Paternal Vigilance

June 18, 2012 5:26 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

What a relief never to have had children. So many eventualities are routinely accounted “every parent’s nightmare” that I imagine every mum and dad must pass their lives suffused with dread.

The latest outing for this cliché was conducted by Sami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, on Any Questions?. The panel were contemplating the occasion – now fairly ancient but only revealed this last week – when David and Samantha Cameron were having Sunday lunch at a country pub with friends (the Charlie Brookses, perhaps, in which case their preoccupation would be quite understandable). When they got back to Chequers, it was noticed that one of the children was missing. Mrs Cameron phoned the pub, ascertained that the child had been found in the ladies’ convenience and drove back to retrieve her.

The neglectful father has received a wave of public sympathy or at least of empathy. What parent – it seems – has never left a child behind, sometimes even in a foreign country, only noticing the lack a few weeks later? The lapse evidently makes Cameron seem human. It can only be a matter of days before his opinion poll rating bounces back into the black and the Tories go on to win a landslide at the next election.

Even the left has been in forgiving mode. “Actually, I don’t think Cameron did anything terribly wrong,” wrote Suzanne Moore in The Guardian. “Nothing happened to the child”. Oh well, that’s all right then. But you’d think Moore would be old hand enough to notice the implication of her words. A lapse is a lapse, whatever the upshot. Drink-driving, for instance, is not rendered ok because you happen not to plough into somebody.

In any case, Cameron is far from being “every parent”. I don’t imagine Moore goes to the pub on a Sunday with a detail of security guards as well as her children in tow. The chance of one of her brood being kidnapped and held to ransom must be considered relatively low. The chance of this happening to one of Cameron’s children is surely at the top level of consideration when contingency strategy is being planned for the Cameron family movements.

So what the hell were Cameron’s security officers doing on that Sunday jaunt? Don’t they, as a matter of course, do a head count every time the family makes a move? “Oh, I thought she was in the other car” may be good enough for parents with little other than their faces to lose. For Cameron, it could be the difference between a news story that makes him seem a (loveable?) putz and a major terrorist incident that ends in a tragedy.

It’s hard not to feel that security around the government and the establishment errs on the lax side. On the Any Questions? panel with Chakrabarti was John Whittingdale, chair of the parliamentary select committee on culture, media and sport. Had I been a panellist that evening, I would have made a connection between the security lapse at the pub and the one last summer that allowed politico-comedian Jonnie Marbles close enough to Rupert Murdoch to pie him while he was giving evidence to Whittingdale’s committee.

Then last month a man crashed the Leveson Inquiry and had leisure to denounce Tony Blair as a war criminal before being apprehended. In the time it took him to deliver his diatribe, an uninvited guest could have killed Blair one of several ways or indeed detonated a bomb and killed everyone in the room. Lord Justice Leveson ordered an immediate investigation of the security breach, the results of which, you may be sure, will not be made public.

Three such lapses in a year are enough to make anyone with evil intent against the PM and/or the legislature rub his hands in glee. How hard would it be to nab a member of the royal family and demand the release of convicted terrorists? Could a suicide bomber get into the chamber of the House of Commons during prime minister’s questions when the maximum carnage could be inflicted? Could a mole be embedded at number 10 Downing Street?

The tenor of these matters is set by the top man. A lackadaisical approach to potential danger is all of a piece with Cameron’s attitude to government, which has given rise to the horrible coinage “chillaxing”. He seems to wish to temper his impersonation of his political idol, Tony Blair, with the laid-back, not to say bibulous, style of Charles Kennedy. That’s where coalition politics leads you.

Serious security wallahs must be tearing out their hair. After all, Cameron had already committed a colossal breach of vetting protocol by allowing his then director of communications, former Murdoch editor Andy Coulson, to attend security briefings for which he had not been cleared. To my eyes, this constitutes a prima facie breach of the law governing state security committed by the prime minister himself, surely a unique situation.

It is all well and good for Cameron to play fast and loose with his own safety and that of his family. Perhaps he would imagine it a neat and desirable summation if, exactly two hundred years after the only other assassination of a British PM (Spencer Perceval), his own career should end while he has his boots on.

But modern assassins spare no thought for the fate of innocent bystanders – what the brutish military jargon calls “collateral damage” – and Cameron needs to heed the danger to others, let alone the danger that the state itself might totter in such a circumstance.

A much misquoted and misattributed sentiment comes in fact from the 18th century Irish lawyer and orator John Philpot Curran: “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance”. It seems inevitable that David Cameron’s downfall, one way or another, will derive from an inability to keep his eye on the ball.


Since my last posting, we in Britain have been wrung out by the conclusion of two great American teledramas. Desperate Housewives ran out of road after eight seasons. The show had its idiocies, particularly its murder subplots which could not be made credible even by such classy guest actors as the wonderful Alfre Woodard. But led by four strong roles for women – well, three out of four ain’t bad – it kept up a lively and sometimes satisfyingly surprising plot development and often enough put together something quite magical.

Certainly, after the near-climactic pull-together of strands central to continuing drama – birth, marriage, death – in a perfectly conceived and paced montage to the hauntingly creamy 1957 number ‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’, I shall never again hear that first hit for Johnny Mathis without thinking fondly of this show.

Writer-producer Marc Cherry caught my eye by frequently giving episodes of Desperate Housewives subtitles that were song titles of Stephen Sondheim’s or otherwise related to Sondheimiana (the second episode of Season 1, after the inevitable ‘Pilot’, was titled ‘Ah, But Underneath’, which even some mainstream Sondheimians might not recognise). The last episode was called, very properly, ‘Finishing the Hat’. Had Cherry anticipated that Channel 4 would push successive episodes of the eighth season further and further down the schedule until ‘Finishing the Hat’ went out at 12.00, he might have called it ‘The Last Midnight’.

Dexter ended a couple of nights later, though it will be returning for at least a seventh and an eighth season. Like Desperate Housewives, it maintains a high standard of writing and direction and is able to attract a guest cast of distinction. One might imagine that the premise of a police department blood analyst who moonlights as a vigilante serial killer would offer limited scope for sustained interest and development, but the compelling nature of the tension between these two roles has been remarkably consistent. Series 6 ended on a beautifully revealed crisis that will doubtless dictate the major pattern of the succeeding episodes. I can’t wait.

The last of the three-parter God Save The Queens (the first two parts of which I dished last time) revisited the notorious remark that knocked the career of Julian Clary off course almost twenty years ago. Coming on to present an award at a show broadcast live on ITV, Clary was asked by the host Jonathan Ross what he’d been up to, whereupon, plucking from the air the name of the most unlikely of his fellow guests (the then Chancellor of the Exchequer), Clary replied: “I’ve been fisting Norman Lamont”.

Sky transmitters go in for a lot of censoring – Joan Rivers’ potty-mouthed show Fashion Police is frequently bleeped – but it made a nonsense of almost every reflection on Clary’s outrage given in the programme when the word ‘fisting’ was obliterated. What possible rationale would there be for such nannying? Anyone likely to suffer a stroke on hearing the word would have long since switched off the programme in disgust. A word transmitted on prime-time ITV in 1993 can surely be permitted in the much looser environment of minority satellite broadcasting in the multi-channel age.

I like to think that, in the utterly unimaginable event that I were a guest on a chat show and the present Chancellor were another guest, I would have the gumption to pay a graceful tribute to the national treasure that is Julian Clary and reply to the host’s question about my recent activities: “Well, naturally, I’ve been fisting George Osborne”.


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This post was written by W Stephen Gilbert

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