I had to watch it more than once because I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. When David Cameron recently defended his ‘inappropriate’ lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital to the Public Accounts Select Committee, he spoke direct to camera - well, mostly direct to keyboard - about his (well-paid) actions to gain state-sponsored credit for a failing private finance company. He was thoughtful, ardent, emphatic. He spoke with gravitas, and I was amazed to find that I was being lulled into…believing him.
The subject of supply chain financing is beyond my ken, so I was unable to judge whether or not government funding of Greensill upfront would, somewhere along the line, have helped an overburdened NHS pay its staff and suppliers. I do, however, understand what loss looks like in annual accounts and I would expect an ex-Prime Minister to be even better at knowing when not to throw good money after bad. But it was Cameron’s finale – his down-the-barrel petition for a governing body to control his lobbying habit - that seemed to switch me into full subordinate mode.
Evidently upset at being chastised for using his Westminster-y powers when all he had wanted was to be the good guy, Cameron made an appeal for official guidance. Give us silly old ex-PMs a rule book that mandates how we make money from our privileged position when we leave office. Set us some boundaries, times periods, formal procedures. Save me from this texting and emoji malarkey that I’ve had to resort to. Show me how not to lobby by mistake. Stop me from being a prat. This was the part that made me blink repeatedly. Why did his absurd, unreasonable request sound reasonable?
Because it was made by a white, middle-aged man in an expensive dark suit and tie from a minimalist home-office corner with a posh pleated lampshade: an earnest delivery by a well-spoken, privately educated ex-Prime Minister. Context gives credibility. The projection of wealth, refinement and righteousness blinded me temporarily. Cameron’s image of pure respectability and decency was, in fact, fronting up a load of bollocks. And it occurred to me that this could be the single good reason for those visual phone filters designed to change your age, sex, persona or species.
When the words of a politician sound fine but the underlying rationale seems iffy, we plebs could benefit from a Flannel Filter (to flannel: “talk nonsense in a plausible manner”). This would provide options for transforming the speaker on your screen into Mickey Flanagan/Gina Yashere/Popeye with the aim of creating a more plain-spoken frame of reference. If you are hearing someone powerful claim that their poor decisions should be blamed on poor protocols, a quick bit of Flannel will re-present their beautifully-constructed thesis. Then you will realise they are actually saying “You’ve no idea how hard it is to do the right thing when your only experience is six years leading a country”.
I should declare here that I have form – albeit the non-dodgy kind – with David Cameron. His 1990s employment as Director of Corporate Affairs at Carlton Communications coincided with my own as Head of Design. I recollect him haring round the Knightsbridge site in a pink striped shirt to meetings in which he would open and refer to a near-empty file, before making bland statements about brand, message and uh, brand. None of us in the actual branding arena of Carlton (marketing, graphics, promotions) could ever really work out what he was there for. We called him ‘The Boy’ on account of his baby face and complete lack of experience and ability - which is unfair because no-one can help the face they are born with.
Cameron was already excellent at using the empowerment of his education and family networks to secure and hold down a job for which he was unqualified. So you’d think by now I’d be a little wiser to the tricks of the entitled classes. Is Gullibility my middle name? Clearly I am still victim to well-established triggers. If I have an initial tendency to trust people reminiscent of the solicitors and bank managers in Minder, perhaps it would be useful to see them in the guise of someone more bluff before I make up my mind. Then if I still believe say, a grinning Norman Wisdom after he has delivered his argument on the real problem with being rich and well-connected, perhaps it will deserve my sympathy.