David Cameron: 'I always manage to portray a calm smoothness or something'

Exclusive interview: David Cameron on what his government has achieved, and what it will take for him to get another one

25 April 2015

9:00 AM

25 April 2015

9:00 AM

David Cameron is sitting underneath a sign that reads QUIET CARRIAGE, speaking loudly enough to be heard in the next carriage. He knows that even his closest allies are worried he may lose the election if he doesn’t show more passion, so he has been trying to compensate in recent days. He chops the air with his hands as he speaks, furrows his brow, and sounds a little more angry. He has no end of passion, he says. But he is the leader of the Conservative party — a tribe of people who, as he puts it, ‘don’t always wear their beliefs on their sleeve’.

Why do so many people, including members of his own government, think that Cameron must do more to show he really wants to win? ‘I don’t know,’ he replies. ‘There is something about me — I always manage to portray a calm smoothness or something.’ It sounds like a moment of self-reflection. A wry smile, though, and he is back on form: ‘But look, yesterday, where was I? I went to five seats, I did five speeches, I didn’t finish until way after the other party leaders were home having TV training or something. I was out on the stump and I’m doing the same today. Look at my schedule! I don’t know what more I can do.’

For weeks, he has been darting around the country (his record is 26 visits in a week). His only downtime is on trains, so we meet him en route to Pudsey, where he is going to speak to a small invited audience before jumping aboard the Conservatives’ chocolate-laden battle-bus and heading towards a similarly small audience in Halifax. The aim is to appear in the local press and radio, on the grounds that they — not the national media — will be more helpful in the few dozen target seats the Conservatives are focusing on.

But it is safe to say that things are not going quite to plan. The original idea was that Cameron’s achievements (record employment, falling crime, zero inflation) would have given the party a clear lead in the opinion polls by now. Instead, the Conservatives and Labour are neck-and-neck. Ed Miliband has suffered a rebellion in his party’s Scottish heartland and stands to lose 25 seats there. Yet he could still become prime minister because of Labour’s resilience in England.

To Conservative supporters, this seems to defy the law of political gravity: how could a derided opposition leader be level with an accomplished Prime Minister? Senior figures in the Conservative party are muttering that, while the government’s achievements are remarkable, the salesmanship has been less so.

The Prime Minister is aware of the criticism and finds it ‘frustrating’. ‘I feel I have worked my socks off for the last ten years to get to this point,’ he says. ‘I feel we are on the brink of something amazing in our country. If I don’t succeed on 7 May I will be furious more for my country — but furious for myself.’ He says this quietly, not crossly, as if he has been confronting his own political mortality. ‘We have done so much to get so far — I do not want to pull back now.’ And then, a promise to do better: ‘If I need to do more to communicate that I will.’

What he is trying to communicate in the final fortnight of the campaign is that Britain’s recovery has been extraordinary, but that it didn’t happen by accident. And that if people want the recovery to continue, they’ll have to vote Conservative. He is writing the speech he’ll give that day, with ‘jobs’ scribbled as the first bullet point. He has created them at a faster rate than any prime minister in history, which he puts down to tax cuts and welfare reform. So he is travelling to Yorkshire to sell ‘an extremely positive plan to transform the education of young people in our country, to keep going with this welfare revolution’.

He accepts that the revolutionary character of his government is not widely appreciated. ‘I think it is very undersold in many ways,’ he says. He doesn’t say by whom. He later refers to the government’s ‘quiet revolution: pro-work, pro-saving, pro-enterprise’. But did it need to be so quiet? Has he — a former spin doctor — turned out to be better at substance than spin? He seems taken back by the question, but replies: ‘I’d rather it were that way round than the other way.’

His message, for this week, is the danger posed to Britain by any kind of post-election deal between Ed Miliband and the Scottish National Party. He alleges that Nicola Sturgeon wants the next five years to be a ‘car crash’ because she is dedicated to the United Kingdom’s destruction rather than its sound government. The SNP, he says, wants ‘to create resentments in order to further their agenda’ — and the English would suffer. This has become the clincher, the argument that the Conservatives hope will focus the minds of wavering English voters in the final few days of the campaign.

