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Cameron takes time out to settle some old scores at parliamentary love-in

John Crace
·4-min read

Sliding doors. In another life, Brexit would never have happened and David Cameron would still be prime minister. Though who knows whether the 2020 general election would have taken place because of coronavirus or if Dave would have called it a year early in 2019?

Boris Johnson just an ex-London mayor with a moribund, niche political career as the failed leader of Vote Leave. And certainly no sign of Boris, Matt Hancock, Gavin Williamson, Priti Patel or any of the other cabinet lightweights at the Downing Street press conferences. It was almost enough to make you nostalgic. He may have fucked up the country but at least he was a grown up about it.

Instead we find Cameron holed up in his Cotswold home doing … not very much and looking quite chipper on it. Quite the shiny-faced, chillaxed Boden catalogue Dad. The £800k advance for his deadly dull memoir has not yet been all spent and there is always the odd after-dinner speech to top up the bank balance if necessary. And then there’s the occasional hour of pro bono work. Like giving evidence to the cross-party national security strategy committee about his decision to set up the National Security Council in 2010.

It all had the feel of a self-congratulatory love-in, compered by Labour’s Margaret Beckett. No one had any difficult questions because everyone was in agreement both that the NSC had improved government immeasurably and that life would be a lot better if Dave was still in office.

Just about the only tricky moment came when Cameron was asked if he fancied a return to frontline politics. Because though he knew he was meant to say “yes” the reality is that he doesn’t really. Sure he missed some of the status that went with being prime minister – sharing jokes with Barack Obama, riding Rebekah Brooks’s old police nag and that sort of thing – but he didn’t miss the hard work that came with the job.

“I’m very busy, you know,” he said at one point. Though he seemed to struggle to remember what he was busy doing. Ah yes, that was it. He was doing some charity work and helping fragile states. It didn’t sound much like a full-time job. Then maybe that’s all Dave can fit in these days. Though the sense of pathos was unavoidable: to be washed up at 50 is no age for any career to end. Especially one from which the only way is down.

There was time for Cameron to settle a few old scores with his successors. He called out Boris Johnson for his decision to cut the aid budget by merging the Department for International Development with the Foreign Office, and criticised Theresa May for combining the role of national security adviser with the post of cabinet secretary. But he did so more in passing than in anger. Now was not the time or place for such behaviour.

Dave was rather more guarded when Labour’s Darren Jones asked him about Brexit. The decision to hold a referendum hadn’t been taken lightly, he observed tartly. Rather it was one that had been taken back in 2013 and had been written into the Tory election manifesto of 2015. Jones looked as if he was eager to follow up with the obvious question: if so much thought had gone in to holding a referendum, why was it that the remain campaign that had been led by himself and George Osborne had been so hopeless? Didn’t he regret having taken winning for granted until it was too late?

This might have got close to the heart of “Being Dave”, so Beckett stepped in to move things along. The one thing that no one – Cameron especially – could bear to face was that the chaos of a May government and the shambles of a Johnson government were the inevitable consequences of a Dave government. Cameron may have looked the part by setting up governmental structures, such as the NSC, but on the big issues like Brexit he made all the wrong calls.

From time to time, one of Dave’s sons would appear behind him as if to remind him that his screen time was up for the day. “Can you spare us an extra 10 minutes?” Beckett enquired. Sure thing. This was Dave in his element. Power without responsibility. A chance to tilt history a little in his favour by focusing on the things he had got right. Besides, it wasn’t as if he had anything else much on. And there was still a while before Pointless started on TV.