The unbearable emptiness of David Cameron

Cameron will be remembered for little, because he stood for little.

Tim Black

Tim Black
Columnist

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Topics Books Politics UK

The most surprising thing about David ‘Dave’ Cameron’s memoir For the Record? Its length. Seven-hundred-and-fifty-two flipping pages. What were his editors thinking? Not about second-hand booksellers, that’s for sure, destined as they will be in a month or so to be heaving the overripe fruit of Dave’s writing hut on to already crammed shelves.

You could understand its epic length if this were a monumental political figure, a leader who decisively gave shape to an era. A Thatcher. An Attlee. A Disraeli. A leader with whom we associate, for good or ill, the realisation of a political idea. But posh, affable, chillaxing Dave is not that figure. Three years and one hefty memoir on from his resignation, he remains stubbornly unmemorable. He’s a smudge in the gallery of British political history where a portrait should be.

There were the rumours of pig-fucking and drugs, which, if For the Record is any indication, were probably supplied by his ‘self-medicating’ father. And there were, of course, the semblances of ideas and policies. The ‘Big Society’ of his early premiership. Or, er, the ‘help to buy’ scheme of his later years. Who could forget?

But they never amounted to much beyond the press release. The only moments in which he seemed genuinely politically innervated came in the conflict he waged, armed chiefly with the gay-marriage bill, against the Tory Party’s older, more socially conservative constituency — the ‘swivel-eyed loons’ as one of Cameron’s allies described Tory activists.

But beyond that, Cameron always seemed to be lacking something. Conviction? Perhaps. Commitment to an idea? Definitely.

For The Record merely draws attention to the political void at the heart of Dave. He writes of the ‘massive’ influence of ‘“Mrs Thatcher”, as we always referred to her’, who he describes as a ‘brave fighter for economic and political freedom… determined to modernise Britain and free us from the grip of over-mighty trade unions’. And he recalls his shifting outlook during the 1990s and early 2000s, as he, under the influence of Tory MP and policy chief Oliver Letwin, developed his brand of ‘modern, compassionate conservatism’.

But in all this, Cameron is merely following trends, not pushing them, intellectually or politically. Who among the English upper class of the mid-1980s, beyond a coterie of the usual public-school Stalinists, was not a Thatcher fan? And who, in the rising political class of the New Labour years, didn’t adopt a caring ‘compassionate’ social liberalism in opposition to those deemed to be on ‘the wrong side of history’?

Even Cameron’s brand of ‘modern, compassionate conservatism’ was pushed less by him than his prime ministerial successor, Theresa May. It was she who gave the infamous speech at the Tories’ 2002 party conference, in which she said, ‘Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us: the nasty party.’ And it was Andrew Lansley, Cameron’s mentor at the Conservative Research Department in the late 1990s, who urged the Tory party to do away its ‘authoritarian’ tendencies and its ‘Little Englander’ sentiments. ‘Hard as it may be for Conservatives to accept’, he wrote in 2002, ‘we need a strategy that says the Conservative Party has decided to get a life, to join the 21st century, to be representative of British society today’.

Cameron is best thought of as an echo in the political-class chamber of the early 21st century. He trades in nothing that was not already common Westminster currency. He hugged huskies in an attempt to show he was as green as New Labour. And he hugged hoodies in an attempt to show that he was as caring as Tony Blair.

Indeed, Cameron owed a debt to New Labour and Blair just as much as to Thatcher and Letwin. He writes that his first speech on taking the reins as prime minister in 2010 was meant to pay ‘tribute to the good things Labour had achieved’. As well it might. In office he continued on the trail blazed by New Labour, promoting happiness and wellbeing, nannying and nudging, and – in a true act of gruesome homage – staging a grandstanding intervention in Libya every bit as calamitous as Blair’s in Iraq. Even the policy of austerity was not so much the evil brainchild of Dave, as the economic and policy orthodoxy of the entire political and economic establishment at the time, from Labour to the EU.

