I recently attended one of David Cameron's Q & A events at a local community centre. I often intend to go to such events, but usually when the time arrives I find an excuse to avoid leaving the house. However, since the Cameron event was billed as informal and community-led (perhaps even Jeffersonian!), I set my mind on attending.
All in all the event was a success. I live in a marginal constituency surrounded by red. My local council has a Tory majority, but the MP who represents the constituency in Westminster is a Blairite. Cameron was welcomed cordially by the crowd and he answered all questions thrown at him. The nature of most of the questions demonstrated that the Tories hadn't planted them, so I applaud Cameron for that. I do however have a couple of complaints: that the leader of the opposition attended such an intimate event and answered as many questions as he could is admirable, but Cameron ultimately failed to really engage with the assembled audience. He arrived, answered questions and left. That's fine, but I think it would have helped his cause if he had have hung around afterwards for a short period. Frustratingly I was sat at the back of the hall in amongst the Tory leader's gofers and a huddle of photographers and cameramen. That ultimately ruined any image I had before I arrived of the event being an intimate and informal display of Jeffersonian democracy. I felt in a sense that Cameron was there but wasn't. He was there in person and he did what he said he would do - openly answer questions, but he did so surrounded by a virtually invisible film of political and PR nonsense. That is regrettable, and reminded me why I usually find a last minute reason not to attend such events.
It's only by attending such events that one can get an understanding of the dynamics and superficiality of modern politics. Cameron's gofers were standing behind me discussing where they had to be next, how the earlier engagement had gone, how the leader looked on the stage. Any whimsical feeling of informal prairie democracy I held before arrived vanished. While I was pleased with Cameron's frankness and responsiveness, I felt in a sense that I knew less of the man after the event than I did before it (I've never seen Mr Cameron speak before). Cameron regrettably has a couple of assistants and gofers who are of the Westminster pretentious variety, which is always a negative in my opinion, and makes me wonder what kind of shield of spin doctors he'll employ should he become PM. The photographers were equally infuriating, and reminded me that I was ultimately at a PR event. Unfortunate and regrettable. Perhaps if I had have arrived earlier and managed to get a seat closer to the front of the hall I would feel quite differently.
I also met members of my local Tory association and a few Tory councillors and the constituency's Tory parliamentary candidate. I get the impression that there's a fair bit of internal politics in my association. What one could call "politics of politics", something I really dislike. Politics of politics only weaken an organisation from within and allow competitors to exploit its weaknesses. The central party may well have made an error by bringing an "outsider" to represent it in the coming general election, but perhaps it felt there was no alternative.
For the pragmatic individual such as myself, attending the event was informative. Based on the gofers and the obvious PR, I'm not sure if Cameron is the kind of PM I'd like to lead the country (it was too Blairite for my liking). And I'm not sure I'd want a Tory MP to represent my constituency in parliament if doing so serves to fundamentally weaken the local association. Not what I intended to get out of the event at all!