This is about more than just money

Published by The Mail on Sunday (10th April, 2016)

When David Cameron told me he was running for the Tory Party leadership, I replied that it would be difficult for an Old Etonian to win. Having seen Douglas Hurd’s dismal earlier attempt, I thought a modern electorate would not support someone from such an obviously elitist background.

How wrong I was. For the things I liked about Cameron – his affability, his moderation, his modernity – were more important to voters than his background. People were prepared to judge him on policies rather than a posh accent and prosperous background. When Labour tried to play the class card, it backfired.

He has remained more popular than his party while persistently confounding doubters, with two Election and two referendum successes. But now that moneyed heritage leaves him wobbling after his most serious personal crisis since taking office – and it could not have come at a worse time.

Ordinary taxpayers are right to be infuriated by the sleazy antics of super-rich tax-dodgers, aided by a greedy army of pin-striped pimps. Empty talk of transparency is no longer enough. But among the blizzard of accusations, Cameron’s worst crime is one of crisis mismanagement.

Who knows if this was due to being blindsided by Brexit, bungled political machinations, or an understandable desire to protect his family?

Regardless, the damage is done as politicians lose one more slice of privacy, for we should have no doubt they will all now be pressured to release tax details. This may deter some good candidates but is a sign of changing times in the digital age.

More immediately, Downing Street’s bumbling response last week has inflamed the end-of-era mood afoot in Westminster that seems to be distracting good government.

Already much of the daily political grind is seen through the prism of prime ministerial succession. Now a leader displaying deft political footwork for a decade has stumbled badly – and, to his credit, shouldered blame personally.

His actions played into the idea prevalent across the West that we are governed by out-of-touch elites who treat politics as a branch of public relations. This is corrosive for Cameron, coming just over ten weeks before his most important tussle with the electorate – the EU referendum.

Now his approval rating has slipped below that of Jeremy Corbyn. This is astonishing. Yet complacent Tories, looking increasingly fractious as festering scabs are unpicked, spend their time bickering over Europe.

The consequences could be severe since the future of Britain’s place in Europe is at stake. A referendum in Holland last week showed the depth of hostility to Brussels and underlined the lack of trust in modern leaders.

If Cameron loses the vote in June, he will be forced to leave Downing Street, a glorious political career ending in humiliating and partially self-inflicted defeat. The heir to Blair might effectively have been defeated as the heir to Blairmore, his father’s trust.

Yet there is another narrative for this political escapologist. It remains possible he will win the referendum, purge malcontents from his Cabinet, remake his party in his real image and leave on his own terms. But this vision of politics has become a little bit more blurred thanks to events 5,000 miles away in Panama.

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