I’m coming to the conclusion that the character of the Cameron government is the inversion of the Brown government. During the dying days of New Labour there was a snarling, socially dysfunctional Prime Minister whom most of the electorate found deeply unappealing. But around Gordon Brown was a group of Cabinet ministers who were really pretty impressive and, well, normal. Alistair Darling, Jacqui Smith, James Purnell, Andy Burnham, Ruth Kelly (remember her?), Alan Johnson, Yvette Cooper: these are all people who it was possible to imagine having a chat or a drink with in the local pub (or perhaps wine bar). I could go on.
The inverse is true with this government. David Cameron is socially adept and genuinely charming. Whether it is an act or not, he does good normal. At a senior level the Labour Party knows Cameron is the government’s biggest asset and remain in slight awe of him, much as the Tories were in awe of Blair in opposition. But who are those strange oddballs he surrounds himself with? Does he not realise how these people seem outside Toryworld?
The two main beneficiaries of the reshuffle represent the twin poles of Tory unattractiveness. The smug grin of Jeremy Hunt has become emblematic of the government’s patrician core, while Chris Grayling (known to Lib Dem colleagues as Voldemort) fizzes with Thatcher-era thuggishness. The defeminisation of the Cabinet has the effect of giving it the feel of an all-boys’ school. As any school teacher will tell you, girls have a civilising effect on a classroom of adolescent boys. The same is true of senior politicians. The blogosphere (another arena suited to bullying boys) is full of stories of “hysterical” female ministers failing to take their sackings or demotions with equanimity. This is playground stuff. Bring back the grown-ups.
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