By way of one of those quirks of timing that now and then illuminate the complexity of a leader’s world view, David Cameron starred in a brace of Mail on Sunday hot properties. One was an interview conducted last month on a visit to troops in Afghanistan, while the other occupied the front page. We’ll come to that splash in time, but first to the chat in Helmand with MoS editor Geordie Greig in which the PM ranged from the winsome (his monopolising of the remote control; men, eh?) on to graver terrain.
I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposing of his perception of the First World War as a just and noble conflict with the revelation that for Christmas he gave all his godchildren a copy of Goodbye To All That – the magnificent memoir in which Robert Graves wrote of commanding officers’ idiocy, his own shell shock and the murder of surrendered German POWs. Cameron also spoke with typical dignity of losing his son, Ivan, and of his Anglican faith. “I find Christianity a good guide, the tenets of doing unto others as you would done by, and love thy neighbour…”
A less mannerly interviewer might have asked how his Government’s attempts to cut disabled funding qualify as doing unto others what he would, had be been less wealthy, have wanted done unto him when Ivan was alive. As for love thy neighbour, this leads us to the splash about his masterplan to prevent non-English speaking immigrants from claiming benefits by denying them interpreters and forms printed in native languages.
Nominally intended to save a massive £5m per annum but designed to emit a Lynton Crosby wolfwhistle to those who enjoy the stigmatising of immigrants and the poor, it seems a fair distance from Jesus’s message. Unless, of course, he meant Love Thy Neighbour, the 1970s’ sitcom in which a white racist addresses his black neighbour in terms now unrepeatable. Either way, this is one of those rare, sobering moments when the gospel according to Alastair Campbell must be invoked. The wise PM doesn’t do God.
Cuddling up with a warm, liberal President
Elsewhere, Mr Cameron disclosed that his children are not allowed to watch morning telly on weekends. In which case, they missed a treat when Andrew Marr – no less a modern Torquemada than Geordie – had a pre-Winter Olympics pow-wow in Sochi with lookey-likey Vladimir Putin.
Replying to inquiries about his muscular approach to gay and other human rights through an interpreter (civilised countries still offer the service to non-Anglophones), Putin asked Marr what he wanted him to say. “I would like you to say ‘I’m a warm, liberal President, I’ve changed my views and no one need fear me in any way at all’.” “It’s true,” an amused Putin replied. “That’s the answer? Ok, marvellous.” Tremendous stuff, and Putin came across as successor to Theodore Roosevelt, Ed Miliband’s new hero, as the cuddliest teddy bear known to global statesmanship. Sadly the interview was edited for time and we didn’t hear Marr conclude with: “Mr President, is there anything else you wish to say to a grateful Pussy Riot?”
The subtle distinction between real-life actor and fictional character
The Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries pioneers a captivating conspiracy theory when interviewing Coronation Street’s Julie Hesmondhalgh, whose terminally ill Hayley Cropper takes her own life on ITV 1 tonight. “But is there bias,” muses Stuart, “in her depiction of Hayley? Hesmondhalgh, after all, is a member of the British Humanist Association, which supports attempts to legalise assisted dying…” “I think that’s hilarious – as if I could influence the scripts,” replies the actor, almost as though it were somehow a mildly foolish question.
This inspired new notion of biased acting, whereby soap actors use their roles to peddle contentious personal opinions, is almost worthy of the Daily Mail itself, and wants investigating. There may be historical offences. Who now can be entirely sure, for example, that Violet Carson didn’t use Ena Sharples to proselytise the ideals of the Hairnet Liberation Front?
In more reassuring news, Stuart concedes that “for Julie Hesmondhalgh, there is life after Hayley’s death”. Phew. A relief to learn she need not throw herself on the pyre and that there are distinctions between actor and character after all.
Adidas steps in a mess with tennis-shoe advert error
Speaking of assisted dying (see above), Adidas enjoys a masterstroke. In relaunching its Stan Smith tennis shoes, reports The Sun, the sportswear mammoth sent its 1.5 million Twitter followers an advert in which the 1972 Wimbledon champion’s face was replaced by Harold Shipman’s. How the two were confused (if the late doctor is the spit of anyone, it’s his fellow serial killer Walter White from Breaking Bad) is unclear. “It’s embarrassing,” a spokesperson says. “It was a risky idea…” Ya think?
Demanding suitable outrage for Lord Rennard
I am distressed to find Lord Rennard’s support group reacting to his wicked maltreatment with none of the hysterical outrage it clearly demands. His friend and legal adviser Lord Carlile seeks the perfect analogy with which to place the injustice in perspective, but the best he can manage is describing the failure to show him the groping allegations report as making “the North Korean legal system look benign compared to the Liberal Democrats”. As for the Rev Edward Rennard, he too downplays the gravity by accusing Nick Clegg of persecuting his brother with a witch-hunt worthy of the Ku Klux Klan. If his mates and blood relatives will trivialise the calumny like this, what hope for our ermined Rosa Parks can there be?