David Cameron’s speech on leaving Downing Street was a fundamentally intelligent and decent one. Much like the man himself.
At some stage, those who were at the very heart of the Cameron project will come out and put their side of their story. I am not a Cameroon or someone, like Kate Fall or Ameet Gill, who has been at the very heart of the Cameron project since the beginning. If I had to name the top Tory Prime Minister in the last 100 years, I would still go for Margaret Thatcher.
But I did I work for David Cameron for two and a half years. In this time, he showed himself a small c conservative, a man with a deep love for the country he governed, and an entirely honourable sense of duty.
He has been criticised as being mercurial and not having an ideology. But that entirely misses the point. He believes in not having an ideology, because he is a One Nation Conservative who sees it as his duty to steer Britain through to a better place.
But he has solid and genuine set of instincts – some of which he mentioned in his speech this morning – such as his belief we must ensure everyone can rise in this country no matter what their faith or race.
Another belief I saw often was his genuine support for home ownership – because he had a vision of the country he wanted to see – one where if you worked hard, you had a tangible stake by owning your own home.
In addition to the set of instincts and goals he had for this country, he had what every good Prime Minister must have – a sharp and mercurial brain. I have never been in meetings with someone who could pick up detail and analysis as fast – and who did so not just in my area of housing, planning and local government, but every area he had to deal with.
To go from a terrorism briefing to a meeting on foreign affairs to reading and providing feedback on three detailed notes on social care, education and welfare all within a couple of hours – and to do so day after day, week after week, and to comment intelligently and succinctly on all of these is an exceptional skill, and David Cameron had it.
It is true that given the split on Brexit to some extent mirrors the left/right split in the party, and that Brexit has just been shown to be where the majority of Tories and voters are, there now will have to be a move to the right on some issues. Winning does confer prizes.
But the right of the party will have to make friends with the left as well – and come together for the next few years. David Cameron did not just lead the country, for over a decade he also skilfully lead and united a party that prior to him, had seen five leadership battles or coups in just ten years.
He did so by uniting enough of the party around his agenda – and again his successor will have to make sure that the tent encompasses all the party – or at least all those who want to be within it.
There will be more time over the next few weeks to reflect on what David Cameron’s policy agenda and the overall approach meant. There will be parts, which after a debate, we may want to leave behind. That is what a leadership contest means.
But to my mind, no successful leadership candidate can or should reject the core of the Cameron approach – that as well as traditional areas we must care about issues such as the incentives for those on low and moderate incomes, about trying to stabilise troubled families on benefits, or reaching out to ethnic minority voters. That we want people to rise to fulfil their capacity wherever they came from and whatever their capacity is.
This must remain at the heart of our approach, as David Cameron put it there, because this approach was not just rooted in the fundamental decency of the current Prime Minister, but also because it reflects the instincts of the British people who he, and we, seek to govern.