David Cameron today extends an olive branch to Michael Gove, saying he wants to try to rekindle the close friendship that was blown apart by Brexit.
In his autobiography, which is published today, the former prime minister savages Mr Gove for his decision to back the Leave campaign in 2016 which finished his career in No 10.
But Mr Cameron now says ‘a lot of water has flown under the bridge’ since the pair’s spectacular public fallout.
But in an interview to be broadcast on radio station LBC today, he also hits out at the Left-wing Guardian newspaper for a controversial editorial this week which claimed the anguish of his son Ivan’s death had been softened by his privileged background. In his autobiography, For the Record, Mr Cameron accuses Mr Gove of betrayal. He said he was shocked by the ‘ferocity and mendacity’ of his attacks on the Government during the campaign, accusing him of becoming ‘an ambassador for the post-truth age’.
The row severed a close friendship between the Gove and Cameron families which extended well beyond politics and saw the two families share the school run and holiday together.
But Mr Cameron suggests he is ready to bury the hatchet with his former friend.
David Cameron (pictured) today extends an olive branch to Michael Gove, saying he wants to try to rekindle the close friendship that was blown apart by Brexit
David Cameron and Michael Gove are pictured applauding a speech by Boris Johnson at the Conservative conference in 2015
He says he was moved by a heartfelt article by Mr Gove’s wife, Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine, in which she lamented the breakdown of a 20-year friendship between the two families. Writing in the Mail yesterday, she described how the two families had shared their lives together for two decades, but had not spoken since Brexit tore them apart in February 2016.
Miss Vine, godmother to the Camerons’ daughter Florence, describes them as ‘dear friends who were there at key moments of my life’. She added: ‘Hard as these past few years have been, nothing will ever erase those memories. Because that is what really matters: people. Not politics, not power, not Brexit.
‘We make mistakes and we move on. Or at least we should try.’
Asked about her comments, Mr Cameron says: ‘I was coming back from my book launch with Samantha and it popped up on my screen, and we both read it, and we both actually thought it was incredibly sensitive and well written and rather emotional piece.
‘Look, over time I hope that – a lot of water has flown under the bridge – but it just was very difficult at the time of the referendum.’
Asked if he would like to rekindle the relationship, he replied: ‘I want to try. I think the difficulty has just been that, Michael was a very, very close member of the team. He was so central to my thinking on education reform and other things, and so watching what happened next was very painful and I did in some ways thought he’d become quite a different person in all of it. But as I say, life goes on.’
Samantha Cameron and Michael Gove’s wife Sarah Vine in the Palace of Westminster
Mr Cameron and Mr Gove in May 2010 during the coalition negotiations that ended with the Tory leader forming a government with the Liberal Democrats
Cameron reacted with ‘hilarity’ to pig claim
David Cameron has said he reacted with ‘hilarity’ to the infamous claim about him and a dead pig.
The extraordinary claim about Mr Cameron’s student days emerged in a book by Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott on the eve of the Conservative conference in 2015.
The book claimed that Mr Cameron had inserted ‘a private part of his anatomy’ into a dead pig’s mouth in a bizarre initiation ritual for an Oxford club.
In his newly published memoirs, Mr Cameron calls the story ‘false and ludicrous’ and says he ‘couldn’t believe someone could be so stupid’ as to publish it.
‘A biography was published on the Monday before our party conference,’ Mr Cameron recalls in his autobiography For The Record.
‘Over the months my team and I had joked about what it might contain.
‘But even the most creative (or lewd) among us couldn’t have dreamed up its most widely reported claim, which was that I’d done something disgusting to a dead pig at a university society initiation…
‘My first reaction wasn’t anger or embarrassment, or worry about the impact. It was hilarity.
‘I couldn’t believe someone could be so stupid as to research and write a book about me and include a story that was both false and ludicrous.’
Lord Ashcroft had donated millions to the Conservatives before falling out with Mr Cameron.
