Sketch: Jeers dent Cameron’s big moment
Both denied entry to Downing Street, both screamed at by protestors: Cameron and I have more in common than I thought.
By Ian Dunt
Third time lucky, I thought.
I’d already been turned away from Downing Street this week. That much, at least, I had in common with David Cameron, although I was rather better at it than him: I’ve been rejected twice in two days. He only managed once in four years.
The first time came yesterday, when we heard Gordon Brown was going to make a statement. I was given eight minutes warning to get there from parliament. I noticed, in an off-hand sort of way, that I was extremely unfit. Pounding the streets of Westminster, I was panting and wheezing all over the place, in a decidedly embarrassing manner. The general election has not been kind to me; too little sleep, too much fast food, too many justifications.
By the time I got there, the gates were slammed shut. A scrum of journalists built up around it, like little chunks of vomit in a kitchen sink. We were reduced to hearing the historic statement on someone’s iPhone.
Earlier today, that telling lectern had appeared outside the door of Downing Street again. Like some ancient Greek symbol, it has come to symbolise chaotic constitutional change. It’s like that monument in 2001: A Space Odyssey. When it appears, time are a-changing. One of my colleagues saw it had emerged and texted me as I walked down Whitehall. Again I ran, just to have the gates slammed shut on me again. I pleaded a little bit, although with just a little more dignity than some of the hacks around me. Just not that much more dignity though, it never rally suited me. As the prime minister announced his resignation – his proper resignation – I was stuck outside, starting to feel glum.
Third time lucky. I got to Downing Street well before Cameron might arrive, but only ended up waiting a few minutes before the boos from outside filled the Westminster air. Cameras were swooping overhead, as if the most tedious action film on earth was being filmed. The floodlights hammered the front of the house. Downing Street never looked so much like a construct, so artificial. And for such a profoundly artificial place, that’s really saying something.
With darkness upon us, and boos filling the air, this did not compare well with Tony Blair’s euphoric entry 13 years ago. Cameron himself seemed small in the lights of the world’s media, as if history and the house behind him was like excess gravity, reducing him. Samantha, as usual, was the Stepford Wife: silent, unnerving, doting.
The speech was average. “I want a political system that people can trust and look up to once again,” he said, and I checked my watch. It wasn’t exactly William Wallace, or even Mel Gibson. And then he entered the weird pretend house for the first time, interrupted only by an awkward embrace with his wife.
Suddenly it dawned on me: we have a Conservative prime minister. I felt a little unsteady on my feet, wishing maybe that this had been the occasion the police had denied me entry to.
I was the first out, which, in retrospect, was a mistake. Police opened those giant black gates and, rather startlingly, I was greeted by a wall of people screaming at me. It’s quite a thing to have hundreds of people booing and chanting “Murdoch scum” at you. One woman screamed into my face: “You’re the scum of the earth.” I had no idea I’d met her before.
So , I had another similarity with Cameron. We both got jeered by angry strangers tonight. That’s telling, because they weren’t condemning the Tories, or even politicians. With their hatred of the corporate media, they were condemning the whole system, the political class, Westminster as a whole. Fair enough, of course. I’m entirely sympathetic. Cameron may not be.
It’s difficult to imagine tougher circumstances in which to become prime minister. To my eyes, Cameron seemed too small to handle them.