Only 6% think Cameron is in touch with ordinary people
Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome circulated a chart yesterday evening, the most alarming aspect of which (alarming, that is, for the Conservative Party) was the stat which suggests that only six per cent of the electorate believe David Cameron to be in touch with ordinary people.
By ‘in touch with ordinary people’, one must assume the researcher means ‘in touch with the concerns of ordinary people’, for it is highly unlikely that the Prime Minister’s contacts are limited to weirdos, fruitcakes and barm-pots, not to mention extraordinary people like Mo Farah and Boris. If the Prime Minister is not in touch with the concerns of ordinary people, with whose concerns is he concerned? If he believes himself to be a servant of the people, yet the people do not perceive him to be so, then we have a certain epistemic distance which becomes problematic not only for the Prime Minister, but also for the Conservative Party as a whole, for the fortunes of the party are tied to the fortunes of its leader, and if its leader is perceived to be an uncaring, unfeeling, unconcerned charlatan, then the electorate becomes indifferent to his charms and likely to turf him out at the earliest opportunity.
People enter politics for a variety of motives, some noble, some vain. Some of them may be called great, while the overwhelming majority are mediocre or utter failures. The problem the Prime Minister faces is that we live in a cynical and disaffected age in which the ordinary people are most likely to believe that politicians are liars, cheats, and scoundrels: the noble and virtuous are swamped in a morass of disillusion and despair.
Politics matters: it is the means by which we organise, civilise, and work through our differences without coming to blows. And those differences consist of our concerns, and those concerns can be mightily important, though more often they are mundane and banal. A prime minister who ceases to be concerned with the mundane and banal – such as the price of a pint of milk, for example – has become detached, aloof, and alienated from the people who elected him to power.
Jeremy Paxman once observed that as the public have come to think politics trivial, the more trivial people have become attracted to politics. This is cynical, and ignores the very hard work which many of them do on behalf of their constituents: an MP must be primarily involved with and attuned to the concerns of his or her constituents. But a prime minister has to be disturbed by every anxiety in the nation, and passionate about the resolution of those anxieties through policy.
David Cameron is perceived as being uninterested in the political method: he sees the political world as a canvas on which the is busily painting his own self portrait. It is as though he had been planning this all his life, from high and noble birth, through Eton and Oxford, to becoming a political adviser, flown into a safe seat in the Home Counties, followed by a meteoric rise to the great offices of state. To him it is about honour and respectability: to the ordinary people it is about vanity and venality.
We must remember that we are dealing here not with truth, but with perception. Politics is an awful life – risky, tough and psychologically damaging. There is a sense in which it is a career made for the dysfunctional. But politics is an illusionist's art, and when the actor is no longer convincing, he must leave the stage or risk bringing the whole show down and bankrupting the theatre.