Far from being a Blairite clone, argues Peter Oborne, David Cameron has the potential to bring truly radical change to the culture of British politics—but only if he dares to stick to his convictionsby Peter Oborne / December 20, 2008 / Leave a comment
Discuss this article at First Drafts, Prospect ‘s blog Cameron on Cameron: Conversations with Dylan Jones by David Cameron & Dylan Jones (4th Estate, £12.99)
The Plan: Twelve Months to Renew Britain by Douglas Carswell & Daniel Hannan (Direct Democracy,£10)
For the first half of the 20th century, we journalists understood that our role was to report politicians on their own terms. We did not try to interpret, still less challenge. On the contrary, it was understood that the role of a parliamentary correspondent was to set down and describe the words and actions of the leading statesmen of the day. Political speeches would be reported on newspaper front pages, often spread over several columns, the day after they were made. It was assumed that the reader would reach his own judgment. In his early novels, Christopher Isherwood insisted that he sought to convey an unrefracted version of reality to the general reader. “I am a camera,” he said. Political journalists had exactly the same objective.
This culture of reporting survived until the 1960s, then vanished. Today, we have the cult of the political columnist (a phenomenon unknown till the 1950s), whose task is explanation. Meanwhile, the art of the reporter is no longer to report a political speech—rather, it is to identify and then isolate a sentence or off-the-cuff remark which will “make news.” Often the original meaning or intention of the speech is overlooked or misrepresented.
Dylan Jones’s delightfully old-fashioned book on David Cameron has been poorly received. The author has been accused of asking soft questions and failing to provide fresh insight. But these criticisms miss the point that Jones, whether deliberately or by accident, has reverted to the old tradition of political reporting. He plays Boswell to Cameron’s Johnson. The least interesting parts of the book contain Jones’s own observations, which can be readily skipped. The rest is fascinating. Jones has produced an exceptionally interesting, important and unusual work which cannot be ignored by anyone who wishes to understand the essence of the Conservative leader.
Jones followed Cameron around for a full year, going to his home, constituency and sitting in on private meetings with advisers. He was granted the liberty of asking anything he liked. There are reasonably exhaustive sections on drug-taking, family life and Cameron’s Oxford career alongside lengthy discussions of Tory…