Book review: Call Me Dave - The Unauthorised Biography of David Cameron
This book has been controversial, not least because of the newspaper serialisation and the emphasis on one story involving a pig which went viral.
For over a year, Westminster knew that Michael Ashcroft, multi-millionaire donor, publisher and supporter of good causes, was co-authoring with the journalist Isabel Oakeshott, an unauthorised biography of David Cameron. This had caused some angst at No. 10 and the word had gone out that it wouldn’t be helpful to cooperate with this biography.
Rumours were that it was to be a demolition job and to be published immediately following the election which it was assumed would see Cameron unable to form even a coalition government. This could have helped to remove him from the leadership.
In his preface Michael Ashcroft maintains that his motive in writing Call me Dave was “not about settling scores”. But to many observers, that is what is appears to have been about. Whether one agrees or disagrees with some of the assessments later in the book, on the whole they are remarkably balanced.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for some of the other, more sensationally trailed stories on pigs, drugs and affairs which, after several pages, the authors effectively admit, cannot be substantiated.
Despite these weaknesses, there is a pattern to their analysis of Cameron as a young man which is about privilege, networking, luck and what they see as travelling with little substantial political baggage.
The chapter of the birth, fight for life and death of their son Ivan is both moving and insightful. The fact that David and Sam Cameron came through such a trauma with their marriage strengthened says a lot about their love.
But your reviewer concluded that this trauma strengthened Cameron, put some iron into his soul and made him more sensitive about personal tragedy and how others cope. Not an exact comparison, but the same could be said of Franklin Delano Roosevelt- posh background, mannered style, family patronage- and then polio. Without that, FDR would never have had a life-changing experience that propelled him to the presidency and made him aware of the lot of ordinary Americans.
Ashcroft and Oakeshott emphasise many of Cameron’s failings, including some misjudgements and insensitivity towards his parliamentary colleagues. But the book’s conclusion is that there were achievements and he did lead the Conservatives to an overall victory in May - warts and all, he was more popular than the party he led.