Euan McColm: David Cameron still beset by delusions of grandeur
The former prime minister, currently writing a memoir of his time at No 10, is said to believe that, at 52, he’s just too young and vital for retirement and he rather fancies the position of foreign secretary.
Having flown this kite on Friday, Cameron then watched as former colleagues and opponents started trashing it with reactions that ran from utter disdain to complete horror. By close of business, a friend (whether this was the same friend who suggested Cameron was in the mood for a comeback, I do not know. It is, I suppose, conceivable the former PM has more than one) had briefed journalists that there were no current plans for a return to politics.
It appears then that Cameron, having tested the water, discovered it was boiling hot and full of broken glass.
He cannot have been entirely surprised, surely?
When Cameron became leader of the Conservatives in 2005, he began a project to change – to make more moderate – his party. He and his closest ally, George Osborne, who would go on to serve as chancellor when Cameron became prime minister in 2010, had studied more carefully the behaviour of Labour’s Tony Blair than any recent incumbents of the Tory leadership (if they looked to, say, Michael Howard, at all, it was only to refresh their memories on the subject of how not to do things). The result of the 2010 election, which forced the creation of a Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, was either proof that, for all the hype surrounding him, Cameron couldn’t actually deliver a proper victory or that he was where the majority of the country was, on the middle ground, where pragmatism and cooperation were the order of the day, where good ideas could come from both left and right.
It seems a long time ago, now, but after that 2010 result, many among Cameron’s supporters indulged themselves in the fantasy that British politics had changed fundamentally and that we had entered a new era of co-operation, where a sophisticated electorate would begin electing minority governments – thus necessitating the creation of power-sharing deals – as a matter of course. Cameron was the Angela Merkel of British politics.
The result of the 2015 election, when the near obliteration of the Lib Dems revealed that the electorate was not at all keen on this business of coalition government, put paid to that daydream. In 2010, he hadn’t been the man who would unite the UK on the centre ground for generations to come, he just hadn’t been Gordon Brown.
The rest, as they say…
Cameron’s calculation that he could end Tory infighting over Europe by calling a referendum on EU membership and then leading the Remain side to victory was so catastrophically wrong that it overshadows everything else which might sit in the column marked “achievements”. This, regardless of any fanciful notion he might have of returning to the national, perhaps even international, stage, is his legacy and it is set in stone. Get used to it, bucko.
Cameron’s step back into the limelight positively drips with the sense of entitlement. Yes, he might have divided the nation, in the process threatening the integrity of the United Kingdom and the stability of peace in Northern Ireland, but he was born to lead and that’s what he should damned well do.
Cameron’s recklessness over Europe has not only divided the UK, it has failed to heal the divisions in the Tory Party. Who would have guessed?
Rather than agreeing that the European question is now settled and uniting behind the decision of the people, the Conservatives are more openly split than ever before; MPs on both Remain and Leave sides of the EU referendum question are set against each other in a disagreement which is frequently described using the terminology of war, while Prime Minister Theresa May is treated with contempt by backbenchers whose appetite will only be satisfied by a no-deal Brexit.
Which of these two tribes, I wonder, would be happy to see David Cameron return to the political front-line? Would the Remainers, the Ken Clarkes and Justine Greenings and Nicky Morgans, welcome him? Would they throw a don’t-worry-mate arm around his shoulder and suggest a pint in the Red Lion? They’ve time for a swift one before heading to the Newsnight studios to repeat their belief that Brexit represents a national catastrophe.
Regardless of their personal feelings towards Cameron, none of those on the Remain side of the argument would want him back.
How about the Leavers, then? Maybe they’d invite the former prime minister to sit with them in the House of Commons canteen? After all, even if he didn’t intend to, he helped them get what they wanted.
The truth is that, unloved by those on either side of a divide that he made wider, Cameron has no prospect of becoming a major political player again. I mean, imagine it, Cameron the foreign secretary under, say, Prime Minister Boris Johnson? Really?
When he lost the referendum, it was inevitable that Cameron would have to stand down as PM. He had taken a huge gamble and lost. But friends now say he feels a strong desire to return to public service.
We saw Cameron’s commitment to this ideal perfectly clearly in the aftermath of the referendum when, after initially insisting he would remain an MP and fulfil his pledge to serve his constituents, he stepped down from the House of Commons, bought a 25-grand designer shed, and began writing a memoir for which the advance was £800,000. Having scuppered the ship, he fled to his garden in Chipping Norton to think deep thoughts and be rich.
If nothing else, the degree of delusion required for David Cameron to believe he might have a political future should be enough to rule him out of ever standing for election again.