David Cameron: Just a PR man - or is there substance to the success?

All the heat's on Nick Clegg. But what about the Prime Minister? Five years on from the day he became leader of the Conservative Party, we ask how David Cameron's doing so far
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Indy Politics

Camilla Batmanghelidj

He is in the waiting room. There are 1.5 million children being abused or neglected in Britain every year. This is an incredibly urgent agenda, but when you hear Conservatives talk about children, it is all about attainment and accomplishment and education. There is no conversation about disturbed children, at least in their public discourse. All around Cameron there is a suggestion of great potential to do something new and radical, but I don't know what that will be. Hence I say he is in the waiting room.

Camilla Batmanghelidjh is the founder of the children's charities Kids Company and The Place2Be



Tim Bell

You have to say that he has been a complete success. Five years ago, he was nobody. Now he is the Prime Minister. That, by any yardstick, is success – for him. He has not re-branded the Tory party; he has helped lead the Tory Party into being the dominant part of a Coalition. In terms of his ambition for himself, he has been 100 per cent successful. In terms of his ambition for the country, I don't know what he wants to do for Britain, because he hasn't made it clear. The failing of the Coalition is describing where they think we will be in 2016. They are perfectly good at describing problems, and at finding solutions, but not every good at describing outcomes.

The greatest criticism, not just of Cameron or the Coalition but generally, is this talk of "fairness". We will hear it during the AV referendum. Fairness is like beauty – it's in the eye of the beholder. It's a meaningless concept, which annoys me intensely.

Lord Bell is Chairman of Chime Communications and a Tory peer



Alastair Campbell

On the credit side, he has led his Party back into power, albeit as the leader of a coalition government. On the debit side, he had a very favourable set of economic and political circumstances, and yet failed to secure a majority.

The electorate has now given him the sense of purpose he previously lacked – to make the Coalition work and to reduce the deficit and sort the economy. It was a bold move to go into coalition and he clearly likes big bold strokes. A lot depends on whether the public buy the line that the cuts and reforms are born of economic necessity. If the public sense they are ideological, and using the Lib Dems as political cover, they are both in trouble.

Alastair Campbell is a former Downing Street Director of Communications



Andrew Cooper

The measure of David Cameron's first five years as Conservative leader lies in the bleakness – easy now to understate – of his inheritance. The Tories still languished a vast distance from power in December 2005, when he became the party's fifth leader in less than eight years. Voters immediately recognised in him a different type of Conservative leader: more modern, compassionate, forward-looking and liberal. They were – and remained right up to this year's general election – much less sure if his party had really changed. If there is a criticism of his leadership it is that he should have been an even bolder moderniser.

Andrew Cooper is a founder-director of the polling company Populus and former Director of Strategy for the Conservative party



Claire Fox

From the point of view of the transformation of the Conservative Party, one can only admire David Cameron's success. He has proved himself to be a new type of politician. I am of the opinion that politicians should have principles, but he obviously is not. He is a more successful PR man than many of the others, so you can't see the joins.

Cameron has done the whole thing very slickly, but I have no sense of any commitment to whatever his ideas are. This is giving him the flexibility to manoeuvre. He is not pained by having to form a coalition and dump policies that are inconvenient. The way Cameron dealt with Lord Young and Howard Flight – one has to admire the ruthlessness, but it's very clear that this is a party that will not have any truck with anyone who has any eccentricity, character or belief.

Claire Fox is the Director of the Institute of Ideas



Peter Hennessey

What David Cameron has discovered is – and the initial signs were not pointing towards it because of his euro-scepticism – a flavour of the Macmillan-Butler years.

He has to be careful because he has the style of the Macmillan generation, and style is not substance, but he has restored proper, collective cabinet government. Coalition government is also a great alibi for when you don't want to do something. It's like Bunbury in The Importance of Being Earnest: it gives him the opportunity to say, "I'd love to do that, but I can't".

History deals each different prime minister a very different hand and comparisons between Cameron and others are facile and depend on many factors – economy domestic, economy world, opposition parties – but sometimes you've had prime ministers who have had years in cabinet beforehand and are not always ready for the job. Others take it to, not quite to the manner born, but are at ease. David Cameron looks very comfortable with it. I suspect he'll be there for some time.

Peter Hennessey's books include the 'Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders Since 1945'; he is the Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary, University of London

Peter Kellner

Given that he didn't get an outright majority, I think Cameron has had two big successes. First, the vision to create a full Coalition and make it work; and second, so far he has done reasonably well in persuading the public not to blame his party for the tough measures they're taking. The Coalition won't fall apart. The Lib Dems have suffered so badly that if they were to pull out and provoke a general election, the LibDems would be massacred. Nick Clegg played his hand extremely well in the week after the election, but now the Tories have the stronger hand. There will come a point, if the LibDems are so dumped upon by the Conservatives, that out of sheer self-respect they would have to pull out. But Cameron wouldn't want them to leave the coalition and his tactics have been good.

Peter Kellner is president of the pollsters YouGov

Caroline Lucas

Cameron may have come a long way from his days as a PR guru at Carlton, but meticulous image-management is still his game. In broad terms, Brand Cameron has been a winner. As a young, moderate candidate with a carefully crafted, green-tinged version of 'compassionate conservatism', Cameron swept into the Tory leadership in 2005 – and steered the Conservatives to (albeit muted) victory in the general election. With his note-less speeches and quick wit, Cameron can be dangerously impressive.

The shiny exterior masks a shallow, disappointing core. On everything he purports to stand for, his rhetoric is unmatched by reality. Take the environment. In the early days, Cameron sought to use green issues to detoxify the Tory brand. He posed with huskies atop a glacier in Norway, announcing his intention to tackle climate change head-on. Yet when giving his 10 policy priorities to the Sun soon afterwards, climate change didn't even make the list. His pledge to make this the "greenest government ever" already hangs by a thread. He managed to spend two days in Zurich for the World Cup bid, but Cameron is nowhere to be found as the COP16 negotiations get underway in Cancun.

Caroline Lucas is Leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton Pavilion



John O'Farrell

Cameron won the Tory leadership on the basis of one good speech, made without notes, as if he was just making it up as he went along. But he doesn't have to do that with government policy as well. But the headline on the Tory leader has to be that he failed in the key objective of any opposition – to win a workable majority in the House of Commons. The Tories were way ahead in the polls and certain they would get the keys to 10 Downing Street, but instead they've only got it on a timeshare. And Cameron must take the blame – he was handed the last election on a plate but he smashed it, Bullingdon style, leaving his fag "Cleggers" picking up the pieces.

I know we are not supposed to go on about class, but Cameron has also confirmed my opinion about the attributes that emerge from a 'top' public school education – a distorted sense of entitlement and overwhelming self confidence that is rarely matched by equivalent ability. Why don't they ever have extra tuition in Humility at these schools? I wrote a history of Britain subtitled "2,000 Years of Upper-Class Idiots In Charge", and now it seems we are back where we started.

John O'Farrell is author of several books including 'An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain'

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