Alastair Campbell: Why the class issue is so damaging to the Tories

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The Independent Online

There are many ways to judge a play. Did you enjoy it on the night? Would you recommend it to others? Do you want to see it again? And does it make you think, and keep thinking? One would imagine the first of these is the most important. Yet with Laura Wade's Posh, I did not enjoy the experience of watching the play. But, I have recommended it to everyone, and am planning to see it again soon.

So why did I not enjoy it, when it is well-written, well cast and acted, and likely to damage the Tories? The answer is that, for parts of it, I felt quite ill. Ill at the thought that this play might just be an accurate portrayal of the Bullingdon Club on which it is so clearly based, and therefore a picture of our current rulers, their values, what they really believe.

David Cameron must have thought he had managed to defuse his poshness as a political issue when Labour ran a Crewe by-election campaign with class as a major theme, only to see it backfire. When decontaminating the Tory brand he did a good job presenting himself as a fairly ordinary middle-class guy, albeit of the upper variety. But governments create culture whether they intend to or not. It was a while before so-called spin became the target of satirists, but it stuck. Posh could well become to this Government the cultural tag that spin became to Blair's.

Empathy matters. Cameron was quite good at it in opposition. But from student fees to horse rides with Rebekah Brooks to misunderstood LOLs and country suppers, the sense is of an out-of-touch elite pretending to be different from what they really are. They have to pretend because they want to win a majority. They would struggle to win a seat if the public thought Posh was them.

If their true character is the one they try to present to the world, Posh will be nothing more than an interesting and divisive piece of entertainment. If the public decide it is closer to the one on stage, then by the time the planned cinema version comes out, it could have an even deeper cultural impact; Cameron could be on his way to becoming a political novelty – a one-term PM who fought two elections and won neither. And his poshness will be one of the reasons. Because it is impossible to see this play and imagine that the people it portrays remotely get how the majority in Britain live their lives, or even care.

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