Our illustrious Prime Minister has been espied – and photographed, naturally – in a Bucks pub last Sunday, sitting on a fence and drinking Guinness.
Now that’s a sight for sore eyes. If you ever doubted Dave is ‘a genuine guy’, as described by the pub’s landlord, then you ought to be ashamed of yourself. If you ever regarded Dave as posh just because he’s related to the Queen, this photo opportunity ought to disabuse you of such notions. Bet you thought Dave was the kind of toffee-nosed bloke who drank nothing but Krug and Château Margaux. Well, you thought wrong.
There he was, pint of the black stuff in hand, shirt hanging loose, feet shod in trainers. Not only has Dave preached love for hoodies, he’s but half a step removed from being a hoody himself. Well, perhaps that’s going a bit too far. ‘Genuine guy’ is just right – you know, the kind who leaves the pub and drives home without realising he has left his little daughter behind.
Add to this karaoke, the computer game Fruit Ninja (which, according to a close adviser, he spends ‘a crazy, scary amount of time playing’), and affection for watching Danish TV dramas as his chosen ways of ‘chillaxing’, and there you have it: an eminently electable chap, slightly on the prole side of middle class.
Really, if focus groups show that a suspicion of poshness still lingers, one hesitates to suggest what else Dave could do. Perhaps beating Sam occasionally would be a properly populist thing to do. And then amusing his mates, policy consultants and a couple of hand-picked reporters, who just happen to have dropped by, with this one:
‘What do you tell Sam when she sports two black eyes? Nothing. She’s already been told twice.’
Laughter all around. Never mind the policies, feel the common touch.
And speaking of policies, Dave is as good at sitting on the metaphorical fence as he is at sitting on a literal one down the pub. I can’t tell you how many fences he has sat on in his policies and pronouncements, nor how many about-faces he and his mate George have performed with the agility of Torvill and Dean. Frankly I’ve lost count. And so have all those commentators who raise a hue and cry every time Dave spins a double Axel.
But as an ex-PR man, if a PR man can ever be an ex, Dave knows how to counter accusations of an excessive propensity to emulate weathervanes, or figure skaters if you’d rather. The first thing one learns in that profession is how to turn a negative into a positive. Thus, if a toothpaste tastes foul, that’s because it contains chemicals that are good for your gums. If a car is too slow, that’s because it’s designed for economy and ecology. And when Dave and George toss key policies aside like a wad of used Kleenex, that proves they ‘listen’.
To whom, if one may ask? To you and me? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met Dave, so he hasn’t had the chance to listen to me. Nor has he listened to millions of others. What he has listened to is focus groups and opinion polls. The ability to do so, and then obey with a dog’s fidelity, is a sine qua non of modern politicians, and they don’t come any more modern than Dave. Why, in the modernity stakes he could give even Tony a good run for his money, and that takes some doing.
I have news for our politicians: their job isn’t to listen. It’s to govern. And the great theoreticians and practitioners of England’s ancient constitution, Edmund Burke prime among them, knew the difference.
Burke’s ‘representatives, not delegates’ was a sublime understanding of our MPs’ true role. Every Englishman must have his interests represented – but not necessarily his wishes. We elect those people because presumably they know our interests and are capable of doing whatever is necessary to uphold them. Government by modern plebiscite or post-modern focus group is a constitutional abomination, and it is a constitution, not democracy, that’s the true antithesis of tyranny.
How things have changed; how the constitution has been abused. Dave isn’t solely or even primarily to blame for that of course. Many pre-war and most post-war governments have done their bit – to a point where the previous paragraph would sound heretical to most politicians and their flock. Their individual intelligence and attainment don’t even matter any longer.
For it’s not they who speak and act, it’s the Zeitgeist. Even if today’s front benches were filled with Burkes (they are, but the word is spelled differently), they wouldn’t be able to change much. Several generations of focus-group politicians have corrupted the public, and the public has retaliated by corrupting them back even more.
In light of all this, perhaps it would be a good idea if Dave and his fellow listeners spent more time down the pub than up in Westminster. They’d govern less that way, which has to mean they’d govern better.