If there was one thing David Cameron had to do during July it was to hold his nerve. While Gordon Brown was enjoying his inevitable honeymoon as Prime Minister, the Tory leader's main task was to show he wasn't rattled. I heard this simple piece of advice from Conservative MPs, activists and right-wing journalists from the moment Tony Blair stepped down. It was even accepted wisdom in government circles. Everyone knew it. Everyone, it seems, except Cameron.
To be fair, he almost pulled it off. He managed to keep it together after the rows over grammar schools policy and museum charges. He refused to bend from his modernising mission even as he failed to gain ground in two by-elections and as national opinion polls were turning against him. He stuck to his guns after visiting Rwanda while his constituency was under water. But he finally lost it just after ten past eight on the morning of the last day of July. Of all places, he chose the public forum of Radio 4's Today programme in which to do it.
In a spectacular schoolboy tantrum, he lashed out at everyone who had dared criticise him, from Stanley Kalms, the former Tory treasurer, to Maurice Saatchi, with whom he had worked running the 2005 Conservative election strategy. But his special wrath was reserved for Ali Miraj, a Tory "A-list" candidate who had chastised Cameron for using "gimmickry" and being "obsessed with PR". In a vicious counter-swipe at Miraj, Cameron suggested that the party's most experienced Muslim activist--appointed by Cameron himself to the Conservatives' commission on international and national security policy--had come to him and asked for a peerage.
It was this outburst that showed he had finally cracked. His attack on Miraj was bizarre, intemperate and, as Miraj later told me, "very un-prime ministerial". Little would have been made of Miraj's comments had Cameron not drawn attention to them. On the face of it, the views of a mere former councillor from west London and failed parliamentary candidate should be of little import. But Cameron knows that that does not apply in this case. Miraj is precisely the sort of person Cameron wanted to symbolise the new Conservatives: a successful young Muslim with a sharp grasp of Asian politics in Britain today, who also happens to work for a top City investment bank. He was so keen on him at one point that he was the man chosen to introduce him at the launch of his campaign to become party leader.
I have met Miraj several times and he strikes me as a thoroughly modern Conservative of the sort David Cameron would like us to believe that he, too, has become. He has worked hard as an activist through the dark times for the party, and fought the seats of Aberavon in 2001 and Watford in 2005. He was an …