It is election time, and our party leaders are doing everything they can to rouse the troops and blaze their campaign trails. That the televised leaders debate diminished rather than bolstered each party’s campaigns means Miliband, Farage and Cameron amongst others, will be looking to bounce back from their lacklustre performances this week. And although we have no doubt Farage and Miliband will offer equally galling comeback strategies, it is David Cameron’s latest election stunt which we find unacceptable, and a step too far.
Whilst we have every sympathy for the Camerons losing their oldest son, we think this piece by David’s wife Samantha is nothing more than a vulgar prostitution of their child’s memory.
The piece, in which Mrs Cameron talks about the pain of losing her severely disabled son, is clearly designed to appeal to traditional Conservative voters. It focuses on stereotypical gender divides (not as a personal choice but as an implied universal directive), and uses the worst kind of manipulation, both for its thin veneer and the Cameron’s use of their son’s death to gain leverage with families and in particular those who have disabled children. Published just before the election, which coincides roughly with the anniversary of their son’s death, and with her husband’s leadership in jeopardy, it can be no accident that Samantha has chosen to speak about Ivan for the first time, now.
That the article is filled with photographs designed to send out various subliminal, not so subtle messages, is in itself embarrassing. A large photo of their deceased son, Ivan. A photo of David kissing Ivan. A family photo where David is pushing a pram. A photo of the family attending a Christian service. A photo of the Camerons at their late son’s funeral – there appears to be no end to the display of private emotion they are willing to share to secure votes.
The photos tick all the right conservative boxes. David is a family man, a sensitive man, a religious man, a man who, it would seem, feels as deeply as the rest of us, and an excellent father. The last photo, which shows the Camerons with their daughter (the one they left in the pub), hovers over a statement which their daughter allegedly made about the now infamous incident – “I’m on chapter five of Daddy, How Your Life as Prime Minister Has Affected Me. Chapter two is when you left me in the pub.”
That Mrs Cameron says her daughter continues to tease her father about this incident, and chooses to put that down to her daughter’s sharp sense of humour, rather than down to a traumatic experience their daughter appears to be reliving regularly, perhaps says more about this desperate attempt to spin a bad PR incident better than it does about the Cameron’s parenting skills.
And yet many would not have judged the Camerons for this incident. All parents make mistakes. But it is David’s singular lack of tolerance when it comes to other parents around the country (remember his myopic take on single fathers?) that makes it so hard for any of us to buy this pre-election propaganda. And to use their late son’s memory as a call to action is beyond redemption.
If we were to assume for even a moment that this was just a badly timed exercise, in which Mrs Cameron felt the need to speak out about her loss, perhaps even to offer a supporting voice to other parents who have experienced the same (though there is no evidence of that in the article), any PR company worth their salt would have told Mrs Cameron not to publish her thoughts during the campaign. (Even if she really did just want to do an Angelina Jolie and share a very private affair in order to highlight the issue for the greater good).
The voting public is not as naive as it once was. With a greater ability to question party politics thanks to online debate and social media, there isn’t a great deal which escapes the voters’ attention today. And now, having underestimated the general public, the Camerons can look forward to other voices condemning their choice to use their late son’s demise as a way to pull heart-strings, and votes in.
In the game of politics, it can seem as if everything, and everyone, is a pawn. Mrs Cameron’s piece has not solidified her husband’s status as a caring and sincere human being. It has achieved the very opposite.