David William Donald Cameron (born 9 October 1966) is a former British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2010 to 2016. He was also the leader of the Conservative Party from 2005 to 2016. He was the first Conservative PM of the 21st century and the youngest since Lord Liverpool in 1812, in the latter case coming under Tony Blair's distinction by being 147 days younger when he was first appointed.
Like many prime ministers before him, he attended Eton College and Oxford University as a youth. At the latter, he was a member of the Bullingdon Club and the Piers Gaveston Society, two invite-only students' drinking clubs renowned for being seriously posh and seriously destructive.note After graduating, he worked in the John Major government as a special adviser, first to Major himself and later to powerful ministers Norman Lamont and Michael Howard, then worked in public relations.
In 2001, he became MP for Witney (the previous member, Shaun Woodward, had defected to the Labour Party, which was rather unpopular in rural Oxfordshire, and so he was parachuted into the safe Labour seat of Saint Helens South). He then became the ringleader of a clique of young Tory MPs called the Notting Hill set, so named for the fashionable neighbourhood (featured in the film of the same name) where they all lived. Other members of this group included George Osborne and Michael Gove, who subsequently served in his ministry as Chancellor and Education secretary respectively.
After the Conservatives lost the 2005 election, Michael Howard announced his resignation as Conservative leader, necessitating a leadership election. Cameron ran for leader and beat another David, David Davis. He spent nearly five years as leader of the opposition, rebuilding the image of the UK's historically most successful party, albeit a party now shattered by three straight electoral defeats, with some policy moves not welcomed by the more traditional branch of the party. He also suffered a family tragedy in 2009, with the death of his six-year-old son Ivan, who had been born severely disabled.
Cameron looked likely to become PM from the start of the global recession onwards, but his lead steadily declined, mostly thanks to the impression that what he was offering amounted to a retread of Margaret Thatcher's divisive policies, and a strong performance by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in the first televised leaders' debates in British electoral history (which didn't lead to the huge gain that his party expected) proved enough to produce a hung parliament, which ended with the Conservatives winning the most votes and 306 out of 650 seats. When Gordon Brown couldn't negotiate a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition, Cameron succeeded him as prime minister, leading a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government — the UK's first formal coalition government since the all-party government Winston Churchill led back in World War II. It made a line from a 2008 interview with Cameron retroactively Hilarious in Hindsight: when asked what his favourite political joke was, he replied, "Nick Clegg, at the moment."
During the coalition government, Cameron came under criticism for not being able to achieve a more decisive and conclusive victory against a largely unpopular incumbent. Many of his policies were also incredibly unpopular, attracting criticism and protest. In the lead up to the 2015 election, Cameron deflected much of the criticism onto the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, their leader. It helped that many Lib Dem supporters disagreed with Labour but did not want a Conservative government, so Clegg's decision to get into bed with Cameron soured their attitudes. While Cameron and his party were not the most popular people ever, support for Clegg and the Lib Dems plummeted as people came to see them as lapdogs for the Conservatives.
As the 2015 election approached, the biggest danger to the Cameron Conservatives was generally seen to be not Labour — Ed Miliband's leadership of that party often being seen as divisive and ineffectual — but rather the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which had adopted a much harder-right-wing set of policies and made huge gains in local and European elections and which people thought might split the Conservative vote and bring Labour back to government despite itself. On top of that, the Lib Dems were predicted to fare poorly, making it unlikely that Cameron could call on anyone else to form a coalition.note During the election campaign, Cameron promised a referendum on British membership of The European Union (which he personally supported). It's generally believed that he expected only to retain power via a new coalition with the Lib Dems and was making a promise that he assumed he'd never have to keep to prevent anti-Europe Tory voters from defecting to UKIP.
The Conservatives, surprising most people, won 330 seats, giving them an overall 12-seat majority. Cameron, therefore, remained as prime minister. The election results also saw three other party leaders — Clegg (who was one of only eight Lib Dem MPs returned), Miliband (who suffered a string of publicity gaffes) and UKIP's Nigel Farage (who wasn't elected to the Commons) — resign, although Farage later rescinded his resignation due to the party's sole MP not wanting to stand for the leadership. As Cameron entered Buckingham Palace at 12:28, the Conservatives only needed one to win a majority, which they formally got soon after.
