David Cameron spotted at Wilderness festival (Photo: Lucy Edwards, Instagram)
David Cameron spotted at Wilderness festival (Photo: Lucy Edwards, Instagram)

POLITICS

Does David Cameron’s festival gaffe prove the Tories can't compete with Corbyn?

It’s a painful reminder to Tories that Corbynites are now making fools of them, and that the process didn't start with Theresa May, says Gaby Hinsliff

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By Gaby Hinsliff on

Glass of wine in one hand, fag in the other, pink-haired Jeremy Corbyn fan in between. If it were any other former prime minister, let alone one who, a year ago, had crashed out of power, after losing a momentous gamble with the nation's fortunes, you'd be convinced that this image couldn't be real – that it must have been Photoshopped to within an inch of its life.

But this is David Cameron, backstage at the boutique Oxfordshire music festival Wilderness, which makes more or less anything possible. After all, he's never been one for living a life of sackcloth and ashes, for publicly wringing his hands over Brexit or confining himself to sober public works. And if he didn't actually spot the customised Corbyn heart on the back of festival goer Lucy Edwards' glittery cape when she ambushed him for this selfie – well, you get the feeling he'll be mildly embarrassed now, but still capable of seeing the funny side.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem. The Conservative party really doesn't see the funny side of being caught unawares by Corbynites at the last election. And a significant chunk of it found the “Calm down dear, it's only a recession” sign in the Camerons' Cotswolds kitchen – captured in a photoshoot Samantha Cameron did for Harper's Bazaar, to promote her new clothing line – if anything even less hilaire.

It's ironic that the most superficially trendy leader the Tories have ever had – with his Ibiza holidays and his designer wife – should find himself suddenly so out of fashion

They think David Cameron's chillaxed response to Brexit, his apparent insouciance about the troubled Britain he helped create and his failure to see the backlash against it coming are all part of the problem. And some of them clearly think that's why the ideas expressed by Theresa May when she followed Cameron into Number 10 – that the economy wasn't working for a lot of Britons and that the country should in future be run for people who are struggling, as well as those doing jolly nicely, thanks – shouldn't be killed off just because a manifesto very loosely based on that philosophy tanked so abysmally at the last general election.

It's not a coincidence that her former chief of staff, Nick Timothy, and former policy strategist, Will Tanner, were both out arguing publicly at the weekend for the survival of their philosophy – tackling corporate greed, taxing wealth, strengthening rights for workers – once Theresa May herself is gone, as most of Westminster now accepts she will be by the next election. The mistake made in June, Timothy now insists, wasn't, as many disgruntled Conservative MPs think, to have a manifesto stuffed full of ideas that traditional Tory voters hated, like making the elderly sell their homes to fund social care – it was failing to talk enough about policies some voters were bound to find difficult, and to portray Theresa May as a woman unafraid to make radical changes.

Whether voters would ever have believed that of the vicar's daughter from Maidenhead is a fair question, obviously. And if Timothy and his fellow chief of staff, Fiona Hill, hadn't run Downing Street in such a way that those who disagreed with their decisions were terrified of saying so, such mistakes might well have been spotted sooner.

But Timothy is arguably not wrong to point out that the public mood has turned against them faster than most Conservatives have realised; that Jeremy Corbyn must have been on to something to do as well as he did; and that Conservatism needs to show it cares about the less well-off if it's not to fall horribly behind the times.

And, yes, it's ironic that the most superficially trendy leader the Tories have ever had – with his Ibiza holidays and his designer wife – should find himself suddenly so out of fashion. But that festival snap will be a painful reminder to Tories that Corbynites are now making fools of them, and that the process didn't start with Theresa May. Don't be surprised if some conclude that, right now, the Wilderness is pretty much where David Cameron belongs.

@gabyhinsliff

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