I was right about Cameron
Politcal editor GRAHAM DINES forecast two weeks after the last General Election that David Cameron would be the next Tory Prime Minister
FOR thousands of Tory activists and the assembled media, an October day in 2005 in the Winter Gardens in Blackpool was when David Cameron burst on to the frontline of British politics.
Speaking without notes, Cameron took the Tory conference by storm. He was making a pitch to become party leader in succession to Michael Howard and has never looked back.
I’m pleased to crow that, as one of the first journalists in Britain to urge the Conservatives to gamble with youth and inexperience and choose Cameron, that my judgement was right.
It was not my job to endorse the Conservatives at the election but I stuck to my belief that if the Tories won, the UK should be assured that Cameron would make a good Prime Minister
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Cameron is under fire from the right wing for failing to deliver a full blown Tory majority at the General Election, but the Conservatives’ achievement was nevertheless impressive when the scale of the effort needed for victory is analysed.
To gain the 130 seats needed to produce an outright victory was frankly impossible. Again, and over the years, I’ve cautioned Tories from believing victory was a foregone conclusion.
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Conservatives needed a swing of more than 9% to be in government, simply because of the imbalance between the number of votes needed to elect a Labour MP and those for the Tories to triumph – inner city constituencies tend to have a smaller electorate than those in the shires.
Cameron has had to deflect the arrows launched by Labour’s class warriors – from Gordon Brown down and including the Daily Mirror – that he was a toff, an Old Etonian who has privilege inbuilt into his system.
But the electorate doesn’t care about which school a person went to, primarily because children have no say over the matter – if your mum and dad send you to Eton, off you go.
He would be criticised, and rightly so, if he sends his own children to private school. But that’s not going to happen – unlike Tony Blair who ensured that his went to the London Oratory.
Cameron makes no secret of his background, born into wealth and privilege - son of a stockbroker who married the daughter of a baronet, educated at Eton and Oxford educated. He’s no aristocrat.
Born on October 9 1966, his early life gave little sign of what would lie ahead. At Oxford University he took little interest in student politics, becoming involved instead with the Bullingdon Club - a dining society for ex-public schoolboys with a reputation for drunken excesses.
He has also refused to reveal whether he has ever taken recreational drugs.
However, he shone at Oxford, graduating in 1988 with a first in philosophy, politics and economics, he landed a job in the Conservative research department, the first step of his political career.
After a spell seconded to No 10 where he helped brief John Major for prime minister’s questions, he was talent-spotted by then-chancellor Norman Lamont who made him his special adviser.
It gave him a ringside seat during the crisis of Black Wednesday in 1992 when Britain was humiliatingly forced out of the European exchange rate mechanism.
In 1994 he took a break from politics, becoming director of corporate affairs at Carlton Communications for seven years, where he honed his PR skills.
After unsuccessfully standing in Stafford in the 1997 general election, he was elected in the safe Conservative seat of Witney in 2001.
He quickly established himself as one of the brightest of the new Tory intake, becoming the leading light of the so-called “Notting Hill set’’ of young modernisers who grouped themselves around Michael Howard after he became leader in 2003.
Howard appointed him policy co-ordinator in the run-up to the 2005 election and it was this experience . which led him to seek the leadership.
He knocked out favourites David Davis and Kenneth Clarke to win and it became clear immediately that he was a new kind of Conservative leader - talking about his family and of his enthusiasm for iconic bands like The Smiths.
But there was tragedy in the background. His first child Ivan was born suffering from cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy and this is said to have have fashioned his compassionate outlook on life.
Ivan’s death last year at the age of six might have floored a lesser couply, but Cameron and his wife Samantha - Sam Cam to those on the inside of the Tory - had the strength of their obvious love and affection for each other to help them overcome adversity.
As Tory leader, he has set about modernising a Conservative Party which didn’t really want modernising. He embarked on a trip to a Norwegian glacier, complete with huskies, to underline his new concern for the environment and led the Shadow Cabinet on a working break in Rwanda..
He called for a greater understanding for young people - gleefully caricatured by opponents as “hug a hoodie’’.
He had setbacks - his “green’’ credentials took a knock when it was disclosed that he was followed on his cycle ride to work in Westminster by a driver taking his papers and other belongings.
Critics said that it was symptomatic of a politician who put image before policy. They branded him shallow
But his big project in the past four and a half years was to soften the image of the Tory Party - once famously dubbed “the nasty party” by his new Home Secretary Theresa May.
Under his leadership, he has broken the stranglehold of white middle and upper class males on the party’s candidates’ list and replaced them with more women and ethnic minority candidates. In the East of England, the number of women elected in safe seats last week has shown the success of this.
The reforms - reminiscent of Tony Blair and New Labour - did not go down well with the likes of Lord Tebbit, who accused him of trying to purge all memories of Thatcherism.
But Tebbit is yesterday’s man. That wing of the Tory Party is fading with time. The new generation of Cameroons are light years away from the little Englanders - and it’s pleasing to be able to say “you read it here first.”