"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".

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

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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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