Nina Simone must have been spinning in her grave. Her magnificent, impassioned voice is now but a soundtrack to David Cameron jogging. This was not the only thing that jarred in the highly–trailed profile of the Tory leader, not so much being grilled but marinated, by Trevor McDonald.
This programme made by ITV in which Sam Cam, the wife and “the weapon” would finally talk was meant to do what exactly? To reassure us women that Dave is not perfect? That he makes a mess while cooking just like other men? That he is a policy–free zone? It’s hard to say but after Brown was uncomfortably prodded open by Piers Morgan, the Tories clearly felt the need to stoop equally low.
Brown’s interview with Morgan is a sign of the times. Brown the grumpy, shouty bear was goaded and cajoled by Morgan into showing some kind of emotion. It was not enough for us to know that he suffered when he lost a child, it was felt that we needed to see actual tears, some indication that Brown is recognisably human. His wife, an ex-PR pro remember, was there to remind us of Brown's softer side. She functions to normalise him. We may think is a raging sociopathic control freak but look he has feelings after all!
If the Labour project is to make Brown seem less weird, the Conservative one is make Cameron seem less posh. It is pointless - as what bothers people most about Cameron is not his background but rather: a) the substance issue b) George Osborne c) a suspicion that he is merely the front man for the same old Tories. We already know he has a presentable wife and went to Eton.
But something very strange happened with Cameron’s ITV profile: the man who is accused of being little more than the product of high-powered PR and sound bites failed miserably. The 'Just how fantastic are you Dave' probing from McDonald, the eulogies offered by friends who said he wasn’t posh really, along with bad lighting and poorly thought out music was cringe-makingly awful. Who in the Tory press team thought that this was good? Who is advising Cameron? I thought at least the Tories would get together a whizzy party political broadcast but this vacuous smug fest attracted half the viewers of Come Dine with Me.
Some of this drool is meant to encourage female voters, for we clearly care or know little about politics and relate only to personality. Of course this is not true and I don’t know a woman who doesn’t feel patronised by the campaigns at the moment. This constant address to women as wives and mothers is - and feels like - a step back in time.
Sam and Sarah are having to act as mere accessories and as guarantors of their spouses’ decency. It all amounts to the narrowing rather than the widening of possibilities for women, an inherently conservative mood. The issue of character has become code in the election as almost an admission that the ideological difference between the parties is fairly indistinguishable. We may as well vote on the basis of what ties they wear.
Indeed, the ideological vacuum at the core of this election is diminishing any actual choice. We are being asked to vote on the timing of massive cuts. Other big issues from Afghanistan to structural inequality cannot be discussed.
In place of actual debate we have these dire and airbrushed glimpses of Brown and Cameron’s supposed authenticity. If the only issue in town is cuts, then political discourse itself is cut to the bone. Thus we end up with poorly conceived adverts for the party leaders ordinariness, a deeply patronising play for the ‘female vote’ and an electorate who feels that whoever they vote for, the government gets in.