OFF THE GRID

David Cameron Isn’t Foreign

May 12, 10 | 6:22 AM   byMichael Wolff
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So David Cameron will be the new British prime minister.

It is almost impossible for an American to satisfactorily parse the differences that separate Britain’s major party candidates. In American terms, Britain’s three contenders are all Democrats—more progressive than middle of the road, even.

The clearest ideological shadow that can be laid on them seems to be the extent to which they might recall the past, even though they have disavowed it. So the suggestion has been that Gordon Brown really, truly, deep in his heart of hearts, still held a sentimental candle for socialism and hard-core trade unionism, and that David Cameron is really just a scornful, landed-gentry, old-school-boy type.

The contest appeared to be, at least from my American view, how plausibly reconstructed each candidate could make himself seem—how modern. How free of the past.

In my interview with Cameron in January he seemed, actually, very much from a different, rather long ago, time and place. It was not just his language but the fact that he had to work so hard to evoke modern things. The discussion we had about California was out of this world. Cameron was the Martian who’d been told that the California style was what he had to embrace (however awkwardly). But, equally, Gordon Brown—so sour, uncomfortable, fuming—has seemed also from another planet, one far from our media world. Indeed, in the contest for the most modern face, it was surely Cameron over Brown—with a brief surge by the Lib Dem candidate, Nick Clegg, who seemed perhaps the most modern, albeit, it turned out, still improbable.


(AP Photo)
No, Cameron was the clear winner in this race. Whatever instincts and prejudices he might harbor, he had, with great doggedness and ambition, transformed himself into something recognizable and, nearly, reassuring.

Cameron and I chatted with requisite interest and enthusiasm about Obama, but, like California, Obama actually seemed, I thought, quite foreign to him. Cameron’s interest in the president was more dutiful than natural.

His real interest, the point at which he picked up the story, where the story became about him, was when the conversation turned to Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, those artful dodgers, those all-things-to-as-many-people-as-possible men, those consummate politicians, those yuppies, those salesmen, those deft orchestrators of the modern psyche (stop me, please). Indeed, David Cameron, I’m sure, is utterly convinced he has the unique touch—the charm, the empathy, the savvy—to hold a coalition together.

In this David Cameron is no doubt distasteful to left-wing and right-wing partisans. But to me, and I’ll bet to other no-wingers, he is very familiar and, I am tempted to believe, one of ours, for better or worse.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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