Saturday, November 19, 2005

David Cameron and the Political Class

Back in the summer, I wrote about the development of the political class. That is, a group of people for whom politics is nothing other than a career; who see a clearly defined ladder for them to climb, the only aim being to get up it as soon as possible. Their entire life, certainly from leaving university, and most probably before it, is spent towards gaining influence in vital circles and assisting their climb up the greasy pole.

I mention this because David Cameron is one of them, and he's being pretty damn disingenuous when he claims that he didn't know at university that he wanted to become a politician. It's a clever dodge of the fact that he almost certainly knew what he was going to do for his career, even if he didn't get involved in hacking at Oxford. But because it's a nice soundbite, and might actually win him some sympathy, despite the probability of him having taken Class A drugs at university. And we wouldn't want the truth to get in the way of a nice soundbite, would we?

Take a look at his career since leaving Oxford. He's 38 or 39 now, and was elected at the age of 34 to the seat of Witney. Four years before then, he was the unsuccessful Tory candidate in Stafford; for seven years before he was elected he worked for an international PR firm. So that takes us back to about the age of 27; we know that before then he was a special advisor both to Michael Howard at the Home Office and Norman Lamont at the Treasury, so that's getting back to about the age of 24. And according to the BBC profile, he was on the PMQs briefing team for both Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Working for Thatcher? That takes us back to 1990 at least - so that's 23.

From the age of 23, then, David Cameron has been, in some shape or form, working for the Conservative Party in positions that he must have known would be ideal for networking, getting his name known in party circles and ultimately creating a long-term career path for him. Are we to suppose that this epiphany came to him in the two years immediately following graduating at Oxford? Call me a cynic, but I somehow doubt it.

Cameron is, of course, right when he says young people shouldn't be dissuaded from doing things when young simply because they want to be politicians when they are older. That isn't good for them, and it isn't good for democracy. We don't want nothing other than media-friendly clones in Parliament - we need to be represented, and having some experience of real life must surely make that task easier? The development of a political class is worrying for democracy - because that means more focus groups, more special advisers, and more specious bullshit about values. As David Davis said, people don't want to know what politicians 'stand for'. They want to know what they mean.

What sticks in my craw, though, is that Cameron is saying something valuable to save his own skin, when it isn't really true. Guido Fawkes talks about Paxman asking Cameron about Class A drugs; I can't see a way Cameron wouldn't have denied it if it was true. But saying he wasn't planning on becoming a politician at that point doesn't quite ring true to me. I know people at Oxford who want to be politicians and I know the sorts of actions that they take - Cameron has followed it almost to the letter. There was no Damascine conversion where he decided he wanted to take power; this has been an ambition of his for a long time. Being a member of the political class is bad enough, though - what irks me even more is the lengths Cameron will go to denying that it is true.