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The Meaning of David Cameron Paperback – 3 Jun 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 114 pages
  • Publisher: O Books; First Edition edition (3 Jun. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846944562
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846944567
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 0.7 x 22.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 523,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a socialist, writer, teacher and neurotic. I write regular columns for the Guardian and occasional pieces for other publications, and am the author of, most recently 'Against Austerity: How We Can Fix The Crisis They Made' (Pluto, 2014).

Previous books include 'The Liberal Defence of Murder' (Verso, 2008), 'The Meaning of David Cameron' (Zero, 2010), and 'American Insurgents', 'Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens' (Verso, 2012).

I have also contributed to 'Christopher Hitchens and his Critics', 'The Ashgate Research Companion to Political Violence', 'On Utoya: Anders Breivik, Right Terror, Islamophobia and Europe', and 'Race and Racism in International Relations: Confronting the Global Colour Line'.

I was born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland in 1977, and grew up in Protestant squalor and small town idiocy. I have lived in London since 1996, and am currently researching a PhD in sociology at the London School of Economics.

Product Description

About the Author

Richard Seymour, one of Britain's leading bloggers (Lenin's Tomb) and radical journalists, is the author of The Liberal Defence of Murder.


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Richard Seymour's The Meaning of David Cameron is a short and pungent apologia for the Marxist categories of class and class war, which declares early on its intention to grate against the sensibilities of readers accustomed to the euphemistic treatment of such topics. The "meaning" of David Cameron, it turns out, is much the same as the "meaning" of any party leader situated within the neo-liberal consensus that unites "left", "right" and "centre" parliamentary persuasions; which is to say that he is a cipher performing an established function within the apparatus of ruling class power.

Cameron's personal "fitness for purpose" as the individual selected to perform this role is at best of secondary interest; Seymour argues persuasively (and contemptuously) that the distinctive "philosophy" he brings with him (Philip Blond's "Red Toryism") is scarcely more than mood-music: Blond's cranky neo-mediaevalism is merely the holy water with which Cameronism consecrates the heart-burnings of the petit bourgeois. In reality, Cameron and Blair are - to borrow a phrase from Badiou's recent The Meaning of Sarkozy - two badgers from the same hill: a pair of trendy vicars, or fashionable proxies for the theocracy of finance capital. Fashions change, but the neo-liberal gospel remains the same.

Seymour's book considers three euphemisms, which label the vertices of Cameron's electoral triangulation. These are "apathy" (a euphemism for popular disempowerment), "meritocracy" (a polite name for the untrammelled reproduction of class privilege) and "progress" (a cuddly version of Thatcher's reactionary radicalism).
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Format: Paperback
Richard Seymour writes the blog `Lenin's tomb'. In this useful book, he makes a lot of good points. He points out that Blair's evidence-based policy-making turned out to be policy-based evidence-making.

Seymour cites the free market economist Ludwig von Mises, who taught Thatcher's idol Friedrich von Hayek, "It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilisation. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history."

Immigration adds to the supply of workers to keep wages and workers down. Building too few houses drives house prices up. Privatisations put our money into individual accounts managed by the City, while former Labour minister Lord Digby Jones urges the government to `starve the jobless back to work'.

Last year the richest 1,000 Britons got a record 30 per cent more wealth, thanks to the government's pouring £1.2 trillions into the banking system to prop up the euro and stock market and property values. Between June 2009 and April 2010, national income rose by £27 billion, £24 billion of which were profits.

The ruling class rules whatever the voting system, however we vote, whatever we want, whatever they say. Remember Cameron's `cast-iron guarantee' of a referendum on the EU Treaty?

Writing before the attack on Libya, Seymour ends presciently, "What is the meaning of David Cameron? He means war."
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Seymour's latest is a nimbly diminutive text next to his previous sturdy, fat tome "The Liberal Defence of Murder" (awful title, lovely book). It works best in two guises.

First, it is a good user's guide to the political language used by dismal parliamentarians, fumbling media hacks, predictable pundits, utter bankers and complete think-tankers. In this guise, "The Meaning of David Cameron" takes its subject, a vague corporate personality known as David Cameron, as the starting point for an examination of the founding lexemes of contemporary political discourse.