Admittedly, For the Record is easy to read. But that’s because its prose is so thoughtless. The education at Eton is ‘first class’; going to Oxford University gave Dave a ‘huge buzz’; and well-known politicians are invariably ‘talented’ and ‘bright’. Cliche comes so easily to Cameron because he feels no need to question. He simply inherits everything instead. Not just privilege, as his Guardianista critics have it, but his political understanding, too. And nowhere is this more obvious than in his treatment of Brexit and its leading Tory figures.

Boris Johnson, says Cameron, is a careerist; Michael Gove, his former close friend, ‘disloyal’. ‘Both then behaved appallingly’, writes Cameron of Leave campaign, ‘attacking their own government, turning a blind eye to their side’s unpleasant actions and becoming ambassadors for the expert-trashing, truth-twisting age of populism’.

Every cliched assumption held by hardcore Remainers, from the putative ‘lies’ of the Brexit campaign, to its xenophobia, is unthinkingly regurgitated by Cameron. No self-doubt. No self-questioning. And why would there be? Cameron was always ensconced within Remainia. He and the then Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg ‘had similar temperaments and values’, and he even shared a schoolteacher with Blair. It’s a small world. But, until Brexit, it was the only world that seemed to matter.

What does emerge as Dave steps back into public life is just how much has changed. Once deemed fresh and modern, and heralded as the youngest prime minister for over 200 years, he appears now as the last, tired representative of that New Labour-ish age of managerialism and technocracy.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

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Comments

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

28th September 2019 at 8:23 am

Cameron was (and is) clearly an idiot, not least for calling a pointless referendum. On the other hand, his pointless referendum has exposed the joke that is the UK constitution and illustrated the truth that this country is in no sense a modern liberal democracy. The English just don’t get democracyand yet see fit to lecture other countries on their ‘inferior’ political systems.

Ian Bland

25th September 2019 at 12:48 am

He is the type species of the modern politician who, PPE under their belt, believes they are far cleverer than they really are.

Steve Gray

22nd September 2019 at 9:13 pm

Mr Cameron gave catre blanche to Iain Duncan -Smith, whose benefits regime criminalised the low-paid, the unemployed and disabled.

The effect was to formalise the existence of a group of people who are ‘amongst us but not part of our society’ – people with less citizen’s rights, under tighter state control, who are there to be punished. ‘Treat them how you like.’

I reckon most people in those three groups would be quite happy to see Mr Duncan-Smith on the receiving end of one his own ‘work for nothing’ schemes, where he can be shown what a piece of shit HE is.

Marvin Jones

21st September 2019 at 12:19 pm

Modern compassionate Conservatism? Liberal socialism? Little Englanders? Were all the signs of ultra tolerance, appeasement and surrender to the millions of migrants that have swamped this country for the last 20 years. AND! because of the vast numbers that they have swelled into, we live in terror in case they are offended or refused any of their demands.

Hana Jinks

20th September 2019 at 2:41 pm

Is that pig story true? I sure hope so. As long as they cleaned it first, l guess. I ‘m far more concerned that there were people standing around watching it.

Jonathan Yonge

20th September 2019 at 9:41 am

Tim Black hits it on the nail in 752 ish words.
‘The nasty party’ launched ‘compasionate Conservatism’ and the rest is history (except for the pig).

Bella Donna

20th September 2019 at 9:30 am

Imagine my shock to read some comments on the Internet webpages hailing Cameron as a good PM! I’m sick of seeing his photos splattered all over the Internet I wish he’d go back under his rock and stay there and he can take Major with him!

Jim Lawrie

20th September 2019 at 9:28 am

“Boris Johnson, says Cameron, is a careerist; Michael Gove, his former close friend, ‘disloyal’. ‘Both then behaved appallingly’,” Rather than expound a political disagreement, he makes it personal. He is on safe ground there, because how do you launch a personal attack on someone who lacks a personality?

