Amy Jenkins: A prime minister who revels in his sense of entitlement

David Cameron

Sunday 23 October 2011 05:43

We are the junior partner in the Anglo-American special relationship; Pakistan harbours terrorists, and Gaza is a kind of prison camp.

None of that is news to anyone with half a brain, but it is news this week because David Cameron has said it and prime ministers don't usually say these things. Not only does Cameron Direct want to deliver a smaller state, right to your door, he wants to bring you a stripped-down diplomacy too.

There's no denying that there's something invigorating, exciting even, about his straight talk. They say, after all, that the truth will set you free. It doesn't. If you tell the mad gunman holding you hostage in your living room that he's an evil bastard he won't set you free; he'll kill you. On the other hand, if you talk him down with niceties, if you flatter his ego and bring him tea, he may relax to the extent that you can grab the gun.

This is because when humans are under threat they go into a flight, fight or freeze response. The gunman in your living room is in fight mode. Only when he feels less threatened will the amygdala (the reptile brain) stop firing and the possibility arise that his equally human desire to co-operate and gain advantage through teamwork will engage.

Countries behave just like individuals in this way. So if telling the truth is only going to inspire belligerence in foreign affairs, why is Cameron doing it? Is he naive? Or is he playing to a different gallery: the British electorate, or Obama maybe? Or does he have some kind of romantic idea about himself? He's gone to such lengths – the bicycle, the family breakfasts, the red bricked terraced house – to portray himself as the ordinary, hard-working, middle-class geezer, one might think that this is just another way of being our best mate, telling it like it is down the pub over a beer.

But, in truth, there's nothing middle class about Cameron's relaxed assuredness. He's assured because he feels utterly entitled. That's what being upper class – family money, Eton and Oxford – can do for you, especially if you are white, male and reasonably handsome with it. He's entitled to govern and he's entitled to speak his mind, and if what's on his mind is a kind of "no-nonsense" approach to politics, he's not going to be introspective about it. The Tories say they hate the nanny state, but they're just a different kind of nanny (a different kind of parent, essentially). Labour nanny says: "Ahhh, there, there, you need a cuddle." Tory nanny says: "Pull your socks up and get on with it!"

Whatever it is, Cameron certainly thinks he's a breath of fresh air. And in some ways he is – but diplomacy is there for a reason and he hasn't thought it through. Not thought it through, you might say – can a politician really be so haphazard? Yes – you only had to watch this week's BBC documentary Five Days That Changed Britain to know this is true. As Cameron et al talked about the five days following the election when the coalition was formed, their eyes shone glassily and it was almost as if they were trying to suppress giggles. The overall impression was of five days of madcap adventure. As for the Lib Dems' big decision, in no way was this about policies or what was best for the country. It all turned, it seemed, on body language – which really means something unconscious, something deep in the human psyche.

The other thing about Cameron is that he's young and inexperienced – he's certainly a young PM. I remember doing that thing you do when you're the new young gun – flouting convention. You don't toe the line and you say what isn't normally said and what you're really saying to the world is: "Look at me. I can think out of the box." But then, later, you look back and you know it was your ignorance.

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