Sunshine Dave has morphed into Mr Angry: SIMON WALTERS says David Cameron is now unleashing years of pent-up anger and frustration
When I interviewed David Cameron a few days before the 2015 election, I was taken aback. Sleeves rolled up, he thumped the table, calling the then Labour leader Ed Miliband a ‘goon’ and Nicola Sturgeon ‘bonkers’, and comparing himself to Arnold Schwarzenegger, saying: ‘I’m pumped up like Arnie.’
This was a very different man from the gracefully calm one I first met in the early 1990s. Unlike his No 10 predecessor Gordon Brown, who was famous for his thunderous rages, Cameron very rarely gets angry. Typically, he once told a Tory conference: ‘Let sunshine win the day.’
But during the run-in to the 2015 election, his advisers had feared that his cool demeanour was playing badly with voters. His no-nonsense Aussie adviser Lynton Crosby had told him: ‘For God’s sake, show some guts and passion!’
The result was this fist-thumping Schwarzenegger impression.
David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson leave St Paul’s Cathedral in central London in 2015
SIMON WALTERS: Unlike his No 10 predecessor Gordon Brown, who was famous for his thunderous rages, Cameron (pictured on the campaign trail in 2015) very rarely gets angry
As we now know, Cameron defeated Miliband, winning the Tories’ first Commons majority since 1992.
Perhaps it’s no wonder that we are witnessing an angry Cameron again.
He’s trying to explain how he made a complete mess by gambling on an EU referendum, then resigning.
Of course he is pointing the finger of blame at others.
There is nothing new in ex-Tory leaders sniping at successors.
After hearing Sir Edward Heath rail against Margaret Thatcher over dinner, I challenged him to find some merit in her. He scoffed: ‘She’s a good chemist!’ (Thatcher had a degree in the subject.)
But Cameron is now unleashing years of pent-up anger and frustration. Yes, there has been a dignified silence for a long period but we are witnessing Terminator Dave lashing out. Storm clouds have blocked out the sunshine.
Predictably, his principal targets are Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.
Savagely, Cameron says Johnson never backed Brexit out of principle but out of naked ambition – in other words to knife Cameron and become PM himself.
David Cameron holds the letter left to him by the last Labour Government, as he speaks at the Conservative party conference in 2015
He says Johnson behaved ‘appallingly’ and ‘left the truth at home’ (i.e. lied) over immigration during the referendum campaign. As for his one-time close friend Gove, he describes him as ‘mendacious’ and says he once sent him a text message saying: ‘You’re a team player or a w*****.’
Like most ex-politicians, David Cameron finds it harder to analyse his own shortcomings. True, he admits to sleepless nights over losing the referendum and acknowledges the ‘pain and uncertainty’ his actions caused. He vents his frustration at those who say he ‘swanned off’ – his words – by resigning straight after his defeat rather than clear up the mess. He expresses pique that some blame him for ‘austerity’ – when he was merely clearing up the economic mess left by the previous Labour government.
However, the cruel truth is that there are no honeyed words that can rewrite Cameron’s political legacy. He will not be remembered primarily for getting the Tories into power.
His Brexit downfall – and the ensuing chaos – means he will forever be talked about in the same breath as Tory prime minister Anthony Eden, who was ruined by the Suez crisis.
It is difficult to challenge this harsh assessment. But Cameron fails to confront the truth that this was all of his own making.
His 2013 decision to promise a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU was intended as a gambit to stop Nigel Farage’s then Ukip party capitalising on mounting discontent with Brussels resulting in the Tories losing the 2015 election.
Mr Cameron, 53, (pictured in London in June) has said the referendum on membership of the European Union was ‘inevitable’ but that he regrets parts of the build up to it
If Cameron was honest, he would concede that he believed a referendum would never happen. For at the time he was convinced the Tories would not win the election. Instead, they would be locked again in coalition with the Europhile Lib Dems who, as the price for power-sharing, would veto a referendum.
Conveniently – or the happy result of a cynical strategy – this would save Remainer Cameron from having to honour his referendum offer. But the Tories won the election outright. Without the Lib Dems as a Brexit human shield, Cameron could not get out of his rash referendum pledge.
This week, Cameron was back beside his former deputy PM, Sir Nick Clegg, as they attended a memorial service for Paddy Ashdown. Cameron sat between Sir John Major and Tony Blair.
I’m sure he pondered the fates of these two fellow former prime ministers. Blair is derided and haunted by the Iraq War. Major, responsible for the Tories’ exile from government for 13 years, has regained the respect of many people.
The reputation of the two ex-PMs was reflected in the decision to choose Major, not Blair, who was much closer to Ashdown personally and politically, to deliver the main address.
Cameron can only hope to benefit from a similar revision in public opinion. But it will take much longer than three years.
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