David Cameron: The crowning moment

The old Etonian has shown his party that he is not too privileged to appeal to voters. But, having taken the Tories to the threshold of No 10, can he now persuade them to embrace Nick Clegg?

For some people, David Cameron can do nothing right, and for many Lib Dems, the current coalition talks are a bridge too far. The fact that he is the son of privilege, went to Eton, joined the appalling Bullingdon Club at Oxford and enjoyed a seemingly effortless rise to the top of the Conservative Party pretty much disbars him from any sort of approval, and most of all from the office of prime minister. Britain, surely, is past the time when the school you went to is enough to secure you a comfortable job, membership of White's and as much claret as you can drink.

And for those who despise the unchallenged Home Counties middle classes, I have news of the ultimate confirmation. He plays bridge. "He is an absolute natural at it," says someone who has sat across the table from him. What more need you know, than that he plays the game most redolent of comfortable, nose-clean, drawing-room complacency? This man, surely, has none of the qualities needed in a prime minister?

But this is lazy. Mr Cameron could not possibly have got to the top of the Conservative Party without some remarkable gifts. He doesn't deny the extraordinary good fortune of his upbringing, but other qualities have lifted him out of the "bloody nice blairk" category of one of comedian Harry Enfield's caricatures.

Five years ago, Britain had become – irreversibly – "a social democratic country". Conservative governments meant sleaze, splits over other-worldly EU issues and an ageing, impossible-to-lead party. There was only one answer. The party badly needed... David Davis, for heaven's sake, or so it seemed.

For months, Mr Cameron's campaign meetings could have been held in a phone box. It had been axiomatic for decades that the party didn't want another Etonian leader. Privilege in the social democratic age was a vote-loser, so surely he was a non-starter to lead the Nasty Party, whether it liked that tag or not. It is both facetious and true to say that Mr Cameron had to overcome a lot of advantages to get to lead the largest party in the UK parliament.

For those who see nothing redeemable in him, the argument as to what qualities – beyond ambition – he shares with the Lib Dems may be closed. For all his fluency, he struggles to answer the "what's it all for?" question. If you were to look into his soul to find the injustice that gets him bouncing out of bed at six in the morning, he'd probably have to get back to you. He doesn't assume the world is unfair, making politics a pastime that pays, as much as a means to a public-spirited end. He gets angry at social ills, sure, but it is not his default position, and he may need leading to them.

Surely our politicians need more of "the vision thing". Is the Big Society the answer? Evidently not, from the evidence on Britain's doorsteps, although Mr Cameron will have been saddened by that, for that is the authentic him, and the volunteering, look-after-your-neighbour spirit goes right back to a deliriously untroubled childhood and the example of his parents, particularly his mother. Call him old-fashioned, because that is what he is.

But if the managing of power is what politics is all about, he would take to it like a duck to water. He prides himself on being practical and being good at "putting a team together", both of which may mask an awareness that being an implicit Conservative is not enough for those looking for fire in the belly. But his brain, allied with what the literary critic James Wood calls "a certain sweetness" of nature (and manners that Gordon Brown could learn from, by yesterday's accounts) and his preternatural comfort in his own skin help to make him a respected chairman of the board or cricket captain.

He is at his best under pressure, and possesses more toughness than might be suspected. He might have been put on earth for this weekend's talks with the Lib Dems, having been, in the words of a former teacher, "fascinated by the business of politics". He will be intimately acquainted with, for example, just how aggrieved the Liberals were at Harold Wilson's sop of an offer to consider electoral reform in 1974. "He opened with a low bid," says a friend. Mr Cameron would see that as a legitimate gambit. Lib Dems may see it as an insult.

If Mr Cameron has an obsessive's knowledge of political minutiae, he also has a complementary emotional intelligence. He is good at empathy and its uses. Nick Clegg's claim last week that he wanted the election campaign to go on for weeks will have been noted. Mr Cameron will have noted a man enjoying being a player, an ego susceptible to flattery. Some of his backbenchers, though, will tell you his empathy is a quality he too often forgets to deploy. They complain that his leadership is remote and high-handed. Life is great if you're in Dave's in-crowd, but if you think the party's run by a public-school clique, you're unlikely to show him the loyalty he would need to get bills passed.

He also faces another potential backbench problem. As Phillip Cowley, professor of government at Nottingham University, puts it: "Two-thirds of the MPs are new. A lot are very naive and inexperienced people, and he simply needs to be able to get them to turn up. It's a management problem rather than an ideological one."

So will Dave win Nick over? He is not used to being unsuccessful at seduction, whether with girlfriends or employees. When he seduced his own party, they were prepared to listen to difficult truths in the cause of victory, but he hasn't quite delivered that. He has tried hard to see off the hangers and floggers, and if he can get the Lib Dems on board without too big a sell-out, his assured rise will continue, but it's a tall order. Indeed, if he is constrained by his coalition partners, it will be in a way that strengthens his hand against the remaining Neanderthal ranks behind him. I am sure he'd love to tell his new friend Nick that two years ago he was seriously considering scrapping Trident, but was talked out of it.

But now, having not quite sealed the deal with the electorate, his party is getting impatient with the Steve Hilton gimmickry, as they see it, and the keenness to catch passing winds. He has never been keen on electoral reform. He thinks it's too European, and almost all of his party agrees – with Michael Portillo, the godfather of modernisation, a shining exception. The malcontents would presumably prefer a Tory minority administration to a sold-out one. But they may yet miss the chance to have either. Those who say Mr Cameron will do anything to become prime minister may be about to find out if they're right.

5 things that'll grate: The 'ordinary' tag and that face

Spurious Obama 'change' comparisons Genghis Khan would be a change...

The new baby It'll be ready, swaddled in Boden for those "young family" shots.

The relentless mantra that he is an 'ordinary guy' When his school had a tailcoat as its uniform?

That face! Can we take that flabby moon seriously?

Unshakeable smugness His promise of "no more Punch and Judy politics" has been hot air so far.

Emily Dugan

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker