Thought for the day

In her column on possible New Year resolutions for political leaders, Jackie Ashley made two for David Cameron, our possible next Prime Minister, the first of which reads

“.. start being nicer to “the little people” – the makeup artists, photographers, drivers, bag-carriers and all the other slightly fuzzy attendants in the background. You aren’t nice to them. It’s being noticed.”

I found this troubling. I’ve always held a particular distaste for those who treat people who work for them or who they regard as “little people” badly. What a horrible expression “little people” is. Contemptuous and arrogant, sneering and partronising. And, if Jackie Ashley is right in her observation, what a wretched indictment of Cameron it would be, who has, apparently, been making an effort to show that he is not some moneyed toff with no respect for anyone but other, moneyed toffs, preferably from Eton and Oxford. Not the Bullingdon Club member with the contemptuous pout but a man who has proper values, who has grown and who now regrets that part of his life.

Although I have never found David Cameron convincing and think that his EU policies are deeply worrying, when first I heard of him it was through the good reports of various friends who are also his constituents. They had met and talked to him in the shop or out with his son in the village (this before he became party leader) and had found him approachable and pleasant. And the experience of being father to Ivan must have changed him – unsettled the sense of invincibility that a background such as his inevitably bestows and made him a rounder more understanding person. One who I had presumed, had been exposed to ordinary life and ordinary folk – patients, nurses, parents, doctors, people who arrange transport and who do the ordinary work for average salaries and who represent the majority of us who live and work in Britain but who can so easily be categorised by that horrible phrase.

One of the most courteous and charming people I have ever met was John Grigg, who had been Lord Altrincham before he became the second person after Tony Benn to give up a title. He had been a Conservative (as I was once) but was Chairman of Lewisham SDP when I was Area Secretary. Old fashioned as it sounds I’m going with the cliché ; John was a real gentleman. His courtesy and respect extended to everyone he met. Once, after he and I had gone canvassing in the Tory edge of the constituency where we had met some pretty charmless voters, he said with apparent pleasure how delighted he always was by the good common sense of the British voters. I was never quite as broadly generous toward the electorate. John and his wife would entertain party members in his home in Deptford with great hospitality. He never made people feel uneducated or a “little” person because he had a true respect for everyone he met and, as a result, was hugely respected and liked in return. I regard it as a privilege to have worked with him.

In “An Englishman in New York”, John Hurt’s Quentin Crisp tells a friend that he has always called him Mr Steel rather than Philip “because it wouldn’t be respectful” to call him by his first name. After all says Crisp, “ Manners Maketh Man as someone once said “. That would be William of Wykeham who founded Winchester College as well as New College and New College School in Oxford whose motto it is.

David Cameron was at Eton where the motto is translated as “may Eton flourish” as was John Grigg but he knew about Manners Making Man. Perhaps David Cameron might want to reflect that as several people including Montaigne and Madame Cornuel are reputed to have said, “no man is a hero to his valet” – and that a failure of manners to people who can’t retaliate really isn’t big or clever or as my mother would have said – very attractive.

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