David Cameron weathered an awkward interview on the Today programme earlier this
morning, in which the Strategic Defence Review was savaged and the recent riots were compared to the Bullingdon Club, of which Cameron was once a member. He stood by the defence review,
with reference to the successful British contribution to the Libyan intervention, and he blithely ignored the Bullingdon Club question. He reiterated his belief that parts of society have undergone
‘a slow motion moral collapse’.
His gruff tone might have surprised some listeners. The interviewer, Evan Davis, offered Cameron the chance to retreat from the firm, almost draconian line he took at the height
of the riots. But Cameron refused, comfortable to risk appearing ‘morally certain’, or, even more daring, ‘nasty’; two impulses that the Tory detoxification process was
supposed to have eradicated. Cameron went on to say that the phrase “tough love” summed up his views on this issue: rioters must be shown the stick as well as the carrot.
Even his compassionate points were couched in slightly unflinching terms. He defined his social conscience as the wish to “save a lot lives that would otherwise go to hell in a
handcart.” These brusque colloquialisms issued from Cameron’s plummy voice, as if Norman Tebbit had been given elocution lessons. The studio seemed far away from huskies and huggable
hoodies, which might have warmed some hearts on the right.
Speaking later on the programme, Matthew d’Ancona and Andrew Rawnsley noted that the interview perhaps signified the end of a conscious policy of de-toxification, adding that Cameron
is a mixture of liberalism and Toryism ruled by instinct. Certainly, Cameron’s answers sounded intuitive rather than ideological. He seemed at ease with the fact that there was
no one answer to Britain’s social crisis, saying that a multitude of policies must be deployed. Finally, he described himself as a "common-sense Conservative", governed by circumstances.
This implies that he thinks he can match the rarified clothes of a liberal with the hobnail boots of a traditional Tory.
Diverting though the interview was, some will have been left exasperated by it: nearly one month has passed since the riots began and Cameron is still talking not acting.