Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Mr David Cameron Wore Vitalis And Talked For Over An Hour, And The Conservative Party Rejoiced. But What Did He Say?
It was, I believe, the great comedian, Mr George Burns, who noted that "if you can fake sincerity, you've got it made". Mr David Cameron, in what could be his last speech to the Conservative Party conference, did not attempt to fake sincerity. He left that to his audience, a quite terrifying assembly of matrons and car salespersons, who showed every sign of being bored out of their bath chairs, while greeting his every utterance with feverish applause.
It's true, Mr Cameron's biggest ovation came before he had said anything. Certainly, in the moments before he spoke, he looked very presentable and full of confidence. He had the natural radiance of a photocopier salesman on the verge of winning a year's supply of Vitalis. It has been said, too, that Mr Cameron showed great skill by being able to talk without an autocue. In this, he will have gained the sympathy and admiration of Best Men everywhere, although he forgot, in his desire to dazzle, to make his speech entertaining.
As theatre, it was an empty gesture, rather like an audition in which the actor is not sure whether the casting director is working on a tragedy or a comedy. Mr Cameron compromised between the two, which meant that he displayed almost no emotion, whilst bordering on farce. There was one rhetorical flourish, and no poetry. At times, he resembled the host of a television game show - Mr Ted Rogers, perhaps, on 3-2-1 (he lacked the warmth of Mr Bob Monkhouse) - falling back on favourite "riffs" while trying to work out how to proceed. Praising the Conservative party, he said repeatedly: "I didn't do that. You did that, and you should be proud of yourself." The audience greeted this praise the way a rat might observe a mousetrap, with suspicion, and a hint of suicidal hunger. At times, Mr Cameron abandoned grammar altogether: "New world, old politics failing, change required." After praising the internet with the extraordinary observation that "if MySpace was a country, it would be the 10th biggest country in the world" - akin to saying that if the moon was made of cheese, it would need a very large refrigerator - the suspicion grew that the next Conservative manifesto might be written in the form of a text message. In which case, it would read (with due deference to the Home Counties accents of prospective Tory voters)"UR GR8. V8 4US"
But let us not be fatuous. Mr Cameron, who last year came out in favour of sunshine, is now on the side of optimism. He wants to tear up the rulebooks, and promote common sense. He is not in favour of drunk schoolchildren, but he likes soldiers. He is not a fan of scrap-heaps; he favours choice, diversity and innovation. The new politics, he said, do not involve lurching. He wants more police, and a kind of national service for teenagers, in which they can learn to be world championship boxers rather than claiming benefits fraudulently or arriving late for their exams with the smell of Buckfast on their breath.
I am, I release, paraphrasing slightly, as the language of Modern Conservative Change is quite hard to memorise.
At the end, in a popular passage, he refused to apologise for being posh. Indeed, he said, it was only by being posh that a fellow could help others aspire to that admirable position. "We will fight," he said. "Britain will win."
But who are we? And what will Britain win? Over to you, Mr Rogers.