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The aims of David Cameron’s New York trip

By Peter Hoskin
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Who is David Cameron? Or, rather, how should he come across? This question has exercised the minds of Tory strategists for at least a couple of years now, and for two particular reasons. First, Coalition government has eroded the public’s sense of the Prime Minister. Second, as I wrote recently, Mr Cameron has, to some extent, always been able to flit between statesmanlike and chummy. Do the times call for one over the other?

And this is why the Prime Minister’s trip to New York is so striking — for what we appear to be getting is a selection of the many faces of Dave, or at least an attempt at a selection. For example:

David William Donald Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, First Lord of the Treasury, Minister for the Civil Service and Leader of the Conservative Party. On the day of Nick Clegg’s conference speech, and a week before Ed Miliband’s, Mr Cameron is flexing his own vocal chords, and in no less a setting than the United Nations building. The subject of his speech is suitably Prime Ministerial: the progress of the Arab Spring, which he is said to remain optimistic about. And what’s going on around it is similarly high-level: for example, a meeting with Egypt’s President, Mohammed Morsi, will involve discussions about giving British military advice to the country. Of course, Mr Cameron couldn’t have helped the timing of this UN General Assembly, but it’s almost as if he’s saying, “Could you imagine Ed Miliband doing this? Really?”

David Cameron, compassionate man. Yesterday, Mr Cameron restated his commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, including the pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid. This should come as no surprise — he did likewise in the aftermath of the Olympics — but No.10 will still hope that it strengthens his credentials as a charitable globalist, particularly as it comes in the face of opposition from many Tory backbenchers.

David Cameron, technological whizz. Technology was one of the main early themes of Mr Cameron’s leadership: how it can advance opportunity, how it can break down power structures, etc, etc. But his public commitment to it has since appeared to wane — to the extent that, in an Times article (£) last month, I suggested that he start talking about it again. But he may not need the advice any more, given his surprise appearance at a technology conference yesterday. Let’s hope he keeps it up, as this is both an optimistic and economically hard-headed story for him to focus on.  

Dave, funny guy. And then there’s the part of Mr Cameron’s visit to New York that is garnering the most attention: his appearance on the David Letterman chat show tonight. Some people may be wondering what he’s let himself in for, but there’s really no cause for alarm. As the Guardian points out in an editorial today, Mr Letterman is a light and benign interviewer, even when he starts with the gags. And this should also be on opportunity for Cameron to unveil what Iain Martin described yesterday as his “cracking sense of humour … seen only fleetingly by the media, but he can be very, very irreverent and amusing.”

I wonder whether, amid the many aims of David Cameron’s New York trip, there is one principal, concerted aim: to round out the public’s impression of the man who is Prime Minister. If that is the case, we shall surely see more of this balancing act at party conference.


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