Opinion: Why David Cameron will not be Prime Minister in a year’s time

Bizarrely, I was watching dancing coal miners dressed in tutus when I heard the news of Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation last Sunday evening. A little trigger went off in my mind. Suddenly, the unthinkable had become thinkable. “Cameron will be next” I thought.

OK. We’re now in the “long grass” of the parliamentary recess. Cameron put in a “Tory Trebles all round”, barn-storming performance at the dispatch box on Wednesday. He must have been thankful it was jet-lag proof Johannesburg he had come from (where he met a different type of Tutu) and not New York, with its jet-lag on the return journey.

Cameron can, for now, breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy his holiday when it comes. But, as they say in the trade: “This one will run and run”. The Hackgate story will not go away. Indeed, the monicker “Hackgate” doesn’t really do it justice. It’s a hydra – a many-headed monster. This crisis will bubble away for months and years. It really is extraordinary. Whenever you think it is going to die down, some amazing new dimension is revealed.

There is so much more to come out. So many more shoes to hit the floor – a whole cobbler’s worth. Prosecutions for perverting the course of justice, perjury…details of email hacking and internet use surveillance…details of hacking and blagging in other newspaper groups…the charging of key figures. It’s just going to go on and on.

And then there is the Coulson vetting mystery. That will rumble on and on. Andy Coulson had only the same security clearance as a gardener at Number Ten. He didn’t receive Developed Vetting, as is usual for someone in his post. Then he resigned when he was going through the process to get that security clearance. That’s really rum. When you add the fact that Coulson was appointed against a backdrop of 91 articles already published in the Guardian about illegal activities at the News of the World under Coulson, as well as private warnings from Paddy Ashdown, Nick Clegg and the Guardian, it’s double rum. As a ‘senior security source’ told the Guardian about Cameron visa vis the Coulson vetting mystery: “He’s in deep shit”.

Cameron is sitting on a timebomb. It may have switched to “slow fuse” mode now the recess has arrived, but it is still ticking. Things will reach the point when he simply can’t go on as Prime Minister. The endless debilitating “noises off” cacophony of Hackgate and Coulsongate will be so loud and remorseless that, finally, it will be unsustainable for him to do his job.

I should put in a good word for the man at this stage. David Cameron is likeable and I admire him. I admired his father, and I feel David Cameron has some of the strength of character of his father. It really is extraordinary that he has fought and half-won a general election, and then been Prime Minister, after the double sadness of losing his father and his son within a few months.

But Cameron’s strength will be his undoing. His strength is his gift of the gab. There are many hind-legless donkeys lying around thanks to David Cameron. Wednesday was typical. In fact, he soft-peddled on his normal Flashman flourishes. No opposition bottoms were soundly thrashed. He was suitably humble, but the Teflon was firmly in operation. But this will all come back to haunt him.

I actually am 100% certain that no inappropriate conversations took place between David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks or other News Corp managers.

Why am I so certain?

It’s because he didn’t have to have inappropriate conversations for the relationship to work. It was all done on nods and winks. Nods and winks can never be inappropriate.

The unstated but nodded and winked arrangement was this. You publish nice supportive stories about us, we’re stick to the policies you like and that BSkyB deal…..well….you know….nod…….wink……that’s nothing to do with me…..nod……wink…..quasi-judicial…….Jeremy Hunt with an “H”……nod….wink.

The relationship between News Corp and the Conservative party was perniciously symbiotic. They both needed each other. But as a result of arrogance, it was taken to its extreme with the highly dodgy appointment of Andy Coulson.

Mark my words, eventually David Cameron will not be able to continue in his job and on this one, without the support of the LibDems in government, he will be on his own. He will eventually walk the plank.

…Either that or I’ve been reading The Guardian too much.

Oh and by the way, if you’re still wondering, the tutu-wearing coal miners were in a Youth Theatre Gala production of Lee Hall’s Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace….

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  • I personally think if Cameron goes, the Coalition will fall and we could well be into electoral oblivion territory. An election would also play havoc with fragile markets and put an end to any thought of an economic recovery, however slow it is progressing.

    Of all the Tories, the most pragmatic and flexible was Cameron. Other “leadership” candidates will not be as easy for us to work with. Do we really think First Secretary of State William Hague or Gideon Osborne would be as amiable to our policies?

    Or would Nick Clegg constitutionally be Prime Minister? That would be one for the history books!

  • Daniel Henry 23rd Jul '11 - 1:00pm

    I’d be surprised if this got so far out of hand that Cameron had to go. If you look at all the shit Blair got away with then Cameron would have to be unlucky to get such harsh treatment.

    Even so, just in case we should start preparing for the eventuality. Would Cameron’s replacement be someone we could work with? I could see the Tories using this as an opportunity to break the coalition and call an election.

    Are we prepared to fight such an election?

  • The Voice of Truth 23rd Jul '11 - 1:18pm

    Cameron won’t go. This is bad for him, but the recess gives this story time to play out and cool down. If you look at it objectively (which is tough in the world of politics) it’s hard to argue that Cameron plays a central role in all of this. The disease pre-dates his premiership, and I think most people will realise that. The public also aren’t as angry about this as you think. Heads will (rightly) roll at the Met, but I think the next big phase of this story will be in America – quite significant in the run-up to a major election campaign.

