Licence To Chill? Not Yet, Prime Minister
What kind of man is David Cameron? It is strange to be asking this question of someone who has been leader of the Tory party for 10 years, Prime Minister for more than five, and about whom there exists a colossal amount of information.
That vast corpus has just been enriched by the publication of two hefty books about him: Call Me Dave, by Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott (Biteback, £20), which is a biography from cradle to the present; and Cameron At 10, by Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowden (William Collins, £20), a blow-by-blow account of Cameron’s first stint as Prime Minister. Both have many illuminating stories to tell about him, the product of impressively exhaustive research, but neither quite succeeds in turning the key that might open the door into the Prime Minister’s soul.
The Prime Minister: Don't chillax quite yet, Dave (illustration by Michael Daley)All the same, the effect of reading these books has been to shift my views a little. The charming and slippery ex-PR man without deep and abiding convictions may not have been supplanted, but more subtle and human touches have been added. I find I like and respect him more, and yet oddly my sense of foreboding about the future has increased.
Call Me Dave, despite having generated much vulgar mirth because of its anonymous and uncorroborated story about the young Cameron’s private parts and a pig’s head, turns out to be generally fair and balanced. Admittedly it is further disfigured by an ill-advised preface from Lord Ashcroft’s venomous pen in which he reveals his personal grievances against Cameron. But once the story gets under way, I assume for the most part in the less vengeful hands of Ms Oakeshott who is the acknowledged writer of the duo, one quickly forgets the motives that may have inspired the biography.
Most surprising to me was by the recurring suggestion in their book that au fond Cameron has a sweet and generous nature. Former school matrons, and friends and acquaintances from school and university, attest to it. Though a couple of journalists claim he bullied them when he was the PR supremo at Carlton Television in the late 1990s, there are very few stories which show him behaving in a low way, and many are to his credit. Which of us would fare as well if put under the Ashcroft/Oakeshott microscope?
It is true he is almost unthinkingly ambitious (at 14 he declared without having shown much interest in politics that he was going to be Prime Minister), and capable of ruthlessness. We saw how at Prime Minister’s Questions he loved to play Flashman to poor, heavy-footed Ed Miliband. But if he knows how to be shitty, he is not a shit. On the contrary, his nature is sunny and well-meaning. I even found myself reinterpreting some words of congratulation he had uttered after I had delivered a eulogy at a friend’s memorial service in 2007 at which he was present. He twice complimented me, which seemed excessive. I assumed then that he was trying to oil up to a journalist, but now I wonder whether he wasn’t going out of his way to be kind to a stranger, offering words of reassurance to someone plainly exhausted by making a testing speech that was probably not particularly good.
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