All about Dave
Dr Johnson had his Boswell and Goethe his Eckermann. Now the leader of the Conservative Party seems
The 7,006th best-selling book on Amazon as I write this review is Dylan Jones's set of "conversations with David Cameron". It has had some glittering endorsements that suggest the work can only soar ever higher in the charts. Mr Jones's friend the editor of the Spectator says on the back of the dust-wrapper that the author brings to his subject "formidable writing talent, wit and wisdom". As if that is not enough, he adds that this is "an important book". I, too, had better declare an interest. I would not presume to claim that I am a friend of Mr Jones's, but he is an able and genial man and I wish him well. For that reason, I wish he had thought twice before writing this book.
For a year, Mr Jones was invited not just into the Cameron machine, but into the bosom of the Cameron family. The politician who famously, when quizzed about his drug-taking exploits, said he was entitled to a "private past" was quite willing not to have a private present, but to share much of it with Mr Jones. This was not, as it turned out, too much of a threat to Mr Cameron's emotional security. Mr Jones somewhat belies the claim in his introduction that "I am not a Cameron apologist", for the tone of his side of the conversations is so reverential that one supposes they were conducted in an attitude of permanent genuflection. Mr Jones also explains to his reader that "nor am I even a real Tory". That will have sealed it for Dave, for neither is he.
As someone who has earned his living writing mostly about politics for the past 25 years, I have no desire for that trade to be a closed shop. Politics is a revoltingly closed world and those who write about it can be depressingly insular and disconnected from those for whom they should be writing. A sense of perspective is absent too often. However, those who come in from the outside to chronicle the activities of politicians inevitably lack the ocean-going cynicism that those of us who have been exposed to politics in its raw state develop. To some readers, the naivety Mr Jones brings to his subject will be refreshing, and they will be glad to hear the possible next prime minister of our country speak without interference from know-alls and critics. To others it will be simply appalling. I am in a third category, as I suspect any of you who read this book (and it is already available on Amazon for a mere £6.93 plus p+p) will be: the unintentionally amused.
The first laugh is that Mr Jones - who takes his subject and his pontifications entirely seriously - chooses some delightfully bombastic chapter headings. Once you have gone past "There is no looking back, no quarter. This is the moment. The time is now" you know you are in for a roller-coaster ride, though you are never quite prepared for the one entitled "I love you, David Cameron!" (the words of a punter, I believe, but one cannot be sure in a book like this).
Being the editor of what I believe is known as a men's style magazine, Mr Jones is inevitably fascinated by the style of his subject. We have much about not merely his clothes, but also his taste in pop music and crap telly. It is all manifestly aimed to make Dave seem a man of the people. Be reassured: there is no mention of tweed, Wagner, Proust or anything exclusive that might frighten the focus groups. The nearest we get to anything a bit highbrow is the odd Graham Greene novel. Oh, and how dear old Jonesy is bewitched and seduced by this effortless, demotic superiority. "He was wearing a white shirt, no tie, a dark blue suit and had no discernible stubble. Here was a man who looked as if he only shaved every other day. A baby-faced killer." It is as if Boswell had described the scent of Dr Johnson's perruque, or described the colours of his nosegay, or revealed that he liked to tap his foot to the airs of Arne or Boyce.
Our new Boswell is at the side of his hero on his travels around the country, and he represents a story of continued progress and triumph: which, given the way Gordon Brown has sawn himself off at the knees over the past 12 months, is hardly surprising. There are two schools of thought on this, of course. Some of us sceptics think Dave is only streets ahead in the polls and destined for Downing Street because of the grotesque failure of his opponent rather than because of the originality, radicalism and excitement of his own policies. Mr Jones is not of that view. It is all down not merely to the inherent genius of Dave himself, but to the inherent genius of the inherent geniuses that he has, with his own inherent genius, chosen to surround himself. There is not a pejorative adjective in sight when these people heave into view. At this point it ceases to be Boswell and becomes rather more like the Gospel according to St Dylan.
See, and indeed hear, the awe with which our gospeller describes Dave in mid-mission. "Unlike a lot of politicians, David Cameron becomes easier to like the more time you spend with him. His performance in the street market [in Bury] later that morning was a masterclass in electioneering. He was engaged, interested and sincere . . . he was followed by a phalanx of eager and highly professional assistants, who steered him whenever he went walkabout, trying to make sure he stayed away from nutters." They appear not to have been entirely successful.
"In Bury market, people appeared genuinely to like him, wanted to touch the cloth, press the flesh. You could see a proper politician getting better and better at his job, and never once looking as though he didn't enjoy every second of it." I have known women who have married men who were never so nice to them as that. One also wonders what a "proper politician" is, and longs to have a debate with Mr St Dylan Boswell-Jones about his definition and understanding of the term. He was certainly right to say in his introduction that this is not a book about politics. It is a book about love.
Not all of it is quite so nauseating as this. Some of it is even more so. Here is a typical question put to the Great Man during a conversation: "You're very powerful when you are speaking in the House, and, as I've said before, people respond to that very positively. They like the fact that you're being ballsy, being tough . . ." Then the man who values his private life is asked by St Dylan: "How often do you tell Samantha you love her?" Instead of being told to mind his own bloody business, he gets the answer: "Quite often, actually. We have a very intimate banter with each other."
Why did Mr Cameron agree to do this? It wasn't so that he could outline his policies, because when the reader gets to the end of all this he or she is none the wiser. There is lots of flannel - acres of flannel - but we've heard it all before. It amounts to nothing; it is just the stream of consciousness of touchy-feely warm and cuddly garbage that a man who doesn't want to commit himself, but who wants to appear wonderful, engages in all the time.
It is not all bad for Mr Cameron. One thing that even his sternest critic has to concede to him is that he is a superb father to his disabled child, and that is quite clearly evoked by Mr Jones. There has been a debate about whether Mr Cameron exploits this personal tragedy for political gain. Those who do not have to cope with such a difficulty in their lives should perhaps hold off: different people will have different ways of dealing with this sort of thing, and it is the one aspect of Mr Cameron's personality that emerges from this book as unequivocally admirable.
Mr Jones makes an unlikely propagandist, and has not entirely succeeded. Goebbels was not a nice man, and the author should take comfort in his own failure to emulate him.
And is there anything else you would like to say to the nation, Mr Cameron?
Simon Heffer writes for the Daily Telegraph