Aside Posted on
The prime minister has successfully pursued an agenda more radical than Thatcher’s – and has managed it without anybody being terribly worried by him
The Moriarty of Downing Street? Illustration: Mary Evans Picture Library/Alamy
They abolished the Human Rights Act” sounds like the first sentence of an Aldous Huxley novel. The Conservatives actually campaigned on a manifesto pledge to get rid of human rights and people voted for it. As electoral choices go, it’s not far off choosing to be ruled by a dry, whispering voice taunting you from an antique mirror.
Here, in what may well be the final years of our civilisation, I would like to ask a question that has been worrying me for some time. What if David Cameron is a genius? A shrewd and malevolent psychopath who thinks two moves deeper into the game than any of his opponents? What if there sits in Downing Street today a modern-day Moriarty, living in a world where his schemes are only kept in check by the deductive brilliance of Harriet Harman? As Holmes would say, look at the evidence. Cameron has managed to set England against Scotland, Scotland against Labour. He has given his enemies the referendums they asked for, and won. He has left Nick Clegg looking like one of those terrified mouse faces that you find in an owl pellet. He has successfully pursued an agenda more radical than Thatcher’s with less popular support than John Major.
Most impressively, Cameron has managed all this without anybody being terribly worried by him. Immediately after his re-election he announced: “For too long we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens so long as you obey the law we will leave you alone.” A statement so far to the right that it conceded the political centre ground to Judge Dredd.
We have an idea of Cameron as an empty suit – he’s remarkably forgettable for someone who has a face like a gammon travel iron. What if this is simply a character he chooses to play? We can see the mileage Boris Johnson has got out of playing the fairly simple character of a sort of pissed-up dandelion. What if Cameron’s persona is actually more crafted and insidious? He has a brisk, stiff air of wishing he was somewhere else. We imagine he would much rather be a few years in the future, heading up some foundation that’s advising Qatar on how to bid for the Winter Olympics. Perhaps that’s quite an effective manner to adopt when robbing a country. Announcing in a clipped voice that you’ll be out of our hair just as soon as you’ve privatised the NHS, terribly sorry for any inconvenience. Cameron having a down-to-business persona is not terribly unlike one of those gangs who do heists in high-vis jackets.