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House of Cards aside, this lobbyist is also an avid listener of podcasts — 'Political Thinking with Nick Robinson' being a particular favourite of mine... imagine my excitement when I turned on my phone to find this on my lock screen:
Now for most of you this probably means nothing, but for someone who spends most of his Twitter time @ing and retweeting Mr Robinson, this notification was a Christmas gift in February. I must admit I was somewhat disappointed that only 29 seconds of the podcast were dedicated to the raspy—yet still melodic—voice of Nick Robinson. Nevertheless, the analysis of David Cameron's prime ministerial career by Steve Richards that followed dispersed all feelings of discontent, and no doubt inspired this week's article.
Before I began this article, I sent an email out The Lobbyist team, asking them to describe Mr Cameron in one word. The response was mixed: "Useless," "a quitter," "strategist"... all of which were applicable in some form or another, but one which really stood was "charmer" — I couldn't agree more. Looking back at the Prime Minister who delivered the Tory party conference without any notes, appearing at events with sleeves rolled up and open buttoned shirts, there's no denying that our former prime minister was indeed a charmer.
David Charmeron—as we at The Lobbyist now call him — certainly did know how to play the people game, his two election victories are testament to that. Charm, however, is a double edged sword, and while Charmeron used it to slay his enemies in the 2010/15 elections, that sword eventually became his undoing. Those who pick up the "charm sword" often find themselves having to appease their stronger opponents. Appeasement is risky in the world of politics, you never know if and when your enemies will push for more concessions, you can only hope that what you offer will be enough to permanently shut them up; in fact, the whole process is less political strategy, more William Hill gambling — and if there was one thing Cameron seemed to do a lot of was gamble: He gambled (and won) when he held the AV referendum to determine the fate of Britain's electoral system. He gambled when he held the Scottish Referendum — one which in some ways backfired because it gave way to the rise of the SNP. And he gambled when he held the EU referendum (third time not so lucky Mr Charmeron).
Some argue that UKIP's surge in popularity meant that a referendum determine Britain's membership in the EU was inevitable, and so Cameron had to follow through with one. This Lobbyist disagrees, there was no huge demand from the public for an in-out referendum on Europe, it was simply Cameron's way of dominating: He had successfully charmed the public, now it was on to what he saw as another threat to his authority — the back benchers and Euro-skeptics.
Cameron's downfall begins with his his party's recent history. Despite becoming party leader in 2005, his MPs didn't share the same optimism for him as his activists did. In true Tory fashion, they had reservations about his efforts to modernise the party but kept schtum, hoping that he would see off Brown in 2010 and return them to power. The lucky general won the 2010 election but with a small price to pay...a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. It was this half-victory that left many MPs disappointed with him.
In October 2011, the pressure started to mount for Cameron — 81 Tory MPs demanded a referendum in a Commons vote, showing the scale of the internal problem Cameron faced. On January 23, 2013 he conceded, appeasing his critics, gambling with his political career; Cameron took to the stage and announced an 'in-out' referendum.
It came as no surprise when The Lobbyist heard Osborne was against the move (he probably feared that if the plan backfired he would lose his much loved role as Chancellor). What did come as a shock to us was that Gove also urged Cameron not to make the move. Why? Because he didn't want to fight his "friend" and prime minister. In one of the many emails he sent to Cameron before January 2013, Gove warned that granting a referendum would not bring peace to the Tories and that it was "dangerous to commit to a plebiscite" before knowing what Europe had to offer. This is pure speculation on my part but despite Gove not explicitly saying "I will fight you on this," I'm sure Cameron was in no doubt about Gove's concerns.
Word on the politics street was that as the 2015 negations with Brussels reached their peak, Cameron asked many of Gove's friends — including Osborne, Nick Boles and the culture minister Ed Vaizey — whether or not Gove would be "all right" when the time came. Newspaper stories after the party conference in October showed that Gove was likely to be in the opposite camp. On February 20, Gove's stance was confirmed: He told Ed Llewellyn (Cameron's chief of staff) that he would be campaigning in line with his long-stated beliefs — a big blow to Cameron, his charm had worn off.
