David Cameron – give the guy a break | Victoria Coren

The PM was right to go away. What could he have done to lessen the horror of Woolwich?

Success for the prime minister, as his holiday shoes are applauded in the tabloid press!

After last year’s controversial “black brogue incident” in Mallorca, Mr Cameron’s new navy sandals, unveiled in Ibiza last week, went down tremendously well.

We know these sandals were not on the ministerial feet by accident. I imagine a pair of fervent press officers, poring over a box of shoes on the morning of the agreed press appearance.

“What about these nice brown brogues? Are they more working class?”

“What did I say about brogues? I said no brogues. What’s the rest of our outfit?”

“Navy shirt, navy shorts, navy hat. For Mrs Cameron: navy sundress, navy cardigan round the waist, classy, elegant, SCREAMS ‘£28 from Zara’.”

“Lose the hat. Don’t want him looking like a man who can’t take the heat. What are we drinking?”

“We’re drinking a macho yet culturally interested pint of local beer. For Mrs C: rum punch with an umbrella in it.”

“Get a more pensive drink. Those are too happy. Cocktails don’t spell ‘concern for Drummer Rigby’s grieving family’.”

“What if we swapped the umbrella for a parrot on a stick?”

“Make it coffee.”

But there’s nothing new under the sun. Have you ever seen the pictures of Harold Wilson relaxing on holiday in the Scilly Isles? A photo released years later, shot the other way, shows a massed crowd of photographers capturing this carefully staged and choreographed scene.

No doubt the Camerons, too, arranged a photoshoot in return for being left in peace with their children for the rest of the week. Under such circumstances, planning their look according to what might “play well” is only human – if, simultaneously, artificial.

I was just happy that the prime minister went on holiday at all. I’d forgive any number of staged coffees and meticulously chosen shoes, in relief that Mr Cameron ignored the calls for him to stay at home after the horrible events in Woolwich.

There was too much coverage of that awful business. People get stabbed to death in London all the time. They’re not usually soldiers; they’re not always white; certainly, it’s rare for such gruesome footage to be available. Of course the media got excited. But reporting it as a significant act of terrorism, likely to spawn copycat horrors, with David Cameron rushing back from Paris to discuss the potential for responsive unrest, was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It was a ghastly event, but a statistical anomaly – and only likely to stop being one if too much disruption was caused, which could act as a sort of flashmob invitation to other “terrorists”. There wasn’t anything David Cameron could do if he cancelled his plans, except increase this risk.

Thus, it was meretricious for opposition folk to rail against him going away. Labour MP John Mann said: “It’s the wrong time to go on holiday. At the moment he ought to be at his desk.”

Doing what? Devising a new electric gate system for London? Organising his pens? Or just sort of sitting there, sadly?

Sarah Champion MP said the trip showed Mr Cameron was “out of touch”, clarifying: “While the country struggles to come to terms with the vile crime in Woolwich, he has swanned off to Ibiza. The public deserve better.”

What nonsense. And what ridiculous use of the word “swanned”. If Champion really felt that Cameron’s holiday was terrible, it would suffice to say that he’d “gone” on it. Why the special, haughty verb? (To be fair, I suppose it is possible that Champion is so haunted by stories of Eton and the Bullingdon club, she is under the impression that Mr and Mrs Cameron actually travel the world by swan.)

But the country isn’t struggling to come to terms with anything. We’re not morons, and it’s not our personal tragedy. We understand what happened; we are shocked; we pity the victim’s relatives, but we aren’t in mourning and we don’t need our PM to be here, holding our hands through this terrible time.

However, few modern politicians would dare say this and risk looking heartless, which makes Champion’s attack (although it’s essentially stupid) rhetorically clever. It is too dangerous openly to refute, when the done thing, these days, is to co-opt any sad event as a source of personal grief.

There is also an idea that politicians and party leaders must never be seen to have a nice time anyway – no first-class transport, posh clothes or foreign holidays – regardless of whether or not the hair shirt is useful or meaningful.Does John Mann really think David Cameron should be “at his desk”, working like Poirot on the Woolwich murder? Does Sarah Champion really think the public is so grief-stricken that it’s inappropriate for the prime minister to visit a beach?

If they really believe what they’re saying, I’m afraid they’re quite dim. And if they don’t, they are a perfect example of the bullshit pervading modern political discourse: kneejerk criticism; cynical game playing, awash with false sentiment and a patronising hope to please the crowd.

Well, it doesn’t please the crowd. In fact, the crowd runs screaming for Nigel Farage. When voters talk yearningly about someone being “genuine”, they mean: not engaging in this handbaggery, this unfelt point-scoring.

David Cameron could easily have announced that he was cancelling his holiday out of “respect” or “important Cobra duties”, and it would have been insincere. Well done that man for going on holiday, refusing to pretend he had anything helpful to add here.

Perhaps, spooked by the popularity of No-Nonsense Nige, this was the leader’s first step on the road to a new era of honest political behaviour? If he packed a pair of sandals for a photoshoot, despite secretly preferring brogues… well, Rome wasn’t built in a day.


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