Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Beware the Tory bearing charm and grace

This leader and his wealthy coterie have succeeded in turning the ugly, nasty party into a beguiling one
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The Independent Online

David Cameron is touched by angels, glides effortlessly over turbulent waters, awakens the spirit of a deadened nation, a saviour no less, appearing as we remember the great Saviour Himself.

David came to us in his full glory only four weeks ago, and now he is king. Soon, a baby will be born into his family, bringing even more blessings to earth and good cheer. (One thing which is real and impressive is his devotion to his family, including a severely disabled child.)

With one or two exceptions, the media is awed by the miracle that is David Cameron. When he refuses to say whether he has been a drug user, the pack praises this "honest discretion". When he makes a speech without notes, after an Eton education, political reporters fall to their knees.

The secular are drawn irresistibly to Cameron for other reasons. Bob Geldof, an unabashed saviour himself, has joined the Cameron church, as has Zac Goldsmith, our most photogenic green politico. Ever conscientious, David C has just installed a wind-turbine system on his roof in Notting Hill, thus instantly becoming the first-ever Tory Eco Man. Something for everyone here. Girls just love him, apparently, and women voters are throwing themselves and their votes at the new Tory leader's unblemished, sunny face.

His pedigree is impeccable - three Tory MPs in his family in the 19th and 20th centuries, a stockbroker father, a privileged, happy childhood in Chelsea and then the Shires. He is member of the exclusive Mayfair gents' club Whites. He married Samantha, a baronet's daughter, now the creative director for Smythson's of Bond Street, which sells paper products at gold prices.

Cameron obviously sets off a homo-erotic charge among many aged male commentators, particularly Tories who have been out in the empty fields chewing cud for ages. And then, goodness, he wears a crash helmet and rides around London on his bike. Boris Johnson, another Tory biker and amiable chap, was so right when he said: "The Tories' main problem is that they don't have anybody you'd want to go to bed with." Now they have a chap whose bed millions want to share.

Did you know that David gave Samantha an expensive pair of aquamarine earrings this Christmas to match her wedding necklace? Or that Samantha makes her own bread in their picturesque Oxfordshire cottage? Or that he prefers ale to champagne? Did you want to know any of this? No, but we must, because we are being sold a product in place of politics and charisma instead of substance. This leader and his wealthy, public-school coterie have succeeded in turning the ugly, nasty party into a beguiling, compelling one through projecting personalities.

Think back and shudder as you remember the hideous gang of Thatcherites: Norman Tebbit, John Redwood, Norman Lamont, Keith Joseph, Nicholas Ridley, Ann Widdecome, Michael Howard, Cecil Parkinson, Alan Clark, Nigel Lawson, Edwina Currie and Michael Heseltine. In the recent BBC film, The Uncommon Gardener, we witnessed Lord Heseltine on his vast estate displaying all the arrogance that the nation came to detest. You would never see that in the new breed of the high-bred - the instinctively sociable Michael Gove, George Osborne, Oliver Letwin and Boris Johnson.

I fell for one of their sort for a good three hours just before Christmas. At a lunch for a dozen of us in a fine restaurant, I chatted to Peter Oborne, the political editor of The Spectator. He was being very warm to me because I had chosen for my book of the year his excellent analysis of the political manipulations and mendacity of New Labour.

When the revolution comes I will happily knit while his head rolls, I said to him. Soon, however, I was thinking how clever he was, a father of five too, and obviously in love with his missus, and so funny, flirty, and easily confident. There was none of the prickliness you get with New Labour or the Lib Dems on a bad day. Simon Hoggart, when describing the unique appeal of John Peel, wrote: "The key to Peel's success was that he was a public schoolboy ... [he] exuded a take it or leave it attitude which may be the greatest gift of an expensive education." Exactly so.

Unless the country shakes itself out of this trance, we will end up with the Tories in charge of us. These clever toffs who smile a lot and say bland, good things will deliver us back to that Darwinian hell we thought we had escaped from, and to further foreign adventures with the Bush regime, economic libertarianism, even fatter-cat profits and unregulated markets.

Cameron is viciously anti-EU and would, I believe, want to slash and burn the Human Rights Act and equalities legislation. You cannot be a deregulator and supporter of these laws at the same time. Shareholders and business leaders are like obese, compulsive eaters, who can never be asked to reduce their greed.

Cameron says he supports Kyoto now, and that he wants companies to publish the salaries of all their staff. If he ever is in Downing Street, the CBI will crush those wee promises before they take a single breath. Never forget that David Cameron stood with Norman Lamont on Black Wednesday, as the Chancellor's advisor. He wrote, yes wrote, the Tory manifesto in the last election, and planned the election strategy that included the demonisation of asylum-seekers and economic migrants.

He approves of the war in Iraq, and would stand by the US through all its most misguided policies. As far as I know, he has asked no effective questions about British involvement in the CIA torture flights, nor about Guantanamo Bay.

New Labour has been abysmal, at times corrupt and unworthy, but it still believes in equality, justice, fairness, regulation and a real meritocracy. Its supporters come from vastly varied backgrounds and, within some of its MPs, real social democracy burns strong. The best outcome for our country would be more Lib Dem MPs and a better balanced Parliament, not New Tory hounds.

Cameron is the beneficiary of the grave disenchantment with New Labour presided over by Tony Blair. He is playing skilful politics with an increasingly isolated PM. The media asks Cameron no tough questions. When there are timorous enquiries about policies, he refers us to commissions and consultations, all time-killers to keep real scrutiny at bay.

Jeff Randall, the erstwhile BBC economics editor, is one of the few to grasp the slippery truth. He knew the Tory leader when Cameron was the communications director for Carlton TV: "I would not trust him with my daughter's pocket money. He never gave a straight answer when dissemblance was a plausible alternative." 'Nuff said.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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