Sunday, August 2, 2009

David Cameron

I've written extensively (most recently in this post) about the expectation that the Labor Party in the U.K., which has governed that country for the past 12 years, will lose the next general election, which must be held by June of 2010.

That brings to the fore a name that may be unfamiliar to many Americans: David Cameron. Cameron is leader of the Conservative Party (a.k.a. the Tories), and will become prime minister if his party wins the upcoming election. He was born in London in 1966. Cameron was educated at some of England's most exclusive institutions, Eton and Oxford.

Since the Tories implemented a system to elect their leaders, in 1965, those leaders have tended to come from rather humble backgrounds. (Before 1965, Conservative leaders were not elected to that position, they merely "emerged". I've never understood what that meant.)

Politicians often try to make their origins seem lower on the social scale than they actually were, (the old "I was born in a log cabin that I built myself" story) but it's clear that modern Conservative leaders such as Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major did not come from the aristocracy that had produced predecessors such as Winston Churchill.

By contrast, Cameron is a throwback to earlier times. He is said to be fifth cousin, twice removed, to Queen Elizabeth II. In short, Cameron has a much more aristocratic background than recent Tory forerunners.

After Oxford, Cameron worked as a researcher for his party. He held various political jobs, until he left in 1994, to work in public relations for a television broadcaster. Then, in 2001, he was elected to the House of Commons.

With the Tories in the middle of a long period in opposition, he was limited to roles in the shadow cabinet. But he rose quickly in that arena, including positions related to local government, and education.

By 2005, the leadership of the Conservative Party had been in flux, ever since the Tories dethroned Thatcher in 1990. Michael Howard, the party's fourth leader during that period, resigned after losing the 2005 general election.

The current system for electing a Conservative leader starts with a vote among the party's members in the House of Commons (MPs), which narrows the field to two candidates. Cameron's final opponent was the much more experienced David Davis, who had 14 more years of parliamentary experience than Cameron, and held a major shadow cabinet position, as Shadow Home Secretary.

But, when each of the candidates spoke at their party's annual conference, Cameron wowed the audience with his youthful charisma. His conference speech struck a fatal blow to Davis's candidacy, and Cameron was elected by a landslide, in the final vote, which was held among the general membership of the party.

For the first time in 15 years, the Conservative Party had a leader who looked like a potential prime minister. (Thatcher's successor, Major, automatically inherited the prime minister's office when he replaced her as leader, in 1990. He went on to win the 1992 general election, in what is seen, in retrospect, as somewhat of a dead-cat bounce. Most would probably now rate him as being equal to the ineffective leaders who succeeded him, such as William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.)

For most of his three-year-plus period as leader, Cameron's party has led in opinion polls measuring voting intentions for the next general election. He now carries an air of inevitability, similar to the aura that surrounded a young, charismatic leader in the other party a few years ago: Tony Blair.

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