at all. How many have not ventured a relationship with a foreigner conscious that a slip of the tongue could be embroiled in racial slur, religious antagonism or lack of respect (that’s a good one). By proscription we dilute debate and disaffect those that we should have not initial prejudice toward. Perhaps ‘dear’ is a word that should be expunged, trodden out of existence like ‘gay’ or ‘niggardly’ because of some nudge-nudge association which is in no way implicit in the etymology. Dear is what I used to call mother as she was dear in every respect, an affectionate conjunction. Perhaps the lady in Parliament cannot imagine the word dear being associated with her character, perhaps she finds herself unloved and unlovable. The best retort would be to refer to the PM next time she has the chance as deary or sweetheart, that would break the ice and be a fitting rejoinder.

  • LansleyPlays1

    Has Belgium formed a government yet? It is possible that the work of government in Britain is not as essential to maintaining intelligent life as politicians and journalists would have us believe. At least 50% of the legislative programme of the last Labour government was not worth the effort at best, and much of it was harmful to liberal democracy.

  • Jeffrob445

    If “Cameron is head and shoulders above anything”, then it is a very sad time for british politics. I dislike Cameron, not for his flawed politics, but for his juvenile hypocracy and overwhelming self effacement. As a PM he has neither charisma nor gravitas, he is what he is a PR man, period

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