It’s the job of a good columnist to not only think the unthinkable, but to say it out loud. In a piece for Cap X, Bruce Anderson takes the art of provocation to a new level. His argument is that the person best-qualified to lead the Conservative Party into 2020 and beyond is… David Cameron.
Of course, the man himself has made clear his intention not to do so:
“Mr Cameron has announced that he will not fight the next Election. In practice, that would probably mean retirement in the spring of 2019, and the age of fifty-two, to give his successor a year to play himself in.”
52 is young – younger than Margaret Thatcher when she became Prime Minister. It’s true that by 2019 Cameron will have had nine years in Downing Street (and thirteen as party leader), a pretty good innings. But unlike other long-serving leaders, there’s no sign of him being a drag on his party’s popularity. Nor does the burden of power appear to be exacting a personal toll:
“Salisbury was aging fast when he retired, and died a year later. Mrs Thatcher was also showing signs of exhaustion and her judgment was suffering. As for Tony Blair, the boyish looks of 1997 are long gone, replaced by an gray and haunted visage…
“There is none of that sense with David Cameron.”
There may be more testing times ahead, but the last five years – a time of austerity and Coalition – haven’t exactly been easy. Despite these difficulties, Cameron pulled off the rare feat of doing better in his second election than his first – suggesting that, unusually among Prime Ministers, he learns from at least some of his mistakes.
Most politicians at the top tend to become more like themselves over time (and not in a good way). But there are exceptions. Whether or not you like the guy, Cameron is not becoming a caricature of himself.
Nevertheless, the question remains: would he really ‘do a Nigel Farage’ and unresign (or rather unresign in advance)? Anderson refuses to rule it out:
“Of the twenty-two Premiers since 1900, only one, Stanley Baldwin, relinquished office wholly voluntarily – and he was almost seventy. The rest succumbed to health, the electorate or revolting colleagues.”
If Cameron is as atypical as the evidence would suggest, then his genuine desire to ride off into the sunset shouldn’t be so hard to accept. Furthermore, a number of scenarios presented by the forthcoming IN/OUT referendum would provide a politically opportune moment for him to leave the stage.
On the other hand, European and world affairs may compel him to carry on. The next few years could see a meltdown in the Eurozone, a Le Pen presidency in France, a full-blown war in Ukraine, a Chinese economic crisis or a major military intervention in the Middle East. If any of these things do happen, then it would be difficult for him to walk away.
By 2019, Obama will definitely be gone, and so might Merkel, Hollande, Renzi, Harper and Abe. That would just leave Cameron as the last of the current G7 line-up still standing – or, to put it another way, the most senior and experienced leader in the western world.
Still, no pressure!