    There’s also the issue that the Mail, Mirror, etc. will be cautious about throwing too much more fuel on the fire, because they could be next. It’s really the Guardian, the BBC, and C4 going for it, and none of those outlets is capable of (or inclined towards) truly destructive journalism.

  • Paul McKeown 23rd Jul '11 - 2:22pm

    I think it is unlikely that Cameron will fall over this issue, I suspect this is more a Guardian reader’s wishful thinking than a balanced view of the situation.

    If Cameron were to fall, then the question arises as to who would replace him. Not Osborne, because he is as implicated as Cameron. Probably Hague, I’m sure I read at the time of the coalition being formed that Hague was to be given command of Britain’s nuclear armaments in the event of Cameron being incapacitated. However, Hague is not popular with many Conservatives, as he is rather less Eurosceptic than they would like. It would be a very difficult period, with serious doubts as to the sustainability of the Coalition. I doubt that Hague would be any more difficult for the Lib Dems to work with than David Cameron, by the way.

    Other Tories one could think of that might be interested in the leadership would be Theresa May (unpopular with many Conservatives, due to her “nasty party” observation), Liam Fox (unpopular with many on the left of the Conservatives, due to his perceived pissing from inside the tent). Perhaps Michael Gove, if not William Hague.

    Who knows? I doubt the LD leadership would want to be seen sticking its neb in, good way to get a slapping.

    Mere speculation at this juncture, anyway.

    And what about the Labour Party, too, and its dodgy links with the press? Any suspected casualties there?

  • Andrew Suffield 23rd Jul '11 - 2:25pm

    Or would Nick Clegg constitutionally be Prime Minister?

    He would automatically on Cameron departing without an election, although this would only be “for the duration of the crisis” – Clegg would head the caretaker government until either a new deal could be put together (which would probably be a “confidence and supply” one), or the issue can be resolved following an election. In the latter case he’d be doing the job for weeks.

    (In any situation where the Prime Minister departs without a successor to immediately take over, somebody that wasn’t elected has got to do the job; that’s just how our system of government works)

    we could well be into electoral oblivion territory

    With the Tories fatally tarnished, Milliband obviously no better and offering no credible policies, and a third of the usual Lib Dem support disillusioned, the outcome of that election would be highly unpredictable. I would expect a wave of “who am I supposed to vote for now?” resulting in one of the lowest turnouts ever, and a government that nobody was really expecting or is happy with.

    It would without doubt be a disaster for the country. We’d be looking at a fresh economic crisis, and the spending cuts we’ve had so far will be insignificant compared to what will happen when the money runs out. Forget arguments about whether pensions and and benefits should be higher or lower; they would be gone, while food prices skyrocket. Forget closing libraries; it’s the schools and hospitals which would be shutting down.

    I really don’t want to see that happen, and hope that even if Cameron departs, the government can hold together.

  • Mark – Posted 23rd July 2011 at 12:42 pm

    I don’t think the LDs would be in “electoral oblivion territory” (assuming there is the money to run a half decent campaign) but I do think the markets would get very jittery if an election resulted.

    “Do we really think First Secretary of State William Hague or Gideon Osborne would be as amiable to our policies?”
    TBH, I think those 2 are the least of your concerns, I think many Conservatives feel that these members of the top team have continually bent over backwards to accomodate Clegg and keep him “safe”. They may decide to select some one else, if you think those 2 are bad how would you cope with someone like Fox in charge.

  • @Andrew Suffield

    Are you sure? The PM is the party Leader who commands the motes votes in Parliament. That would not be Clegg. It would be the deputy leader of the Tory Party.

  • Paul McKeown 23rd Jul '11 - 2:45pm

    As I said, I doubt that Cameron will fall over this, but he will be weakened and many in the Conservative Party will seek to use Andy Coulson against him, or to influence his policy positions. One might suppose that he will try to bolster his support in either of two ways:

    a) pander to the Conservative bonkerist rightwing, perhaps with a truckload of Eurodrivel
    b) or batten down his grip on the Tory left and Tory centre and a readiness to tough it out with the Tory rightwing.

    The first option, if exercised and too odious, would potentially see the LDs crossing the floor, oblivion or acceptance of the unacceptable. The second option, however, would give the LDs considerable scope for influencing policy in their direction.

  • @jayu Posted 23rd July 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Who would be PM is quite a question isn’t it? Out of curiosity I looked it up, as far as I can tell the incumbent would recommend some one to the Queen who may or may not accept his advice (she can decide to take additional advice).
    However, who ever is appointed is done so on as a “temporary” measure until it is clear that they command support in the HoC.
    So would Cameron recommend Clegg if it was uncertain that Con MPs would support him and would the Queen accept his recommendation because of the same issue? It may happen if it was made clear that it was a stop-gap measure until a new Con Party Leader was selected and then Clegg would resign (perhaps setting a new precedent).
    I suppose it would also depend on the speed of the resignation, would there be enough time to elect a new Con Leader or would he be straight out of the door etc (he would be caught in the Brown trap really, having a duty to ensure that the Monarch has an advisor so he may have to stay until one is appointed).
    As the whole system operates on precedence and tradition, some one with a greater knowledge of political history would be able to give a better answer as to if this has happened before and what would happen.