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Cameron also dismisses a controversial attack on him by the Guardian. In an editorial, for which it has since apologised, the newspaper claimed he had suffered only ‘privileged pain’ over the death of his disabled son Ivan. The newspaper questioned whether the former PM ‘might have understood the damage his policies have done’ if he had sought care for ‘a dying parent rather than a dying child’.
It went on: ‘Mr Cameron has known pain and failure in his life but it has always been limited failure and privileged pain.
‘His experience of the NHS, which looked after his severely disabled son, has been that of the better functioning and better funded parts of the system.’
Mr Cameron said: ‘There is no privilege in holding your eldest-born child in your arms as their life drains away. Death knows no privilege. So I, from the little I saw of it, I couldn’t understand what they were trying to say, but fortunately it has been deleted and apologised for, so I think we can leave it there.’
Mr Cameron also hits out at Commons Speaker John Bercow, who has been a constant thorn in the side of the Government over Brexit. ‘There were times, I have to admit, when I… sort of got out of bed every morning and thought, whatever John Bercow, whatever the speaker can do to make my life hell today, he will do. And that, on the whole, was a pretty good guide to life.’
Mr Cameron also speaks of his remorse over his handling of the referendum and the EU negotiation that preceded it, saying: ‘I’ll go to my grave wondering, could I have got more in the negotiation?’
But he refuses to rule out a second referendum, saying: ‘I don’t think you can because we can’t go on being stuck. We’ve had a three-year hiatus and it’s very painful for the country and difficult for business and difficult for people and I feel it very intensely.
‘We can’t go on like this so we’ve got to have either a deal, another deal, an election or a referendum.’
How David Cameron encouraged the Queen to ‘raise an eyebrow’ over Scottish independence before her coded intervention just days before the poll in 2014
David Cameron has admitted for the first time that he encouraged the Queen to intervene on the eve of the Scottish referendum.
The former prime minister told a BBC documentary he suggested the monarch could ‘raise an eyebrow’ during the campaign.
Soon after his intervention, the Queen told a well-wisher near Balmoral that she hoped ‘people would think very carefully about the future’.
It came on the weekend before the make-or-break referendum on September 18, 2014 and was seen as pivotal.
Mr Cameron said he was forced into the desperate move after a devastating poll showed Scotland was on the verge of voting for independence.
He strenuously denied that what he had done was ‘improper or unconstitutional’.
But his admission that he made the intervention is likely to be controversial because the Queen is supposed to be scrupulously neutral in matters of politics.
David Cameron meets the Queen at Balmoral where she made a coded but significant intervention in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum
Cameron woke up wondering how Bercow would ‘make my life hell today’
David Cameron has said he woke up daily wondering what John Bercow would do ‘to make my life hell today’.
The former prime minister did offer some praise for the outgoing and controversial Commons Speaker for having the tendency to ’empower’ backbenchers during his finest moments.
Controversial Speaker: John Bercow
But Mr Cameron told LBC’s Nick Ferrari that he was at times baffled by Mr Bercow’s actions.
He said: ‘Now, the Speaker’s not there to be nice to the Prime Minister, of course. But there were times when things were done which had never been done before.
‘You scratched your head and thought, hold on, where the hell did that one come from?
‘I almost, sort of, got out of bed every morning and thought, whatever John Bercow, whatever the Speaker can do to make my life hell today, he will do.’
The explosive admission was made in a two-part BBC1 documentary, The Cameron Years, which begins tonight and concludes next Thursday.
Mr Cameron said he was staying at Balmoral when a poll in The Sunday Times on September 7, 2014 put the Yes campaign ahead for the first time.
He described how it hit him ‘like a blow to the solar plexus’ and led to a ‘mounting sense of panic that this could go the wrong way’. Mr Cameron said: ‘I remember conversations I had with my private secretary and he had with the Queen’s private secretary and I had with the Queen’s private secretary, not asking for anything that would be in any way improper or unconstitutional but just a raising of the eyebrow, even, you know, a quarter of an inch, we thought would make a difference.’
A week later, on Sunday September 14, the Queen made her comment about the referendum as she left Crathie Kirk near her Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire.
