When people say, as they often do these days, that politicians are out of touch, they tend to mean that they are ignorant of popular opinion or culture. Recent events have brought to light the far more frightening prospect that the Prime Minister is out of touch with reality itself.
David Cameron wrote a letter in September to the Conservative head of Oxfordshire county council, not as Prime Minister, but as the Witney MP writing on behalf of his constituents. The letter demanded to know why the council had made such horrific cuts to local services. Let this thought sink in for a moment; the head of a government which has championed relentlessly brutal austerity measures wants to know why a county council is making cuts to local services.
To his credit, the council leader proved himself to be no mindless party drone and wrote back to point out Cameron’s rank hypocrisy. How can Cameron have only now realised that there is suffering because of decisions he himself has made? The only rational explanation is that he has stopped translating the numbers on the spreadsheets put in front of him into real people living real lives. Cameron is now the political equivalent of a First World War general who coldly repositions pins on a map, never equating them to real men who are going to die.
That image is a far cry from the days when “Dave” was the friendly face of a new kind of Conservative politics. His Big Society, ill-fated though it was, revealed a leader keen to build a bridge between government and real people to find real solutions to real problems. That all feels like it was a very long time ago now. The truly disturbing thing about all of this is that, once you extend Cameron’s new mind-set to the rest of his government, so much begins to make sense. The Orwellian security measures of Theresa May’s Snoopers Charter make sense when you see internet users as metadata, rather than as real people. The same holds true of Osborne cutting tax credits, Hunt dismantling the NHS or Hammond turning his back on the plight of Syria.
This trend is a deeply disturbing one which goes beyond party politics. This is not about the pros and cons of fiscal conservatism; it is about the purpose of government. The central issue brought to light by this letter is that there is a dangerous separation between the people and the government. For all intents and purposes, Britain is only a democracy once every five years. At all other times it is a constitutional monarchy. Fortunately for Cameron, the distinction between the two is subtle enough that it does not tend to concern the general public. Cameron must remember that he is not managing a company with book balancing objectives, but instead is governing a country that has people whose welfare is being seriously threatened.
[Image: Andrzej Krauze/The Guardian]