  • Andrew Suffield 23rd Jul '11 - 4:15pm

    The PM is the party Leader who commands the motes votes in Parliament. […] It would be the deputy leader of the Tory Party.

    (This is considering the scenario where a PM has spontaneously resigned without arranging a successor government)

    No; the PM is whoever can survive a majority confidence vote. The deputy leader of the Tory party, on his own, can command 47% in favour, 53% against, so he cannot be the PM automatically.

    However, that’s a consequence, not the underlying rule, and you’re missing the point. Certainly Clegg could not operate a full government – he wouldn’t survive the first confidence vote. But what happens before that vote occurs? Several days of negotiation while all the parties try to put together a deal with others to get that 50% they need to form a government.

    Now the first critical question to consider is: who is PM during those days of negotiation?. The answer is that whoever is the deputy PM has to run a caretaker government; right now that would be Clegg. Everybody stays in their posts until the new government is ready. (If there is no deputy PM then we’re in a constitutional crisis; this has never happened and there is no rule about how to resolve it)

    It’s entirely possible that the Tories and LDs will reach an agreement that the Tory deputy leader will step into Cameron’s job, at least temporarily, and the LDs will continue to support the coalition. But, let’s suppose those negotiations fail, and nobody can put together a deal that would let them form a government. This forces a general election. The next critical question is who is PM during the mandatory weeks of campaigning, when nobody is an MP and nobody has any votes in Parliament? The answer is the same as before.

    (It’s not a particularly fun job to be stuck with; everybody hates you and you can’t do anything useful, but the paperwork continues unabated)

  • As I understand it, chris_sh is right. It is always for the outgoing PM to recommend a successor. If Cameron was forced to quit immediately, he could recommend a senior Tory who won’t be contesting the election. The obvious choices would be Ken Clarke or, perhaps, George Young.

  • Andrew Suffield Posted 23rd July 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Whilst what you have said sounds feasible for the most part (and seems most likely to happen), I believe constituitionally it is the responsibility of the PM to ensure that the Monarch has a chief advisor so some one would have to be officially appointed as PM, it may be Clegg but there again it may not.

    The Monarch must pick the person who is most likely able to gain the support of Parliament, if that means that a 47% Conservative has the best chance then she will probably have to go in that direction (if Cameron/other advisors put it to her). It would then be upto the new PM to sort out the resulting mess surrounding the coalition/possible election etc.

    As far as I can see, there is no written/unwritten rule that says either a D/PM or D/PL automatically becomes PM, but you may know something differant.

  • PMs are not allowed to spontaneously resign, as was shown with Brown. I wouldn’t be surprised if this has not already been agreed, either in the coalition document, or some as yet secret document. The title of DPM is not even recognised in constitutional law.

  • David Cameron is a great PR performer but he has extraordinarily bad judgement. Not screening Coulson. having that private Christmas dinner with Rebeka Wade and James Murdoch and spouses. And, of course, agreeing to the parliamentary leader debates, without which, he would have a majority government.

  • @Paul McKeown

    Hague is popular enough with Tory backbenches and grass roots to become an interim leader. I’m not sure they’d like him to fight another election as leader though. I agree that Gove could be one to watch, he’s non-partisan and good in the chamber. Then again he’s probably not election material either.

    @Andrew Suffield

    You need to brush up on the constitution. Deputy PM is nothing but an honorary title. An interim Prime Minister still has to be the person most likely to command the confidence (i.e a majority) in the house of commons.

    Senior politicians from the three main parties would be questioned by civil servants as to who could do this, but in all probability it would be a Tory since they’re so close to a majority anyway. For a non-tory to get the role it would have to be the case that the Conservative party was split to the point that a sizable minority were threatening to vote down a Conservative Prime Minister.

    @Daniel Furr

    The First Secretary of State isn’t constitutionally in line to be Prime Minister, for the reasons stated above.

  • First Secretary Of State is just a vanity title. Hague is only the eighth person to hold the title.

  • david thorpe 25th Jul '11 - 1:31pm

    there would have to be a maaisve smoking cun to get to the point where cameron has to resign, i think there would be an election if he did have to resign…..
    nick clegg would constitutionally be PM until either after an election or until the tories picked a new leader who opted to either govern as a minority(which is a lot more possible for the tories to do than people realise) or refashion an agreement with the lib dems

    the tories are 14 short of an overall majority but have Democratic Unionists who could be persuaded to back them
    and the fact that Sinn Fein dont take their seats means that a working majority is actually quite a few less than the 326 it officially is….

  • david thorpe Posted 25th July 2011 at 1:31 pm

    “nick clegg would constitutionally be PM ….”

    Actually he wouldn’t – being Dep PM doesn’t mean you automatically become PM if the incumbent resigns

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