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Hugo Rifkind

The things we thought Cameron thought — does he really think them after all?

Hugo Rifkind gives a Shared Opinion

3 February 2010

12:00 AM

3 February 2010

12:00 AM

Am I the only person who hears David Cameron say ‘Burglars leave their human rights at the door’ and thinks immediately of Pulp Fiction? Am I the only person who imagines Cameron and, say, George Osborne as two American hick security guards who capture burglars and punish them in a sort of Tarantino-esque manner I couldn’t possibly describe in The Spectator but which does, and not in a good way, involve oranges? And am I the only person who can imagine Cameron saying ‘Fetch the gimp’ and Osborne saying ‘The gimp’s asleep’ and Cameron saying ‘So wake him up then’, and then a figure being led out, clad toe to tight, smooth head in black rubber, but with a glint in its eye and a snarl around its zippered mouth that leaves you in no doubt that it must actually be William Hague?

Okay, so I probably am the only person to be thinking all that. Except for Liddle, maybe. Either way, I suppose it’s always a mistake to ask people if they’re thinking what you are thinking. Because if they aren’t, they’re probably thinking you are nuts.

In 2005, it seemed fair to assume that David Cameron was thinking what Michael Howard was thinking. I don’t remember it ever being quite established exactly what Michael Howard was thinking, but Cameron was his head of policy co-ordination at the time, so if they weren’t thinking at least roughly the same sort of thing, policy can’t really have been all that co-ordinated. Six months later, though, he was running for the leadership of the party, and had embarked upon a long campaign to convince people that, whatever it was that he had been thinking (and, it turned out, the electorate hadn’t been thinking), he didn’t think it any more.

It has been a good campaign. There have been some mildly risible moments along the way, usually involving hoodies or huskies, but broadly speaking, it has worked. So what’s he playing at now? The idea that ‘burglars leave their human rights at the door’ is pure Nasty Party wilderness stuff, a classic piece of Tory thinking from about 1999, when they shouted a lot, and were usually bald, and nobody listened. It says, basically, that there are people who are beyond the pale; that it is possible for somebody to behave in a way so appalling that, in our response to them, all the rules of human conduct should go out the window. Perhaps you believe this. I’m sure a lot of people do. I just didn’t think that David Cameron was one of them. I thought that was the whole point.


With an election looming, Cameron is desperate to capture the national mood. The trouble is, there isn’t one. Just as Tony Blair hit his stride in 1993 by speaking for the nation over the murder of James Bulger, Cameron tried to speak for the nation over the boy-torturers of Edlington. The nation wasn’t sure about Edlington, though. It was even more of a mess than the Bulger case, with poor parenting, drugs, societal breakdown and failed social work all thrown into the mix. If there was a national consensus, then it was a sort of bleak, horrified ‘meh?’. When Cameron sounded strident, it jarred. He seemed to have missed the point.

Now he’s tried again, with burglars. This, too, is problematic. Even if the people who invaded Munir Hussain’s home had left their human rights at the door, you’d imagine they might have picked them up on the way out, before they were chased down the street by Hussain and his chums, and before one burglar was battered half to death. True, there are probably plenty of people who aren’t too bothered about the finer detail of this, but my hunch would be that these people didn’t vote Labour in 2005, anyway.

When Blair appealed to the national mood, is the point, it worked because it was a lurch to the right, and he already had the left in the bag. When Cameron lurches to the right, he risks letting the left slip away. The thing is, I’m not sure he realises he’s doing that. I think he’s just desperate to be thinking what we’re thinking. Only, in trying to guess what we’re thinking, he’s creating the impression that the things we thought he thought aren’t actually central to his thinking after all. It’s not a good strategy. He should think again.

I’ve never been happy with the slogan that Coco Pops are ‘so chocolatey they even turn the milk brown’. It always seems to me to be excessively boastful, in a vaguely threatening manner. Other things turn milk just as brown, but don’t feel the need to brag about it. Coffee, for example, just gets on with the job. I blame the monkey. You don’t want him turning your milk brown. Nasty sort.

According to the Independent, anyway, Kellogg’s, which makes Coco Pops, has been accused of hypocrisy by parents. They are furious, these parents, that the company is both backing a government campaign to combat obesity, and simultaneously advertising Coco Pops on bus stops with the slogan ‘Ever thought of Coco Pops after school?’ They don’t sound much fun, these parents. That’s Independent readers for you, I suppose. You know the sort. They probably wouldn’t even have Coco Pops in the house. Their kids probably have raisins on special occasions. Or carob.

I must say, I feel a bit sorry for Coco Pops. They’ve been on sale since 1958. Fat kids just used to be fat. It never used to be the cereal’s fault. This is where it ends, though, when personal responsibility becomes a distant memory. There was a picture in one of the papers the other week of a female teenage binge-drinker in Nottingham, passed out in the snow in a mini-skirt and a crop-top. I suppose she probably died, or something.

It’s not her fault, though, it’s the booze companies’ fault. Just like it’s not your fault if you smoke yourself to death, but the tobacco companies’, even though these days they have photos of actual diseased lungs on them. That’s like having to sell knives in packets that have pictures of people with their heads chopped off. Pretty soon, I bet they won’t be allowed to sell Coco Pops unless the packet has a large photograph of an obese, naked child on the front. Oh well. Better than that bloody monkey.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.


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