She took the highly unusual step of stopping to talk to well-wishers outside the church, while aides pointedly invited surprised photographers to come and take pictures.
‘No’ campaigners welcomed the remarks, which received widespread press coverage and were interpreted by some as helpful to their cause.
Mr Cameron said: ‘It was certainly well covered [by the media]. Although the words were very limited, I think it helped to put a slightly different perception on things.’
Scots went on to vote 55 per cent to 45 per cent in favour of remaining in the UK in the referendum.
SNP leader Alex Salmond quit after losing the independence referendum by 55 per cent to 45 per cent in 2014. He was replaced by Nicola Sturgeon
George Osborne blasts Cameron over referendum
George Osborne has hit out at David Cameron for fuelling Euroscepticism before holding a Brexit referendum he believes should never have taken place.
The pro-European former Chancellor told the BBC that Mr Cameron had spent his career ‘feeding the idea’ that ‘Brussels was to blame’.
And he said he was ‘very sorry for what happened’ because the consequences for Britain are ‘grave’.
The criticism is significant because Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne were seen as being very close to each other during their time in office.
Mr Osborne said: ‘David Cameron was just one of a number of British prime ministers who had fed this idea that we were different than Europe, that Brussels was to blame and that the public ultimately had to have a say, and we’ve all paid a price for it in my view.’
He added: ‘I feel very sorry for what happened, and I feel responsible, I was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that government, we held a referendum we should never have held, we then lost that referendum and the consequences for the country are grave.
‘The only thing I can plea in my mitigation is that a huge number of people wanted that referendum, and I made a case against it, but it wasn’t heard.’
The BBC documentary was timed to coincide with the publication of Mr Cameron’s memoirs For The Record.
The book makes no mention of getting the Queen involved in the referendum campaign. He merely writes: ‘Then, that Sunday, one week after the Sunday Times headline, the Queen spoke to some of those gathered outside Crathie Kirk, and said that she hoped Scots would think ‘very carefully’ about the vote. I was delighted.’
Mr Cameron wrote of his shock at the Sunday Times opinion poll that put Yes on 51 per cent and No on 49 per cent.
He said: ‘Shortly I’d be having an audience with the Queen at Balmoral Castle: she, the woman who had reigned over the United Kingdom for 62 years; me, the man who had allowed a vote on its possible disintegration.
‘Of course, she was completely charming – they all were. But as Prince Philip showed me the barbecue he had designed to roast grouse and sausages over charcoal when we were all up at the hillside bothy, the referendum was clearly on everyone’s mind.
‘They gingerly asked questions about it, but knew they shouldn’t express too strong an opinion.
‘That is the reality of a constitutional monarchy within a parliamentary democracy: a prime minister can instigate a sequence of events that could change the make-up of the country; the royal family can’t even express a view on it.’
Mr Cameron told his special adviser to do ‘whatever it takes’ to get the Scots on side. This led to a joint visit to Scotland with the then Lib Dem and Labour leaders, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, and a promise to rush out extra powers called ‘The Vow’.
Mr Cameron also said he regretted comments, caught on camera, in which he described how the Queen ‘purred down the line’ when he called to tell her Scotland had voted to stay in the UK. ‘I later made heartfelt apology to the Queen for commenting on our private exchange,’ he said.
Mr Cameron insisted he was ‘right to take the risk’ on the referendum, and called then Scottish first minister Alex Salmond ‘the slipperiest of characters’.
Last night Buckingham Palace declined to comment.
David Cameron’s 752 pages of where did it all go wrong? DOMINIC SANDBROOK’s first look at the former PM’s memoirs
David Cameron’s autobiography For The Record is published today
Most Prime Ministers’ memoirs are virtually unreadable. The only difference between their books and a typical footballer’s memoir is that the politicians’ books are ten times longer.
I will never get back the hours I wasted ploughing through Tony Blair’s mammoth A Journey, part boastful self-justification, part mad therapy session, with its excruciating description of making love to his wife Cherie (‘I was an animal following my instinct’). And although I know I read Gordon Brown’s My Life, Our Times, I cannot remember a single thing about it.
