On not leaving your daughter in the pub: public fatherhood and kitchen politics Cameron style

In this reblogged entry from Katherine Brickell’s new blog, we get kitchen’s, fatherhood and politics in Katherine’s continuing project on domesticity. We are pleased to be hosting it, and a related theme will be the focus for a small mini-conference in October to celebrate the launch of our new MSc in Geopolitics and Security, it will be on geopolitics, strangeness and welcome, more details to come.

It started with Tony Blair. Teasing his son about his homework and flashing us his mug of tea in a 1997 Electoral Broadcast held in the Blair family kitchen. The flash was then gone with Gordon’s feeble attempts at a ‘humanised’ persona. And now Cameron is back at it, hovering over the kitchen sink extolling the virtues of married life. Despite accidentally leaving his eight-year-old daughter in the pub this week, ‘Dave’ has continues to embrace what Blair started – public fatherhood. Whilst little Nancy might not agree at this moment, Cameron has shown a committed stance towards promoting his family credentials. In 2008, defending his decision to allow a TV crew into his London home, he said:

“I’m asking people a very big thing, which is to elect me as their prime minister. And I think people have a right to know a bit more about you, your life and your family, what makes you tick, and what informs your thinking. And to me, nothing informs my thinking more than family because I think it’s the most important thing there is in our society. So that’s why I did what I did.”

The Prime Minister’s performed domesticity on ‘Webcameron’ is a casing example of what he himself refers to as doing ‘modern politics’ . Started in 2006, the video blog aims to forge a ‘personal’ connection with voters by emphasizing Cameron’s proficient and caring fathering of a young family. In one ‘classic’ 2008 video, we find the leader foregrounded in his kitchen, with a pan away briefly allowing the family’s washing to come into view.

Talking politics at the same time as fending off the demands of his offspring and trying to wash up, Cameron’s juggling capabilities are showcased. It is no accident that such (fictive) capabilities have been staged in the kitchen. In cultural geography scholarship, the kitchen has been space which is both intimately and socially significant, it is where ‘the raw, the unclean and the defiled are brought, and where the social rules attendant on civilized life are reiterated, where status is confirmed’ (Floyd). Cameron’s active fathering thus ‘civilises’ that which must be tamed.

According to Angela Smith, whilst in the past, a leader’s fatherhood status was limited to playing with their children on camera to present themselves as ‘fathers of the nation…without the effeminate distraction of childcare’, today the situation appears quite different. Since the 1990s, it is male leaders who have tactically sold the personal as political. The private sphere has been harnessed to manufacture a political identity which embraces fairy liquid and an emotional literacy akin to a ‘new man’. Whilst the first response on ‘You Tube’ to the clip reads “I want to punch him”, the campaign was launched to elicit a more positive reaction – the female vote. Whilst feminist geopolitics tends to call for engagement outside the formal sphere of the state, Cameron’s strategic domesticity shows the importance of researching micro-spaces such as the kitchen which are in many ways ‘state-facing’. As Ana Langer writes, ‘Cameron has worked hard at using his behavior in the private sphere for authenticating his political positions and “de-contaminating” the party brand’. Once again then, the home is shown to be an intensely geopolitical site worthy of more dedicated attention. In this case, quite literally trying to clean up the Tories’ act.

David Cameron in his constituency home, 2007 (Source: Simon Roberts)

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