Call me Dave: the rise of the PR politician

You may have seen David Cameron stood outside No. 10 last week, ready to help switch on the lights of this year’s Downing Street Christmas tree. He smiled genially, before rubbing his hands against the cold, and applauding the spectacle before him. On the surface his reaction would suggest little more than youthful vigour, a carefree delight in the shiny blue orbs. But, actually, he was just relieved there was enough money left in the meter. You could practically see the perspiration collect on his brow.

Maybe I’m being unduly sceptical. Perhaps he was simply a little hot and bothered? After all, he is the Prime Minister. Only a few hours earlier he’d rushed a whole 1.6 miles across the Thames in order to attend an interview on This Morning. Following which, he probably settled down for a light lunch at The Savoy. Whilst this all seems rather pressing and perfectly suitable, you have to start asking the question: when exactly does he get round to running the country?

Ok, so maybe we can allow him a bit of a jolly every now and again. The odd day off here, a duvet day there, perhaps delegating to Nick on the occasional Thursday. But in recompense for our kind-heartedness there’s the expectation that ‘Call Me Dave’ work non-stop, 7am ‘til Midnight, Monday to October, for an equivalent of 11 months per annum. As it is, rather than spending the vast majority of time locked away in an office somewhere – conceivably hidden behind the face of Big Ben – it would appear he is always out and about, popping up in front of this camera or that “pressing the flesh”, indulging in some good old public relations.

Not that he is the only one at it. Ed Balls recently revealed in an interview that he cries during Antiques Roadshow. Whether you buy into this divulgence of humanity is up to you; personally I like to think he truly does cry. Primarily because it’s so much more entertaining: first he weeps, then he hugs a favourite bear to his chest, finally he drives out into the night howling along to Meatloaf’s entire Bat Out of Hell trilogy, before returning home to eat half a tub of ice-cream. But the fact of the matter is that the information has been released with a purpose. Mr Balls, just like Dave, is attempting to connect with the public so as to gain favour. They want us to know more, and maybe we will like what we see, and then maybe everyone can become friends.

This is the essence of PR. It’s presented as comfortable and natural when actually it’s nasty, vindictive and manipulative. In modern politics it appears to hold as much sway over electoral opinion as the policies themselves. Cast your mind back to the last election, for instance. What was more memorable, Gordon Brown arguing his points clearly in the televised debates, or the monotonous tone in which they were delivered? Possibly, like most people, you can only remember him calling a voter “bigoted”.

Because of this, politicians are no longer able to carry out the jobs they’ve trained and worked for, unless they pass basic PR training to make them appear more eloquent and authoritative in front of the press. But why do they need to have public personalities at all? It certainly doesn’t impact our situation in any way. All that happens is that national fear becomes hidden behind a saccharine facade of the individual. “David is smiling, there are children with him, everything must be alright, he is doing his job.”

In fact, it’s actually making everything worse. Given the time consuming nature of generating good PR, the Prime Minister never has occasion to do anything but mumble slogans. On the other hand, we’ve learnt that the Shadow Chancellor probably needs some time off to be alone with his thoughts.

It would be lovely, therefore, if we could return to a simpler approach. One where we all assume our elected representatives are reading bedtime stories to disabled children, in-between healing lepers and not shagging their secretaries. Then they’d only need to worry about their actual jobs – fixing the total bloody mess we find ourselves in. That and worrying about the Christmas tree lights.

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