The last time they got this messed up together, they ended up trashing a restaurant, pissing on All Souls’ lawn, and making their getaway in a punt steered by a man who would go on to be nicknamed “Brownfinger” at JP Morgan.
Just kidding, of course. I think he was at Credit Suisse.
Still, it was impossible to watch Cameron and Boris doing a puzzle and not reflect how great it was to see the old gang back together. Except it was impossible to watch them doing the puzzle unless you wrote for Murdoch, Rothermere or the Barclay brothers – but we’ll come to the selective secrecy of these events later.
For days, the Tory line has been that Boris is being “weaponised”, and today he was unveiled as a giant voter defence shield for Cameron, whose aversion to going anywhere near the electorate is increasingly marked. A couple of days ago it was thought that a Google Streetview camera had managed to capture a historic image of the PM having an unstaged encounter with a voter, but it turned out to be just the Loch Ness monster.
Of all the unedifying sights I’ve seen so far this campaign, the sorriest has to be Cameron’s entourage forming a protective huddle round him on a busy platform at Bedford station on Wednesday morning, while the prime minister’s eyes darted nervously about, wondering where his late-running train was.
He wore the anxious air of a man who absolutely does not wish to be approached, and his fellow passengers could only have clocked it. He made eye contact with no one, and no one came up to him, until a lone woman asked for a picture. He didn’t seem to know quite what to say, essaying a half-arsed, “Fifteen days to go!” “I’m off to spend the day with Boris, which is always an entertainment …” he concluded, sounding like it was always a massive ballache.
The sneaking suspicion must be that Cameron is given to mentioning his vastly more popular Tory colleague when he’s forced to meet an unscreened citizen – it’s a tell, in the way that Gordon Brown always used to bring up his Presbyterian minister father when he was about to unleash a terrible fib.
You’d have thought that the presence of Boris would have finally emboldened Cameron to risk a walkabout, but perhaps he doesn’t care to be upstaged. Instead, the pair visited a day nursery in Surbiton – and access to the secret weapon was granted to one reporter each from the Times, the Sun, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, and a single camera crew, while the Guardian was cordoned outside.
Reports from those permitted inside the building suggest Boris was unable to resist the temptation to let daylight in on magic. “Craig Oliver is telling me to do the puzzle,” he said, presumably with the insolence of a man who knows that most photos of him are destined to end up on social media beneath the caption “MASSIVE LEGEND”. “It’s a bit like the campaign,” he said on final completion of the jigsaw. “It all comes together in the end,” glossed Cameron.
Yup, it’s your basic buddy-politician format. You know how this one goes: two mismatched guys who clearly can’t stand each other have to work together. One is straitlaced and just wants to retire in a couple of years. The other is a maverick who plays by his own rules. Think of Cameron as Danny Glover to Boris’s Mel Gibson – or maybe Judge Rheinhold to Boris’s Eddie Murphy. Though obviously, because of the atrocious narrowness of our politics, both are played by chaps who went to Eton, Oxford, and an unspecified number of Bullingdon Club dinners.
Anyway, the day was run not so much on a need-to-know basis as a we’ll-decide-who-needs-to-know basis. I don’t want to overegg this remoteness problem, but we did start the day in a facility that describes itself as “the UK’s premier supplier of log cabins”. By Friday we’ll be at the UK’s premier supplier of panic rooms. Cameron has toured so many empty business parks and factories now that he must be totally dislocated, like some infinitely duller version of an arena rock star whose manager has to slap him awake and tell him he’s in Minneapolis.
As for his vast road crew ... students of political esoterica may care to know that the Tory operatives have a whole badge system going on this election. There are countless people whose job seems to be to busy themselves being busy (what was it Jaap Stam said about the Neville brothers?). Each has a small circular metal badge on their lapel. Some are yellow, some are green, some are red. There may be other colours.
Perhaps they’re medals – the purple hearts of stage management. I’d guess that they have their roots – like most desperately self-parodic elements of British life – in the petty, endlessly pointless hierarchies of a minor public school shortly after the end of empire. The sort of place Iain Duncan Smith would have been bursar were it not for the affirmative action that has seen him promoted to the position he occupies today. But if you ask about the badges, no one will tell you about the badges. Any covert information about the badges would be gratefully received.
This article was written by Marina Hyde, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 22nd April 2015 18.29 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010