Historians and comedians in search of the strangest and silliest political events from this very strange and silly year will have a veritable smorgasbord of gems from which to choose. Entire PhD theses could be written about this month’s Republican presidential debates and the continued rhetorical delights of Donald Trump have not yet ceased to entertain or shock. Yet the oddest image of the season took place not on the campaign trail but perhaps on a recent budget flight between London and Portugal.
It was here, on a short-haul hop from British rain to Iberian sun, that a teenage girl photographed the leader of the world’s fifth largest economy, UK prime minister David Cameron, scrunched into an economy seat, iPad in hand, headphones in ears, digging into a can of Pringles. The flavour, apparently: paprika.
Now, if the thought of a man with nuclear codes sitting among holiday-goers strikes you as a bit unusual – if not entirely mad – well, it’s actually anything but. Cameron, a man long deemed posh and out-of-touch by large segments of the voting public, has a rich history of pretending to be an Average Joe. Photo galleries abound online if you care to see evidence: Cameron carrying bricks, eating chips, holding fish, strolling around supermarkets and bakeries and farms.
And yet he is by no means alone. Food seems to be a popular method to play the “common” game. American pols stuff down corndogs at state fairs and eat ribs in backyard barbeques. Europe’s “last dictator”, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, was recently photographed harvesting potatoes in a field.
Transportation, for whatever reason, also seems to be a preferred venue to prove averageness. London’s mayor Boris Johnson famously rides a rather beaten-up bike to and from City Hall, while billionaire former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg often took the subway to work. French PM Manuel Valls apparently didn’t get the memo – he recently got into hot water for taking a private jet to Berlin with his children to watch a football match. Though it was, I suppose, the Champions League final.
The most skilled or cynical politicians pull off this trick with carefully contrived PR flair: Donald Trump attending jury duty, for instance, or Xi Jinping buying a steamed pork bun at a Beijing dumpling shop, surrounded by press.
But just perhaps, some politicians really do want to lead normal lives. And who are we to blame them? One thinks of François Hollande whipping around Paris on a scooter to – allegedly – conduct a secret love affair. Surely no PR was involved there. And maybe Cameron simply had the good sense to save a bit of cash on that budget flight. Is that so wrong? Sometimes a man just wants his Pringles.
Daniel Giacopelli is producer and presenter of Monocle 24’s weekly business programme ‘The Entrepreneurs’.