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Monday, 30 March 2009

Class Act

The chamber of the House of Commons is small – too small, in fact, to comfortably accommodate all 650 MPs. This intimacy gets the protagonists close to one another. Compared to other parliaments and assemblies around the world, this place is a bear pit. Here, being on top of your brief is not an option.

And here it is that David Cameron is making his mark. Many see a nimble and spontaneous performer in him. I do not. Cameron has rehearsed to perfection, learnt his lines. The appearance of his anger at his Labour opponents is just that: this is faux anger, play acting – but it’s very good play acting.

The giveaway comes when his questioning technique is analysed. Whatever the answer from Pa Broon to Cameron’s first question, the second question has been prepared and is delivered regardless. Even the allegedly witty asides will have been scripted – supervised no doubt by Andy Coulson – so the Lord Myners jibe at Dennis Skinner wasn’t off the cuff, but the product of a “give me some ammunition to shut Skinner up” demand.

This is not to suggest that preparation is a bad thing. It is not. What is suggested is that Cameron as presented to the public is just that: a presentation for public consumption. And it is not a new idea: Blair was here first.

One thing that is genuine, however, is when the baying starts on the Tory benches, and anyone who has experienced even the most minor of public schools will recognise the attitude behind it. Here is the very real disdain for Brown and Labour: it is the sound of those who believe that they are born to rule – after all, it must be true as they had it drilled into them at school - and the oiky scholarship boy on the other side ought to know his place.

This is a key part of the Tory attack on Brown: they’re clever and sharp; he’s slow and stupid. Hence the swift Wikipedia edit to back up Cameron’s jibe on Titian: look Sir, the stupid boy over there can’t even get his dates right!

Anyone needing confirmation of the Tory attitude need look no further than the comments by MP Mark Field over Jacqui Smith’s expenses: “If she doesn't recognise that I think she's really a bit too stupid to be Home Secretary” he says, reported by the BBC here.

Some commentators talk of class war in politics. On the subject, I agree with them. It is on identifying the class waging the war that we diverge. And to the Tory party’s attempts to deflect the class issue, and shed its less agreeable past attributes, I will return.

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