OPINION: Has Cameron's charm offensive backfired?

Last week David Cameron - upset with The Mirror's constant references to him as ‘Tory toff' and ‘Old Etonian' - took an hour out of his busy schedule to meet the paper's editor, Richard Wallace.

Those who don’t read The Mirror may not be aware that this was the paper that exposed the fact that Cameron’s limo carried his papers to work when he ‘cycled to Parliament’.

Moreover, associate editor Kevin Maguire has been a lone voice in attacking Cameron over his elitist background, and Maguire tells me that, now that others have joined in, Cameron is starting to get worried.

It was the grammar schools row over the past few weeks that really brought things to a head. Even some on Cameron’s own side have attacked him for hypocrisy; it’s alright to have selection if you are rich and want to go to Eton, they cry, but not for the rest of us who may want to go to a grammar school.

At the last election we had Michael Howard boasting that he was a grammar school boy, but Cameron knows that his own schooling at Eton could be damaging for him. It was also the subject of the Peter Hitchens documentary Cameron: Toff at the Top, screened on Channel 4 back in March.

But Cameron’s latest charm offensive on Wallace may have backfired.

His first mistake was to claim that the attacks on him were ‘worse than those by The Sun on Neil Kinnock in the early 1990s’ – something which is patently untrue.

His second was to leak details of his private discussions with Wallace to other media. This so ­incensed The Mirror editor that he has now publicly given his version of events and, according to sour­ces, told his reporters to step up the anti-Cameron rhetoric.

Indeed, could it be that it was all this ‘toff’ stuff that prompted Cameron to appoint Essex boy Andy Coulson as his new spin-doctor?

But now that everyone is aware of just how sensitive the Tory leader is to his privileged background, we should probably expect more exposés of Hooray Henry antics such as the infamous Bullingdon Club snap a few months ago.

This was actually pulled by a picture agency ­after pressure from Tory central office, but as Maguire chortled to me, ‘they can’t stop us printing the painting of the picture helpfully provided by Newsnight’.

My advice to Coulson is that The Mirror is a lost cause in this ­respect. His only hope may be to discourage the rest of Fleet Street and hope they gradually get bored with the toff theme.
charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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