I saw David Cameron in the flesh yesterday. I was at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London to read from my new book which, ironically, consists of stories about young British-Asians having strange encounters with famous people, and there he was, he and the entire pro-European faction of the Conservative Party, Heseltine and Clarke included.
Cameron himself was not what I expected. Only the previous afternoon I’d watched him admonish Jeremy Corbyn for not wearing a proper suit or doing up his tie, but the Cameron I saw was in his shirt sleeves, charging at the head of his troops like an enraged bull.
He looked strong, full of testosterone, sweat and body hair, and dangerous, an alpha male who could have been directing a hedge fund, captaining a rugby team, or even marshalling a gang of knuckle-dustered hooligans.
David Cameron is not the first Prime Minister I have glimpsed up close. The first was Margaret Thatcher, outside Number 10 when I was a small boy. I was standing with my parents in a crowd divided fairly equally between lovers and haters, and Thatcher came out and made straight for a cluster of people who had hoisted a banner saying, “Maggie We Love You”.
I think the reason why Thatcher attracted such intense reactions from people was because we sensed a genuine revolutionary zeal and passion in her, and as much as I dislike almost everything she stood for, I don’t doubt her motivation. She wanted to change the country. She felt what she was doing was right.
The second Prime Minister I saw up close was Tony Blair. It was the night of his historic leaving speech in Manchester at the Labour Party Conference. I was in a pub with seven or eight black and Asian people; we’d been at a book launch that had doubled as a political meeting.
We exited the pub to see Blair standing on the street, a few metres away, waiting for his car, alone. My friends, without hesitating, began to shout at him, telling him he was a warmonger and a murderer, that he should leave Manchester, chanting, “Shame on you”.
A group of people standing at a bus stop, children and pensioners included, joined in the chant until the entire street was aflame with execration. And then his car arrived and he left.
Seeing Cameron was different. I knew at once that it was David Cameron, but it took a long time before I registered that I’d just seen the Prime Minister. A group of us watched as he and what seemed like the entire Tory party, almost exclusively white, balding males, paraded before us, like a rare and perhaps endangered species in their tailored suits and evening wear (there was a row of limousines parked outside), utterly out of place in the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
No one thought to yell at Cameron as he passed, and no one shouted “Dave We Love You”. Instead we simply stared, sometimes pointing out or naming a particular individual, none of whom so much looked at us, as if they were simply another art installation.
That sighting, however, was more than enough to answer the question I’ve always had about well-heeled politicians, Donald Trump included: Why bother? Why not swan around the Riviera in a yacht instead of getting up at five in the morning to do this relentlessly stressful job?
Cameron doesn’t have the bearing of a man of ideology or conviction; he looks like the leader of a gang who is simply enjoying the adrenaline rush of power, an egomaniacal CEO who doesn’t need to work another day in his life but does so anyway because it fills the existential void better than a casino or a beach.
Cameron doesn’t have the ideological fervour of Thatcher, or the narcissistic self- righteousness of Blair. He’s simply the leader, or perhaps manager, of a boys’ club, an old boys’ club that looks after its own and, at this moment, scarcely pretends to do anything else.
Rajeev Balasubramanyam is an award-winning novelist whose latest book is called STARSTRUCK.