RICHARD KAY: Harriet and Dave keep it in the family
Last updated at 22:04 02 July 2007
Around the Palace of Westminster, they are viewed as natural enemies. So my revelation today that Tory leader David Cameron and Labour’s new deputy leader Harriet Harman are cousins will come as something of a shock to them both.
For the ambitious Ms Harman — a niece of the late Countess of Longford — who likes to play down her posh background, the news, I suspect, will be somewhat worse.
It’s embarrassing enough that the person replacing former merchant seaman John Prescott was educated at St Paul’s, one of the finest fee-paying girls schools in the country. To discover that the woman, who is also Leader of the Commons, is related to Old Etonian Mr Cameron, might bring on a touch of the vapours.
She does, after all, like to mock Cameron for being out of touch with working people. Their connection, I learn, is through marriage. According to genealogist Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd, who has written and edited 50 books on the aristocracy: “There is a clear link between her and Cameron through her late aunt Elizabeth Harman.
“Elizabeth married the prison reformer Frank (the Earl of) Longford and the Earl’s sister, Lady Julia Pakenham, married Robin Mount, who was the brother of Cameron’s grandfather, Sir William Mount.”
While not a blood connection, it should certainly enliven Commons encounters between the right-on Ms Harman and her well-born Tory cousin. The family relationship, however, was clearly not in the forefront of Ms Harman’s mind when she made a speech in Manchester after narrowly winning the vote to become deputy leader ten days ago. Remember, this was a politician who used to iron out her well-spoken background by dropping her “aitches”. In that address she described cousin Dave as an “an opportunist” and, while talking about his appeal to women voters, ridiculed his stance, claiming he only wants one thing — their vote.
I am told she also enthusiastically joined in the applause as a previous speaker mocked Cameron for being an Old Etonian and a child of privilege who was thus quite unable to relate to the troubles of the ordinary man. Unlike the oh-so pleased with herself Ms Harman, of course.
David Cameron’s lineage is as varied as it is impressive. He’s a descendant of King William IV, which makes him the Queen’s fifth cousin. His uncle is Sir William Stratford Dugdale, a former chairman of Aston Villa. He’s Boris Johnson’s eighth cousin. He’s related to historian Adam Hart-Davis, fellow politician Harriet Harman and a former presenter of the Radio 4 panel show My Word. And now, as genealogy website findmypast.co.uk has discovered, he’s also the sixth cousin of comedian Al Murray.
Obviously, my initial reaction to this latest piece of news was one of uncontrolled panic. If Cameron can be related to someone as unlikely as Murray, then does that mean he’s related to me? Somewhere down the line, possibly after an afternoon of alcohol-fuelled low self-esteem and before a lifetime of mutual regret, did one of David Cameron’s ancestors get one of my ancestors pregnant? Am I part-Cameron? I checked my reflection in a mirror. That forehead looks suspiciously familiar, I thought. My face goes quite red when I’m angry. I’ve got crap hair, too. Could it really be? Am I the black sheep of David Cameron’s family? Is he the black sheep of mine?
Fortunately, one of my aunts has spent decades fastidiously tracing the capillaries of my ancestry, so it was possible to trace it back and find out. It turns out that the Heritages weren’t an especially adventurous bunch. Even 400 years ago, the branches of my family tree didn’t extend much further than walking distance from the pocket of Kent where my mum and dad still live. If a Cameron ever wanted to make a Heritage booty call, they would have to do all the legwork.
We also didn’t exactly move in the same circles as Dave’s clan. My lot don’t seem to have been overly troubled by ambition. There was a landowner early on, but he apparently lost a great swathe of Folkestone in a drunken bet. The rest are shopkeepers and privates, servants and skivvies and low-level crooks. The chance of any of them happening upon the Cameron’s wealthy, predominantly Scottish clan of stockbrokers and dignitaries – much less the chances of them finding their confusingly potatoish faces attractive enough to have children with – seem incredibly slim.
And yet, the further back you go, the likelier it becomes. With every generation, the number of ancestors that we all have decreases exponentially. Go back 30, according to Graham Coop of the University of California, and everyone of European descent becomes related. Indeed, you only need to trace back 100 generations to find the most recent common ancestor of every single human alive today. Which means that resistance is futile. I am probably related to David Cameron. And so are you. We really are all in this together. Rubbish, isn’t it?
• This article was amended on 31 January 2014. The earlier version said David Cameron was the first cousin five times removed of comedian Al Murray.