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David Cameron Biography And Visits
David Cameron Biography And Visits
Prime Minister 2010 -
It is required that modern politicians promise "change". In 2010's general election campaign, this is what Conservative Party leader David Cameron duly promised. But change is one of the biggest political illusions. In reality people in Britain do not vote for radical parties. The Labour Party "modernisation" of the early 1990s was a painful move to the middle ground of politics. From 2005, David Cameron did the same thing with the Conservative Party, once again leading a move towards the middle ground. David Cameron himself does not represent change so much as a return. His background harks back to that of prime ministers of times gone by, and his style of compromise has for the most part been the standard for British political leaders since the time of Robert Walpole in the eighteenth century. People it seems like stability and continuity, dressed up with a little exciting, but largely illusory, change.
Eton College Chapel
David Cameron's great great grandfather left Scotland in the 1840s and began a business career. His family eventually became an integral part of stockbroking firm Panmure Gordon. Ian Cameron, David's father, like his father before him, was a partner in this firm. Ian had to overcome birth defects in his legs, but did not let this affect his career at Eton or Panmure Gordon. In October 1962 Ian married Mary Mount, whose family was closely linked with England's old nobility. Through his mother David Cameron is related to the famous Talbot family. Famous Talbots have included a lord chancellor who served in the administration of the man considered as Britain's first prime minister, Robert Walpole. Other Talbots have included a Bishop of Durham, and an Archbishop of Dublin, and Willian Fox-Talbot, who played an important role in inventing photography.
David Cameron's ancestry places him amongst Britain's traditional leading class. His home life and education was equally traditional. Born 9th October 1966 he spent his childhood in Peasemore, Berkshire, where the family settled in 1969. As his biographers Francis Elliot and James Hanning put it: "Lying six miles north of Newbury, there can be no more quintessentially English country village than Peasemore." (Cameron, The Rise Of The New Conservartive P16) David Cameron was brought up in the Queen Anne rectory close to the church, which was central to family life. Ian Cameron was church warden and Mary was on the flower arranging rota. The Cameron household was undeniably old fashioned. According to a guest quoted by Elliot and Hanning, it was a house that still played parlour games, and where following dinner parties, "the ladies would withdraw to another room" (P11). David would run around in the fields with his brother Alex and sister Tania, play tennis and cricket, and accompany his father on shoots on the estate of Philip Wroughton, Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire.
Aged seven David Cameron went to Heatherdown Prepatory School near Ascot. Prince Edward and Prince Andrew both went to Heatherdown, a small and very select boarding school of around one hundred pupils. Once again this was an old fashioned environment. The headmaster believed that all boys should learn to recite the kings and queens of England with the dates of their reigns, and learn all the names of books making up Old and New Testaments. David seems to have fitted in well as an average, good humoured and, on occasion, mischievous pupil. There were midnight raids on strawberry plants tended by the headmaster's wife. David joined in with these japes enthusiastically, and was beaten more than once, with the school's correctional tool of choice, a clothes brush. Good humour and just the right amount of contempt for authority made David popular. Peter Getty was a friend, and there were trips to the Getty estate in Pacific Heights overlooking the Golden Gate bridge. This easy going school career then led to Eton in 1979. At Eton there was the same combination of charm, respectable academic achievement, particularly in the sixth form, and a few brushes with authority. A scandal involving cannabis use at Eton made the national newspapers in May 1982. Cameron was involved, though he seemed to escape without any lasting damage. A pattern was now developing. Cameron was a good boy from a nice family, and yet he also had a foot in the naughty camp. This balancing act became more sophisticated when he moved on to Brasenose College, Oxford in 1985. Here he joined the eating, drinking and behaving badly Bullingdon Club, and even in being fully accepted there he still managed to avoid being caught up in their grosser exploits. While fellow Bullingdon Clubber Boris Johnson was being chased by police across Magdalen Bridge following the throwing of a flower pot through a window, Cameron saw trouble coming and had gone to bed. It is notable that membership of the Bullingdon Club did not rule out being asked to babysit the young child of an Oxford Rastafarian curry house owner. Treading carefully in this way, Cameron enjoyed himslf, worked hard, and became an academic star at Oxford. This led to a first class degree in politics, philosophy and economics in 1988. The ability to be accepted as a member of different camps without actually belonging to them, would be as important as academic achievements in the political career to come.
Travellers Club in Pall Mall, London
Between 1988 and 1992 David Cameron worked at the Conservative Research Department in London's Smith Square. This was followed by promotion to manager of John Major's successful 1992 election campaign. The reward for success in the 1992 election was a job as special advisor on presentation to chancellor Norman Lamont, and then a similar job at Michael Howard's Home Office. Here a talent for inhabiting two contrasting worlds was demonstrated once again. Michael Howard's big message was law, order and prisons. Cameron's new girlfriend was Samantha Sheffield, daughter of Annabel Astor. Samantha, an art student studying in Bristol, enjoyed going to the same raves which were targeted by Howard's law and order crackdown. In the 1992 general election Cameron tried to move on from his advisor role, and become an MP himself, standing as Conservative candidate in Stafford. The count took place at a leisure centre, and Cameron has said that Samantha spent the night drinking in the leisure centre car park with the Monster Raving Loony Party. His biographers cannot confirm this report, as Monster Raving Loony candidate Ashton May was too drunk to remember anything. There was a part of Cameron which clearly enjoyed Samantha's bohemian art student lifestyle in Bristol. But then after a weekend in Bristol he'd spend his week days with grumpy Michael Howard, and evenings in places like the Traveller's Club in Pall Mall where Anne McElvey describes big cigars, fine food and wine, and moments of "guffawing intolerance" (Elliot, Harding P142).
