David Cameron wants to be Harry Potter, but is afraid people see him as Voldemort. Both choices, it seems to me, reveal that he is unable to decipher the fairly obvious symbolism in a well-known children’s book.
The Harry Potter series, by dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporter JK Rowling, is an interesting choice for Cameron to bring up. As a thinly-veiled satire of British politics, it’s hardly subtle. Essentially, it’s the world’s most successful and wide-reaching piece of pro-Labour, anti-Tory propaganda.
It isn’t hard to tell on which side JK Rowling is. On the eve of the 2008 Labour Party Conference, she donated £1 million to the Labour party, stating “I believe that poor and vulnerable families will fare much better under the Labour Party than they would under a Cameron-led Conservative Party.” Writing in The Times (£) in 2010, Rowling praised Labour’s support of single parents and criticised Cameron’s £150 annual tax breaks to married couples. She is good friends with Sarah and Gordon Brown.
But you could have guessed all this from the books themselves. The Hogwarts house Gryffindor is known for its bravery, courage and tolerance of minorities, and its official colours are red and gold. Harry Potter and most of his friends are in this house. Albus Dumbledore was a Gryffindor, and he was gay. Hermione Granger, the cleverest person in her year, is a girl and was born to Muggles (non-wizards). Harry’s friend Ron Weasley is from a large, friendly, poor family. Essentially, Labour.
The self-evidently evil Slytherin are powerful, ambitious and cunning. They are also vicious, homogeneous, and distrusting of diversity. So far, so Tory. They are obsessed with ‘blood purity’ and are judgemental against Muggle-borns, who they call ‘Mudbloods’ (a great insult). ‘Half-bloods’, born to one wizard and one Muggle parent, are also reviled. They are just generally evil: supporters of Voldemort, the Dark Lord and former Slytherin, are called Death Eaters. The house mascot of Slytherin is a serpent, and their motto is “Slytherin will help you on your way to greatness”. Of course, Slytherin Severus Snape turns out to be a hero, but he does this by betraying his own side.
Whether brainy Ravenclaws and loyal Hufflepuffs are Greens or Lib Dems is a matter of interpretation.
But it isn’t just that some people are born good and others bad: the characters’ decisions are what make them who they are. When he wears the Sorting Hat at the start of the first book, Harry Potter is given the choice of whether he wants to be in Gryffindor (Labour) or Slytherin (Conservative): a choice between good and evil. He recognises that he may have dark sides, but he keeps them in check. By choosing to be a Gryffindor. As Cameron himself says, “if you've got any sense you want to be Harry Potter”.
Although he sees himself as the hero, David Cameron is worried that people may think he is the story’s über-villain, Voldemort. But Lord Voldemort, surely, could much more fruitfully be compared to Lady Thatcher. They both needed to overcome prejudice in their own party: Tom Riddle, or Voldemort, is a Half-Blood, born to a Muggle father (a great dishonour in the eyes of other Slytherins), and Thatcher was a woman and daughter of a grocer in the largely aristocratic and male-dominated Conservative world.
Both self-made, individualistic characters, their influence was felt long after they purportedly left power (both were in power for 11 years). Thatcher’s legacy is kept going by her Ayn Rand-like policies, privatisation and destruction of the welfare state. Voldemort, nearly vanquished by a freak accident involving Harry Potter, remained alive by splicing his soul into seven parts, or Horcruxes, so that although his soul was mutilated and incomplete, he became nigh-on invincible. Voldemort, not Draco Malfoy, is Harry’s major nemesis.
On the other hand, Draco seems like a more apt comparison for David Cameron. He is pampered, wealthy, descendant from a long line of traditional and aristocratic Slytherins (and Death Eaters), arrogant, spoilt, bratty, whiny, elitist, and largely ineffectual.
I love the Harry Potter books. Ok, Labour aren’t exactly the straightforwardly heroic saviours that Rowling depicts them as. But she has taught a whole generation of children to be tolerant, loyal and brave, and that Tories are evil, prejudiced, Basilisk-befriending Death Eaters who idolise a monstrous, soulless being.