$10million, or £7million. That’s what David Cameron is now reported to have made from Greensill Capital, the company he helped lead to ruin. The number, reported by the BBC, is news, not least because Cameron himself had refused to disclose it. Speaking to a Commons committee investigating his failed lobbying for the failed company, the failed former PM would say only that he had been paid a 'generous' sum by Greensill.
That one word, 'generous', speaks volumes about Cameron and the Greensill episode.
Let’s start with the obvious fact that Cameron used a word rather than a number to describe the money he got (I’m not sure 'earned' is the right term) from Greensill. It seems fair to ask if that was because he was in some way embarrassed by it. Personally, I doubt it: the Greensill story has shown, quite clearly that Cameron doesn’t experience shame in the same way most people do. He doesn’t care enough what we think of him to be embarrassed in the way most of us would use that word.
But there are still rules, codes that someone such as Dave must always adhere to – they’re the unwritten social laws of his class and clique. One is that you don’t talk about money, especially if you have bags of it.
And Cameron, lest we forget, was very rich long before Lex Greensill decided his very particular brand of political genius was worth a reported salary of $1m (£700,000) as a part-time adviser, plus various shares. Not that he would ever be vulgar enough to talk about it, of course.
In October 2009, Andrew Marr asked Cameron how much he was worth, and to comment on a report that inherited wealth put his net worth at around £30 million. His initial answer sought to suggest he was just another London middle class professional:
'Well I own, we own a house in London, which is a nice house near Ladbroke Grove… We own a house in the constituency, which is quite highly mortgaged, we both earn good salaries. So we are, we're definitely a well-off family.'
In another, equally revealing interview, Cameron once said that his wife, Samantha, owned a 'field in Scunthorpe'. That was his way of saying she was the part owner of the Normanby Estate, 6,000 acres of Lincolnshire around her family seat.
So brushing aside $10m as merely 'generous' is simply consistent with that profession of lordly disdain for something as crass as money.
This coyness about money is a hallmark of Cameron’s milieu. It’s supposed to suggest modesty, but it’s often about doing precisely the opposite. Elaborate understatement and elegant indifference are actually just a way of signalling that you have so much of the stuff you don’t need to worry about it.
It’s part of a wider aristocratic aesthetic that Cameron is steeped in, a deliberately casual approach to life that regards excessive effort or study or knowledge as slightly embarrassing: trying too hard is for other people. Part of the early Cameron myth was his time as an Oxford undergraduate who never visibly studied yet effortlessly dashed off First-class essays. It often wasn’t hard to see the same approach to the premiership.
Perhaps David Cameron thought that by declining to put a number on his 'generous' take from Greensill, he might live up to that ideal. Perhaps his friends might think of him as carefree and high-minded, driven by aristocratic ideas of public service and self-amusement, rather than something as non-U as mere money.
After all, what would it say about a former prime minister, a man who had spoken prettily about duty and honour and country, if it was to be revealed that he had been willing to demean himself and his former office just because someone offered him a big cheque?
But that’s really a question for Dave’s chums to contemplate, if they haven’t already accepted that he’s really no better than the little people with their dreary little lives dictated by humdrum things like salaries and mortgages.
As for us little people, we can just ponder that $10 million and wonder what the country would look like today if David Cameron had shown the same energy and commitment to the premiership that he applied to getting his damp, flabby hands on another pile of money.