It might be mild for November but there’s still enough chill in the air to make me pause and wonder why David Cameron gave the death of Mohammed Emwazi the full-on podium treatment outside Downing Street on Friday morning.
That’s not to say that Emwazi’s death wasn’t worth noting. ‘Jihadi John’ has been the public face (or, at least, eyes and upper nose) of the most brutal death cult the world has seen in the past seventy or so years. Yet Emwazi was also little more than a street thug empowered by a warped theology and given status by an increasingly cynical media that feed on the gruesome and the grotesque. The Prime Minister shuffling into the street to make the announcement only made matters worse. It elevates Mohammed Emwazi’s eviscerated remains. It gives them space on the national mantelpiece usually reserved for the ashes of statesmen and leaders.
I suppose we all know Cameron well enough by now to realise that he wouldn’t let this moment pass without some tie straightening and public strutting. We should just be grateful he didn’t moonwalk out of Number 10 and slam dunk the podium. Cameron’s relationship with the podium becomes more incestuous each time it appears. I suppose it’s understandable. It’s a nice podium. I can hardly think of a podium I admire more. But shouldn’t it be reserved from moments of truly national significance?
What makes this announcement so poorly judged is that Cameron made a public spectacle out of the killing of a man known for making public spectacles of killing. There is no moral equivalence, of course, but there is that troubling parallel. This boasting doesn’t feel right and, for want of a better phrase, it just doesn’t feel very British.
The British government normally makes these announcements in understated ways. Nothing is quite as chilling as the line: ‘A Ministry of Defence source confirmed the death but said they will be making no further comment’. That says all you need to know about the treatment we hand out to anybody foolish enough to harm British citizens. It says that the country dealt with the matter and will dignify it no further. Beyond that, what else is there to say? If the Prime Minister feels compelled to speak to the media, he has plenty of chances to offer a quick aside to waiting press as he enters some primary school, which is where this Prime Minister usually makes his important policy announcements.
Yet our dashing cocksure Man of the Hour rarely deals in understatement. This morning’s spectacle adds to the already bulky dossier of evidence that suggests that Cameron thinks himself more President than Prime Minister. This was clearly meant to be his ‘we got him moment’. It wasn’t. Emwazi is not Cameron’s Osama Bin Laden, least of all because it was an American missile that left the crater. Cameron’s grandstanding was the kind of politics that have characterised him tenure as superficial and self-serving. This moment could only have been more shameful if he’d posed for a selfie beside Emwazi’s smoking boots.