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Sea bass and manufactured normality

David Cameron is in Morrisons picking up his messages? You’d think he was trying to differentiate himself from rich bankers or something…

We’re all media savvy, right? In the modern world everyone knows about spin and image management and all the rest, right? I’m not sure. Today I read that David Cameron was in Morrisons for 15 minutes picking up sea bass, potatoes and lemon or some such and I think that no-one could fall for this. It’s no just the generality – the idea that Cameron is just like us, checking out the bargain bin for stuff almost at its best before. It’s not just the details – I mean, if Cameron was really just picking up his messages, would it really be Morrisons? The class signifier of the choice of shop particularly grated given that in the scheme of these things Morrisons is at the bottom of the prestige list of the big four (Sainsbury then Tesco then Asda I’d have guessed). If Cameron was picking up his seabass unwatched I rather suspect it would be Waitrose – and only then if he was slumming it. It isn’t just the timing – this is ‘class war’ week when suddenly no-one wants to be seen to be on the side of the rich.

No, it’s not any of these individual things that makes me sure people couldn’t fall for this stuff. Its the totality. It’s the pitch-perfect, perfectly-formed symmetry of it all. Not a detail out of place. For me it looked clumsy, predictable, ordinary. It was more likely to backfire than work.

And yet it appears that I’m absolutely wrong. If prompted most people know Cameron is rich, and a very particular kind of rich (as in ‘from birth’ and not ‘started a dotcom business’). But somehow, with the endless complicity of the rightwing parts of the media, the Construction of Normality surrounding Cameron appears to work. For reasons that escape me, people may know Cameron is rich if prompted but they still seem to manage to identify with him (or at least many do).

We need to be more conscious of this than often we are. There is very much a class war going on in Britain in which the rich are pushing an ever-more punitive agenda against the poor. But this is a risky process, especially for the Tories. They can get away with it only under two circumstances. Firstly, they have to break the link between ‘us’ and ‘the poor’. Only by creating that distance can an assault on large proportions of society be carried out safely without drawing many more of us in on the other side. Secondly, they need to be us as well. Only if they are ‘on the same side as us’ can they act effectively to prosecute their war.

So much as I may laugh at the idea that Cameron is in Poundland picking up cheap tupperware or whatever nonsense comes next, it really isn’t funny. There is a careful manufacturing of identities going on here with the aim of safeguarding their Millionaires Revolution. And it’s working.

Robin McAlpine