Down here, a couple of hours from London, to witness our new Prime Minister's first public meeting. And what a friendly part of the world this is. It's hardly the same country as the South-east. But then it isn't the same country – it's Wales.
Everything's different in Wales. The parliamentary staff answered their mobiles even though they didn't recognise my number. One said, "Can I call you back, I'm just in a meeting with the First Minister?" The car park guard asked me how I was and shook my hand. I was quite exceptionally well, at that point.
So it all got off to a flying start. "As though of Kool-Aid I had drunk," as Keats once put it.
The GE factory is a very hi-tech facility servicing 15-tonne aircraft engines. One of the mechanics walked past purposefully, saying: "I'm looking for a piece of string." They take in engines after every five years of service – they're stripped, cleaned, fracture-tested, rebuilt and restored. It's what general elections are supposed to do to governments.
Here he comes, our young PM. He really is a breath of fresh air. I'm pretty sure it isn't the Kool-Aid.
Compare that factory floor in the Valleys with Gordon Brown's first public event in Downing Street. The latter started by proposing himself as father of the nation and concluded with the words: "Let the work of change begin!" His speech was constructed to reposition, to rebrand, to neutralise perceived weaknesses, to create political space, and start an election strategy. No wonder no one could understand what the hell he was saying.
David Cameron stood in front of 100 or so technicians and engineers and spoke pleasantly, directly and without any obviously ulterior purpose. "I don't want us to fall out over money," he told a questioner asking about the funding for Wales. "I'm not saying we can abolish tuition fees," he told an undergraduate. "As I said to the gentleman here..." he said more than once, with that smile he keeps at the corner of his mouth. He listened with great attention to questions and answered them – and, to his credit, not always with the required answer.
Also, I can report a small but distinct change in his manner. It was noticeable on The Andrew Marr Show, and again yesterday. His delivery has become gentler. He softens words on his way through them. "Maybe by-elections will become more civilised," he said – and where the last lot would hammer those final three syllables in a moral-mission way – he smiled through them, as if in an invitation to join the thought. It's a way we used to have when engaging in conversation.
These are entirely superficial qualities you may say. But without them, we find public figures suffering from the isolation of office. These coalition virtues may keep him in touch the world outside his sphere of influence.
What else was there to see? He is fresh-faced, energetic, sincere, whole-hearted, well-mannered, public spirited, amiable, humorous, decent. That's how he appears, and there's no reason to doubt that it's what he's like. There's no reason to think he's fabricating any of it to make himself more attractive.
Mind you, there's a lot more Kool-Aid in the crowd-pleaser jerrycan, and maybe we'll need it. But that's for later.Reuse content