Saturday, October 22, 2005

I Want To Hate David Cameron

Question Time on Thursday disturbed me greatly. The panel, ignoring the presence of Estelle Morris (a horrible, horrible, horrible woman), was quite good for a change (if you can ignore the sanctimoniousness of the Amnesty International head), and it contained Matthew Parris, who is without doubt one of the finest columnists currently writing. The first question, predictably enough, referred to the Tory leadership election, and almost without exception, the panel were lauding David Cameron.

Notable, however, was that the only reason given for support was because Cameron had "something about him", that he was going to embark upon "21st Century politics", he was "fresh". In so far as policies were mentioned, buzzwords were still the order of the day - "strong families and strong communities", "caring about the Health Service" - the sort of thing that absolutely no-one disagrees with. Thankfully the audience seemed to cut through the media fog and emphasise how little of any substance he's actually said.

The question I want to ask David Cameron is the same question that I want to ask Burger King whenever I get conned into paying a couple of quid for a fat patty - where's the beef? At the moment he's asking the Tory Party to back him on the basis of not wearing a tie and having a nice smile. Now, a nice smile has been successful before - heck, Ronald Reagan won two Presidential terms on the back of one. But if the Tory party can't actually see that their image wasn't the only reason for their dismal failure at the last election, then they are in serious trouble. An almost racist campaign on immigration, and a total paucity of ideas on anything else couldn't be sold, even by a professional spin merchant like Cameron, in a way that could make inroads on a massively unpopular leader like Blair.

And yet, despite all this, there is something about Cameron that makes you like him. Yesterday, the BBC were saying that he was taking a huge risk in visiting a deprived area in London and appearing on a community radio show. Maybe, but he certainly did it at the right time. When your political stock is as high as you could possibly have imagined, that is when you take risks.

Not suicidal ones, but Cameron is currently attracting large amounts of media sympathy, and even if such a move backfired, it would be unlikely to leave him dead in the water. As it is, the image of him being bear-hugged on the street will have done wonders for his credibility - he was embarrassed enough not to seem a phoney, but nor did he appear totally uncomfortable. In an age where the media has the power to make or break stars, that image is vital. It was, ultimately, William Hague's attempts to pretend to be something he was not that kiboshed his attempts to be taken seriously.

Of course, the problem with Cameron is that no matter how nice a guy he seems, we still don't know what policies he believes in - and my hunch is that he is far more in the Michael Howard than the Ken Clarke mould. And that may be why the dawn of Cameron is a false dawn. As nice a guy as he may seem to be, the bun and the garnish can only get you so far. At some point, you have to give the public the beef. If it's as unappealing as that served up by Burger King, Cameron won't get very far.