Today, 10 Downing Street informed us that it was "likely" that the Prime Minister David Cameron rode the horse that Rebekah Brooks borrowed from the police. Thus, a strange story became even stranger.
The Telegraph voiced concerns "about the closeness between the Prime Minister and Mrs. Brooks". Labour MP Tom Watson offered a melodramatic interpretation of the issue: “This horse is becoming the symbol of this scandal. It shows how powerful media players and politicians got too close.” A horse as a symbol of corruption doesn't work for me. If I were you Tom, I would keep poor innocent dumb animals out of your sound bites. Nevertheless, the Telegraph feared that David Cameron would be damaged by his equine rendezvous with the disgraced journalist.
Personally, I'm not too worried about that. I was more interested in the relationship between Cameron and Brooks. When they were hanging out, or should I say riding out, did they actually enjoy each other's company? Or were they calculating the potential benefits that come from a relationship between a politician and a news editor? The first question is hard to answer, but the second question is a no-brainer. When Cameron came down to the farm, he went there to network. Mrs. Brooks invited in because she too wanted a high-powered friend. It was a Rolodex relationship.
I once heard an apocryphal story about George Bush senior. He was a phenomenal personal note writer. Whenever he met anyone, he would drop them a line saying how much he enjoyed their company. He never missed a birthday, or never fail to thank anyone. As he approached his run for the presidency, his note writing reached industrial levels. After 30 years of relentless networking he knew everyone in the Republican Party. When he ran for the presidency, he was everyone's friend. George Bush senior's address book also provided a powerful impetus his son's presidential bid.
That kind of networking is impressive, but what about the personal cost? It must be tedious to spend all one's time thinking how everyone you meet can further your career. Every personal relationship has a payoff. You can't dislike anyone or have any enemies. Life is one big forced smile. Evenings are spent at parties, proffering a sticky bucket of charm upon whoever you meet. To make it worse, everyone you meet is playing the same game. Everyone knows that everyone is using everyone.
The sad thing is that Mr. Cameron felt it necessary to spend time with Mrs. Brooks in order to be Prime Minister. I like to think that the time spent together was awkward. Each party understood the dishonest and self-seeking nature of the encounter. It was all smiles and cynicism. At the time, it might have seemed like an invaluable networking moment. In retrospect, it did neither party much good. Mrs. Brooks has fallen from grace, and it is extremely unlikely that she will be seen within 10 awkward metres of Mr. Cameron. For his part, Mr. Cameron is forced to answer surreal questions about the horses he rode and who he met when he was stomping across the countryside.
I find that an appealing thought.