Jonathan Yonge

20th September 2019 at 9:42 am

Miaow

Winston Stanley

20th September 2019 at 2:10 am

Cameron let out how he and the “queen” conspired to get her to intervene in Scotland’s 2015 independence referendum even though she is supposed to be entirely neutral politically. It shows how the British state roll her out to subvert democracy when she is supposed to be apart from that. The monarchy is a sham. The state controlled media has gone into overdrive to make out that Cameron has done something wrong, like he should have kept it a secret. They should be talking about the role of the monarchy, how the “queen” was completely out of order, how it is a sham. Instead the state controlled media wants to brush it under the carpet until next time they want to roll her out.

> Alex Salmond blasts ‘desperate’ David Cameron’s revelation that he encouraged Queen to weigh in on 2014 Scottish independence vote and says she was ‘very far from amused’ by his claim that she ‘purred’ over result

The ex-PM told a BBC documentary he had spoken to the Queen’s private office
PM’s team pleaded that even to ‘raise an eyebrow’ towards the Union would help
Days later Her Majesty urged Scots to ‘think very carefully about the future’
Mr Cameron denied that he had done anything ‘improper or constitutional’

In BBC documentary ‘The Cameron Years’ tonight, the former PM reveals his private office pleaded with royal aides that ‘just a raising of the eyebrow, even, you know, a quarter of an inch, we thought would make a difference.’

A week later Her Majesty, pausing uncharacteristically to speak to well-wishers outside Crathie Kirk near her Balmoral estate, said she hoped the Scottish people would ‘think very carefully about the future’.

The intervention came days after a poll showed Yes [to leave] ahead for the first time and is considered to have impacted the campaign which was at times on a kinfe-edge before concluding with a ten-point victory for Better Together. (DM)

Brandy Cluster

19th September 2019 at 10:32 pm

An appalling article (I’d call it defamatory) about an erstwhile British PM. Just feel the hatred rising from the pages. Pity the individual who feels enough resentment and hatred to write stuff like this because what you give out in life invariably comes back to you.

Michael Lynch

19th September 2019 at 10:59 pm

Are you his wife or something? Only one who could be so close could defend such an empty bureaucrat. He is one of a long line of PM’s who only contributed to the deep divisions in the country; ones that he unwittingly released by his referendum. His policies of austerity benefited the banker elite of London at the expense of the working class North. The people who really paid for the recession caused by the excessive greed of the rich. History will not be kind to Cameron in spite of his attempt to write away what he has really done to the ordinary people of this country. He’ll pay for that for the rest of his days. Looking for sympathy now will only compound the ire felt for him.

H McLean

20th September 2019 at 3:00 am

I dunno, it seems pretty much on the nose to me. Cameron, for all his fresh, early promise, turned out to be an empty suit with no principles to speak of. I thought the “smudge in the gallery of British political history” comment was bit strong but as take-downs go it was a good ‘un.

Jonathan Castro

19th September 2019 at 9:58 pm

Cameron was not a conservative. He didn’t believe in anything.

Philip Humphrey

20th September 2019 at 8:38 am

Exactly. And none of his views were coherent. Brutal conservative on fiscal policy, but social liberal, he just swung with whichever way he thought the wind was blowing. But he definitely backed the wrong horse on Brexit, he thought all the trendy people who wanted the EU superstate were the majority. Big mistake.

P J

19th September 2019 at 9:47 pm

I always felt he wasn’t very bright. Pretty, but dim – for this reason I didn’t vote for him because I feel we need some intelligence in our leadership. He was a natural follow-on from pretty Blair if looks are the key voting criteria.

Hopefully we’ve got over voting for pretty party leaders now, though the silliness over Boris’ hair and slightly dishevelled demeanour suggests not, sadly.

stephen richards

19th September 2019 at 8:48 pm

Nobody objects to him writing a book if he has something to say, which unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have. That will be for the reading public to judge. But it does look as if it has been rushed out with a view to inflicting maximum damage, not just on Boris Johnson, who is his bete noire, but on the 17.4 million voters who harbour the unworthy ambition to be citizens of an independent country. One wouldn’t have thought it from his suave exterior, but the bitterness must be eating him up, which is truly sad. I just wonder sometimes what is driving the fanatical energy of the Remain warriors who dominate our public square. What makes them do it? It’s as if they’ve been programmed or are suffering from some sort of brain fever. They keep rising up, like monsters from the vasty deep. Rationality is there none.

