David Cameron was in the news again this week after being paid £1 million a minute to give a speech explaining why Brexit was a terrible mistake at the annual Gay Stranglers’ Guild gala dinner at a brutal dictatorship in central Asia, before spending a week cruising the Baltic on the yacht of Putin’s second-favourite oligarch with the prettiest members of the Russian men’s lacrosse team.
No, wait. My bad. Had he done that, as we know from similar cases, he would have got off scot-free. Instead, the ex-PM did something far, far worse in the eyes of our ever watchful media: he was photographed enjoying himself at a Cotswolds pop festival with a glass of booze in one hand and a fag in the other.
The press launched themselves on Dave with all the ravenous glee of those evil- parasitic sea fleas that gnawed the leg of the Australian boy who went paddling in the sea off Melbourne and turned it into a jellied pulp (just Google it — but only once you’ve had your breakfast). That’s because, get this, our Dave hadn’t just been caught out-rageously letting his hair down at Wilderness Festival; he’d been photographed talking to a woman wearing a sequined jacket with a neon pink heart embroidered with the word ‘Corbyn’. Oh the hilarity!
According to the Independent (an online freesheet) it was Just. About. The. Most. Embarrassing. Thing. Ever. It quoted the jacket’s owner, Lucy Edwards, as saying: ‘He was so mad when he saw me walk off with what was on my back.’ Which I’m sure was exactly what Cameron thought — he wasn’t just being polite to a pushy stranger at a festival or anything.
The BBC, meanwhile, went for the smoking angle. Here was the perfect excuse to contact one of its favourite health ’n’ safety organisations in the guise of a light–hearted, impartial news feature. So it rang up Action on Smoking and Health and got its chief commissar to come up with this zinger: ‘It’s vital that smoking cessation services are properly funded and available to all who need them, whether plumber or former prime minister.’ But neither could compete with the acid disdain of Esquire, formerly the other men’s style mag that wasn’t GQ, but now, apparently, the snarkily right-on house journal for Corbynista hipsters who want to be Patrick Bateman out of American Psycho. ‘Once a (semi) respected world leader, Cameron’s life post-politics has been diluted to that of a soft-chinned jester in a gingham Harrington jacket, grimacing for smartphone cameras while people wearing those naff “Corbyn” Nike bootleg T-shirts snicker into their Instagram captions and group chats,’ its commentator wrote with all the justified bitterness and rage of a privately educated teenager who has reluctantly deigned to join his fam at their £10,000-a-week villa rental in Tuscany, only to have his whole experience ruined by the sight of his father dad-dancing to an old Italian house track in the local club.
Who are these terrible people who write this desperate crap? I know journalism doesn’t pay and can’t attract the talent these days. I realise — apologies to the late Frank Johnson — that August is the month where nothing ever happens. Seriously, though, things really must be very close indeed to the hang-up-your-typewriter-now phase of the terminal decline of the Fourth Estate when I am so moved by the plight of my disappointing old spliff-smoking buddy that I stop gazing across my turquoise infinity pool over the wine-dark sea towards the Greek mainland, shake off my gin-soaked haze, and rise to his defence.
Because I think his treatment here is disgraceful, I really do. We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, have Dave and I. In fact I can tell you exactly how long ago it was that I wrote anything positive about him. It was in this column at the time of that Tory leadership contest in the Blair era when he was up against David Davis. I’d been to watch him at a hustings, come away quite impressed and written something like: ‘He’d be a great Prime Minister, if only we’d let him…’
OK, so I was wrong about that small detail. But it’s water under the bridge now. No matter many awful things may have happened on his watch — and he did give us Brexit, if nothing else — Dave is now once more a private citizen, behaving in a manner befitting a private citizen, and deserves therefore to be treated as such.
It would be very different, I’d argue, if he’d gone to Wilderness and done a Jeremy Corbyn: mounted the podium, seized the mic and completely ruined the mellow vibe by inflicting his tedious politics on the crowd. But he didn’t. He went there to do the same thing he used to do as prime minister, only with more justification this time: to chillax with his homies in a typical, ordinary Oxfordshire estate called Cornbury Park.
Adam Buxton captured it well in his ‘Festival Song’: ‘Festivals used to be awful/ Just crusties and weirdo groups./ There was nowhere to charge your mobile/ and nowhere nice for doing poops./ Now they’re often in stately homes/ with global cuisine that’s ace. And you can leave your kids in a really nice crèche/ while you get off your face.’
Precisely. And what’s so wrong with that? Cameron isn’t whining and sulking (at least not publicly) like Ted Heath used to do; he’s not lining his pockets with the blood money of despots while pretending to heal the world like Tony Blair; he is spending his retirement — so far at least — with discretion, stoicism and a modicum of dignity. So leave the poor guy alone.