Cameron’s warning about an SNP-run government isn’t about constitutional niceties but power and money. ‘Why did Labour cancel the A27 and the Taunton link road? Because they don’t have a political interest in the south of England or the south-west. How much worse would it be if every decision they had to take, every vote they had to get through, was being held to ransom by the Scottish Nationalists, who only care what happens north of the border?’ The government’s high-speed rail project, he says, would be halted unless it were to start in Scotland.

He is keen to convey to voters that the only way to stop all this is to vote Tory. But he concedes, ‘That bit of the message hasn’t got through yet.’ Hence his emphasis on it now. ‘People are very worried about what they see, they are concerned about the economic impact. But they haven’t, I think, completely joined the dots, that you can stop this if we have 23 more Conservative seats.’

There are those even in his own party who wonder if Cameron realises how serious the Scottish situation is. Yet he is frank about the ‘earthquake’ happening north of the border. ‘You feel it on the streets and in the media in Scotland, you feel there is something quite fundamental taking place.’ The shifting tectonic plates, he says, may even mean the Conservatives will win more seats than Labour — a claim that isn’t as risible as it would have been nine months ago. Until recently, those around Cameron believed that the implosion of Scottish Labour might cost Miliband the election. Instead, the SNP’s declaration that they’d support Labour anyway has simply changed the face of the enemy.

His single greatest boast is jobs: two million of them created, more than the rest of Europe put together. The growth is without historical precedent and has confounded economists. But the Conservative focus at the start of the coalition was on deficit reduction (where progress has been far slower). The shift to talking about jobs came later, he says: ‘When we got a million more jobs under this government, I remember in the shower one morning, preparing for Prime Minister’s Questions and thinking: God, it’s been very tough, this economic programme, but it’s coming right and we’ve done the right things.’

He freely admits to a trade-off: more jobs but sluggish wage growth. Crucially, he thinks it was a trade worth making. ‘Some people would say: well, wouldn’t it be better if you had seen faster growth in wages, rather than jobs? Frankly, I think this has been quite an equitable recovery compared to the 1980s, where the recovery was in living standards, with three million people unemployed.’ In short, he thinks it’s better to have more workers paid a bit less than high unemployment but better pay.

Throughout, Cameron talks with a sense of duty about the fiscal clean-up job. ‘Not what I wanted to come into politics to do,’ he says, with a sigh. But this touches on what he sees as the most essential philosophical and temperamental differences between his party and its opponents — and, perhaps, his ‘passion’ problem. ‘Conservatives are practical, sensible, clear-headed people. We want to know not just what the passion is, we want to know what the plan is. This is who we are.’ Then he adds, ‘This is who I am.’

‘The trouble is we all sound like the people who lift up the car bonnet and fix the engine underneath. We have got to tell people where the car is going, and how great it is going to be when we get there. But as Conservatives, we always go back to the car. To me, that is part of what being a Conservative is — we are not utopians and dreamers, we are deeply practical people… Now I accept “plan vs dream” sometimes makes you the boring one. But the vast majority know that plan plus carrying out a plan equals dream. Dream plus rhetoric equals chaos.’

The dreamer-in-chief, Ed Miliband, had been expected to dissolve on contact with the electorate as he played out a tragicomic, gaffe-strewn campaign. He has so far failed to oblige. This has surprised his fiercest critics, but Cameron says: ‘I have never underestimated him… I always thought he could damage our country very, very severely, and I think that this campaign makes it more clear by the minute.’

He also believes that the Tory campaign, incidentally, is the ‘most organised, disciplined, clear campaign I have ever been involved in’ (including Sir John Major’s eleventh-hour triumph of 1992). Cameron, who has an aversion to long meetings, seems particularly pleased that the meetings are ‘very short and very focused, because we all absolutely know what we are doing’.

