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Angela Tilby: David Cameron’s Big Society ditched for big payout

16 April 2021


David Cameron in October 2019

David Cameron in October 2019

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men. . .

THESE words from T. S. Eliot’s famous poem of 1925 came into my mind as I read about the collapse of the financial firm Greensill Capital, and David Cameron’s position as a lobbyist on its behalf. For Eliot, the “hollow men” were those stuck between death and the afterlife, incapable of moving on into a new existence, barred from either heaven or hell. It was their fate to be both full of stuffing and empty inside.

I am sure it is very hard, at a relatively young age, to become a former prime minister. I do not doubt that David Cameron found the adjustment traumatic. After all, he had no significant interests apart from politics, no great passions.

He was one of those politicians who rather prided himself on being non-ideological. He was good, in his own view, at running things (Eton prepares people well for public life), and his appeal to his party had always been as a commonsense pragmatist. He gambled twice on the appeal of the status quo, once over Scotland, when he won, and once over Europe, when he lost, painfully miscalculating the emotional appeal of Brexit.

After acquiring a man-shed and writing a smooth, if rather empty, account of his premiership, he had no obvious new career route, though, to his credit, he took on various charitable causes. Perhaps the chance to team up with Greensill was an attempt to escape from boredom.

And then there was the money. As an adviser, Mr Cameron acquired share options, which could have yielded a considerable income. This is the bit that really baffles me: Mr Cameron is not poor. He has three homes and other income from writing, speeches, and investments. Yet, the more we discover about his lobbying efforts on behalf of Greensill, the murkier his role becomes. There can be no doubt that he used the prestige of his former office informally to pressure the Health Secretary and the Chancellor to advance Greensill’s agenda.

It has been reported that Mr Cameron texted Mr Sunak, in April of last year, to appeal for Greensill to be given ac­­cess to emergency coronavirus loans, and that Mr Cameron had a private drink with Mr Hancock, in late 2019, to lobby for Greensill to run a scheme to pay NHS staff more quickly. Both schemes were in opera­tion at the time of Greensill’s col­lapse.

But, for me, the real disappointment is that Mr Cameron, who acknowledged a tentative but genuine Christian faith, could not see that his pushing for a firm that could have enriched him involved serious moral compromise.

This is the man who spoke of the Big Society, who seemed to believe that we really are all in it together. Hollow and stuffed, headpiece full of straw. Eliot would have recognised it all, alas.

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