The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Britain's new PM David Cameron has a secret Hollywood-style back story

May 12, 2010 |  6:00 pm

David_cameron I've been reading miles and miles of stories about David Cameron, Britain's new Conservative prime minister, but I had to go to Vanity Fair to discover the really fascinating, Hollywood-style back story to his ascent to power: Before he was a politician ... he was a PR guy!

Here in America, we elect presidents who've been governors, owned baseball teams, run the CIA and been community organizers. But in England, they actually elected a PR man.

Imagine the possibilities. In America, presidents turn to Svengalis like Dick Morris and Karl Rove to sell their policies. But with Cameron, it's in the blood. As Michael Wolff reveals in his recent, must-read Vanity Fair profile of the new PM, Cameron spent seven years as the head flack at England's sprawling Carlton Communications television group. And it turns out that two of the inside members of Cameron's brain trust are Steve Hilton, a Saatchi & Saatchi ad executive, and Hilton's wife, Rachel Whetstone, who's now a senior marketing executive at Google.

No wonder Cameron looked so polished on TV, pushing his own version of George Bush-style compassionate conservatism. He didn't need a Hollywood handler to help him get across that soft-eyed sincerity that we all love in our politicians, allowing him to say, for example, that he's keen to promote environmentally friendly policies while simultaneously being opposed to any onerous regulation of business.

What I like best of all is that Cameron, at least in an unguarded moment, actually talks exactly the way a Hollywood PR guy talks when he's advising a client, even though he's actually the client himself. As he said to Wolff, when discussing his moderate views: "There's a left-right spectrum -- where are you? I don't really do it like that. What I've tried to do is marry a belief in market economics with the importance of a strong economy while restoring the condition of the Conservatives' being social reformers and also addressing the future -- climate change and environment. It's the full kind of package."

In other words, he knows how to excite you and soothe you, intrigue you and endear you, all at the same time. He's a four-quadrant politician, offering something for everybody, sort of like a Will Smith movie. I suspect American politicians have a lot to learn from David Cameron. This is a man who' s ready for his close-up.  

Photo: Prime Minister David Cameron leaving No. 10 Downing St. after his first day of work. Credit: Tim Hales / Associated Press