Mantel said what? David Cameron's defence of Kate Middleton shows the dangers of a diet of sound bites

Why couldn't Cameron's SPADS have read the piece if he wanted to talk about it?
  • @memphisbarker

Hoo-ray for the Prime Minister! By 11:30 this morning the Twitter-steam over Hilary Mantel’s speech on Kate Middleton had more or less drifted off, with a majority of people happy to admit the initial reaction (“a vile and venomous slander!”) was the product of lazy reading. Then, speaking in India, where apparently time differences always put you a few hours behind public opinion, Mr Cameron saw fit to move on from seeking trade agreements with a rising global power in order to condemn a novelist's opinion in the most strident of terms: “what she [Mantel] said about Kate Middleton is completely misguided”, he blustered.  “We should be proud of [Kate]…not make misguided remarks”.

Any expectation that Mr Cameron show the nuance of a literary critic is clearly asking too much. But it is in cases like this the politician’s usual diet of sound bites proves itself most inadequate. As has already been pointed out, the chances Mr Cameron settled down this morning to read through Mantel’s 5,600 word piece are slim to microscopic.( I’m not Prime Minister and I still haven’t). Instead, he likely glanced at any pickled selection of quotations (“In those days she was a shop-window mannequin”… “What does Kate read?”) and concluded, in the manner of a man used to analysing on the hoof, that this Mantel (good writer, never make a politician…) required a telling-off from the person with the highest office in Britain.

Two things spring to mind: One, Cameron obviously has no need to stick his nose in, and his decision to plough ahead anyway implies a desire to toady up to Wills and Kate. Second, and more worryingly, if the PM thought he might stick his neck out, he surely has a team of SPADs who could spare the half-hour to read Mantel's piece, inform him of its various subtleties, and stop him before he said anything stupid. Or they could simply have checked Twitter and aggregated the opinions of others (there's no great secret to it...).

None of this happened, though. So we're left with the comic and queasy spectacle of a Prime Minister telling us what to think without having done a whole lot of thinking himself - a privilege only afforded to those of us who don't hold public office. "Misguided" sounds about right, wouldn't you say?