Thanks to the Daily Mail and their youth-slang-decoding parentheses, everyone now knows that British Prime Minister David Cameron spent his uni days “smoking weed [marijuana]… and listening to Seventies rock band Supertramp”, perhaps pausing occasionally to gently frot with an Old Etonian. More shockingly still, the casual soft-rock fan has previously asserted that his record collection includes a couple of Ramones LPs.
Until now, most have naturally assumed that Cameron was lying about his punk past. But an explosive 2001 blog, penned by the PM himself and buried until now in the patchouli-scented depths of the Comment is Free archives, exposes the shocking links between modern Conservative party policy and Cameron’s murky punk past. This is not a joke. Somehow, it exists right here. Now, before I start, let's all quickly pray for the young Tory PR bod that just got fired for never slapping a 'Right to be Forgotten' on this.
The piece, titled Joey Ramone Can Show William [Hague] the Way to Victory, was published back when Cameron was a mere prospective parliamentary candidate for the cute little Oxfordshire town of Witney. And, in trademark D-Cam style, it’s a typically ham-fisted attempt to appropriate working-class culture to serve a political end. The death of Joey Ramone, who Cameron calls “the hairy godfather of punk”, is arbitrarily seized upon as the perfect opportunity to promote his upcoming campaign to be elected locally in the 2001 general election.
“What?” he begins his post. “Has another Conservative candidate flipped his lid? Before you metaphorically cart me off to the funny farm let me explain why the lead singer of The Ramones holds the key to success for the Tories.” It's like you can hear him chuckling along to his own jokes as he types rattles this one off on his desktop PC in the spare room on a Sunday. The Tories learning lessons from Joey Ramone? How incongruous! How unexpected! This'll send shockwaves through the Guardian readership!
Before we get going, can we also take a second to note his line “cart me off to the funny farm”, a horribly pejorative and small minded old term for psychiatric hospitals? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like it when comments from the past are snapped up by desperate media hounds like myself and repositioned against shifts in attitudes that came way after their utterance. But when said comment is by a man who now runs the country, and has driven its mental health service into the ground, closing 2,100 mental health beds since April 2011, then comments like that kinda explain a lot, don't they?
Anyway, back to the laughs. Cameron writes with the same burbling ineptitude and utter dislocation from his subject matter as his progeny in the Eton Dub Step society, inelegantly reassuring his readership that he is a true Ramones fan whilst crowbarring in the names of two of their better known tracks and awkwardly quoting lyrics from a third to make it seem like he hasn’t just glanced in desperation at a Wikipedia track-listing. Medium must reject essays of this ilk ten times per day. My regretful Green Day themed Blogspot was Joyce compared to this. Our leader, the blogger.
But just in case his GCSE English language ‘Writing to Persuade’ coursework-style rhetoric was too much for our tired brains to grasp, he hastily assures his dear reader that all this punk talk is just a big metaphor about politics. “I am not suggesting compulsory shoulder length hair and leather jackets for members of the shadow cabinet" guffaws Cameron through his fingertips. "The genius of the Ramones was that their songs, like Rockaway Beach or Sheena is a Punk Rocker, were incredibly short and almost unbelievably repetitive. Verses were out, perpetual choruses were in. In most tracks three chords were seen as unnecessary; two would do...similarly, the secret of effective political communication is to find the right tune and then repeat it endlessly until the message is driven home.”
From there on in the musical legacy of his purported hero Joey Ramone is abandoned and the piece devolves into a disorientating sermon ranging from CD-ROMs to Euroscepticism to a simple solution to the "puzzling conundrum" of the public housing crisis in Oxfordshire (15 years later, it’s worse than ever). "Every time a coconut," he chirps with regards to his own policies, deploying an idiom derived from a popular parish fête sidestall. He’s so unmistakably punk!
Yet Cameron is not totally devoid of wit. Beneath the glistening veneer of his slithering face, there lurks a port-fuelled nubbin of nerve endings, twitching in response to external stimuli. To Cameron then, the genius of punk music is that the message is wholly subsumed by the medium: he likes the Ramones not because of what they say, but because they all they need is “a few chords and catchy titles” to make people remember them, and he urges the Tories to do the same with their own slogans and buzzwords.
He may be nothing but foie-gras moulded around some K’NEX and shoved into Blue Harbour slacks, but Cameron has inadvertently stumbled upon a striking metaphor for the meaningless profusion of party-issued catchphrases the Tories have been spewing forth for decades: “the mess we inherited from Labour”, “hard-working families”, “a threat to national security”. The blog lays the blueprint for the now-familiar Conservative politics of stultifying repetition, shitting on a voter’s dinner plate and then telling them you made a delicious Shepherd's’ pie over and over again until they just admit defeat and tuck into the mess, mumbling thanks through a mouthful of faeces and zero-hour contracts.
“I am yet to find a voter in Witney who dissents from the two chord riff: ‘Your taxes are up but public services have got worse,’” Cameron writes of his own door-to-door campaigning. His commitment to message discipline has continued in this absolute fashion ever since, regardless of context, regardless of accuracy. His robotic repetition that Labour trashed the economy and the Conservatives are the safe pair of hands who have brought Britain back from the brink is believed by most people, despite two-thirds of economists and the government’s own office of budget responsibility saying that Tory austerity harmed the economy.
Of course, David Cameron is not a punk. David Cameron is that coked-up Deloitte grad scheme dickhead that your big sister went to uni with who turns up at your house party and tries to put on “Angels” by Robbie Williams, then ends up fingering some girl in the downstairs loo because he followed her around for an hour and a half making unfunny jokes and she’s finally noticed how expensive his watch is. If he cannot seduce the electorate with policy (“not the problem,” he says), he will simply hammer the same “two-chord riff” louder than the “background noise” of actual, critical debate.
Fifteen years later, this post-punk policy still reverberates in his catchphrase-driven dogma, as the Tories continue to trounce the opposition despite growing inequality, 2.3 million children in poverty and most families being worse off than when the Tories came to power. But Cameron just keeps singing that song, and isn't it catchy though?
“Swarm mess swarm mess stability mess security mess labour’s mess - gabba gabba hey!”
Feature by Matthew Broomfield and Anna McCully Stewart.