In the memoir which he should not have published, Christopher Meyer describes a journey with Tony Blair, early in his premiership. Chris Meyer said that at moments, he still found it hard to believe that he was Ambassador to Washington. "What do you think it's like for me?", Mr Blair replied.
David Cameron knows what they were talking about. He is not prone to self doubt. For months he has believed that he would and ought to win. But when it actually happens, there will be moments of shock and awe.
There is another overawing development. Over the past few weeks, to his own surprise, Mr Cameron has come to personify his Party's hopes. This is not a common phenomenon among new Tory leaders. It was not true of John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith or Michael Howard. It was not even true of Margaret Thatcher in 1975.
Indeed, the nearest precedents for David Cameron's current position are not encouraging: Anthony Eden in 1955, plus, for Labour, Harold Wilson in 1963 and Tony Blair in 1994. On the Tory right, there are still a few ultras who fear - or hope - that Mr Cameron will turn out to be a similarly insubstantial figure. For months, they have been trying to persuade themselves that he is merely a charming wimp.
This wholy unfounded view of Mr Cameron's character leads on to the Eton question. It is bewildering to observe how many people stop thinking when they hear the words "Eton". This is even true of some Tories, who ought to be immune from class resentments or class illusions. But there is a widespread assumption that any Etonian will inevitably be effete and rich.
The "effete" charge could not sustain a two-minute scrutiny of the role which Etonians have played in national life over the past three centuries, and the personalities involved. But anti-Eton prejudices are impervious to the facts. The "rich" charge is equally misleading, at least in the 20th century. There is only one useful definition of rich: The ability to live very comfortably without having to work. But Eton has always been full of the sons of the professional upper-middle classes, of whom that is not true, and of whom David Cameron is one.
They may inhabit old rectories and be able to send their sons to Eton. But that has all been earned by hard work, in each generation. The upper-middle class has always been a working class.
In his memoirs, Douglas Hurd describes his time as a Fellow of Eton. The Fellows, the governing body, were responsible for setting the school fees. Their number always included rich men who were inclined to give the headmaster whatever he wanted. Lord Hurd, who had often felt his own finances buckling under the weight of Eton fee cheques, thought it his duty to defend the professional classes and to remind the rich Fellow about camels and straws.
Eton is also a tough school. Beating and fagging may have gone, but boys are under pressure to perform and succeed. The school offers educational resources of all kinds. The corollary is that boys are expected to use them. Eton is good training.
But myth is always more potent than reality. The Labour Party will claim that David Cameron has coasted along on the easy route of privilege and that he understands none of the pressures which ordinary people face. The charge will be vociferously made and repeated; this does not mean that the tactic will work.
In dealing with it, David Cameron will have two advantages. The first is his handicapped son. Nothing would be more alien to Mr Cameron's nature than to use poor little Ivan as propaganda. But it is known how much the child has suffered, and how stoically his parents have coped. There can be no more brutal version of real life; there can be no more moving response to it.
The second advantage is 180 degrees removed from the problems of coping with a severely disabled child's constant sufferings. It is glamour - an indefinable quality, but one which David Cameron appears to possess, as does Tony Blair. This gives them both an edge over less well-endowed politicians.
In the mid-1990s, it was revealed that Cedric Brown, a man who had left school at 16 and worked his way up to become the Chairman of British Gas, was being paid £400,000 a year. By City standards, this did not seem excessive, and the success of someone from humble origins might have seemed a reason to rejoice. On the contrary: Mr Brown was instantly stigmatised as the fattest of all fat cats. His hard-earned income was of considerable electoral advantage to the Labour Party.
Then Mr Blair comes to power. He appears to take all his holidays on the Island of Freebeesia, unless he is borrowing the Prince Casamassima's palazzo. His natural social milieu seems to be international white trash. His wife spends a few hundred thousand pounds on flats. In a fit of absence of mind, she does not even inform her husband. Then the couple pay £3.6m for a house. They are never accused of fat-cattery.
This may be because the Blairs enjoy the same status as Mr Beckham; glamorous enough to be allowed to become rich. This is not a healthy economic attitude in a country which depends for its living on commercial activities which are rather more serious than football. But it has been of political assistance to Mr Blair. It may now do the same for David Cameron.
Eton prepares its sons for a demanding world. As David Cameron will now discover, there is no more demanding post than Leader of the Opposition. But over the past few months, he has begun to prepare. He started by recruiting some of the ablest of political advisors of recent decades. George Bridges, Steve Hilton, Edward Llewellyn - if you hear a lot about them over the next couple of years, something will have gone wrong. They all believe that the back-room boys should stay in the back room. They also intend to ensure that David Cameron has the best back room in British political history.
If the new leader is wise, they will only be part of the team. William Hague was justly criticised for relying too much on his own staff and too little on his Shadow Cabinet, some of whose members felt excluded. Mr Cameron cannot afford to repeat that exclusion. There is too much work to be done.
The British system of government is in a mess. In every department of state, there are confused policy objectives, demoralised civil servants and large amounts of waste. The Blairites correctly identified the need to spend a lot more on health and education. But they have done hardly anything to ensure that the money was spent wisely. "Delivery" is Mr Blair's favourite catchword. It is also his most dishonest sound bite. After eight years, he still has no idea how to achieve it.
That is one of the many things that David Cameron will have to put right. He wil need all the help he can get.Reuse content