For instance? Every politician, Cameron in particular, accentuates the progressive these days. Some people might think that the Tories are just re-branding some old reactionary hide when they blather about being progressive, but Seymour argues that the idiom of conservative 'progress' is more than mere subterfuge. It depends on a peculiar idea of progress rooted in the history of conservative thought, from Burke onward, wherein progress is not measured by accumulations of liberty, or approaches toward greater equality, but by accumulations of capital and wealth. It is a conceit that has enjoyed renewed prominence because of the retreat of alternative ideas of progress upheld by social democracy, socialism, and communism. Similarly, the book exposes the dark underside of other seemingly harmless ideas, finding in them concentrations of unacknowledged class power, privilege and undemocratic violence. There are unsatisfactory moments here, but mainly because of what Seymour omits or neglects to flesh out - his dissection of 'meritocracy' would have been better for having included some discussion of what 'merit' is, or can be, and what sort of things a socially just society might reward.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8dd53600) out of 5 stars 3 reviews
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e0a9990) out of 5 stars Thoroughly Modern Tory 22 Jun. 2010
By Oma - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The ruling class doesn't meet every month in smoke-filled rooms, waited on by Honduran man-servants, chomping cigars and discussing the latest American Enterprise Institute report. Like Baudelaire (and Kevin Spacey) said of the devil, the production of hegemonic conceits is far more subtle than that. And in their drunken hubris, perhaps the masters of the universe have actually started to believe that their privilege is, in fact, the just reward of the meritorious. Which is to imply, as Richard Seymour puts it, "... that those currently at the top--the Warren Buffets and Roman Abramoviches of this world--are the very best, the nec plus ultra of humanity." This is the type of "hate speech" embedded in the neoliberal vernacular that The Meaning of David Cameron attempts to undermine.

Though bound to mislead a few British book buyers, it should come as a relief to those on the penetrative side of the "special relationship" that this isn't actually a book about David Cameron. Cameron himself is an unimpressive figure. No rags-to-riches story, no stellar rhetorical or intellectual gifts, he is the embodiment the banality that we've come to expect from "late" capitalism. Yet the historical forces that swept Cameron and his hopey-changey sidekick into office are of universal interest.

Seymour's first book, The Liberal Defence of Murder, was a sprawling, well-researched tome that covered centuries of liberal apologetics for imperial crusade. It has been compared to La Trahison des Clercs with some justice. His latest--namesake courtesy of Alain Badiou--is more like a pamphlet, a concise political intervention written just prior to the May elections.

The length of the work belies its scope and ambition. Seymour covers decades of neoliberal transformation. Decades that have allowed reaction to cloak itself in the garb of modernity. The entire story of the contemporary British working class is outlined here: from the battle for the franchise to the fight for independent political representation through the vehicle of the Labour Party. Then that party's clash with the absolute limits of parliamentary socialism and metamorphosis into New Labour. Like Cameron and Clegg, Blair and his coterie weren't aberrations, they were the products of larger trends.

The crisis of the 1970s saw the intersection of slow growth and rising inflation. Profitability was restored through an offensive against militant working class institutions, an economic project, but also a political one aimed at reasserting capitalist hegemony. In the parts of the world where a Chilean solution wasn't possible, a measure of consensus had to be built. The Thatcherites never needed a majority, only a plurality due to the FPTP electoral system, but even that required segments of the petit-bourgeoisie and working class to vote against their own economic interests. Thatcher was able to tap into middle class resentment over union "excess" and the bureaucratic grey of the welfare state, while Reagan profited off working class white angst over the use of the state as an agent of social integration.

Then came pre-planned assaults on organized labor. Thatcher went after the miners, Reagan the air traffic controllers:

"[...] it was necessary to fight the war in stages. Industries that were `vulnerable' to strikes should be given higher than average wage increases, thus preventing them for entering the battle. The Tories should choose their first battle in an industry where the unions where weak and where they were confident of victory" (35).

