Cameron on Cameron: Conversations with Dylan Jones

Cameron on Cameron: Conversations with Dylan Jones

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Book description

          There can be no denying that this book is perfectly titled. It may have been conceived and put together by the editor of GQ magazine, Dylan Jones. But it might as well have been ghost-written. It offers a broad, shallow digest of Cameron’s views, which stand almost entirely unchallenged. The author, to his credit, is perfectly candid about his partisanship. Cameron he describes as "my man, his ascendancy coinciding with my own political shift". Jones wants David Cameron to be the next prime minister every bit as much as Cameron does. 

          Jones is not a political commentator, and has written little about politics. His most apparent speciality is men’s fashion, although Jones can truthfully claim also to be something of a historian of the popular culture he has grown up observing and covering, during pretty much all his adult life. So it makes sense that Jones should have become interested in exploring the wider trends that, he believes, might yet make being a Tory seem fresh and fashionable.

          Cameron, of course, has a vested interest in bringing about such a cultural shift. So when the distinguished style journalist, whose output in various forms Cameron’s generation has grown up imbibing, approached him with the idea of shadowing him for a year, it must have seemed an attractive public relations proposition indeed.

          Certainly, neither Jones nor Cameron could have predicted that the year in question would be quite so dramatic and so filled with terminal reversals. A year ago it could be reasonably assumed that the next election would now be in the past, with Gordon Brown the elected head of government.

          Few at this stage believe that Brown will ever achieve that endorsement. Now, like it or not, it is hard to see what might stop Cameron from becoming the next prime minister, and any information that can shed light on the implications of that change is entirely welcome. So it’s a shame that Jones has squandered any potential the proposal may have had.

          Cameron takes the boundless opportunity offered to emphasise that he is a liberal Conservative, concerned with the promotion of individual rights. He has absorbed, he tacitly argues, the identity politics that not so long ago did much to convince the hip young gunslingers of Jones’s generation that they were "of the left". The little tension between the views of the two displays the man who leads the Conservative party as more progressive and more attuned to the principles of social justice than the writer who describes himself as "not even a real Tory".

          Jones mounts a sally against Cameron’s well-worn banalities on only a few occasions. Almost invariably, his challenges focus on Cameron’s refusal to take up classic Tory positions. Jones is frustrated, for example, by Cameron’s refusal to endorse the return of grammar schools, and Cameron explains why such recidivism is not in his party’s interests.

          Cameron understands that in the English counties where grammars remain, educational inequality is at its most fearful. He sees, that while grammars may offer a measure of privilege to individuals, they may be a hindrance rather than help in mending his "broken society".

          Jones’s book is not practically useless because it is so sympathetic to Cameron. It is practically useless because the sympathy is so little backed up by any deep engagement with the nuts and bolts of social policy. Cameron claims that he wants to be as significant a social reformer as Thatcher was an economic reformer. But Jones displays even less understanding of just what a gargantuan undertaking this is than Cameron does.

          Jones positions himself as a member of the put-upon middle classes, when he is instead a fully paid-up member of the liberal elite. He seems entirely interested in how a new government might help him, rather than in how he might help a new government – which bodes ill for Cameron’s idea that the comfortable, untrammelled, will become wonderfully philanthropic. Yet social deprivation is not going to be tackled by the wholesale editorial endorsement of items such as Samantha Cameron’s entrepreneurial £800 handbags.

          As for Jones’s sycophantic insights into Cameron’s private life, they sometimes verge on the distasteful. When Jones writes about Cameron’s profoundly disabled son, Ivan, his distress at their situation verges on horror. No matter how often Cameron explains that Ivan’s limitations were devastating to his parents at first, but that he is their son and they love him for who he is, Jones is mawkish in his inability to accept that Cameron is telling the truth. "It breaks your heart," he says, "but then you get the feeling that David and Samantha’s hearts have been broken a thousand times over."

          All those who care as well as they can for the vulnerable, whether they are family members or professionals, deserve admiration and need understanding. Cameron understands that pity doesn’t put in a lifting hoist, and indeed that pity often isolates individuals dealing with challenging situations. That’s one reason why he comes across as a finer man than his interlocutor.

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