So, did you watch David Cameron’s not-so-warts-and-all interview with Trevor McDonald last night? Three things struck me:
• He laughs a lot more than Gordon Brown (at some points, it was more of a five- year-old’s giggle).
• I know no more about Conservative party policies after watching than I did before (‘How can I send this woman a leaflet?’ Dave asked after cold-calling a potential voter. Never mind the leaflets – you’ve got an hour of prime time right here. Why not let all of us in on a few cheeky policies?)
• Despite all the fuss about this being Samantha Cameron’s first television interview, I know no more about her either.
Apparently, Sam Cam is David’s ‘secret weapon’. She must have an extremely good cloaking device. Little was said about her job, her own family background or her past. She’s the creative director of upmarket stationer Smythson, the daughter of Lady Annabel Astor and used to hang out with Tricky back in her art-student days in Bristol. All far more interesting than the shock-horror revelation that our would-be prime minister doesn’t always pick up his socks.
The Conservatives are playing a curious game of identity politics. On the one hand, they’re happy to give us an hour-long documentary on David the man rather than policy, but at the same time, they do their best to keep the really interesting stuff hidden. Why? Is it because they’re worried it might backfire?
‘One of the things most of us do when we judge other people is to judge them based on our own life experiences,’ says psychotherapist Deborah Hill. ‘The first thing that happens is that the mind looks for what’s familiar, and what’s strange. All the information we receive goes through our personal filter. We think, is this person safe? Do I like them or do they like me? Who do they remind me of?’
Are the Conservatives worried that if we really think about who David or Samantha Cameron reminds us of, we’ll be reminded of the elitist Tories of old? I think they must be – after all, this is the party that consults behavioural economists and models itself on the Obama campaign. They know a thing or two about the way we make snap judgements. And everything we know about the power of thin-slicing shows us they’re right to pay attention. Once we’ve formed a first impression, we don’t change our minds easily. In fact, we tend to pay more attention to any information that supports our initial theory about another person. This is called the confirmation bias.
So perhaps, they thought, it was better to give us as little information about Samantha as possible. This way, we might think she’s more ‘one of us’ than ‘one of them’. A shame, really, since she clearly has a lot more to say. Perhaps they should have stuck to the policies rather than the personal politics after all.