:: Article

The Book of Dave

By Max Dunbar.


The Meaning of David Cameron, Richard Seymour, Zero 2010

There is an assumption in the blogosphere that Richard Seymour’s blog is more or less dictated by the SWP Central Committee. During the antiwar left’s boom years he followed the democratic centralist line, supporting the fascist ‘resistance’ in Iraq and the murderous Islamists of Hezbollah during Israel’s war on Lebanon. Domestically, he hurled himself into George Galloway’s cynical and opportunistic Respect project; on the night of the 2005 election, when Galloway evicted a serious leftwing MP from her Bethnal and Bow constituency, he gloated: ‘For a while, I shall be rubbing the faces of Nick Cohen, Johann Hari, David ‘I give them a year’ Aaronovitch and Harry’s Place in the shit. Smell it, you fuckers, and feel this hate.’

There’s a sense that all Seymour’s other qualities are overwhelmed by his need to market himself as the heir to Chomsky, and that every word he’s written has been coated lightly in pond slime. Still, the derisive comments of his blogosphere enemies ignore the fact that in Seymour the SWP has a propagandist of genius on its side. Richard Seymour writes on a wide range of subjects, and will investigate stories other bloggers ignore. His intelligence and erudition are undeniable. He is that rare political creature, a creative party hack. He is the laureate of far left orthodoxy. He turns propaganda into art.

Finished just before the 2010 election, Seymour’s latest book takes on a new Conservative prime minister. There is an explosive journalistic expose waiting to be written about David Cameron. The PM portrays himself a pragmatic man, as self-effacing as a Hugh Grant character, resistant to ideology and at ease with his world and time. Critics will tell you there is nothing solid under the smile. ‘There’s less to him than meets the eye,’ Nick Clegg said before the election. Christopher Hitchens agreed: ‘He seems content-free to me. Never had a job, except in PR, and it shows. People ask, ‘What do you think of him?’ and my answer is: ‘He doesn’t make me think.” To Richard Seymour, Cameron himself is ‘of little interest, except as a cipher, a sort of nonentity who channels the prevailing geist.’

This is a fundamental misreading. We can judge a man by the company he keeps, and the content-free PR boss has surrounded himself with extremists and ideologues. He took the party out of the EU’s moderate conservative alliance to form an association with fringe anti-semites and SS fetishists. When the MEP Edward McMillan-Scott protested, he was expelled. Cameron’s A-list candidate for Sutton and Cheam, Philippa ‘Pray the Gay Away’ Stroud, is a Christian fundamentalist who once owned a chain of hostels dedicated to ‘curing’ alcoholics, addicts and the sexually confused; when Stroud lost what should have been a safe seat, he appointed her a special adviser at the DWP.

Stroud leads the Centre for Social Justice, a thinktank set up by Iain Duncan Smith to take the edge off the Conservatives’ public image. (IDS has said as much: he told the Guardian that the party needs to ‘present a set of values which represent compassion… You need people to say, rather like they say about Labour, actually these are OK, they are decent people, their heart is in the right place.’) Abortion limit monomaniac Nadine Dorries has been backed by Christian Concern for Our Nation (CCFON); its director Andrea Williams believes, according to the New Statesman‘s Sunny Hundal, ‘that abortion should be illegal, homosexuality is sinful and the world is 4,000 years old.’ Williams also runs the Christian Legal Centre, a pressure group that plants stories in soft media about nurses having their crosses yanked from their necks by uncaring NHS managers and Christian registrars forced to perform civil partnerships at gunpoint. Incredibly, it has been linked with Blackwater, the notorious mercenary army.

Cameron’s Conservative Party has an unhealthy reliance on web-based activism. The influence of the Conservative Home site in Tory circles is undisputed. Its founder, Tim Montgomerie, set up the Conservative Christian Fellowship when he was a nineteen-year-old student at Exeter – can there be a clearer example of a misspent youth? – and its membership now numbers around thirty Tory MPs and at least one Secretary of State. And finally, Cameron’s former chief of staff also used to be the research director for the Young Britons Foundation, a Monday-Club style subgroup that advocates abolishing the NHS and sends its members to residential camps that include training in sub-machine guns and assault rifles.

In this context, the Big Society can be seen as a return to Victorian politics when social welfare was the responsibility of the churches and the occasional eccentric billionaire. David Cameron is the most ideological PM since Thatcher and shares her ambition to return to a pre welfare state society. But at least Thatcher was honest about her convictions. Under the Big Society Cameron’s brave and empowered citizens will queue at the poor-house, food vouchers in hand, while the Jesus Army looks after the kids.

All this is to say that The Meaning of David Cameron is a spectacular exercise in missing an open goal. That is not to say that it is without value. Seymour writes very well on this occasion, his analysis of the capitalist crisis is first-rate, and the book is worth reading for his deconstruction of the dystopian ideal of meritocracy alone. ‘To imply that those currently at the top,’ he says, ‘the Warren Buffets and Roman Abramoviches of this world – are the very best, the nec plus ultra of humanity, is a kind of hate speech toward the species. Dignity demands that we refute it.’

Cameron has suffered little scrutiny in his career and his opponents will need as many people fighting on their side of the barricades as possible. I only suggest that The Meaning of David Cameron would be far more effective as a pamphlet if Seymour let go of theory for policy and look at what Cameron does as well as what he is. Relaxed with an opposition and a public that never took him seriously until it was too late, the Prime Minister can reflect that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.


Max Dunbar was born in London in 1981. He recently finished a full-length novel and his short fiction has appeared in various print and web journals. He is reviews editor of 3:AM.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, August 7th, 2010.