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For the Record: Cameron’s Memoir

The lack of response to Cameron’s long delayed autobiography is indicative of the longer demise of the style of politics Cameron epitomises. Outsold by Blair and Thatcher’s biographies and overshadowed by the political events of the day, For the Recorddid not appear to make a splash beyond the numerous interviews Cameron gave to promote it. The book garnered less attention than Cameron’s interview on the Today programme where he admitted he had persuaded the Queen to make a tacit intervention in the Scottish independence referendum.

Indeed, the book reads like a death knell to a recent yet completely forgotten politics, one Cameron might describe as ‘decent’ and ‘compassionate’ but others termed the ‘Chumocracy’. When Cameron began his campaign to be Conservative party leader he had the support of just fourteen MPs. Seven of those fourteen remain in parliament: five lost the Whip on the 4th of September (some have since had it reinstated), and the two others are Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Cameron had adeptly pitched himself as the great moderniser the party needed for electoral success. In reality this amounted to a pragmatic managerialism necessary for a party that was £20 million in debt and far more interested in internal than external battles. He now pulls no punches when describing what the state of the party would have been like under his ‘thuggish’ rival David Davis: ‘nasty, brutish and short’. 

The revolution in the party’s outlook since can be gleaned from the change in their electoral strategy. In 2010, Cameron gained more seats in one night than any other Tory leader since 1931 and firmly established a Conservative Party of Middle England. The Tories performed best in the South East and were now pitching themselves to the liberal, metropolitan middle class who had grown weary of Labour. This is in stark contrast to the 2019 electoral strategy which hedges the moderate Remain Tory vote against the de-industrialised Leave North. Johnson’s belief in ‘divide and conquer’ would have shocked any pre-2016 conservative strategist who believed their job was to convince the country that was exactly what the party would not do.

This book begs the question of whether a leader like Cameron could ever rise to the top in the Conservative Party again. That the first chapter of the book is devoted to the creation of the Coalition in the two weeks following the 2010 election demonstrates the pride Cameron took in his ability to compromise and convey responsibility during a time of national crisis. This too was the focus of Clegg’s 2016 book that sought to reverse the belief that from coalition arises weakness. However, it is clear that Cameron grasped the wider picture far sooner than Clegg, knowing that he would benefit at the polls at the Liberal Democrats’ expense regardless of how the Coalition played out. Always one step ahead, when George Osborne advised Clegg not to support raising tuition fees, Cameron disagreed assuring him there wouldn’t be too much backlash. The Conservative political intuition was sure-footed, whereas Clegg’s sense of duty was bruising.

Peculiarly, it is Cameron’s dry sense of humour that is the most illuminating aspect of For the Record. He is self-effacing, gently mocking his Home Counties upbringing, and at times scabrous (Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan-Smith may be left red-faced). His funniest anecdotes are at the expense of foreign leaders. He recalls the time when he went outdoor swimming at the G8 summit, which prompted the never to be outdone Berlusconi to show an old photograph of himself in a bathing suit to the other leaders much to their confusion. 

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