When Gordon Brown forgot his microphone was still switched on during the 2010 General Election campaign, it arguably cost him his job; when David Cameron forgot his was still switched on while making his way back to the front door of No.10 after naming his successor yesterday he didn’t have to worry about that. Heard humming some unidentified upbeat tune rather than referring to Theresa May as ‘a bigoted woman’ under his breath, Cameron’s chirpy disposition was indicative of a man relieved to be getting out earlier than he’d hoped. The damage, after all, is done; and an absence of notable war-crimes on his Prime Ministerial CV means he won’t have to worry about future impeachment proceedings.
When David Cameron became Tory Party leader in 2005, Tony Blair had just begun his third term as PM; and after the abysmal performances of William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, a moderately improved performance at the polls under the stewardship of Michael Howard was still not good enough for a party that had taken power for granted for so long that opposition was proving problematic. The Conservatives hadn’t even been able to capitalise on an unpopular war at the expense of the Labour Government, so a rethink was required. This rethink comprised reproducing the example set by their opponents across the dispatch box.
Theresa May’s belated 2002 acknowledgement of the Tories as the ‘Nasty Party’ has been replayed for understandable reasons over the past couple of days; but the solution to the public perception at the time was to manufacture their own Blair, and David Cameron was only too happy to step into Tony’s shoes. To use a pop music analogy, one could say Cameron was the Boyzone to Blair’s Take That, photocopying the hit formula and retaining the anodyne elements that had proven popular without adding any additional grit. That seems a more apt comparison than saying Cameron was the Monkees to Blair’s Beatles – an insult to both acts. Besides, bland 90s boy-bands, with their emphasis on style over substance and an utter absence of dirt under their manicured fingernails, is closer to the truth.
Cameron’s blatant modelling of himself on his hero was excruciating; like Tony, he wanted to appeal to everybody by embracing every fashionable fad of the moment. Early efforts at being ‘green’ were illustrated by a windswept Dave being pulled along an Arctic landscape by huskies; early efforts at reaching out to the plebs were illustrated by the ‘hug-a-hoodie’ policy, with Dave doing just that on one especially toe-curling photo-op. What Cameron failed to grasp was that, by the middle of the 2000s, the public had already become cynical of such tactics; and Dave just looked like exactly what he was – a pale imitation of something that had been done years before, something that the public were tired of. Cameron’s pursuit of a populist agenda at the expense of what had worked for his party in the distant past was viewed as a radical development in staid Tory circles, however, and some voiced their dissatisfaction from the off, most prominently Peter Hitchens. That Cameron was trying so hard to obscure his posh-boy roots was merely confirmed when that infamous Bullingdon Club team photo featuring him and Boris Johnson emerged, much to his eternal annoyance.
The biggest break Cameron received as Leader of the Opposition came in 2007, when Tony Blair resigned and handed over the reins of power to long-time rival Gordon Brown, getting out just before the western world experienced its greatest economic meltdown since 1929. Brown’s dithering in the autumn of that year, failing to call an Election when his ratings were higher than they’d ever subsequently be, condemned the ex-Iron Chancellor and his party to eventual electoral Armageddon, something that David Cameron still couldn’t exploit when his big chance finally came five years after his election as Tory leader.
Of course, Dave was saved by the intervention of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who accepted the invite to enter into Britain’s first post-war Coalition Government. In retrospect, there was no real alternative for either party, with the Tories not receiving the mandate they needed and the Liberal Democrats still boasting enough MPs to make up the numbers Labour couldn’t match. We were in uncharted waters, but the imposition of a fixed five-year term for the post-2010 Parliament secured the stability an often uneasy alliance required; just how uneasy that alliance actually was became apparent when the next local elections saw the Lib Dems decimated at the polls while their Coalition partners improved their standing. This was played out on an even more devastating scale come the 2015 General Election, when Clegg’s party suffered one of the most humiliating wipe-outs ever seen in modern politics, plummeting from 57 to 8 seats.
The old Nasty Party tag had been all-too evident in the way the Coalition Government had reserved their severest cuts not for the industry that had provoked the 2008 crash, but for those on the bottom rung of society’s ladder, who weren’t in a position to fight back. The Tories then cannily aimed their inherent ruthlessness at their junior partners when on the 2015 hustings; and the public bought the hype, holding the Lib Dems wholly responsible for unpopular policies, even though Clegg and Co certainly curbed their senior partners’ nastiest instincts, ones that were released from the need to compromise when Dave finally received a mandate from the electorate when up against yet another inept Labour leader.
A lucky Prime Minister who even survived the potential disaster of Hack-Gate and all the embarrassing social connections it exposed, David Cameron’s undoing was to promise a referendum on Britain’s EU membership that the Conservative Election Manifesto of 2015 bound him to. His last concession to the backbenchers who had never trusted him, Cameron’s referendum didn’t go to plan when the deep divisions within the country he had failed to unite were exposed in a manner that left him with no option but to fall on his sword barely a year after leading his party to their first outright Election victory since 1992. The bitchy Cabinet resignation letter of one of his predecessors in the Tory hot-seat, IDS, claimed that Cameron and his circle didn’t give a toss about the great swathes of the electorate who don’t vote Conservative, and the EU Referendum gave those silent voices (as well as plenty within his own party) the opportunity to deliver their verdict on his premiership. That verdict was unanimous in its condemnation, and I suspect history will deliver a similar one once the dust has settled from the current chaos Cameron is entirely to blame for.
Not that any of this will be apparent come his last appearance as Prime Minister in the Commons on Wednesday – cue fawning tributes and praise that he will nevertheless gratefully accept; as slick and smooth and devoid of authenticity as he always has been, the Bob Monkhouse of British politics will exit the frontbench with insincere cheers ringing in his ears, ones that will perfectly complement the utter ideological landfill that has constituted the last six years.
© The Editor