New British Prime Minister David Cameron is most definitely a slick character. His engagement to new deputy PM Nick Clegg may be broken off at the last minute, but Cameron has bought the dress and hired the florists, sending a gilt-edged invitation to the Queen. So just who is Britain’s new leader?

Let’s start with this picture. In the back row, second from the left with the Lady Di haircut, is the new British Prime Minister. Astute viewers will also notice the dashing blond in the front row is Conservative Mayor of London and general rakish man-about-town Boris Johnson.

The photograph is of Oxford’s infamous Bullingdon Club. The picture, taken in 1986, surfaced in 2007 but was withdrawn by its copyright holders, no doubt a sad blow for Labour.

The Daily Mail describes the Bullingdon deliciously:

“The Bullingdon was founded in 1780, originally as a hunting and cricket club. From the beginning its name was synonymous with excessive drinking and a competitive destructiveness, and membership has always been by invitation only and known for being, for most, prohibitively expensive (costs include a bespoke set of tails, outrageously lavish dinners and a charge against expected damages). Past ‘Bullers’ include Edward VII, Edward VIII, John Profumo and Alan Clark. The club was also satirised by Evelyn Waugh as ‘the Bollinger’ in Decline And Fall.”

The paper also points out that three of the dinner-suited rakes in the photo have titled parents, and that Cameron himself is fifth cousin, twice removed, to Her Maj.

Cameron also has a rumoured history with drug taking, having been accused of cannabis and cocaine use, charges he refused to deny outright, stating only: “I did lots of things before I came into politics which I shouldn’t have done. We all did.” One of these is a rumoured pot-smoking incident at Eton, for which the young Cameron was fined and given 500 lines of Latin to copy out.

After Oxford, Cameron went straight to work in various capacities for the Conservatives. Rumour has it he was given a leg up into the party by a caller from Buckingham Palace. He worked variously as a researcher through the 1980s, as special adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont in 1991, and as assistant to Home Secretary Michael Howard in 1993.

In 1994, Cameron became director of corporate affairs at TV station Carlton Communications, which later became British Digital Broadcasting with Granada TV and BSkyB. The group won Britain’s first digital television franchise, a service that entirely failed to take off. A year or so after Cameron left in 2001 (remaining a consultant) ITV Digital collapsed. In 2003 the company ceased to exist, in an effective takeover by Granada.

In 1994, Cameron began his long quest for a parliamentary seat, reportedly missing selection for Ashford, losing Stafford to Labour, and missing selection for Kensington, Chelsea and Wealden. Cameron finally got his hands on a safe Conservative seat at Witney in Oxfordshire in 2000, and clawed his way to the Conservative leadership in 2005.

In 2002, Cameron’s first child, Ivan, was born with cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy. Despite his son’s severe disabilities and the family problems that went with them, the difficulty appears to only have made Cameron more determined, and turned him into a staunch supporter of the NHS. According to a colleague, the sight of Cameron pushing Ivan in a chair became a regular sight around the House of Commons until he took the leadership. Ivan died in 2009, sparking condolences from all sides of politics.

Cameron’s image is one of technological neo-conservatism. A successful YouTube channel, a TED talk speaking glowingly of the future of technological participation and information transparency in politics — Cameron will lead us confidently into a free market where the great British public will be able to intelligently comment and interact with their elected representatives.

Cameron’s time in opposition has been a mixed bag of eagerness, nepotism and positive discrimination; while no less than 15 of his frontbenchers were old Etonians, he also instituted a wildly unpopular “A-list” for parliamentary candidates, designed to fast-track minorities and women into Conservative seats.

And as the British press first pointed out in 2006, the country’s new Prime Minister is the kind of man who cycles to work and has his driver follow him with his file boxes …

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey