This Charming Man Named Dave

About the author
Gerry Hassan is Research Fellow in cultural policy at the University of the West of Scotland who has recently been awarded his PhD on political and cultural contemporary debate in the public sphere of Scotland. Gerry is the author and editor of numerous books including ‘The Strange Death of Labour Scotland’ and the just published 'After Independence' (co-edited with James Mitchell). His 'Caledonian Dreaming: The Quest for a Different Scotland', the first in a series 'Open Scotland' will be published in early 2014. His website is: www.gerry.hassan.com

"Do you like Phil Collins? I've been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn't understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where Phil Collins' presence became more apparent. I think "Invisible Touch" was the group's undisputed masterpiece. It's an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums.

Christy, take off your robe. Listen to the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. Sabrina, remove your dress. In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism. Sabrina, why don't you dance a little. Take the lyrics to "Land of Confusion." In this song, Phil Collins addresses the problems of abusive political authority. "In Too Deep" is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment.

The song is extremely uplifting. Their lyrics are as positive and affirmative as anything I've heard in rock. Christy, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your ass. Phil Collins' solo career seems to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way. Especially songs like "In the Air Tonight" and "Against All Odds." Sabrina, don't just stare at it, eat it. But I also think Phil Collins works best within the confines of the group, than as a solo artist, and I stress the word artist. This is "Sussudio," a great, great song, a personal favorite."

(Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho, Paladin 1991)

Dave Cameron has already created a bit of a controversy with his remarks earlier in the year that he was a bit of a Smiths and Jam fan in his youth and to this day. He realised that this might be his equivalent of a Clause Four moment, commenting about his love of Morrissey and Paul Weller, ‘I'm a big fan, I'm afraid. Sorry about that'.

This brought a fascinating set of responses. Weller got irate asking if Dave was ‘thick', while Morrissey was more diplomatic refusing to comment. The indie establishment and cognoscenti - who define themselves around two watersheds, post-77 and 1980s indie - were outraged.

They have already lost the battle to maintain the purity of post-77 and ‘Year Zero', the ubiquitousness of the Sex Pistols and Clash diluting their meaning. Still they thought they had 1980s indie as their own and could still act as the guardians of the Holy Grail of this era.  They can thus feel horror at this latest Tory onslaught!

This was their decade and their counter-story to the mainstream Tory account of the decade being taken from them. It was whether Cameron knew it or not a direct act on the self-importance and identity of such people. First, the miners, next the NME version of the 1980s. It is so insensitive!

Cameron's comments show that people could just listen to music and groove to it, get their air guitar out, swing their hips and sing along and have a good time. They can do so, and no matter the earnest intent of the artist to convey a certain meaning, they can completely understand it, or understand it in another way. That's not right or wrong, just kind of natural.

Then along comes this week's, ‘When Boris Met Dave' (More 4), a pretty poor, aimless, meandering and in places quite funny ‘drama' about when David Cameron and Boris Johnston were at Oxford University together, in the posh ‘bad boy' club, the Bullingdon Group - of the famous photo of Dave and Boris arrogantly standing in their coats and tales.

It was straight back to another world, which was both very 1980s and post-Edwardian at the same time. Sort of ‘Brideshead' meets Alan Hollingshurst meets ‘Grosse Pointe Blanc'. Only with no ‘out' gays, but lots of fey Tories. All that was missing and needed was a serial killer. It is the usual story; there is never one around just when you need one the most!

Anyway, young Dave had, how can one put it, a more eclectic palate than just being a boring indie boy. Oh no, young Dave had a higher set of standards as apart from the Smiths and Dylan, he was hugely into, much more than anyone else, Genesis!

This is where the previous Jam/Smiths story begins to fall apart. Dave apparently - according to ‘When Boris Met Dave' - was a massive Phil Collins/Genesis fan. Maybe not to the degree of Patrick Bateman but not far removed.

He grooved and waxed lyrically to friends about Phil Collins solo records and drumming. He endlessly went on like a pub bore about his favourite Phil Collins records such as ‘Sussudio' and appreciated the MOR 1980s Genesis albums such as ‘Invisible Touch' just like Bateman. Spooky coincidence or what?

If Dave Cameron had been a Labour leader pre-Blair such as Neil Kinnock this would have made for a front-page tabloid splash on his musical taste being the same as a psychopathic mass killer albeit a fictional one!

What it does show is that all the talk about Dave being ‘cool' and ‘hip' in the 1980s was rubbish. These are now meaningless terms bandied about all over the place by the sort of types who would have previously been incontrovertibly ‘square' and ‘straight'. Dave was ‘cool' in unhipland, but it turns out he wasn't very cool at all.

This makes him a bit like Tony Blair in yet another way. Blair passed himself off as ‘cool', strumming guitar and playing a few tunes, and despite being in a band called Ugly Rumours and modelling himself in the 70s on Mick Jagger, he managed because people wanted to believe it that he was one of the guys. Blair of course turned out to be anything but one of the guys, but all that helped sell him.

So Cameron is following the Blair archetype, having as that great source Alasdair Campbell says read the summary of the Philip Gould opus ‘The Unfinished Revolution' and an outline of the Blair life ‘official version'. This though is getting ridiculous in terms of copying and emulation!

We also have to ask what did the young, clearly impressionable and like Blair deeply apolitical Oxford Dave make of the Smiths and Jam? For a sheltered, cosseted boy from a posh background, the music of these bands would have been an introduction to an alien, unknown world to the young Dave. It would have been the educational equivalent of ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning', telling him the equivalent rich and complex stories of northern life, loves and hopes.

This could all in another place be inconsequential but it matters deeply because Dave Cameron is making character, and specifically his character, one of the central themes of the next election. And that character seems to be far from straightforward, but something very carefully and calculating manufactured.

Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and policy analyst and author and editor of over a dozen books on Scottish and UK politics, the latest of which is ‘The Modern SNP: From Protest to Power' published by Edinburgh University Press next week. Gerry can be contacted at: http://www.gerryhassan.com/