Richard Ingrams' Week: Don't be fooled by Cameron's conjuring

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The Independent Online

There was scarcely anyone over 50. The women nearly outnumbered the men. There was a much higher proportion of black and brown faces than could be found in a truly representative group of British citizens. All that was missing was a man - or, preferably, a woman in a wheelchair.

I am referring to the large group of people who sat behind David Cameron when he spoke to the Tory conference this week.

And it was fairly obvious that this human backcloth had been woven by advertising people and image merchants with the aim of altering viewers' perception of the Conservative Party. No oldies, no hats, very few ties. The odd beard, but not a trace of a moustache.

How many people are deceived? Or how many may think like me that Cameron - himself a former PR man - is trying to pull the wool over our eyes by blatantly presenting his party as something that it is not.

In the advertising world, the accepted wisdom is that, even though older people are likely to have more money than the young, they tend to be a lot cannier, less likely to be susceptible to the lure of clever commercials.

Cameron was chosen as leader mainly because, by political standards, he is young. And, like those advertising people, he too seems to be directing his appeal to young voters, perhaps because he thinks that they can more easily be conned.

He may be right. But it remains true that the older people are, the more likely they are to vote. And many of them will see the multicoloured backcloth for what it is - a conjuring trick.

They may also turn up their noses when Cameron seeks to make political capital out of his disabled child. He supports the NHS, he says, because he and his family benefit so much from it. Are we to infer that, if his child was normal, he might not think so highly of the institution?

The slow death of our traditional common sense

Whatever the follies of public life, it was safe to assume in days gone by that there was a strong residue of common sense in this country that helped to keep the show on the road.

I am not sure if this is any longer the case. If you are one of the dwindling band who reads the newspapers, you will be aware that there are a great many things going on which demonstrate that this common sense no longer exists and that the loonies have taken over.

In February 2005, at one of his lavish parties to celebrate the joys of being gay, Ken Livingstone was rude to a Jewish journalist, Oliver Finegold, likening him to a concentration camp guard.

Most journalists, I imagine, would have felt honoured about being insulted by the puffed-up pigeon-murdering mayor of London. Not so Mr Finegold. Supported by his editor, he demanded a public apology and, when this was refused, his case was taken up by the Jewish Board of Deputies, who described Ken's remark as "an insult to the victims of the Holocaust" and reported the mayor to a mysterious body called the Standards Board for England, which in turn referred the matter to an equally mysterious institution, the Adjudication Panel. The panel, ruling that Ken had failed to realise the seriousness of his outburst, suspended the mayor for four weeks.

But Livingstone then appealed against the ruling and, this week in the High Court, Mr Justice Collins overturned the four-week suspension.

However, that is not the end of the matter. Observing that there were "certain ramifications", the judge has reserved his final judgment for a later date.

And so it goes on, while Londoners worry about the council tax, the rising crime rate and other trivial concerns.

* I do not often agree with Jack Straw, but, when he says it is hard to have a useful conversation with someone whose face you cannot see, I have to concede that he has a point.

Straw is being criticised by angry Muslims who claim he has insulted their religion by asking women to remove their veils when they attend his MP's surgery in Blackburn. He does not seem to be making any religious point, simply arguing that "the value of a meeting, as opposed to a letter or a phone call, is that you can almost literally see what the other person means and not just hear what they say".

I wonder if he felt the same way about his colleague David Blunkett, who sat in the cabinet with him and who took over his job as Home Secretary in 2001.

When Blunkett was appointed, I upset a lot of people by making a Straw-like remark to the effect that Blunkett would be at a disadvantage because he would not be able to see, for example, the conditions inside of a prison.

Did it also mean that Blunkett was unable to make a proper assessment of his cabinet colleagues, as with Straw and his Muslim constituents? We are unlikely to learn the answer from Blunkett's forthcoming diaries, for which he has been paid an estimated £400,000. But he has now been quoted by a lady delicately described as a "former close friend", saying Jack Straw was as "unimaginative as a dead frog".

Perhaps if he had been able to see Honest Jack, he would have taken a more charitable view of his colleague.

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