Cameron publicly confirmed the news Gove's decision:
"Michael is one of my oldest and closest friends but he has wanted to get Britain to pull out of the EU for about 30 years. Of course I am disappointed that we are not going to be on the same side as we have this vital argument about our country's future. I am disappointed but not surprised."
24 hours later, Boris announced his position.
After Cameron won what he and many others considered to be an underwhelming renegotiation package, June 23 was announced as D-day... another bad move by the lucky general. Cameron had gone for the fastest possible timetable; this Lobbyist thinks that was a bad idea and I'm not the only one: Lynton Crosby, Cameron's strategist, also advised against the decision, warning that the whole matter could turn into a protest vote. Cameron was foolish not to see this coming; the surge in populism 2016 saw should have been some indicator that the electorate were out to punish the establishment by voting against the status quo, whatever it may be. Thatcher said:
"referendums sacrificed parliamentary sovereignty to political expediency"
Most leaders dislike them because the electorate use them not to decide the issue in question but make a protest. Cameron probably thought he had charmed the public to the point where he would get special treatment from the voters — he was wrong. Leave voters voted leave because they were pissed off. Remainers voted to remain.
Another mistake Cameron made was underestimating Gove. He knew Gove's stance on Brexit but wasn't expecting him to take on such a high-profile role in the campaign, in fact an insider in No. 10 said that Cameron took Gove's campaigns as personal attacks on their friendship... It seems there really is no such thing as friendship in politics.
Essay-Crisis PM was another name used to describe Cameron (if Thatcher was the PM of handbags, it appears Cameron was one of nicknames). He earned this title by turning his attention to problems at the last minute and the EU was no different. This brings us to another Cameron's many mistakes that contributed to his downfall, his overconfidence.
Our sources in Brussels have told as that Cameron declared himself a "winner" to his colleagues in Europe, according to them, Cameron became a bit of a Bob Marley, going around telling everyone not to worry and that "every little thing, was gonna be alright." This attitude might have been what led him to accept a deal that didn't do Britain justice and not utilise all the weapons available to him when it came to the campaign itself.
March 2016 also saw Cameron's campaign blown off course by an event he really should have anticipated, but once again failed to: Work and pensions secretary Ian Duncan Smith resigned — two days after the 2016 budget! Smith's resignation was less to do with Cameron and more to do with the fact that he and Osborne simply didn't get on. Still, that didn't stop Cameron from going on the charm offence to try and woo Smith back into the cabinet; an action which came to an abrupt end when Cameron called Ian Duncan Smith a "shit."
At this point Cameron had lost control over his party, the risk that comes with appeasing your opponents became very much a reality for David Cameron: Many senior figures in the Tory party at the time — the likes of Chris Grayling, leader of the House of Commons and Theresa Villiers, Northern Ireland secretary — had private conversations with Cameron, telling him that they would be campaigning for an 'Out' vote and then offering to resign shortly after. Cameron allowed the same ministerial freedom that Wilson gave to Labour ministers in the 1975 referendum; the only difference was that it didn't work in his favour. He made the mistake of presuming that "being nice" to his MPs would avoid the more abrasive campaigning that was bound to occur if they spoke from outside the cabinet. The ruthless campaigns of Leadsom, Gove and Johnson showed that abrasive campaigning was inevitable — inside the Cabinet or not.
On June 24, 2016, the result was out: The British people had voted to leave the EU and Cameron's career as MP and Prime Minister, began its departure course... the lucky general's luck had run out.
Despite all his faults and failings, this Lobbyist was sad to see Cameron go. After 3 defeats to Blaire, he made the Tory party electable again. He gave the party a much need modernisation injection, and it pains me to see figures like Jacob Reece-Moggs, dragging the Tory party back into the dark ages.
If you wish to hear more about David Cameron's political career, listen to the 'Cameron Years' by Steve Richards.
And if like me, you are a fan of all things political, check out The Lobbyist for your daily dose of political affairs