What happened to that nice David Cameron?

When I met Cameron five years ago, I was taken with his fresh voice, keen  intelligence, openness and tolerance.

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One David Cameron commissioned the Leveson Report and swore he would implement its findings so long as they weren’t “bonkers”.

Another David Cameron argues against one of the report’s fundamental recommendations – statutory safeguards underpinning a new independent regulatory body – certainly controversial, but manifestly not “bonkers”. The third David Cameron still maintains he truly feels for the victims of hacking. And the fourth is still sweet with journos and proprietors, working hard to let them know he is on their side. In Europe his swagger matches that of UKIP and at home he proclaims Britain’s unique internationalism. He seems to be trying to be all things to all men and to himself too. 

OK so it must be hell for a relatively enlightened chap to lead Tories, too many of them voluble clones of Norman Tebbit – anti-immigrant, anti-Europe, anti-welfare state, rabid free capitalists and churchy traditionalists. Tebbit, like a persistent mosquito, nips and stings the PM, who must be going crazy scratching at the bites. But when he took control of the Conservative party dashingly in 2005, Cameron brushed aside the old fogeys and pledged he would make his party fit for the 21st century by appealing to young voters who are liberal, have grown up expecting equality, and are concerned about green issues.

When I met Cameron in his office five years ago, I was taken with his fresh voice, keen  intelligence, openness and tolerance. He seemed to understand our complex nation. I would never vote Tory but was glad someone like him was marching the party out of enervating nostalgia towards the future. By 2010 Cameron was scattering assurances like petals over the land, hugging trees, hoodies and huskies, bringing smart young women and Muslims into his circle, talking inspirationally of national renovation and an inclusive society.

After the last election, with passion steaming out of him, he promised that by 2015, a third of his ministers would be women; that race and immigration would not be a barrier to any aspirant; that the environment would be a priority; that politics would be consensual and kinder; that he would always protect the disabled because he knew the emotional and physical hardships of having a son and father with serious disabilities; that Britain would become more cohesive and kinder and happier. He seemed to mean it all. Nobody could ever say the man lacked ambition.

So what happened next? Women have been dumped by our all-promising PM. Dan Hodges, usually a right-wing commentator, admits: “That Cameron is failing on gender inequality is undeniable.” Fewer of them today are ministers or in cabinet than before the reshuffle; cuts are falling hardest on females; childcare is unaffordable for millions, and some senior voices are making ominous noises about abortion rights. Black and Asian hopefuls have been pushed into unlit corners, Baroness Warsi being the brightest and most well-known.

Furthermore, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has been downgraded and marginalised. With disability, the disconnect between Cameron’s fine words and mean policies is truly deplorable and inexplicable. Sam and David were devoted parents who loved their little boy and watched him suffer and die. Did none of that influence his government’s decision to add terrible new pressures on to disabled people who depend on state funds?

The web is full of men and women describing the effect of these policies and their dismay that the PM is so indifferent to their suffering. On inclusion he fails, on localism, ditto, because he gives total control to driven centrists like Michael Gove; green policies are  abandoned and attacked (he should go back to Norway and shoot the huskies to prove he’s not the Cameron he then was); in parliamentary debates he is tetchy, rude and macho. Except for gay rights on which he stands firm, Cameron has relinquished all that he said he stood for.

Now he is all set to incinerate that previous persona and those values. Lynton Crosby has been brought into Downing Street to plan the next election and conjure up yet another David Cameron character – hard, uncompromisingly right wing, culturally and economically protectionist and rebarbative. He morphs before our eyes – the voice, views, body language, everything. Crosby did good for Australia’s John Howard, who infamously imprisoned asylum seekers on boats, and Crosby ran Michael Howard’s sinister election campaign based on identifying alleged enemies within. And of course Mayor Boris was returned to County Hall by Crosby, who focused on white middle-class suburban voters, the Britons who count.

Where did that nice David go who vowed to make Tories less nasty and more inclusive? Who is the real PM? We know he’s not a Walter Mitty fantasist; not another consummate illusionist like Blair, but a man of many parts vying, battling with each other, making him hard to sell, to believe or figure out. There must be a name for this disturbing syndrome, the absence of a core, of authenticity.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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