Life’s Little Ironies is getting a sense that David Cameron is more gaffe-prone than his recent predecessors. Going back in history, Margaret Thatcher was always so well prepared and on top of the facts that a ‘mis-statement’, rarely if ever stumbled from her lips. I do not think anyone can remember if John Major ever said anything memorable, gaffe-laden or otherwise, but I doubt it, so let’s move on to Tony Blair. Tone used to talk so expansively that he was forever flirtingly dangerously, either side of truth and pork-pie. Nonetheless, I would not consider him gaffe-prone insofar as he never accidentally mis-spoke. He deliberately mis-spoke and when caught would wriggle out by saying that really his promises, aims, targets objectives,etc were but aspirations rather than anything you could take to the bank so to (mis)-speak. Alternatively, he would reach for his metaphoric dog-collar, incline his neck to the side and piously gaze in to the eyes of his audience and emote that he was a ‘straight sort of guy’. That was in his early days as Prime Minister. In later years he would resort to the “Look” Pause with pursed lips, narrowed eyes and a slightly frustrated furrowed brow. Raise hands up, 10 inches apart as if measuring an uncoiled cumberland sausage. Then tilt hands to same incline as neck, jab them to towards audience in unison with the words “Yer know, it’s really time to move on” Keep lips slightly apart, showing white of teeth and curl lips to form a knowing yet slightly mocking-come-arrogant grin. All this in four seconds, remarkable!
Look, ur um when I said Saddam had chemical weapons that could be activated in 45 minutes. It was really more of er, um, an aspiration
Let’s not dwell on Gordon. For the rest of our lives we will remember where we were when we heard him deliver his bigot-gaffe and watched as it was replayed to him, seemingly imprisioned in some mauve-decorated torture-room unable to move for ludicrously big ear-phones and microphones. Then we watched him recoiling back in his chair, as if shot by a Magnum 45, as his political spirit departed his husk-like carcass. Ok, sorry, I think I dwelt on that too much after all.
The moment when Gordon Brown's spirit leaves his body
Let’s get back to David. His are a different kind of gaffe. They are not the double-speak gaffes of Gordon, who said and had one face for the electorate and another for his staff. Nor the vacuous, imprecise phrases uttered by Tony. They are gaffes of a well-meaning lad who has half-read or half-heard some fact and then re-tells it to the next person he bumps into without ever pausing to think through the veracity of the statement. Here are some examples:
Battle of Britain Gaffelette #1. Britain was the “junior partner (to the US) in 1940 when we were fighting the Nazis”. In fact the US was trying it’s darndest to keep out of the War. I suspect the US was torn between wanting Hitler to be a vanguard against Communism and pre-occupying the Brits so much that they would be forced to come cap in hand to the Yanks for a handout in exchange for leaving Pacific basin to them; and not wanting the Nazi’s to be so successful that they would threaten their ascendancy. That strategy bombed, as it were, on Dec 7th 1941 but I digress.
Worse still, Cameron rows back from the comment and says that Britain indeed stood alone with the help of a few Poles .”There were a few Polish pilots, there were a few French pilots but on the whole it was Britain standing completely alone against Nazi Germany” Unfortunately the 180-remark was also misleading. It’s true that the mythology grew up around the brave, Few British fligher pilots but nearly 20% of the pilots came from other countries. In fact Polsh fighters were pilot for pilot more likely to down a German plane and less likely to take a hit themselves.
Nuclear Gaffelette #2 “Like the fact that Iran has got a nuclear weapon” There is no sugar-coating that gaffe when you stress “fact” in your answer. It is so obviously wrong and not open to mis-interpretation or mis-statement that it is almost turette-like in its naive delivery. You could imagine an aide choking on his chocolate Hob-knob at the back of the room when he heard that one.
Second Rate NHS Gaffelette #3. ‘I don’t think we should put up with second rate” If you want to win friends for your flag-ship domestic policy don’t call them second-rate. He immediately qualified his characterization but let’s not forget that he was a trained PR man who talked faultlessly and without notes to woo the faithful at many a party conference or election debate so slips of the tongue are less forgiveable.
No Blacks at Oxford Gaffelette #4 “I saw figures the other day that showed that only one black person went to Oxford last year. I think that is disgraceful. We have got to do better than that.” If I read that somewhere, I’d smell a pungent, putrifying, half-mummified rat in a heatware. Apparently not our David. In fact it was one black student from the Carribean. That’s a bit like being astonished that there in only one white student called Tarquin enrolled at Bridgetown Polytechnic. We might regret the absence of university-enrolled, over-privileged, cardie-wearing, middle-class mummies-boys in the wilds of Barbados but its hardly going to set the pulse racing either. More worryingly, you could not see where Cameron was going with this. Was he saying that Oxford should use colour rather than grades to select students? In fact get your slide-rule out and you find that black representation at Oxford is more or less in line with the proportion of black people in the UK population at large despite coming from a predominatly less well educated ethnic minority.
At the moment Cameron’s gaffes are tolerable, through regrettable, given the magnitude of the Herculean task he has set himself as PM but he’ll do well to dwell on the old addage “there’s many a slip ‘tween cup and lip”
"It's a fact that the Iran stood by us in 1940 to oppose second-rate black Carribean countries in possession of nuclear weapons. er I think?