The premise of The Meaning of David Cameron is simply inspired and could not – with the election of the coalition Government – be more timely or appropriate.

The Meaning of David Cameron coverThe book’s author Richard Seymour must be congratulated on his decision to use the “cipher” of our current prime minister to present a classic historical materialist presentation of the century leading up to the last visit to the polls.

The dust cover announces that: “Despite being told, arguably more about Cameron the man than any other politician he remains vacuous, strangely unformed, a cipher for the real interests and forces he represents.”

And so we are promised – for a very reasonable £6.99 – the “unmasking of the false politics Cameron embodies, and an examination of the face of the mask has eaten into.”

Seymour, who blogs at Lenin’s Tomb, presents a very robust case: David Cameron represents the continuation of the hegemonic victory of neoliberalism which runs from Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. (What he doesn’t appear to point out is this makes the Conservative election pledge of “change” a complete lie).

The title of the book echoes Alain Badiou’s The Meaning of Sarkozy and the same ruse is found in the content, where Seymour chooses some key troupes in order to offer a form of deconstruction which allows us to understand the big picture – or grand narrative.

In doing so he makes three vital points: the electorate is not “apathetic” but rather the parties standing are simply pathetic. They offer no substantive choice so of course fewer people feel compelled to choose.

Fatal flaw

Meritocracy has no merit. And here we (collectively) are reminded that the phrase was coined by the sociologist Michael Young in 1958 precisely to show that promoting the most “able” simply produced a new ruling class.

And finally we are told that the Conservatives are progressive. They are just as likely to destroy the old when it is obsolete, no longer serving the ruling class’s self interest, than any Left radical. Indeed, it is the left which is trying to conserve (working class) traditions, such as trade unions.

To this extent, Seymour has done a fantastic job of work. He has distilled some great books – not least Paul Foot’s seminal The Vote – and filtered hundreds of articles to produce a lively, compelling journey through time.

However. The fatal weakness of this book is what should have been its greatest strength – the presentation. Seymour has oversold himself and in doing so undone much that is valuable about this book.

The reference to Badiou might suggest that this is a philosophical work unpicking the meaning of a specific individual and in the process exploring the current position of communism in terms of theory. Unfortunately, there is not an original idea in this book.

Moreover, you might be forgiven for thinking this is a book about David Cameron. It’s not. Badiou constantly returns to his subject, identifies him as the Rat Man, pins him precisely to what he calls Petainism and describes this as the transcendental.

The most interesting point made in The Meaning of David Cameron is that the ruling class has by making class a taboo put one of its own back on the throne. Not just an individual like Margaret Thatcher working in its own interests, but someone with royal ancestry. This comes in on page eight, but it’s not really a point he pursues.

Cameron the man – and the meaning – is conspicuous by its absence. I have half a mind to call up Trading Standards. The historical brush is so sweeping you could have called this “The Meaning of Life” or to avoid a writ from Monty Python, “The Meaning of 2010.”

This is a point Seymour is aware of. At the launch event at Housmans he states: “I apologise for getting everyone here under false pretences, but the fact is I haven’t actually written a book about David Cameron. That struck me as a bit boring.” Well, I just bought a book I thought was about Cameron so that makes me a right chump.

This fatal flaw is the cause but there is an equally fatal flaw which is a symptom. It seems the lack of really clever ideas is being disguised behind the use of really really clever words. There were a good few words in “Cameron” I didn’t know which were not explained. There was precisely one in “Sarkozy”.

There are a dozen Latin phrases in this book. Some are harmless, most are common assault. This seems strange when the working class is, for Seymour and myself, the agent of change. Who is this book written for exactly? This is a book. I am on a train to work. Do I really have to Google this shit?

So having put me in a mood where I want to prove Seymour is not much more clever than me he does this in a book written before – but published after – the election: “I will risk a bet on the outcome of the upcoming election. Cameron…will get a small working majority.”

But forget about all this. I am genuinely grateful for being forced to read Badiou’s book – which is incidentally published by Verso, which brought out Seymour’s The Liberal Defence of Murder.

The Meaning of David Cameron is a bite-sized, mostly digestible dish rich with historical nuggets and chips from contemporary reporting. And Seymour’s conclusion is bang on the money: David Cameron is about to launch an unprecedented attack on the working class.

(Declaration of interest: The Meaning of David Cameron is published by Zero Books with whom I have had some dealings).