One part of campaigning that Cameron isn’t keen on, though, is the trend for selfies. ‘It is an extraordinary phenomenon,’ he says, ‘and it sometimes makes part of the process of politics quite difficult. Everyone wants a selfie rather than to have a conversation, and sometimes that’s a bit frustrating, particularly with your party activists. I want to know what they are finding on the doorsteps, but actually you are too busy having your picture taken.’ He predicts its demise: ‘The selfie will come, the selfie will go.’

Within an hour, he is giving a speech to workers in a half-built office block in Pudsey that will soon house 400 employees. Two men pose for a selfie, beaming into a mobile phone and trying to catch the Prime Minister speaking in the background. As he makes his pitch, with all the requisite passion, a woman lets out a quiet cheer. He responds with delight. ‘That’s one!’ he says. ‘Now I only need 14 million more.’ He’s wrong: Major won that many in 1992. In 2015, Cameron needs about 10 million. Will he get them in time?

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  • Violin Sonata.

    That furrowed brow of Cameron’s is almost as big as the Grand Canyon.
    He doesn’t want to win, as a career politician who soon realised he was out of his
    depth and that the ‘ big society’ wasn’t going to happen.
    More serious issues shoved under the carpet whilst he endeavoured to play with
    pet projects pushed through the commons with the help of the Lib Dems.
    Job done as far as he’s concerned, he’s just not up to the continued fight.

    • Vladimir_Svareff

      Because he’s a poseur deep down and can’t really be arsed.

      • MahatmaFarage

        And still millions will be voting for his party (not him).

      • davidshort10

        I would agree and people notice it. I think he is probably one of the types Rory Sutherland describes this week and none the worse for that, but nowadays people expect so much from the PM, for which I think we can blame Mrs. T. Cameron does not look care-worn or grey after a full term and in unlikely to age in the way Blair did (Blair earned the face he developed, due to the useless conflicts and needless deaths for which he is responsible. After all, he did not have a portrait in the attic.)

        • Matilda

          mmm that’ll be down to the hair dye…

          • davidshort10

            At 48, a man doesn’t always show any grey (white) hairs yet. Now as for that septuagenerian bore, Melvyn Bragg. And of course the 60-plus bigger bore, Andrew Neil, of this parish…..

        • mikewaller

          I think this analysis wholly wrong. Cameron’s air of calmness has played into a strategy of claiming to have worked miracles with the British economy. Nothing could be further from the truth – although the Coalition has done better than any of their rivals would have – but those perpetual optimists, the British, are more than happy to swallow the “crisis over” line and then go off to vote for “spend, spend, spend” lunatics such as Labour of the SNP. God help us!

    • James

      It pays for the corporate EU privatisation shareholders to deny Britain the in/out referendum.

  • WFB56

    There should be a link between this interview and Rory Sutherland’s piece this week for the answer to Cameron’s question.

  • trace9

    It’s quite upon my Pleasures
    I constitute each Day
    & More I’d fain to Measure
    If you’ll vote me them, I Pray..

    Done mine – Independent. Mate!

  • James

    Smooth and soft as a peach.

  • Dogsnob

    It’s or something.

  • paul

    Flashman the House of Commons public school bully who turns puce when he is challenged he is totally delusional.

  • misomiso

    The thing is Dave

    I’ve always thought you were a much better politician than your critics give you credit for, and I’ve always thought that you genuinely care, but I just can’t understand why you do this to us on Europe.

    How can you hate us so much? How can you be in favour of this evil, EVIL organisation that has been nothing but a catastrophe for the continent and for the UK? It has literally ruined the lives of generations with its insane economic and social policy, and we all know that the only people who benefit from it are these huge multinational organisations who pay no tax, and the corrupt Brussels technocracy.

    I don’t understand WHY you do this to us. You could have had tacit colusion with UKIP, but for some crazy reason you and GO have decided to fight them. You say to those who want to vote UKIP to come home, but offer us NOTHING save a referendum we all know you will do everything in your power to rig.

