Wedged into the middle of a Coronation Street double-bill, ITV was treating viewers to a different flavour of soap opera. It was the return of the tragic hero/ notorious villain / sweaty chancer (delete as appropriate etc. etc.) last seen pegging out the front door of his posh digs three years ago.
Now he’d finally returned to the scene of the plot twist everyone but him had seen coming, what had David Cameron to say for himself?
The answer is both lots and less that might have been hoped for. Marking the publication of Cameron’s memoirs, this was a curious grilling of the ex-Prime Minister by News at Ten Presenter Tom Bradby. The most glaring issue was the running time.
Just 30 minutes – including a plug for Piers Morgan’s shouty interview show and a chilling ‘no comment’ quote at the end from Cameron’s very much former best pal Michael Gove – wasn’t nearly long enough to cover the Brexit referendum and its fallout.
Let alone the use of chemical weapons in Syria, austerity, the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition and the tragic passing in 2009 of Cameron’s six-year-old son.
ITV nonetheless tried to bung it all in. The result was in a box-ticking back-and-forth where Cameron never looked quite as flustered or brow-beaten as viewers might have hoped. He was held reasonably firmly by the collar, never pinned.
Bradby would press a bit. And then we were off to another question. Often these were accompanied, This Is Your Life-style, by a video flashback. It was an odd flourish. Cameron surely didn’t need reminding what Boris Johnson or Nick Clegg looked like and those at home will have been presumably in the same boat.
A flimsy set that resembled an out-of-hours yoga studio didn’t help. Nor the decision to cake both Cameron and Bradby in make-up. They were so white you feared they might become invisible if asked to stand against a beige background (except for Cameron’s ruddy cheeks, left floating in mid-air).
Still, there was the occasional tidbit to hold to the light and scrutinise (though many of the quasi-bombshells had been revealed in advance by ITV). No, Cameron didn’t believe Johnson had broken the law by proroguing Parliament. He did however consider it “rather sharp practice” and a tactical error. As was the decision to remove the whip from 21 Conservative MPs.
He also felt the Leave campaign had massaged the facts on the hustings: “they got on the bus and they left the truth at home”. And if he didn’t explicitly apologise for what Bradby was obviously gagging to describe as the “great Brexit cock-up” he did his best to convey his enormous humility and contrition over how everything had played out.
“Do I have regrets? Yes,” Cameron said in a mea culpa widely circulated in advance. “Am I sorry about the state the country’s got into? Yes. Do I feel I have some responsibility for that? Yes. It was my referendum; my campaign; my decision to try and renegotiate.”
Cameron seemed to have aged not a jot since walking away from politics in the summer of 2016. And it is to his credit that he didn’t resort to amateur dramatics to communicate his remorse.
If the weird statement couches into which the pair were squeezed looked as if they had been fashioned from flayed alligator hide, there were no crocodile tears to match. The only moment of real emotion was when Cameron was asked about the death of his son Ivan, who had a rare neurological disorder.
But then Bradby was cracking the whip again and it was on to the next topic. Cameron deserved longer to reflect on his grief. And this interview desperately required more time to hold to account a former-PM whose decisions have so profoundly impacted on British politics.