Cameron flunks Letterman history test, but is it all bad?

Sep 27, 2012

Boris may be chuckling after the PM is left red-faced on US chat show, but the audience liked him


DAVID CAMERON'S appearance on David Letterman last night did not go according to plan. The first serving British prime minister to appear on the Late Show was caught out in an impromptu history test - unable to say who had composed Rule Britannia or what Magna Carta meant in English.

"David Cameron may struggle at passport control when he returns home from his trip," noted The Guardian, which reveals that the music for Rule Britannia was written by Thomas Arne, to a poem by James Thomson. Magna Carta, it notes, translates from the Latin as Great Charter.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, a classics scholar, would “no doubt be chuckling", the paper added.

"At times in the 15-minute interview, Mr Cameron appeared baffled by Letterman's line of questioning," said The Independent, and at one point the Eton-educated politician with a first in PPE from Oxford, was forced to concede: "I have ended my career on your show tonight."

As The Times noted, the Late Show appearance rounded off a long day for the Prime Minister, who had earlier delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly and held talks with Pakistani, Afghan, Libyan and Egyptian presidents.

And he didn't fall at every hurdle. The Financial Times noted that Cameron avoided a "bear trap" when he side-stepped a question about Mitt Romney's comments about the Olympics made in London on the eve of the Games. Others noted that the loudest applause of the evening came when he revealed that Britain does not allow political advertising on television.
"Despite the ribbing, Mr Cameron will have been pleased to have got over at least part of his message about the success of the Olympics and the attractiveness of the British economy," said the Daily Mail. "He also underlined the fact that Britain is not in the troubled eurozone."
He may have fluffed a few of his lines said James Kirkup in The Daily Telegraph but Cameron took his punishment with good humour. "The PM may feel a bit silly tonight, but he's suffered no real harm," he wrote. "Who knows? This could even do him some good: in politics, a little humility goes a long way."

ITN Washington correspondent Robert Moore noted: “Here is the surprising thing. The audience loved Cameron. Every single person I spoke to as they left the theatre in New York where the show is recorded gave the Prime Minister the thumbs-up."
That won't change the mocking headlines on this side of the Atlantic, he admitted, "but it means he played well in the American heartland, which after all was the target audience."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

If people were truthful I'm betting that about 95% of the journalists reporting this would have scored far lower than Cameron did on those questions. Fair play to him for going on a show where he knew that the host would try to score cheap points and laughs at his expense and still come out of it looking good. Stick Milliband on there next week and give everyone a real target of laughter and derision.

The way in which the interview has been reported by most newspapers suggests that he failed a test. Two questions are highlighted. In fact he answered many questions competently. It's the journalists who have failed.