I’m almost starting to admire David Cameron. Almost.
There is something that borders on the impressive about the former prime minister’s dedication to the destruction of his own reputation. He may have been a casually idle premier, but he’s really rolled up his sleeves and got stuck into the job of trashing his own name.
How many times did he use the private jets of his collapsed finance firm to travel between his houses? Can’t remember. How much did said collapsed financial contraption pay him for services including pestering senior civil servants with texts signed ‘Love, DC’? Not saying, but it was much more than the mere £150k he got for being PM.
What possible justification could he, the man who used to give pretty speeches about the evils of former ministers lobbying for cash, give for being an ex-minister revealed to have been lobbying for cash? Dave wanted ministers to prop up Greensill Capital because its financial engineering was a form of public service, apparently. Not that he has had any thanks or even a medal for this heroic act of devotion to Queen and country, poor lamb.
Instead, he gets mockery and scorn. Friday’s front pages are gloriously brutal. ‘Sleazy Jet’ is the headline on the Metro, while the FT’s deadpan approach is even more deadly: ‘Cameron says Greensill lobbying was for benefit of British economy’. Readers can draw their own conclusions about that claim and the man who made it.
Writing about Cameron’s second-rate lobbying here before, I’ve used the word ‘humiliation’. And on the face of it, that seems right. The public spectacle of the former PM justifying his seedy entreaties – by turns wheedling and threatening – to old colleagues to help a failing firm that was paying him scads of cash is the sort of embarrassment that would send a lesser man fleeing for the shadows, self-exiled from public life forever more.
But watching Cameron glossily gliding through his evidence sessions with MPs, I found myself wondering if it’s truly accurate to talk about humiliation. Because for that to be the case, Cameron would actually have to care. He’s only really humiliated if he feels the burning heat of embarrassment, the queasy conviction that he has been caught out and shown up. Dictionaries typically define embarrassment as a feeling of self-consciousness, shame, or awkwardness.
Does Dave actually feel those things, now or ever? All leading politicians have the capacity to persuade themselves that they are right under even the most difficult circumstances, and you need industrial-grade self-belief to reach No. 10. But Cameron always had another quality that’s relevant here: disdain.
Oh, he hid it well, often, but it was always there – a fundamental, contemptuous disregard for what lesser people might think of him. It is disdain, I think, that ultimately explained why Cameron could simply turn tail and run away after his epochal failure over Brexit: he simply didn’t care what any of us might think of him for such cravenness. After all, who are we, little people with little lives and little houses, to judge him? Why should he pay a jot of attention to what we might think of him?
And so I wonder if, even as his shame is plastered across front pages once again, Cameron is actually shamed. Obviously, I rather hope so. But watching him breezing about private jets, six-figure salaries and the mild inconvenience of a major company collapsing around him, I can’t quite avoid a return of the suspicion that became familiar when I used to report on his premiership: in the end, he just doesn’t care.