Anyone who has seen Kirk Douglas in the epic movie Spartucus will understand when I say – will the real David Cameron stand up?
To save all the other slaves as the Romans search for our hero he stands up intending to proclaim “I am Spartacus”. But to his astonishment – and causing a gulp if not a tear in the most hardened of filmgoers – all the other slaves stand up one by one to say “I am Spartacus” before he can.
David Cameron has now been Conservative leader for ten years – yes, it has been that long – and he has made nine conference speeches as leader, six of them as prime minister, and I still don’t know which David Cameron is the real one.
Each time a man in a dark blue suit gets up and says “I am David Cameron”. Each time it is like a different person as I am none the wiser in knowing what he really believes, how much of it is sincere and how much he is just PR schmoozing the conference representatives or the TV viewers.
I think we can take it as a given that he believes in Britain, or at least his construct of what is Britain – the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But his view of where Britain sits within the EU remains ambiguous – would he really be prepared to recommend we leave if Merkel & Co stitch him up? He says so, but few believe him.
I think we can take it that he believes in deficit reduction, although all of this talk of austerity is for audiences that believe we need strong medicine to cure our past spendthrift ways. Anyone that looks at the Chancellor’s figures (hardly anyone) can see we have not endured anything like genuine austerity. Moving from deficit to surplus has been postponed many times, originally 2014 it is now 2019, but he still talks about living within our means even when we don’t.
I think we can take it that he believes in the NHS, he uses it and wears the fact that he uses it on his sleeve. He has protected it from cuts that other departments have suffered (actually increasing its budget in real terms) and despite the warnings of his critics it has not been privatised – it is still free at the point of use.
I think we can take it that he believes in strong security; he defends Trident as a deterrent we must keep and has been prepared to send British forces into dangerous territories, although he has thus far been careful to avoid us deploying boots on the ground.
And I think he is a compassionate man with a genuine sense of justice; when he speaks of his disgust about how people face discrimination because of their religion, gender, sexuality, race or colour you sense his blood is boiling and he really means it.
Strangely he never mentions the discrimination that some make against people of different classes – especially the hatred towards the so-called upper classes or middle classes by socialists, or the lower or working classes by toffs. While I suspect that is because he believes class is a false, invented construct, there can be no doubt that some people still use it to justify their prejudices and bigotry. Maybe he feels on weak ground having gone to Eton as the son of a Scottish stockbroker?
So what Cameron did we get at the Tories’ Manchester conference this year? Why we got the social reforming Cameron – the one who will spend his last years as premier to ensure equality is a legacy of his Tory government.
I am just finishing Edvard Radzinsky’s biography of Stalin and it has made harrowing reading. Not just for the millions, yes millions, that the monster sent to their deaths – but as an education about political strategy and the use of power, it is like reading Machiavelli’s The Prince for the first time. I recommend both.
The most telling lesson is how Stalin used language to mean the opposite of what he actually said. It was called “in-depth language” as it had meanings at a deeper depth – in 1948 George Orwell called it doublespeak in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four.
When I hear Cameron speak I notice all these words and phrases – such as “equality” – that press buttons in the electorates’ minds, but what does he mean? Is his “equality” your “equality”? Does his “Great Britain” mean your “Great Britain”. Will people be more equal? When he talks of Britain regaining its sovereignty from the EU will it amount to a hill of beans?
Cameron’s speech is already being spun as his best yet, as it discovered the mystical “centre ground” that the BBC loves to occupy – a place that does not actually exist, for it is like a sandbank changing with every political tide. Will he be remembered as a great social reformer? I doubt it. He will be remembered for taking us out of the European Union by failing to get the deal that will keep us in.
When he retires in 2020 we will need to ask, who was the real Cameron?