By these standards, how does David Cameron’s For The Record compare?
Well, it’s a relief to report that he draws a veil over his animal instincts. And it certainly has an arresting opening.
‘Not a day has passed,’ Cameron says in his foreword, when he hasn’t thought about his decision to hold the EU referendum in 2016.
He talks of the ‘pain’ he has felt ‘at seeing our politics paralysed and our people divided. It has been a bruising time for Britain, and I feel that keenly.’
David Cameron (pictured during an LBC interview to be broadcast today) adopts a defensive, even melancholy air in his memoirs
‘Hardly a worse candidate’ than Juncker says Cameron
David Cameron says in his memoirs that there ‘could hardly have been a worse candidate’ for the European Commission’s top job than Jean-Claude Juncker.
However, the former Prime Minister insists he personally got on well with Mr Juncker, calling him a ‘big hugger and kisser’.
Mr Cameron tried to stop Mr Juncker taking over as Commission President in 2014 but was outvoted by his fellow EU leaders.
He also reveals how he ‘couldn’t trust’ German leader Angela Merkel after she left him isolated over Mr Juncker’s appointment.
David Cameron and Jean-Claude Juncker
‘He is a European integrationist to the core, an architect of Maastricht and monetary union,’ Mr Cameron writes of Mr Juncker.
‘For the EU’s survival, for Britain’s future in it and my renegotiation, there could hardly have been a worse candidate.’
However, he goes on: ‘Our personal relationship wasn’t that bad. He was convivial and enjoyed political gossip.
‘He was also amazingly tactile – a big hugger and kisser – often with a strong aroma of his trademark scent of brandy and cigarette smoke.’
This is not, of course, how he would have imagined his memoirs would begin when he walked into 10 Downing Street on the night of May 11, 2010. And although, like all political memoirs, his book is an exercise in self-justification, so many pages are overshadowed by the inevitability of Brexit, which gives the whole thing a defensive, even melancholy air.
More on Brexit in a moment. What about the book itself? Was it really worth the £800,000 the publishers reportedly paid?
As Cameron explains, it is based on hundreds of hours of taped conversations with his friend, the journalist Danny Finkelstein, during his time at No 10. Perhaps as a result, the tone is recognisably Cameron’s own, fluent, sensible, a bit bland but always thoroughly decent. There are, however, flashes of interest.
Quite rightly, Cameron makes no apology for sorting out the nation’s atrocious finances after he replaced Gordon Brown in 2010; indeed, his only regret is that he didn’t cut further and faster.
Contrary to the speculation that the book would be ‘Project Revenge’, he is, by and large, strikingly kind to both friends and foes. He is remarkably warm, for example, about his Coalition partner Nick Clegg, and says that he felt ‘terrible for Nick’ after the 2015 election, when the Lib Dems were virtually wiped out.
He is generous, too, to Ed Miliband, whom he describes as ‘decent and magnanimous’. And he even admits that he and his children voted for Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing, despite their clashes across the Commons.
He is astute about Theresa May, noting that her defining characteristics were that she was ‘very reserved and rather nervy’, though he says her appointment as Home Secretary was one of the best he ever made.
As for our current Prime Minister, he reports: ‘I liked Boris and he made me laugh. But I didn’t always trust him’ – a verdict with which, I suspect, about 99 per cent of the population would agree.
Cameron looked at alternatives to Trident
David Cameron has revealed how he examined alternatives to Britain’s Trident nuclear missile system.
‘Very secretly, and with only the Chancellor, foreign secretary, and defence secretary knowing, I commissioned a report on the alternatives,’ he writes in his memoirs.
One such alternative was a land-based cruise missile system to replace the Trident submarines, he says.
However, the research eventually came to a ‘dead end’ amid fears that the alternative system would end up costing more.
‘I wanted to prove to myself that Trident was the right option for us,’ the former Prime Minister says.
‘Even though this proved a dead end, it was one I was glad I explored.’
Shortly after Mr Cameron left office Parliament voted in favour of replacement submarines, which could cost over £40billion.
