Say what you like about David Cameron, the man never stops trying to exceed expectations. I once thought that he’d never do anything sadder than giving his wife’s stylist an honour then running away from parliament like a child. Then he proved me wrong by publishing his memoirs.
And now, demonstrating his unstinting commitment to the cause of his own humiliation, he has reinvented himself as a shoddy lobbyist.
When he naffed off after making a horlicks of the referendum, Cameron warbled the usual shiny words about duty to the nation. It turns out he meant it: in these dark times, we all need a laugh, so we should thank him for cheering up a gloomy nation by means of his own embarrassment. Public service takes many forms.
The best bit of those headlines about DC being investigated for breaking his own lobbying rules is that he probably didn’t, technically, do anything wrong. Because that doesn’t really matter. The spectacle of the man who used to claim to be a statesman grubbing for favours in hopes of cash is enough. Who cares if he did or did not meet the letter of the figurative law on lobbying? Step back from the details and drink in the grand view of the former prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, successor to Gladstone and Churchill, hanging up the phone on a reporter asking him about the political favours he tried to call in to save his share options.
The cherry on top of this delightful trifle is that Cameron wasn’t even an effective lobbyist: the Treasury said no.
This does all raise a question though: why? Why was Cameron ever risking the tattered remnants of his reputation for Greensill’s money? It’s not as if he needs the cash. Ex PMs earn well — a few hundred grand a year for corporate speaking is a given — and Cameron was loaded to start with. He has three houses (London, the Cotswolds, Cornwall) and a sack load of money.
Here’s my theory: boredom. Still in his 50s with no proper job, Cameron needs to find ways to fill his days. The City makes work for idle hands.
To be fair, being an ex PM isn’t easy: there’s no roadmap or template. But it’s also fair to say that others have done it better than Cameron. The best exemplar is Sir John Major, whose standing has only improved over time; a weak PM became a good elder statesman.
Tony Blair did his fair share of embarrassing money-grubbing, but he’s now once again playing a useful role in public life, not least over the pandemic (well, useful for Matt Hancock at least, others will doubtless feel otherwise). Gordon Brown is working as hard as ever to save the Union. Theresa May is starting down the John Major path to redemption and using her seat in the Commons to good effect. Imagine how much it must burn Cameron to know that his pedestrian, failed successor, is handling retirement with more grace and aplomb than him.
For the rest of us, that burn is more of a warm glow of schadenfreude: spite is cheering, after all. But when that pleasure fades, my final thought about the pathetic sight of David Cameron in 2021 is one of regret. It didn’t have to be this way. He didn’t have to cut and run even after the referendum. If he’d stayed in office for a few months to pave the way to an orderly Brexit, he’d have done his real duty to the nation. If he’d stayed in the Commons, he’d have been able to use his undoubted talent, energy and experience to add something to parliament and politics. He should have stayed.
But he didn’t. He ran away, and now he has… everything, yet none of the things that truly matter to people who make it to the top of politics: respect, credibility, legacy.
Still, at least he gave us all something — someone — to laugh at this week. Cheers, Dave.