But brute force was not enough to cement the new paradigm. This is where the neoliberal parlance of "merit" and "progress" came in. Like you'd expect from a good Marxist, Seymour exposes the class rule and exploitation behind these innocuous, even laudable, words.

Meritocracy makes a virtue out of inequality. If we do live in a meritorious society then the wealthy getting wealthier would only draw the ire of the envious losers, those unwilling to accept the outcome of a fair game. Meritocracy also legitimizes the class system by propagating a fantasy, in which people aren't held back by structural inequality and hierarchy, but by themselves. Which is to imply that the solution to social problems require individual self-help rather than collective political action. Pick up The Secret, put down The Manifesto.

The neoliberal usurpation of the mantle of "progress" is even more striking. It is a reflection of the petering out of emancipatory politics that the future progress, the modernity, that humanity is moving towards is taken to be ever more unfettered capitalism and not the erosion of class domination. History, along with language, has been appropriated by those who are tried and true reactionaries, people committed to maintaining an exploitative, centuries-old system.

So the question inevitably arises, "What is to be done?" in order to confront capital's new front-men. Seymour's vague calls for collective social action strikes a tone that should appeal to his broad left readership, but it also seems insufficient. Social movements are great. We need to have more vibrant ones in the developed world. But what tangible has been made out of the movements in Chiapas, Argentina or the annual European anti-globalization protest and police-riot? At some point down the line I would expect to hear a bit more from someone with the online pseudonym "lenin" about the need for more concrete political organization on a continental basis.

To maintain my reputation as an irascible a-hole, I should really find a few more qualifications, but The Meaning of David Cameron is relatively flawless. If the bourgeoisie was indeed a bit more classically conspiratorial and besieged, they'd stop the presses on this one.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8ef9bf90) out of 5 stars Fine study of Cameron 2 Jun. 2011
By William Podmore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Richard Seymour writes the blog `Lenin's tomb'. In this useful book, he makes a lot of good points. He points out that Blair's evidence-based policy-making turned out to be policy-based evidence-making.

Seymour cites the free market economist Ludwig von Mises, who taught Thatcher's idol Friedrich von Hayek, "It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilisation. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history."

Immigration adds to the supply of workers to keep wages and workers down. Building too few houses drives house prices up. Privatisations put our money into individual accounts managed by the City, while former Labour minister Lord Digby Jones urges the government to `starve the jobless back to work'.

Last year the richest 1,000 Britons got a record 30 per cent more wealth, thanks to the government's pouring £1.2 trillions into the banking system to prop up the euro and stock market and property values. Between June 2009 and April 2010, national income rose by £27 billion, £24 billion of which were profits.

The ruling class rules whatever the voting system, however we vote, whatever we want, whatever they say. Remember Cameron's `cast-iron guarantee' of a referendum on the EU Treaty?

Writing before the attack on Libya, Seymour ends presciently, "What is the meaning of David Cameron? He means war."
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e1a2450) out of 5 stars History, politics, and more 15 Jun. 2013
By AD - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was very impressed with the contents of this book. Richard Seymour not only critiques David Cameron, but he also provides a brief history of the British Labour Party, explains Thatcherism, examines the recent reactionary/conservative revival in both the UK and the US, and lays bare the occluded neoliberal political landscape of our day. Originally I was expecting a 'Counterblast'-style pamphlet, but The Meaning of David Cameron goes far beyond that. As someone not too familiar with British politics, I really appreciated the contextual information and Seymour's unique insight. I have been unable to find a decent book about the history of Labour (if you know of one, leave me a link in the comments), so the author's account has been helpful in filling in some gaps, especially with regards to the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the weakening of British labor unions. Despite the occasionally heavy and detailed subject matter, Seymour's writing is easy to follow if you are a political layman, and it is also quite eloquently phrased (he has a great vocabulary). Instead of focusing specifically on Cameron and his political machinations, this is more of an overview of the political situation in Britain with some light history thrown in. Published before the 2010 election, it is interesting to read in retrospect.
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