P J

19th September 2019 at 9:29 pm

Indeed they do (keep rising up). It’s been a real eye opener, speaking personally. I’d have never believed there could be so many folks who hold so fast to a view, they ignore most of what’s right in front of them. Perhaps I think too well of folks, expect them to be better than they are. I keep wondering… surely something external *must* be registering a tiny stir of self questioning. But no…

Geoff Cox

21st September 2019 at 9:53 am

Well put PJ (and Stephen Richards). I’ve been fully active in the fight for Independence for 10 years and I can scarcely believe what I am seeing. I thought and predicted before the Referendum that “they” would never let us leave. In fact I regularly suggested to Remainers to vote to leave just to expose what a bunch of sh*ts they would turn out to be. But, back then, I thought they would accomplish it quite easily and I have been mighty impressed that the public have not gone back on their decision. This has driven Remainers into a complete spin. They still have the power unfortunately, but they do not have the arguments. But still they carry on – it has been an eye-opener even to a sceptic like me. This, sadly is now the takeaway from our vote for Independence. Even if we were to get a clean break Brexit, the country’s wounds will not be healed in a generation.

Jane 70

20th September 2019 at 6:27 am

Agreed; the media’s selection of quotes seems like an additional weapon to be deployed in the Bash Brexit saga.
Open season on Boris, Gove, Patel and others: so much for loyalty and discretion.
Cameron’s most ill advised pronouncement for me: ‘We’re all in it together’, while presiding over Osborne’s punitive austerity measures.

Tim Wheeler

23rd September 2019 at 4:51 pm

“What makes them do it?” Asks Stephen about fanatical ‘Remainers’.
My surmise is that that they’ve grown accustomed to ruling without push-back from poorer, disempowered citizens. Democracy is acceptable to them if it can be manipulated and senior MPs in each party have safe seats where they never face the prospect of answering to voters whose citizenship and votes are increasingly undermined by E.U. membership and globalisation. The thought that M.P.s, and members of the establishment and it’s tame Broadcaster and Newspapers might have to listen to (and obey) the wishes of poorer citizens is outrageous and unacceptable to those used to rule without question. The plebs may be allowed change the party label of the government – but NOT it’s policies. That’s what I believe motivates them (at least the ones who aren’t deluded.) As for the ordinary citizen E.U.ophiles I have a close friend who thinks Brexit is the end of culture, learning, and all that is good and loving in the world. My arguments about citizen democracy for all here in the U.K. mean nothing in the face of that (and is property in Spain.)

Ven Oods

19th September 2019 at 8:30 pm

DC’s shiny, pink-faced twattiness aside, the poor bloke’s got a book to sell. Someone’s got to pay for that gypsy man-shed, y’know!
And, anyway, we all know his penchant for ‘porkies’ (of one sort or another).

Michael Lynch

19th September 2019 at 8:14 pm

He is a real ‘billy no mates’ and looks a sorry sight for it. Hence the ruthless attack on Gove and Boris; it’s nought but a silly attempt to get back in with the Remain ‘in crowd’ and it will ultimately fail. They’ll never really forgive him for giving the referendum. The fact that he ran away after promising to enact Article 50 after the unexpected Leave result will always make him a gutless wonder in most people’s eyes. I couldn’t think of a more dull read than his autobiography; a 750 page hack job and an insult to other biographies. He is typical as what passes for a Western leader nowadays and is merely another empty Trudeau type; a mere poser whose premiership was full of empty words and gestures. At least Boris has guts and conviction.

C J

20th September 2019 at 5:03 pm

>>He is typical as what passes for a Western leader nowadays and is merely another empty Trudeau type<<
Yes, all we need now is some old b1@ckf@ce shots

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

28th September 2019 at 8:29 am

Mussolini had ‘guts and conviction’. What is your point? Johnson is an unelected, ignorant, grubby opportunist, a philanderer who has been sacked twice for lying. Is that why unthinking Brexit types are attracted to this political chimpanzee?

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