There are few things more annoying than when an old friend writes to tell you what a hash you’re making of your life. Especially when the friend is a squitty hack/blogger and you’re a leader of the free world. God, how impertinent is that?
But there are things that old friends can see that newer friends wouldn’t dare tell you even if they were capable of noticing. Yeah, you’re Prime Minister and I’m not, but I’m really not jealous. I don’t judge friends’ success by the titles or positions they’ve accumulated, or by how rolling in money they are or how powerful they’ve become. What I ask myself is: ‘Given the advantages they’ve had and the opportunities they’ve been given, have they achieved their full potential?’ And in your case the answer is no. Or at best, a very feeble ‘Not yet’.
You and I go back a long way. Not as far as ‘School’ (as your lot call it) — but as far as mid-Eighties Oxford, when you, our mate James and I used to hang out in my rooms in Christ Church, smoke and listen to Supertramp albums. I’m not going to embarrass you with further personal revelations. Suffice to say that I found you likeable, charismatic and a general good egg. If somebody had told me then that one day you were going to end up as Prime Minister I would have been delighted. I mightn’t have put you in the Thatcher or Churchill league, but of one thing I would have been certain: no way, in your capable hands, would Britain end up as an economic basket case, torn apart by riots, crippled by the highest taxes and most pernicious regulations since the second world war, in thrall to the socialistic technocrats of the EU, brain-deadened and emasculated by the politically correct values of the Guardian and the BBC, without even the merest scintilla of a glimmer on the horizon that any of this was about to change till you were booted out of office.
So what happened? One of the things you learned, or thought you learned, in the interim is that politics is not about principle, only expediency. You allowed yourself to be persuaded that all those Conservative values we took for granted in our Oxford days — self-reliance, sovereignty, a strong military, law and order, small government, entrepreneurship, personal liberty — had become irrelevant, indeed actively toxic to your chances of power. That’s why you took to styling yourself not ‘heir to Thatcher’ but the ‘heir to Blair’.
We could argue all day about whether this was the only sensible path you could have taken. But let’s be honest: had you been able to peer into the future through the haze of fumes in my rooms in Peck Quad in 1986 and seen the kind of people you’re having to govern with now, you would rightly have been appalled.
Here you are with a Justice Secretary (whatever that is when it’s at home) who believes that, after the worst riots in British history, offenders should serve shorter sentences or, better still, not go to prison at all. You have a Foreign Secretary who, though once a staunch Eurosceptic, has done a Portillo and apparently made up his mind that his financial future is best served by planning for a comfy post-political career on the EU gravy train, giving speeches at agreeable conferences, presiding over commissions and so on.
Your Lib Dem cabinet partners, of course, are even worse. You have a Business Secretary so pathologically anti-business you’d have been better off appointing Bob Crow or Hugo Chavez. You have an ‘Energy and Climate Change’ Secretary whose primary mission is — almost literally given the imminent brown-outs — to bomb the UK economy back into the dark ages. You have, as your deputy, a weed who knows his only hope of political survival with the hard-left rump of his party is to veto or undermine every one of your policies that looks vaguely anti-EU or pro-small-government or conservative.
It goes, almost without saying, that this is not an ideal position for a conservative prime minister to find himself in with his country facing its direst crisis since the second world war. What brought us to this pass? Decades of reckless government overspending, mainly. What’s going to get us out of it? A reversal of the above: the kind of ‘savage cuts’ that your Chancellor once gleefully promised but now feels incapable of delivering.
Cuts in spending (using money, let it never be forgotten, which comes from only two sources: taxing the productive sector of the economy, or borrowing) are not, of course, the only thing we need to rescue ourselves from disaster. We also need to renegotiate our relationship with the moribund EU; to recreate a police force whose primary function is to combat crime rather than celebrate inclusivity and diversity; an approach to ‘climate change’ based on cost-benefit analysis and hard science rather than PR campaigns by Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund; a culture which celebrates hard work, elitism and aspiration rather than punishes it; and much more besides.
Here’s the problem, though. None of this is going to happen unless you ditch your coalition partners. The last thing a drowning man needs is a clutch of suicidal loons grabbing his legs and trying to pull him further under. When you’re in a life and death situation — and this one is — you have to be free to take whatever action necessary to survive.
What you need to do now, Dave, is take the bravest, most principled decision of your life: you need to call a general election. You need to set out what needs to done to save Britain, as opposed to what your more lily-livered advisors have told you is expedient. Do that with the courage and articulacy of which I know you are capable and you will win. As the reaction to the riots showed, your country is ready for it. The question is, are you?
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated August 20, 2011