The jarring sight of the British Prime Minister wringing his hands on TV, an uncomfortable Pilate willing the whole irritating mess to go away, juxtaposed on news programmes with images of a small boy lying dead on Turkish sands last night tells us much.
Let us take little Aylan first. The three year old had lived in Kobane, a Syrian town near the Turkish border. When the barbarians of Daesh took over his town, this Kurdish family was in deep trouble, simply for being Kurds. The father, Abdullah Kurdi, kept things going in the way that many men did – by working across the Turkish border, smuggling vital supplies back to his family. It was dangerous work. At one stage the man was kidnapped, tortured, and had all his teeth extracted. At this point he knew he had to get his family out of Syria.
It took bravery for Abdullah, his wife Rehan, and their two sons, five year old Galip and little Aylan to risk the border crossing. But Turkey was no place for them. The AKP government is ferociously anti-Kurdish, and in any case, Turkey has taken in perhaps a million Syrians, and whilst it has seen strong economic growth in recent years, it is not a rich European country. The Kurdi family wanted out.
They wanted to go to Canada. Teema Kurdi, a Vancouver hairdresser, was Aylan’s aunt. She’d helped the family as much as she could, staying in contact during their exile, paying thousands of dollars to fix her brother’s smashed mouth. But the Canadian government, like their British counterpart, is led by a vain, compassionless political clone. Auntie Teema’s pleas were rejected.
And so the fateful journey from a Bodrum beach became inevitable. They went to sea in a sieve.
The short trip to Kos became something like a story from Homer’s Odyssey. A raging Poseidon flipped their vessel. Abdullah, a man with no good options, tried desperately to save his family. He tried to grab one child, then the other, as they were tossed about on the waves. As he clambered, exhausted, back onto land, he found his wife so badly dashed against the rocks by the power of the sea that she was barely recognisable.
We just saw one piece of this story – little Aylan, looking like any three year old in his tee shirt, trews, and tiny trainers, except that we knew that his lungs were saturated with Aegean brine. The Turkish police officer lifted the child and carried him away to the waiting front pages of the world’s press.
What has any of this to do with our not-very-nice-and-dim PM? I’m not even sure that David Cameron, that man of a thousand chillaxed holiday beaches, has ever been to Bodrum. A bit package tour for him – I bet he’s done a villa with an infinity pool in Fethiye, or maybe a gulet cruise.
Cameron has had immense political luck up until now. The Eurosceptic right who plagued every Tory leader from John Major on were neutered by the disciplines of coalition, and subsequently forced into relative quiescence by the unexpected election victory which Cameron sees as his own personal victory.
But Cameron is also an indolent man, with the languid charm of a con artist, who enjoys playing the part of Prime Minister and World Statesman, but who can’t be arsed with the effort involved in getting to grips with policy detail, or serious thinking about big issues. Like most posh-but-dim men in “important” jobs, he has staff to do the real work. Fortunately Osborne likes that sort of thing, and the rest you can leave to minions, even if they’re making a pig’s ear of it, like Iain Duncan Smith, or Jeremy Hunt. Why bother, in any case? The newspapers will say you’re the bees knees, even as you wobble on a surfboard on a Cornish beach, or sip cocktails with Sam as the sun sets over Valledemossa.
The refugee crisis in general, but Aylan’s unnecessary death in particular, has cast a shadow over Cameron. Blair, Cameron’s political hero, in his prime would have gone before the cameras, put on his ‘Death of Diana’ face and said something that connected with the public mood. His instincts, before they’s been Murdoch’d and Berlusconi’d and Bushwhacked into delusion, would have been to understand what was needed. But not Cameron.
Aylan, the dead three year old, has told us that Emperor Cameron has no clothes. He’s out of his depth, floundering around, throwing his toys, yelling for some policy wonks and pollsters to tell him what to say.
Don’t expect Cameron’s surface, smooth, Etonian style to slip. His parents paid a lot of money for that education – about as much as some Syrian families have paid people smugglers. But the cat’s out of the bag. We now can see that faced with a problem that requires leadership, co-operation across national boundaries, the willingness to be unpopular but right, to build bridges with other European political leaders, our man is bloody useless.