"I'm just a regular guy . . ."

Guinness-drinking David Cameron and internet-shopping Gordon Brown try to "out-normal" each other.

David Cameron made headlines today after an interview with Shortlist magazine, in which he enthusiastically went for the "I'm just a regular guy" approach favoured by Tony Blair.

Hot on the heels of Gordon Brown's interview with Piers Morgan, does this signal a new line of competition? One along the lines of: "Forget policy; let's just see how many mundane details of your daily routine you can share."

Here are some highlights from Dave's interview:

"Along with draught Guinness in cans, Sky+ is one of the great inventions of our time."

"I have been known to go a bit soft on Lark Rise to Candleford, but normally [I watch] quite gritty dramas and movies."

"I don't have image consultants; I don't have too many minders. Obviously, I've got a team of people who help me with everything, but family time is family time."

"Genuinely, I do my own shopping and cook my own food, and all those things that you do as a family dad."

"When I'm writing a speech for myself, or think about what I'm trying to say, I try to think about it in the way that comes most naturally to me to say it. So when I think of the big conference speech I did without the notes, I didn't learn that. I wrote down the things I wanted to say. I thought about it a lot. I went through it in my head a lot and then I made the speech. It wasn't memorised. I couldn't memorise that, I'm not a Shakespearean actor, I couldn't memorise an hour-and-ten-minute-long speech." [NB. I think he wants to emphasise that he didn't memorise it.]

Disappointingly, Gordon Brown didn't get as far as telling us what he watches on telly and how much he loves sports and booze, but -- not to be outdone -- he did pre-empt Cameron by sharing some details about where he buys his food:

"It's very funny, we order [food] from the internet and Sarah orders from Downing Street. And the first days that I was in the job of Prime Minister and Sarah started to order from one of the supermarkets they wouldn't send it. They thought it was a joke. They didn't believe it. So I don't go much to the supermarket."

"The greatest perk for me is that you're living in a building where you can both work and see your family."

But how do these two compare to Tony Blair, arguably the master of the "relaxed" soundbite:

"Call me Tony." [On being elected, 1997]

"I think most people who have dealt with me think I am a pretty straight sort of guy, and I am." [Speaking on On the Record after the Formula One issue, November 1997]

''We're very close as a family, but I think you'd be surprised to know just how completely normal our family life is. I mean, I do the same things, more or less, as any bloke does with his kids.'' [Speaking to the New York Times in 2000]

Conclusion? Blair still takes the biscuit, but Cameron is certainly giving him a run for his money. With his emphasis on getting rid of spin, minders and, er, speech-notes, his underlying message seems to be: "I'm so normal that I can even out-normal Blair, who wasn't that normal a guy, really, because he put so much effort into sounding normal . . . not like me."

Watch this space for the inevitable "Call me Dave".

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.