The Royal Navy has maintained a continuous at-sea deterrent since April 1969.
There are telling vignettes about foreign leaders, too.
He obviously liked Barack Obama (‘a great sense of humour’). And he writes with real warmth about French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, who privately arranged a flight for Cameron to see his dying father in Nice.
Even that old soak Jean-Claude Juncker, with whom Cameron had some blistering disagreements, doesn’t come out of the book too badly. Alarmingly, though, Juncker was ‘amazingly tactile – a big hugger and kisser – often with a strong aroma of his trademark scent of brandy and cigarette smoke’.
Other well-known characters do not come out well. Unsurprisingly, one is Jeremy Corbyn, whom Cameron describes, reasonably enough, as a fraud, an extremist and a ‘terrorist sympathiser’. Another is Michael Gove, for what Cameron sees as his betrayal over Brexit. The book comes across as the story of a good, solid upper-class chap who cannot quite understand what went wrong.
Indeed, it is a sign of Cameron’s disorientation that when his narrative gets to the night of the referendum, you half-believe Remain is going to win – right up to the point when his 12-year-old daughter Nancy, with commendable bluntness, tells him: ‘Dad, we’re losing.’
Nancy’s presence at such a crucial moment is telling. For what distinguishes Cameron’s book from most political memoirs is the exceptional warmth and sincerity with which he talks about his family.
Above all, the chapter on his son Ivan, who was born with Ohtahara syndrome, suffered 20 or 30 seizures a day and died at the age of just six in 2009, is almost unbearably moving.
With his gilded Home Counties background, Eton education and smooth, patrician mien, Cameron has always been an easy target. But on reading this book, I think it is impossible for any fair-minded observer to doubt that he was a fundamentally decent, well-intentioned man, who did his best to represent Britain on the world stage and left our nation’s economy in a much better state than he found it.
Above all, we often forget that his life was touched by the kind of tragedy no parent should have to endure.
Politicians are human beings; amid the daily screaming and shouting, we would do well to remember it.
David Cameron on…
IDS the clunker
Samantha had seen the big picture rather quicker and clearer than me. Iain Duncan Smith was always going to be seen as an outdated old clunker… He wasn’t capable of some of the basic requirements of leadership in British politics.
Our personal relationship wasn’t that bad. He was convivial and enjoyed political gossip. He was also amazingly tactile – a big hugger and kisser – often with a strong aroma of his trademark scent of brandy and cigarette smoke.
‘He is a European integrationist to the core, an architect of Maastricht and monetary union… For the EU’s survival, for Britain’s future in it and my renegotiation, there could hardly have been a worse candidate (for Commission president).’
Desmond Swayne (his parliamentary private secretary) advised me on appointments… and had a nickname for everyone – ranging from ‘Poshy Posh’ to ‘Mincehead’. Theresa May, who he advised me to get rid of twice …was referred to by Dessie as ‘Cruella’, while Theresa Villiers was ‘Morticia’.
It was a mistake of mine to refer to Ukip as ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’ – not because it wasn’t true of some of its members, but because saying so alienated those Ukip supporters we were trying to win back… the party remained a haven for the unsavoury.
I don’t buy the argument that people didn’t know what they were voting for or that misinformation propagated during the campaign means that the result should be annulled.
Social care sorrow
We did, however, fail on one of the biggest long-term problems – capping the cost of social care for individuals. That is one of my greatest regrets.
Clegg cheated me
After the Lib Dem leader scotched plans for a review of constituency boundaries:
‘I felt cheated by him. Here was this reasonable, decent person I had worked with over two years being disingenuous and – frankly – dishonourable.’
He kept asking whether I thought he could do things like PMQs differently. ‘Do I have to do it all myself? Can I share it out?’ he said. I said it was up to him and the Speaker – he could do what he liked.
Regrets on Obama
I think he was wrong not to act faster and try harder (on Syria). His handling of Assad is still the thing I regret most about his entire presidency. If we’d done more to help the Syrian opposition in the beginning, we might have rid the country of this murderous tyrant, and the later war against the ISIS brutes might not have been necessary.