Later that year, Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft published a book that infamously accused him of having engaged in certain activities with a dead pig's head as part of an initiation ritual to the previously mentioned Piers Gaveston Society. Regardless of whether the allegations are true, it's led to its share of jokes, especially as a result of certain scenes in Black Mirror: "The National Anthem."
Like Thatcher and Major before him, Cameron lost his premiership largely thanks to Britain's complicated relationship with the EU. Having already taken a blow to his reputation from at least two attempts to cut benefits to low-paid workers and people with disabilities while handing out tax cuts to big businesses, Cameron had to fulfil his election promise to call a referendum on the UK's continued membership of the EU for 23 June 2016. The referendum ended in a clear if narrow victory for those who wanted to leave.note With Cameron's position already imperilled before the referendum by Eurosceptic Conservatives who made little secret of their intention to call a vote of no confidence in his leadership irrespective of the result, Cameron announced the day after the referendum that he would resign as Conservative leader and prime minister. Upon his resignation on 13 July 2016, he was succeeded by Theresa May, who had been Home secretary throughout his ministry. He also resigned from Parliament effective on 12 September, claiming he'd be a distraction to May.
While Cameron oversaw stability, excellent fiscal management, and the UK emerging from the Great Recession as one of the EU's stronger economies, his letting the Brexit genie out of the bottle undoes nearly all the good he may have done and is seen as defining his legacy much like Anthony Eden and the Suez Crisis. The general opinion among political writers about his time in office can basically be summed up as "amongst the worst" and that it'll take a miracle for historical perspective ever to get much kinder. (Just after he resigned, a University of Leeds-led study rated him Britain's third-worst prime minister since the Second World War, indeed naming his Brexit gamble "the greatest failure of any Prime Minister since Lord North lost America," with only Eden and Alec Douglas-Home ranking below him overall.) His reputation did improve slightly after he left office, since he was an effective party leader at least: when he assumed leadership, it had been in the doldrums for the better part of a decade, and he left it with a working majority, which his successor helped squander in less than a year. But the pendulum might be swinging against him again, since her successor, Boris Johnson, actively repudiated many of his "image rehabilitation" strategies, called another snap election in 2019, abandoned the austerity agenda, and was rewarded with the Conservatives' largest parliamentary majority since 1987 and their (and indeed the) highest share of the vote since 1979.note
Cameron's generally privileged upbringing and PR background has made him a rich target for satire and accusations that he cannot comprehend the lives of ordinary people. The fact that he is descended on his mother's side from an illegitimate daughter of King William IV apparently doesn't help.
By all reports, he makes a killing as a public speaker. Unlike fellow former PMs John Major and Tony Blair, who made headlines during the 2019 election campaign denouncing then-leaders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, he has continued to support his party and even (tepidly) endorses their Brexit strategy. He continues to argue that calling the referendum was a good idea, though he also still thinks Remain was the better choice.
David Cameron in fiction:
- Despite his corporate and Oxbridge background, David tried awfully hard to come across as a man of the people. This is where most satire about Cameron comes from: in Tony! The Blair Musical, he's featured rapping about it.
- Cameron, like all party leaders, is/was a regular target for Private Eye, particularly in the comic strip Dave Snooty and His Pals (a spoof of The Beano's Lord Snooty). In the spirit of the Coalition, he shared his text feature, a parody school newsletter for the "Coalition Academy", with Nick Clegg until his overall majority victory in 2015 led it to being renamed the "Cameron Free School".
- Headcases featured Cameron speaking with a distinctively "normal accent" in public and a more "Old Etonian" on in private.
- In the ITV telemovie The Trial of Tony Blair, Cameron's election campaign revolves around his attempts to appear cool and modern by riding a bike to work and trying to hang out with inner-city teens and using what he thinks is their lingo (and failing miserably).
- Steve Bell's long-running cartoon in The Guardian portrayed him first as a jellyfish wearing a cycle helmet, and later with an inflated condom for a head.note
- In The Bojeffries Saga, Ginda Bojeffries fatally Neck Snaps an unnamed but recognisable Cameron during Prime Minister's Question Time.
- He doesn't appear, but The Ghost opposition leader/prime minister "J.B." in The Thick of It is suggested to be heavily inspired by Cameron, being something of an Etonian posh boy with a fervent desire to be seen as cool, down to earth, and with it despite not quite being able to shed his overprivileged (and slightly racist) attitudes.