Travelling with the Prime Minister, who has been both tired and emotional

The four ministers representing Britain were Nick Boles (Winchester), Greg Barker (Lancing), Jo Johnson and Oliver Letwin (Eton)

Share

While David Cameron has spent the last few days trying to "shine a light" on the plight of Tamils in northern Sri Lanka, I have tried to do my own spot of torch-shining on the Prime Minister himself from inside the bubble that travels with him on these foreign trips. It has not been easy. Cameron is a fine political actor, and being a journalist in the press pack is different, of course, to belonging to his inner circle that can see his every private move.

But here are some observations:

Cameron seems truly exhausted

Not just from the long flights across time zones last week (evidenced by his sleepy referral to his country, in a talk with students in Calcutta, as "the United K" and to the typhoon in the Philippines as a "famine") and his non-stop schedule in India, Sri Lanka and Dubai (despite vigorous early morning swims), but more generally.

He is frustrated, perhaps, with the job of trying to satisfy Nick Clegg and the Tory party, while all the polls show it is unlikely that Cameron will win in 2015. So, when he told the management students in Calcutta on Thursday that the job of Prime Minister was like being in an "asteroid shower" – things flying at him all the time – it felt like he really meant it.

He is planning to fight the next election like 1992

This idea has been doing the rounds since before the last election – pitch the Tories against a high-tax, high-spend Labour party. Now the PM has said it, more or less. While in Colombo, I asked him what it is that John Major had – and that Cameron has not – that enabled him to win an election outright for the Conservatives?

The PM left a careful pause before replying: "Look, I don't want to judge that, that's for political historians and commentators to do." Cameron, who with Steve Hilton was a young member of the Tory campaign team in 1992, then joked: "He had a very bright team in Central Office at the time."

But the real answer, that the PM himself surely sees, must lie in how the public sees Cameron, an Old Etonian, at a time when their living standards are squeezed, and how they saw Major, a grammar school boy from Brixton, in 1992. Where you came from shouldn't matter, as Cameron always says. But the PM and his team must realise that it does.

Cameron insisted that "no two elections are the same" but said: "There are some similarities – he faced a Labour politician who wanted to tax more, spend more and borrow more, and I am facing a politician who wants to tax more, spend more and borrow more. He produced some posters that said Labour would deliver a double whammy of higher taxes and higher interest rates."

Another comparison is that Major was the underdog going into the '92 election, and it is clear that the Prime Minister is now in that position too. So Cameron just needs some more of Major's blue-collar everyman in his top team. He can't sack himself, but, now that the economy is recovering, George Osborne's strategy has been justified – so perhaps Cameron should replace him as Chancellor with the comprehensive-schooled Yorkshireman William Hague. He may be a rich Cabinet minister now, but at least Hague sounds like he understands what poorer families are going through, and perceptions do matter.

This option has been suggested before, and rejected. But if he wants to win a majority, Cameron should reconsider. Oh, and who were the four ministers who, with Cameron, represented the British government at a business conference in Delhi on Thursday? Nick Boles (Winchester), Greg Barker (Lancing), Jo Johnson (Eton) and Oliver Letwin (Eton).

He cares deeply about the freedom of the press

Of all the things that Cameron saw in Jaffna, the Tamil capital of Sri Lanka, on Friday, it was the graphic pictures of murdered journalists at the Uthayan newspaper that moved him the most. That morning at a briefing with British reporters in Colombo, Cameron almost lost his temper with a Mirror journalist who asked him about class. But at least that reporter was free to put the question, and does not face reprisals from Downing Street when he gets home. The PM was genuinely angry when he raised the intimidation and violence against Uthayan journalists with Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and, he says, he will carry those images with him for ever.

Sporting diplomacy often backfires

Diplomacy and sport have long been interlinked – the First World War football match across the trenches between British and German troops; the controversial Boycott and Gooch cricket tours to apartheid South Africa; Tony Blair securing London's Olympics bid in Singapore. Prime ministers find it easy to use football, cricket or rugby as small talk when they meet fellow leaders.

But I am sure Cameron didn't expect to face criticism from Muttiah Muralitharan, the star Sri Lankan spin bowler, when he went to meet him at Colombo Cricket Club's ground, as we report today.

Murali, a Tamil, said the PM had been "misled" by what he saw in Jaffna. As the Prime Minister found out, sometimes the wicket is stickier than it first appears.

twitter.com/@janemerrick23

React Now

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

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song  

Ukip Calypso by Mike Read? The horror! The horror!

Patrick Strudwick
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past