It is too soon to reach a firm diagnosis. We would not wish the Prime Minister’s family and friends to abandon hope at this stage. It possible that David Cameron will lead a normal, healthy life for many years to come.
But at today’s Prime Ministers’s Questions, we could not help noticing what look like the signs of early-onset pomposity. This distressing condition is liable to occur in men who have held tremendously important jobs for a number of years, and have come to believe that anyone who presumes to criticise them simply does not begin to understand the full seriousness and significance of the issues with which they are dealing at the highest level on a day to day basis.
Ed Miliband criticised Cameron’s handling of the Pfizer bid for AstraZeneca. The Prime Minister replied: “We’re fighting for British science and I just think it’s a pity he’s trying to play politics.”
The implication was that Cameron was the grown-up, treating the whole thing with due solemnity, while Miliband was just some juvenile joker with no idea of the gravity of the issues at stake.
The Prime Minister went on to remark of Miliband that “I know of course he thinks he’s extremely clever and we all know that”. This again sounded like an early warning sign of what could, if left untreated, develop into full-blown pomposity. A pompous man, who cannot bear being treated with less than total respect, will often accuse his critics of fancying themselves to be cleverer than anyone else.
It is true that Miliband has just claimed, in a newspaper interview, that compared to Cameron, “I feel I am the one with much more intellectual self-confidence”. But Cameron’s reference to this claim somehow lacked lightness of touch. The Prime Minister sounded as if he felt genuinely insulted, and could not see why anyone had the right to attack him. He said the important thing was to “engage” with the Pfizer bid, “and I do find it extraordinary that we’ve been criticised for this”.
We could be going to get a whole year of this kind of thing. The election will be presented as a choice between the grown-ups led by Cameron, who have a long-term economic plan, and the guttersnipes led by Miliband, who are just playing politics. But what else is the Leader of the Opposition supposed to play?