politics explained

Like David Cameron with Boris Johnson, other former PMs haven’t been able to keep quiet on successors

The blue-on-blue attacks over Brexit may feel unprecedented but, writes Sean O'Grady, there’s a rich history of ex-premiers making life difficult for those who come after them

Tuesday 17 September 2019 23:24
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Boris-bashing: Cameron has recently published his memoirs
Boris-bashing: Cameron has recently published his memoirs

Like comedy and sex, the key to success in publishing is timing. For David Cameron, his memoirs look perfectly scheduled: just before the Tory conference, in the last days before Brexit (or not) and when those who betrayed him and the country are now running the government – Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. A good time to bury bad people, you might say.

It is fair to say, however, that Cameron was probably aiming to get his side of the story out before now, and after Brexit had happened, but as we know it keeps getting postponed. Even so, the damage inflicted on Gove and Johnson is real enough and sincerely meant by Cameron, and it fits into a general publicly accepted narrative about the pair of them being pretty dodgy, and given to stabbing one another in the front or the back as the occasion demands – “ambassadors for the expert-trashing, truth-twisting age of populism”. So now it is Cameron’s turn, and the character assassinations are executed with exquisite precision.

Yet none of this is unprecedented, dramatic as it may be, and it may not matter much. In a sort of cycle of abuse, most prime ministers suffer from criticism from their predecessors and then, in time, visit the same persecution on those who come after them. Exceptions, in modern times, are rare: even when Cameron said that he felt “desperately sorry” for Theresa May, it sounded more condescending than supportive.

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