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David Cameron and his imaginary friend

2011 January 14
by Paul Vallely

Does the Prime Minister have an imaginary friend? Once psychologists believed it was a cause for concern if a child had a companion invisible to the rest of the family. But now it seems that imaginary friends are a normal part of children’s cognitive, linguistic and emotional development. Apparently nearly two-thirds of kids up to the age of seven have them.

You can see why a politician would find one useful. Children call on their imaginary friends when they feel upset or when someone has said something nasty to them. They give them someone to boss around when they feel powerless. They will come out to play when real friends have found other things to do.

Not all imaginary companions are friendly. Some are uncontrollable, which at least gives you someone to blame when the lamp in the living room is found to be broken or a particular public spending cut turns out to be rather unpopular.

The latest research also shows that children do not dismiss or forget the imaginary friend as they grow older. Nine per cent still have one at the age of 12, though the older you get the more likely you are to keep it a secret.

Perhaps David Cameron’s imaginary friend is Nick Clegg? If so the Liberal Democrat leader needs to know that, the research shows, a child doesn’t necessarily play with the same fantasy companion throughout childhood. Some children have multiple or serial pretend friends. Sounds more and more like modern politics.

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