"If the Tories want to condemn Patricia Hewitt,
the Health Secretary, for her “nanny state” tendencies, as they should,
their leader must avoid really trite sentences such as: “As Britain
faces an obesity crisis, why does WH Smith’s promote half-price
Chocolate Oranges at its checkouts instead of real oranges?” The
oranges line is nannyish in the extreme. This is a matter for the
company and its customers, not for an aspiring prime minister."
I think Mr Cameron was right to say what he did. Many parents hate the way retailers stack chocolate and sweets at checkouts – within easy reach of children’s hands. Just before Christmas I watched an unhappy parent have to repeatedly stop his toddler son from snatching at sweet packets at a M&S till.
Mr Cameron didn’t speak so much as a legislator yesterday, but as a father. Unlike many Tory politicians Mr Cameron has been comfortable relating his family life to his public role and he also appears willing to use the ‘bully pulpit‘ – as used very effectively by American politicians.
By the bully pulpit Americans are referring to a public figure’s ability to command public attention for his or her pronouncements. George W Bush has used his office to encourage American citizens to more active forms of civic responsibility. Senator Hillary Clinton has used her profile to draw attention to violence in the media (as ‘candidate Cameron’ did). The Times’ criticism of Mr Cameron may have been motivated by a suspicion that he wanted to pass regulations that would limit W H Smith’s ability to promote chocolate oranges or toblerones to their customers. That would obviously be a step too far but there is nothing wrong with a politician identifying with other parents across the country who resent retailers’ marketing methods.
Mr Cameron’s willingness to talk about his family was on full show yesterday – during his remarks about the NHS:
"I have a child who’s not too well, so I’ve seen a lot of the NHS from the inside. In fact, in the last three years, I’ve probably spent more time in NHS hospitals than any politician apart from the few doctors in the House of Commons. I’ve spent the night in A&E departments and slept at my child’s bedside. I’ve got to know the people who dedicate their lives to helping others. I’ve met so many miracle workers who are the real jewels in the NHS crown. Not just consultants, doctors and nurses but all the unsung heroes, too. Porters, cleaners, and the army of voluntary workers who give their time and energy so unselfishly. I’ve spent this morning with two people who work in the national health service. Jack and Doreen. They drive an ambulance, taking severely disabled children to school. They’re not just drivers, they’re carers, helpers and friends to all those whose lives they make easier."
I used to work for IDS when he was Tory leader and he was scrupulous about keeping his four children out of the limelight and I have huge respect for that principled position. There is no doubt, however, that Mr Cameron’s willingness to talk about his home life is very engaging for voters.
Today’s Mail – which knows a thing or two about the way its largely female readership thinks – gives David Cameron’s NHS speech a two page splash but it doesn’t focus on the policy detail. ‘The Son behind my NHS crusade: A radical Tory shift on health inspired by disabled boy of 3’ is the chosen headline.
Nominations are still open for ConservativeHome’s ‘Who is the biggest influence on David Cameron?‘ vote but Frank Young’s suggestion that his wife and children are a very big influence on the new Tory leader is particularly worthy of consideration.
Mr Cameron’s Tory leadership isn’t just changing Tory policy
positions. His willingness to talk about his family and venture into
virgin territory (like the marketing techniques of big business
retailers) are almost as significant.