When I first met David Cameron it was obvious to me that he would be prime minister. He was not even leader of the Tory party when he came for lunch at the rightwing newspaper I worked for. As was usual at these affairs, I was the only woman present. After he left I said to the guys: “He will be prime minister.” At the time, they were keener on David Davis – good backstory, more blokey – and told me that I must fancy Cameron. That could be the only possible explanation.
This was before the Blackpool conference in 2005 when he wandered around doing his “look no hands” speech that would seal the deal. At that conference his rival Davis was strolling about with “glamour models” who had Double D written on their substantial chests. Geddit? In contrast, Cameron seemed like something vaguely new, as well as blue.
The reason I knew that he would become PM is because I applied my “accidents in the home” test. Repeatedly we are told that voters like politicians who they can imagine going for a drink with. Sorry, this does not work for me at all. I can imagine doing tequila slammers with the likes of Danny Alexander, but please don’t make me. Instead I always think of common emergencies that might happen while I was alone in the house – fire, floods, pestilence – and wonder who, if any of these people were my neighbours, I might turn to. Who would sort it out? At that time, Cameron appeared to be someone who would be competent and “get a man in”, whereas I would have been scared to knock on Gordon Brown’s door, as he was becoming the scary reclusive neighbour.
Oozing confidence, which we easily mistake for competence, is why Cameron became PM, but the bit I never understood was why he wanted to be. And that’s the bit that is showing now. He became prime minster simply because he could appear like one. He had the front. He was born to it.
All through this election campaign he has been irritable, as if the election itself is unnecessary. Why should he debate with these people who challenge him? Does he have to stoop that low? He has been somehow absent, disengaged, appearing on TV in a hard hat or in too much makeup to take part in the auction of unfeasible promises that is modern electioneering. Late in the day, Tories are seeing that it is not good enough, and are going bonkers. After they have fired everything they can at Miliband’s geekery, it is rather sweet that the fandom of a teenage girl breaks through the relentless negativity. They have unwittingly sexed up Ed, or at least humanised him.
Lynton Crosby’s on-message negativity has been flat and dull. Voting Labour now means giving power to Devil Woman Sturgeon and enacting full-on Marxist revolution. Fear of a Scottish Planet has sent them doolally. Meanwhile, individual Tories are imploding. Grant Shapps, or Michael V Green as he is or isn’t known, denies fiddling with his Wikipedia page. The columnist Sarah Vine, who surely can say whatever she likes, is fretting not just about Scotland but the north leeching off “us”. The old big beasts prowl around – Tebbit, Clarke, Major – not-so-subtly undermining Cameron. Tebbit implied that his leader is not a real man as he has never done “a real job”.
Most damaging of all are the insiders openly talking on social media about how Cameron wants out. Andrew Neil tweeted: “Spoke to major Tory donor tonight. ‘Tory campaign useless. Cameron’s heart not in it. Not looking good’” – to which the Conservative writer and activist Tim Montgomerie replied: “DC has wanted out for a while. He has just wanted to go out on some sort of high and hasn’t been able to find that high.”
If everything hinges on Cameron’s popularity and Miliband’s improbability, something is shifting. Cameron grows more distant as Miliband becomes more familiar. Though neither of them radiate competence in the way that Nicola Sturgeon does.
The temper tantrums are beginning. No one, Labour or Tory, seems to be able to accept that people in Scotland will vote for the party they want to represent them, and they continue to portray democracy in action as an actual threat to democracy. Tories and Lib Dems are preparing to challenge a Labour-SNP alliance as unconstitutional. That will be chaos. By claiming such a state of affairs to be illegitimate they are pushing Scotland to vote yes in any future referendum.
This Tory panic, though, is real. The two parties are broken. The re-emergence of Major reminds us that it is 23 years since the Conservatives got a majority and they may never do again. We will see a terrible scurrying about behind closed doors after this election, further locking out the voters. And the man who was prime minister just because he could be will have to show some passion beyond disdain for democracy. By then, though, it may be too late to activate the reluctant Cameron, who now appears little more than a political spambot.