Magazine article The Spectator

Trying to Work out What David Cameron Really, I Had a Strange of Deja Vu

Magazine article The Spectator

Trying to Work out What David Cameron Really, I Had a Strange of Deja Vu

Article excerpt

He is the longest serving of our major party leaders. He could be Prime Minister next year.

He has had publicity that many a politician would kill for. Yet how many voters can answer a simple question -- what does David Cameron really think?

That is what I have been trying to do for a documentary on BBC Radio 4. My producer Martin Rosenbaum and I have spoken to those who know Cameron best -- his friends, his colleagues and a few of those who he's crossed over the years. Eighteen months ago we made a programme which asked the same question about the man who then looked set to be the next occupant of 10 Downing Street, Gordon Brown. Our aim then and now was to examine the values and the influences upon the man who would be Prime Minister rather than their policies. We've been struck by how much harder our task has been this time around.

Brown had been at the top of government for ten years. Cameron has never held office.

Brown had just had a vast compendium of his speeches published and, as a young man, had written a book outlining his political philosophy. Not so Cameron. The non-political influences on Brown -- in particular, his father's religious teaching and the impact of almost losing his sight -- were already well documented.

In comparison, much less is known about how Cameron's background shaped him.

The influences on the Tory leader are, for many, summed up by just two photographs.

The first shows a young Cameron strutting in tailcoats alongside fellow Old Etonian Boris Johnson, in a portrait of Oxford University's answer to the Bash Street kids. Both are now bidding to prove that association with the braying boys of the Bullingdon Club is not a bar to high office. The second finds Cameron lurking in the shadows on Black Wednesday watching his boss Norman Lamont announce that he was giving up the costly struggle to keep the pound in the ERM.

Some Labour politicians dream of deploying these two politically toxic images to portray Cameron as a privileged young Tory toff who bears some responsibility for the economic humiliation of the Major years. Others fear that this strategy will be no more likely to succeed than Tory attacks on Tony Blair for his membership of CND. They recognise that, important though they are, those images tell only part of the Cameron story. They do not explain the long political journey he has taken. In 1996, the young candidate Cameron rallied his party conference with a call for a return to a tax-cutting agenda and to fight Labour's plans to tame the 'British lion' and turn her into a 'federalist pussycat'. A decade later Cameron, now as leader, was telling his party to embrace gay marriage, social justice and social responsibility.

There are three other images from the album of influences on David Cameron which help explain that journey. The first is of his wife, Samantha; the second is his severely disabled son, Ivan; the third is the face of defeat.

Each contributed to converting him -- albeit much later than many of his friends -- to the idea of 'modernising' the Tory party.

Nicholas Boles, one of the earliest believers in the need for the Tories to change radically, credits Samantha Cameron with 'dragging' her husband 'to see the world as she saw it'. Boles says she forced the Tory leader to understand that Section 28 (the ban on the 'promotion' of homosexuality in schools) was 'an attempt to stigmatise a particular group'. …

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