David Cameron didn't want to talk to the people of Ipswich about immigration - only 'room meat'

In the age of 24-hour news, politicians avoid unchoreographed contact with the public

Share
Related Topics

Political speeches are not what they used to be. David Cameron is one of the best of today’s political performers, but if he had ever to share a platform in front of a live audience with any of the big beasts of the 1980s - a Michael Heseltine or a Michael Foot, for instance - they would have made mincemeat of him.

Talking of meat, there is a famous line from In the Loop when an MP who has been told that he must sit in silence at a public meeting exclaims: “What? You’ve got me here as room meat?”

I mean no disrespect to the good people of Ipswich who were present as the Prime Minister delivered his thoughts for the day on the perils of uncontrolled immigration, but ‘room meat’ is all they were.

David Cameron did not go to Ipswich to talk to people who live there. He went to read a speech in front of six television cameras.

After the reading, and when the applause was over, he took four questions, two from journalists, two from local people. None of the questions threw him at all, or drew forth any unexpected or memorable answer. Mr Cameron is a consummate pro, as adept as a political talking machine. You press the button, out comes the answer.

Rebecca Clearer, from Suffolk Refugee Support, asked if there was anything that could be done for asylum seekers who have been languishing in Ipswich for seven years or more, waiting to be told whether they can stay or must go. He praised the work she does, but afterwards she remarked ruefully: “I don’t think he addressed the actual problem that I was raising.”

Before she had any opportunity to express that opinion in the Prime Minister’s presence, he was thanking everyone for coming, telling them that it was a 'stunning' experience to be in Ipswich, and being whisked into a side room where the departing listeners could not bother him with any more questions. After the audience had been shown the way out, the Prime Minister and his entourage did a quick march to the cars waiting outside. Exactly 65 minutes after he had begun speaking, Mr Cameron was gone.

That was the Prime Minister, but it could have been almost any of the current big name politician. In their trade, it is important that people think that they get out of Westminster to meet the public occasionally. But that disaster that Gordon Brown suffered in Rochdale during the election, after his encounter with Mrs Gillian Duffy, stands as a warning of the dangers of unchoreographed contact with the public.

The old troopers would actually address the audience in front of them directly. The best liked to be heckled, because a good heckle followed by a sharp put down brought a meeting to life.

But in this age of rolling news, politicians dare not risk spontaneous interaction with voters. The purpose of a public meeting is not that the politician should meet the public, but that the public should be meat.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Crabtreeof the San Francisco 49ers misses a catch during 2013's Super Bowl XLVII  

Super Bowl 2015: It's the most ridiculous sporting event of the year, but I absolutely love it

John Rentoul
The author with David Leppan, the co-founder of Wealth-X, in his BBC series  

What I learnt about inequality after spending time with some of the richest people in the world

Jacques Peretti
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links