LONDON – There are not many former British prime ministers who easily adapt to life after 10 Downing Street or earn the respect given to some former world leaders.
But few have fallen as fast and as fast as David Cameron, who made his first public appearance on Thursday after a lobbying scandal shed a harsh light on his character and judgment, as well as the changing morals of British public life.
Mr Cameron’s embarrassment is particularly surprising, as more than a decade ago and before he became prime minister, he himself had warned that the lobbying crisis was “the next big scandal waiting to happen”
“We all know how it works,” Mr Cameron said in a 2010 speech. Lunches, hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, former ministers and former rental advisers helping big business find the right way to get there. “
Appearing via video link to a parliamentary committee, Mr Cameron showed little remorse for the approaches he took at the start of the pandemic to people in the highest echelons of government, calling for help for Greensill Capital, a troubled financial company that then appoint him.
Mr Cameron’s frantic lobbying – including a blizzard of more than 60 texts, emails and other messages – eventually failed, as did Greensill Capital, whose financial difficulties threatened thousands of jobs, sparking a series of inquiries.
During Thursday’s hearing, Mr. Cameron kept his cool and dismissed as “absurd” reports that he had won tens of millions of dollars in Greensill stock options. Refusing to give details, however, he acknowledged that he had a “serious economic interest” in his success, paid him “generously” and earned more than his previous salary as prime minister. Neither he denies using the company’s private jet to fly to his vacation home in Cornwall.
An announcement earlier this week revealed the extent to which the former prime minister, who resigned in 2016, was willing to enjoy former employees and colleagues – including one with whom he had fallen spectacularly a few years later. early.
“I know you’re obsessed – and you’re doing a great job,” Mr Cameron wrote to Michael Gove, a senior cabinet minister, in a text, stressing that he was “on that number and free.”
Ahead of the 2016 referendum, Mr Gove’s decision to support Brexit infuriated Mr Cameron, who in a memoir published in 2019 accused his colleague of behaving “horribly” and wrote: “As for Michael , one quality begging: disloyalty ”.
In messages sent last year, Mr Cameron also told Treasury Chancellor Rishi Sunak that he was “doing a great job” – and made sure that senior officials knew about his contacts with Mr Sunak.
“I’ll see Rishi for an elbow or a leg. Love Dc – Mr. Cameron signed a message to Tom Steyr, a senior government official in the Treasury.
On Thursday, opposition lawmaker Angela Eagle described Mr Cameron’s series of messages as “stalking rather than lobbying” and the media reaction was relentless.
“In the dozens of startling WhatsApp messages and texts that fit almost everyone in his contact book, Cameron is proving to be not just disgusting and intrusive, but an extraordinary national embarrassment. Which speaks volumes, given that Boris Johnson is now in charge, “wrote Judith Woods in the right-leaning Daily Telegraph. She appears to be referring to allegations that Prime Minister Boris Johnson violated the election rules in an unpleasant way, which he allegedly financed an expensive renovation of his apartment.
Mr Cameron resigned after taking the fatal bet that he could persuade Britons to vote against Brexit in the 2016 referendum, leaving him unexpectedly out of work.
Relatively young, when he left Downing Street at the age of 49, Mr Cameron initially held low, buying a designer shed for himself, where he retired to write his memoirs and following the letter of the law that prevented former politicians from entering. in business for two years. When he later joined Greensill Capital, he was not required to comply with the transparency obligations imposed on external professional lobbyists, as he had been hired directly by the company.
While former prime ministers do not have a clear role in public life, analysts are still surprised by Mr Cameron’s choice.
“Given how much money former prime ministers can make by giving a speech right now, you’d think they wouldn’t be reduced to that,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London. “I think we have evidence of falling standards here. You can’t imagine Margaret Thatcher doing that. ”
Last month, Mr Cameron admitted to visiting Saudi Arabia in January 2020, just over a year after the assassination of journalist Jamal Hashoghi, and meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who according to US intelligence agencies had ordered the assassination. In a statement made in April, Mr Cameron insisted he took the opportunity to raise human rights issues.
On Thursday, Mr Cameron explained his series of texts as a consequence of the urgency of the situation, but acknowledged that, from behind, he should have approached with official letters or emails. He believes Greensill offers good ideas to the government, Cameron said, denying that his lobbying was motivated by his financial interest.
Greensill introduced itself as an intermediary between the government and recipients, offering to speed up payments to businesses and individuals. As for individuals, Mr Cameron defended the practice as something of a populist alternative for some people to usurious loan schemes. But most of the loans went to companies doing business with the government, and critics have always questioned the wisdom of using an outside finance company, rather than simply speeding up government payments.
Professor Bale said it was difficult to think of such overt lobbying of ministers by a former prime minister, even Tony Blair, who has been widely criticized for his consulting work.
“This is an illustration of a drop in standards, because in the past this kind of thing was ‘not done’ – and it is now,” said Professor Bale. The silver lining, he added, was that “the disturbance caused to David Cameron could repel some of his heirs.”