Oberon Houston: Project Cameron's elephant is still in the room
David Cameron may have had a privileged upbringing, and influence may have been brought to bear to help him into the fast-track option of the Conservative Research Department (CRD) when he left Oxford University, proudly sporting a first class honours degree in ‘Politics Philosophy and Economics’. Although, even at this tender young age, raw talent probably made any helping hand unnecessary. The young David Cameron, however, was soon to find out that privilege and natural ability are no protection from the rough side of politics. This first came home to him in a nasty episode, when he went to the Treasury in 1992 as Norman Lamont’s special advisor. Just a year later, Lamont’s loyalty in implementing John Major’s doomed economic policies of the day had all but finished him off, rising taxes, the ERM fiasco, and the drip-feed of damaging personal stories - that only seem to surface when one is clinging on for dear life - left him staring into the abyss. This had not gone unnoticed, and Tebbit’s private advice to Lamont at the party conference in 1993 was:
"I’d find an issue on which to resign if I were you. The two faced bastard will push you in the end, when he feels safer and it’s more convenient for him."
Soon after, as predicted, the end came, refusing Environment Secretary in a reshuffle, Lamont was duly sacked. The incoming Chancellor, Ken Clarke, had his own team and Cameron was told, with regret, that he wasn’t needed. David Cameron’s political career, beginning with so much hope suddenly looked to be over. He was eventually given a reprieve however when the new Home Secretary, Michael Howard, agreed to give him a go. The Home Office taught him a lot, but this was no easy time to be closely involved with the government, and by 1994, a job outside Westminster seemed appropriate, whether this was the end of his political career was still uncertain. But, if David Cameron thought life in business would be any easier for him, he had a nasty shock coming.
One cannot help but ponder the poisonous seeds that were planted in front of Cameron’s ambition during his ‘time in the real world’, most of which are still to flourish today. Working as a high profile aide for the temperamental chairman of Carlton Communications, Michael Green, Cameron had entered the bear-pit of a fight between corporations for survival. Green was about to embark on an, ultimately doomed, high-profile battle with Rupert Murdoch for control of digital television, and this fraught path put David Cameron directly in the firing line. Many financial journalists were to meet and deal directly with Cameron at this time, and in doing his masters bidding, this was to make him many enemies amongst the journalists covering the Carlton story. Possibly more worrying is how this involvement with Green has affected Rupert Murdoch’s opinion of him, today he is still decidedly cool on our leader. A failure to mend bridges there may lead to big regrets down the road. One can only wonder what the eventual price will be, Tony Blair’s was very high, its reported that Murdoch told him to support the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq or else.
To many it may seem that David Cameron has had it easy in life and that he drifted into the leadership position. The reality is quite different, his time both in politics and business, has been extremely challenging. Even becoming an MP was a tortuous road of hard work rewarded by defeat first time round, before finally getting elected in 2001. It has also been suggested that by moving the party to the centre-right of politics he isn’t really a conservative. Actually, he has been a relatively recent convert to the modernisation agenda, taking many years to think and ponder over this, but now that he is convinced of the approach, the motives are genuine. The reality is that few have been born into and entwined with the Conservative party as deeply as David Cameron. One analogy quoted has been that:
"Unlike Tony Blair, who scaled the outside of the Labour party to reach the top, David Cameron has climbed up every single floor within the Conservative party to get there."
He is pragmatic about applying conservative principles to the task at hand and knows that to win power we must both gain trust and deliver on the key issues upon which the electorate demand. But the road ahead is not an easy one. So far, he has overcome overwhelming odds to win the leadership race by more than two to one, and the recent local election results have shown that the party is making progress with him as leader. There remains however an elephant in the room, and his biggest test yet. A clumsy attempt was made to neuter dissenters early on with the ‘Built to Last’ road show and the trap was spotted by those that are less happy with the modernisation agenda. As a result, they kept ominously silent, preferring to bide their time. But, at some point, David Cameron knows, he must break cover and lay down some policy. Only when this detailed policy is revealed, will the fate of our current leader’s ambition to govern be decided. That time is about to come. If you would like to know more about the life of David Cameron, I recommend reading his biography.