It is possible that we have witnessed one of the defining moments of the 2015 General Election campaign.
Today David Cameron stood up and gave a speech in which he got the name of his football team wrong.
This is at once utterly trivial and unimportant and critical to the way in which David Cameron is seen by the wider population.
Football is very important to a large minority in Britain. They spend their Saturday afternoons fretting about the performance of their team and identify infinitely more with these teams than they do with any politician. Even amongst those who aren’t hard core fans many still have an affection for their favorite team. Given this it is hardly surprising that David Cameron would want to associate himself with this sub-culture. It makes him look normal as if he shares the concerns and interests of ordinary Britons.
I get this. I have almost no interest in sport in general. I’ll watch the World Cup. I’ve been to the odd Leicester City game, but basically most sport leaves me cold. In Australia, where everyone is sport mad, I find this is a crippling defect in my personality. People want to talk to me about the cricket, but I just know nothing about it and do not share in the rise and fall of the English cricket team. In England however I’ve found that it is less of a disability. English people like sport but it isn’t as central to the culture as it is in Australia. So I admit I don’t like football very much and people don’t mind, just as I don’t mind if they don’t know who Howling Wolf is. It’s OK to be different.
The problem is that politics has become so populist that it isn’t OK to be different. Politicians all have to play the part of “ordinary blokes”. Of course they aren’t ordinary blokes, they are a privileged elite who barely leave London and think about nothing other than what goes on in Westminster. This puts them in the awkward position of pretending to care about the things that other people care about. Cameron is usually really good at this. He’s full of the “Sam and I have date night” stories which help people to forget his background, his position and his values. He’s kind of like us we think. On the other hand Ed Miliband is rubbish at this. He is clearly a political nerd.
So far this has played in Cameron’s favour. However, today he made an error. He doesn’t like football, he only pretends to like it. Presumably the selection of Aston Villa as his favourite team was the result of a long forgotten focus group in 2005 and for some reason West Ham popped into his head this morning. He is revealed as inauthentic and he may be punished by the electorate for it. Of course Ed Miliband would love to be as good at faking blokey bonhomie as Cameron, he doesn’t have any moral high ground. But, he is a hopeless actor so by default he’s had to be more authentic. This was a disadvantage, but now Cameron has been caught out it looks like an advantage. Even worse for Cameron this chimes with people’s concerns that he is an out of touch Lord Snooty who probably drinks peasants’ blood for his nightcap. Now we know that he doesn’t even know which football team he supports this looks all the more likely.
Life isn’t fair I’m afraid David. But you live by the sword you have to expect to die by it. I don’t like football either, but then I’ve never tried to get a job by pretending that I do.