Sheila Hancock: David Cameron doesn’t know what it’s like to be poor

"If you've been to private school and Oxbridge, with the best will in the world, you don't know what the fear of debt is"

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Sheila Hancock may refer to David Cameron and his government as “really good guys”, but the actress used her stage at the Cheltenham Literature Festival yesterday to challenge their privileged upbringings.

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“If you’ve been to private school and Oxbridge, with the best will in the world, you don’t know what it’s like to be poor,” she said at a special Radio Times event. “You don’t know what the fear of debt is, you have no concept.”

The actress – who has written in the past about her working class background – acknowledged Cameron’s various visits to schools and charities but conceded, “it’s all slightly manicured by the time he gets there.”

“I think [the government] are really good guys, I really do, and their hearts are in the right place but the post-war government were people that had lived with the people – they still had roots in the people – and it’s very difficult for them to do that now because being an MP is so complicated and the task is so big.

“I so worried that nowadays we have politicians who haven’t experienced full on world war and it’s very easy to go into war without knowing the repercussions.”

However, the 81-year-old actress, widow of the late John Thaw, followed up her point by taking issue with the negative public perception of the country’s politicians.

“This cynicism that we have towards our politicians is so dangerous – alright, so they behaved stupidly with all the expenses but a lot of them are very dedicated, they do their surgeries, they work locally and we shouldn’t sneer at them all.

“We’ve got to have respect for people – we have got to get back some sort of respect. Everybody is rubbish nowadays, aren’t they? I do it myself and I keep thinking, ‘Stop it. That’s just something you’ve read in a snide article in a paper. It’s not fair.’

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“I think we’ve got to get back, particularly with our youngsters – and that’s what I think was so exciting about the Scottish vote – that we’ve got to enthuse people about politics again. We’ve got to make people realise that they must vote. It is your public duty. People fought hard, particularly women, to get that vote and it’s your duty to use it.”