David William Donald Cameron, to give him his full name, is the latest individual to seize the poison chalice and become leader of the British Conservative Party.
Born on the 9th October 1966 in London, his father Ian Cameron was a stockbroker with Panmure, the third generation of Camerons to be employed by that firm, and was raised at Newbury in Berkshire with his brother Alec and sisters Tania and Clare. Educated at Eton College between 1979 and 1985, his O-level results were "not very good" but he later managed three grade A's at A-level1, and won a place at Brasenose College, Oxford. After a gap year spent working for the Sussex MP Timothy Rathbone and for a shipping agent in Hong Kong, at Oxford he avoided student politics in favour of having "a good time".2
A "good time" involved playing tennis (he was captain of the college tennis team) and may or may not have included the ingestion of illegal substances. Faced with a direct question on the matter he cryptically responded with the phrase "I had a normal university experience" and refused to be drawn further. He has been equally reticent about his membership of the infamous Bullingdon Club, whose main activity appears to have been the ingestion of large quantities of alcohol3. Despite this apparent devotion to hedonism he was nevertheless described as "one of the ablest" students by his former tutor Professor Vernon Bogdanor and graduated with a 1st Class Honours degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
From Oxford he was employed by the Conservative Research Department where he was Head of the Political Section and soon enaged in the task of briefing John Major for Prime Minister's Questions. It was during this time that he first made the acquaintance of David Davies, his future rival for the leadership, and George Osborne who was later to become his leadership campaign manager. In 1992 he left the Conservative Research Department to become a Special Advisor to the Chancellor of the Exchequer,Norman Lamont and so had a ringside seat throughout Black Wednesday, and in the following year became Special Advisor to the Home Secretary Michael Howard. Although David Cameron's sights were now clearly fixed on a political career he decided to gain some experience outside politics and in 1994 became the Director of Corporate Affairs at Carlton Communications.
At Carlton, where he was responsible for the company's public relations, he impressed boss Michael Green who tried to persuade him that he had a glittering career in the private sector ahead of him, describing him as "the real McCoy"4. Others took a different view. Ian King (business editor of The Sun) referred to him as a "poisonous, slippery individual" and Jeff Randall (The Daily Telegraph) said that he would not trust Mr Cameron with his daughter's pocket money, contending that he "never gave a straight answer when dissemblance was a plausible alternative". This latter quality apparently making him "perfectly suited for the role he now seeks: the next Tony Blair".
His first stab at entering Parliament was in 1997 when he unsuccessfully contested Stafford in the general election. He soon found himself a more congenial opportunity when he was selected as the candidate for the safe Conservative seat of Witney in Oxfordshire as the successor to Shaun Woodward who had defected to the Labour Party, and was duly elected to the House of Commons in 2001. Due no doubt in part to the severe shortage of Conservative MPs he was rapidly promoted to a number of roles within the opposition, serving as Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, front bench spokesman on Local Government Finance and was the Head of Policy Co-ordination until May 2005 when he was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills. He was also appointed to the Home Affairs Select Committee and became the Vice-Chairman of the All Party Committee on Drugs and the All Party Media Committee.
He soon became to be associated with the so-called Notting Hill set whose members included such people as Oliver Letwin, Edward Vaizey, George Osborne, Michael Gove, Steve Hilton, and Rachel Whetstone; a group of ambitious young Conservatives who espoused socially liberal views and argued for a more fashionable, metropolitan style of Conservatism very much along the lines of the ideas once promoted by Michael Portillo. When, following defeat in the Genereal Election of May 2005, Michael Howard announced his resignation as party leader many were surprised to see David Cameron put his name forward since he had only four years of parliamentary experience, but he did so with the active support of the Notting Hill set.
His cause was advanced when he made an impressive speech at the 2005 Conservative Party Conference, when he spoke of wanting to make people "feel good about being Conservatives again". Having come second to David Davis on the first ballot of Tory MPs he moved into the lead on the second ballot before achieving victory in the final ballot of Conservative Party members by a margin of 134,446 votes against 64,398 for David Davis.
He has since declared himself in favour of "a moderate, compassionate Conservative Party", opposed to the "Punch and Judy politics of Westminster" and perhaps most tellingly announced that "There is such a thing as society - it's just not the same as the state.". Naturally nothing much in the way of detailed policies have yet emerged and thus there is no way of telling quite how the Cameronian 'New Conservatives' will differ from Blairite New Labour or indeed the Old Conservatives.
Much has been made, in some quarters at least, of his 'blue-blooded' background. Much of this is based on the fact that he went to Eton and is a noe member of White's, a venerable gentleman's club that now boasts Prince Charles as a member. His aristocratic connections are however somewhat obscure. On his mother's side he is descended from the nineteenth century MP William Mount and is thus a distant cousin of the right-wing journalist Ferdinand Mount and the current Baronet Mount, and through the Mount connection is distantly related to a number of aristocratic families and even more distantly related to royalty. His wife is a Sheffield, a notable Northern family who have held Normanby Hall estate since 1590 and can apparently claim descent from Nell Gwynn. Although this is a step above a grocer's daughter from Grantham, this is more gentry than nobility and puts Mr Cameron firmly in the upper middle class.
He married Samantha Sheffield in 1996 she was (his sister Claire's best friend). They have two children, a son Ivan who was born severely disabled and needs constant care, and a daughter Nancy, with a third currently on the way. His wife works as the Creative Director of Smythsons of Bond Street (an up market stationers) and is widely regarded as one of his political assets. They have a London home in North Kensington and a cottage in the constituency at Witney.
He smokes Marlboro Lights and prefers real ale to champagne and his hobbies include playing tennis, riding, country sports, watching television and cooking. Apparently his favourite album of all time is The Queen is Dead, by The Smiths.
There is another David Cameron who is the owner of the www.davecameron.net domain and is a wedding photographer at Seattle, Washington. He is not believed to be any relation.
1 In History, History of Art and Economics with Politics, in case you're interested.
2 One of his Oxford contemporaries Steve Rathbone is quoted as saying that "he wanted to have a good time".
3 This is, of course, the traditional pastime of students the length and breadth of the country (or indeed the world over for that matter). It is an indication of proper breeding that such activities are conducted through the medium of a club in order to provide a veneer of respectability.
4 Cynics might argue that public relations (lying to the public in order to get their money) and politics (lying to the public in order to get their votes) is hardly gaining experience outside politics.
- The Guardian 7 December 2005
- David Cameron's own website at http://www.davidcameronmp.com
- From BBC News at http://news.bbc.co.uk/
Brian Wheeler, The David Cameron story
Jackie Storer, Profile: Samantha Cameron
- Jo-Anne Nadler So who are the Notting Hill set anyway? 15 May 2005