    And there the rub. Why would you spend so much of your political capital to try and keep us in this organisation? Why would you destroy your own party for the sake of the EU? Why is it so important to you? Because of the old wounds of Maastrict? John Major and his acolytes were in the wrong – what you don’t see is THEY were the B*sterds!

    If you could explain this, somehow, and offer us AN HONEST referendum, then there may still be some hope left. I have a dream that when the referendum comes this will all be revealed to be a elaborate hoax, and you will turn round, join us and campaign for exit against this terrible institution. But in my heart I know its only a dream.

    • Callan

      “Honest referendum?” Dream on. In the unlikely event he remains PM after the election he will take a trip to Berlin to consort with Merkel and shortly after will emerge at Heathrow waving a piece of paper saying “I have here the signature of Frau Merkel who promises the United Kingdom will be allowed concessions, jam for tea and other good things”. “A wonderful result for the country which I’m happy to say renders a referendum unnecessary”.
      With Milliband you can see what you will get, the wish to turn the UK into a welfare dependant vassal state of the EUSSR. With Cameron you get someone who has no principles who seemingly cares nothing for the indigenous population of this country and given his latest pronouncements over turning the Tories into the party of the immigrants, doesn’t care who knows it. In a choice between the communist and the chancer I think I’m beginning to prefer the communist.
      Just pray Nigel Farage and UKIP sweep the country in May.

  • CommonSense Matters

    Psychopathy is characterised by calm smoothness in the midst of inflicting atrocity.

    • Mystified Man

      I don’t think Cameron’s a psychopath. Psychopaths normally make for strong and convincing leaders; and are often highly intelligent.

      Cameron comes across as a stage managed, charming to some, play it safe, ashamed of his own privilege, cocooned, political game player and Blair idoliser.

      • CommonSense Matters

        I agree his intelligence is of the level as the spads around him – west ham or villa, weren’t they good in the five nations…Smooth TV slime can’t trump facts of last five years. Electorate look to be seeing reality and looking for the change. The Tories have nothing to offer, not this bunch and they have been given a fair crack of the whip. Time to move on.

      • Allan Ewing

        No, you are right, DC is not a psychopath. He is a sociopath. That is something different.

  • ex-pom

    Cast-Iron Dave eh ? Truly a Man for all Treasons !

  • Verbatim


  • goodsoldier

    David Cameron is not a leader, he is a follower. He is prone to adoration of celebrity as displayed by his behavior with Obama and with his actor/actress friends. He wants to be loved by them more than by his countrymen whom he sees as disturbing elements to be tolerated, best avoided, unless you are famous of course. He is the classic snob, petty bourgeois, semi-literate, intellectually and morally flaccid. It is a sign of our demoralized country that he finds himself in power. It will be astonishing if he regains power after the next election. But Theresa May and Boris and Milliband are just as bad, only a different style of bad.

    • CommonSense Matters

      I agree with every single word except about Milliband – he has different style and better agenda.

    • Allan Ewing

      Excellent points!

  • Diggery Whiggery

    I’ll go with the something.

  • slyblade

    As a once lifelong Tory supporter i have felt deceived and betrayed by Cameron and his bumbling apparatchiks. My move to UKIP wasn’t done in a moment of hot temper outburst, but of a gradual realization that traditional Tory values of low taxes, minimal government intervention, small state and a patriotic sense of fair play had but all been eliminated from the new breed so called Conservatism.

    Cameron attacked these ideals and wanted to purge the party of those of us who stood for these traditional views. He was going to replace us with a new breed of voter, pro EU pro high tax, pro big state. They were the people of the middle ground, so called metro elite who put profit before country. Cameron courted these imaginary voters in a desperate attempt to mimic his idol Tony Blair. He saw himself in three full terms in power and idolised as a national hero. But as we all know on his first attempt he could not garner a full majority against a woeful Gordon Brown and a useless Labour party. This time on his second attempt he will fail again, why? simply put his egotistical nature will self destruct himself and his party.