From 1994 it was decided that some experience outside government might be useful. Cameron went to work as head of public relations at Carlton Television. This period at Carlton is somewhat controversial. Cameron was willing to defend, and put a positive gloss on, a number of unpopular directions taken by Carlton and its aggressive boss Michael Green. The PR director argued the case for axing News at Ten and replacing it with a revival of a quiz show called Mr and Mrs. He also had to defend commercials targeted at childen, the screening of insalutory scenes from The Vice within minutes of the watershed, and a one hour programme conceived, and entirely funded by British Telecom. Most difficult of all was a faked documentary called The Connection, about Columbia's drug trade. What appeared to be heroin was actually confectionary, and a "gang boss" was a retired bank cashier. When the scandal broke Cameron decided not to answer any calls. When he did absent-mindedly pick up a ringing telephone, a Guardian reporter had a short conversation with a man who sounded like Cameron, but maintained "that he was called John Smith and had just happened to walk past the phone" (Elliot, Hanning P182). After surviving these tough days at Carlton, a seat in Parliament was finally won in Oxfordshire's Witney constituency at the 2001 general election. This was a difficult period for the Conservatives, who were enduring a long period of opposition to the triumphant New Labour Party of Tony Blair. Cameron quickly got to work supporting Ian Duncan Smith who had replaced William Hague as Conservative leader following the election of 2001. He sat on the Home Affairs Committee, and prepared Duncan Smith for Prime Minister's Questions. In policy terms personal principles were followed in supporting legalisation of cannabis and the creation of centres where heroin addicts could inject prescribed heroin. A passionate defence of fox hunting was also made. As far as foreign affairs were concerned, severe doubts were expressed about the invasion of Iraq. Nevertheless Cameron was eventually one of a group of Conservative MPs who supported Tony Blair's decision to join a US invasion of Iraq. In October 2003 Iain Duncan Smith resigned as Conservative leader and was replaced by Michael Howard, who once again favoured his former advisor, by making him deputy leader of the party.
Important developments had also taken place in Cameron's personal life. David Cameron had married Samantha in June 1996, and by the time he became an MP their family life had become very difficult. The couple had their first child in April 2002. Soon after Ivan's birth it became clear that their son was profoundly disabled with a form of severe epilepsy. The first year must have been deeply distressing and demanding, with their situation being slightly eased by an eventual acceptance of nursing help, and insertion of a feeding tube. It would be wrong to say that David Cameron had until now lived a charmed life without any insight into hardship. His father after all had battled severe disability; but the experience of looking after a disabled child would change anyone. David Cameron himself has said he would want to hit anyone who claimed that something good could come out of such a painful experience, but perhaps life does have an annoying habit of providing compensations even in the bleakest of situations. It would be reasonable to say that caring for Ivan, from April 2002 until his death in February 2009, must have opened up a wider perspective. Certainly during prime ministerial debates in 2010's election campaign, evidence of this perspective could be seen. I watched the interactive indicator of approval go up when Cameron made a passionate defence of specialist education centres, in the face of a politically correct teaching establishment which wants to see such places closed.
The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th October 1834, by Turner
To get to his prime ministerial debates, David Cameron spent five years in opposition as Conservative leader, after succeeding Michael Howard in 2005. Initially his chances of winning the leadership looked very slim, with only fourteen MPs from his own aristocratic Eton background offering support. But there had always been an ability to keep very different groups happy, and remarkably Cameron's support grew. By the time of his "change" speech at the Blackpool Conservative Party Conference on 4th October 2005, he received a standing ovation as the party's new hope. Five years later in May 2010 Cameron won 306 seats making the Conservatives the biggest party in Parliament. But an outright majority was not achieved. Any party wanting to win power had to talk to the Liberal Democrats whose fifty seven seats could provide a workable majority. After two days of talks, on May 11th, Labour prime minister Gordon Brown resigned, and David Cameron became prime minister with Liberal leader Nick Clegg as his deputy. During the election campaign Conservative and Liberal parties were probably further apart on policy matters than Conservative and Labour. But David Cameron has made a habit of sitting quite comfortably in different camps. He was a Bullingdon toff, and a babysitter; he turned up to work for dour old Michael Howard after spending the weekend with his fun loving, rave frequenting girlfriend. David Cameron is a consensus prime minister as almost all prime ministers of the past have been. Almost all of them have been unifiers. There have been exceptions, generally in war time, with Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George as examples. Occasionally there have been exceptions even in peace time, the ultimate conviction politician Margaret Thatcher being the best example. But these prime ministers are definitely not typical. David Cameron sits firmly in the usual consensus tradition, just as his life has been traditional in many other ways. One fellow Etonian is quoted as saying: "He's a strange product of my generation. He just seems to have a mind-boggling level of self belief. He seems to represent a continuation or perhaps regression to that noblesse oblige Toryism. Do we want to be ruled by the Arthurian knights again?" (Elliot, Hanning P45). It seems that inspite of all the talk of change, people do want to be ruled as they have been before. Stability is more important than change, even if stability has to dress itself up as something new. The Houses of Parliament, the home of British government, actually illustrate this contradiction. The present Houses of Parliament were built in the 1830s, following a disastrous fire in 1834 which destroyed the old Palace of Westminster. In the words of A.N Wilson the new Parliament building designed by Charles Barry "makes as they say a statement. These buildings say, on the one hand, we are as new as paint. We are so self-confidently new that we are prepared to pull down some of the historic old rooms which survived the fire. On the other hand they say that... we are as old as the hills and infinitely more respectable" (The Victorians by A.N Wilson P63). The Painted Chamber where Edward the Confessor died, and where Charles I's death warrant had been signed actually survived the fire. It was pulled down to make way for Barry's new building which was carefully built to look old. David Cameron's government set out in 2010 to manage the same trick.