    Cameron has consistently failed to engage with people like me, he has relied on spin and the dark arts of political sleight of hand supported by his acolytes in the MsM to convince me to come back to the Tory party. But i will not be browbeaten by some Flashman style tactics, vote for me or you will get the loony left ideology. This may be the case but Cameron has little else to offer so i will stick with Nigel farage and an insurgent UKIP party. My guess will be as Cameron fails once again to gain a full majority his party will at some point eject him for Boris. Boris will have the sense to court UKIP instead of attacking them and do a deal with them. UKIP are not the enemy here it is the socialist left wing loons but Cameron cant see this. Cameron is finished as a Tory leader and it’s only time now before Boris will make his move.

  • Terence Hale

    “David Cameron: ‘I always manage to portray a calm smoothness or something’”. Again I think Mr. Cameron is a good Prime Minister. The Bed-Room tax will cost him the election, rename it, or change it if he wants to win.

  • EmilyEnso

    David Cameron: ‘I always manage to portray a calm smoothness or something’

    Another of Dave’s many mistakes, delusions and miscalculations.
    Not quite on the scale of leading the illegal attack and destruction of the Libyan nation mind you.
    To millions of us he comes across as an overfed and rather smug prat.
    As the true heir to Blair in the continued destruction of Britain with the diktat of the EU gulag and mass immigration.
    As little more than a traitor as he continues the islamification of Britain.
    Sorry to spoil the love fest.

  • JonBW

    The government’s achievements are impressive; it’s just that they don’t impress conservative voters because they don’t represent conservative values.

    40% of the jobs created have gone to people from abroad whilst we still have 2 million unemployed; lots of liberal social policy, but no support for traditional values; no reduction in the power of the Nanny State; and no sign of any real commitment to give us a say on EU membership, just a lot of weasel words about re-negotiation which we know is a non-starter.

    10%+ of conservative voters look at the record and choose UKIP because they don’t believe a Labour government would have done much different.

  • Statman

    Really soft non interview . Cameron’s hero is ‘theMaster’ Tony Blair the most malignant destructive politician in British political history(also Gove’s and Osbournes). This is because in his shallow convictionless metropolitan liberal eyes Blair ,strutting on the world stage, is his idea of success. He called himself ‘heir to Blair’and takes advice from him. All his real views are unconservative -pro expansion of EU to include Turkey, vote Tory go Green, UKIP swivel eyed loons ,so that must also include half his party which agree with UKIP. He has never ,like Blair been genuinely against immigration which Blair dismisses as inevitable,and he has presided over increased EU immigration without a whimper until now ,and lied to the public about controlling non EU immigration which has not, during his five years ,dropped significantly. Yes NOW panicked by UKIP he is finally talking unconvincingly about this, the most important issue to the increasingly beliguered ,compressed population. He takes advice from his Aussie adviser Cosby that immigration is just ‘like rock in the road and you must drive around it ‘.
    His economic recovery is a short term ,smoke and mirrors con ,trick based mainly on low paid immigrant workers increasing GDP while the real measure our deficit and debt soar.
    It’s not that he his is too passionless that the public don’t like him ,it’s because they and many in his party know he is a fraud posing as a conservative. The only hope of conservatives running this country is if Cammeron and his modernisers go down and they ally with UKIP for the election that will take place subsequently after this current farce.

  • Storris

    If it wasn’t for the huge increase in debt, his insufferable position on the EU and my anarchism, I’d have some fleeting sympathy for the coalition’s not too radical reshaping of the economy.

    Cameron needed to be more Conservative from the beginning. Brave enough to form a minority government in 2010 & tough enough to call for a snap election in the face of Parliamentary hostility.

    But, I don’t think he really has it in him.

  • Precambrian

    Peter Hitchens calls him “Mr Slippery” for good reason…

  • Allan Ewing

    DC finds criticism ‘frustrating’. What a crank.

  • jeffersonian

    ‘‘I feel I have worked my socks off for the last ten years to get to this point,’ he [Cameron] says.

    He has been working his chillaxed socks off (perhaps) – shame most of it has been in the wrong direction (and not nearly far enough in the ‘right’ one).