Posted by: John Elliott | December 3, 2016

David Cameron looked and sounded like a prime minister in New Delhi this morning

Cameron says No Regrets as he pockets six-figure fee

“Why are you wearing a suit? !ts not as though you’ve got a job”

He looked and sounded like the prime minister that he was. There was no loss of agility, humour or conviction when David Cameron ran with his old style, bounce and speed up three steps onto the platform of a conference in Delhi this morning. 

cameron-ht-speechWhatever one’s politics, and whatever one thought of his elite toff’s origins and his record when he looked an over-confident prime minister, one could not but admire the style and content of his speech – and regret that such a political talent had been wasted by the unnecessary and disastrous Brexit referendum that he called.

An Indian friend commented later that it was a pity that Indian politicians weren’t able to show similar often self-deprecating humour, while an  American visitor thought that Donald Trump might not have won the US presidential election if he had faced an enthusiastic Cameron as a rival.

Perhaps this praise came because the performance  was such a contrast with Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, who showed no humour or enthusiasm when she made a rather drab visit to New Delhi a month ago, though she relaxed a little when she went on to Bangalore.

The former prime minister was speaking at a Hindustan Times two day conference (video here with Cameron on first) in Delhi for a  fee rumoured to be around £200,000, well above levels that he is reported to be charging including £120,000 for a one-hour speech to Blackstone Properties in New York a few weeks ago. This morning his speech lasted just 15 minutes and was followed by 30 minutes answering questions.

It was, he said, his first public speech outside Europe since resigning as prime minister after the Brexit vote in June. He met Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister yesterday, and told the conference he was “bowled away” by the progress he has seen the government making with “bold decisions to try to fast forward” economic reforms and growth.


That was an oblique reference to Modi’s current controversial “demonetisation” exercise which has removed 86% of the country’s currency from circulation and caused widespread economic and social disruption.

Cameron, who came to India three times as prime minister and hosted Modi in London a year ago, replied cautiously when asked about this. He said it could help the government’s main targets of tackling corruption, widening use of the banking network and the digital economy, as well as increasing the tax base. The objectives of demonetisation were “worthy”, he added, which was scarcely wholehearted endorsement.

He started his speech as if he was still prime minister extolling India and Britain’s “very modern partnership” co-operating in a range of areas from investment and trade to terrorism and projects such as smart cities and skills training.

Populist upsurge

On his speech’s theme of “the western world in crisis”, Cameron talked about the rise of populist and extremist political forces in Europe and acknowledged he had lost his job because of a “populist upsurge”. While globalisation had benefited people around the world, the belief that “the rising tide will raise all the boats” had not come true, and there were many people who thought they had been left behind while the mass movement of migrants was leading to too many cultural changes, he said.

He still thought the Brexit referendum was the right thing for “a democrat” like him to do and that it was not a dead end for Britain. The country’s attempt to be inside the European Union but outside many of its institutions like the Euro currency would now be replaced he hoped by “being out but in some of its elements”.

He did not comment (and wasn’t asked) about how that hope gelled with Theresa May’s hard-Brexit approach. A victory of Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate in the French presidential elections, would he said be a “body blow” for the European project.

With Trump “look for the positives”

Optimistic as ever, he said on America’s presidential election that, “as a free trade man, as a NATO man, I am concerned about some of the things Donald Trump has said. Modern leaders have to make most of the circumstances. Let’s start to look for the positives”.

Finally, at a time when England has lost two matches in its current Test series with India he avoided controversy and praised the English team and said its skipper Alastair Cook was one of the best batsman in the world.

With that, the former prime minister left the stage, declaring that his future interests and activities would include writing a book on his time in politics, development issues, a youth-oriented national citizen’s service of which he is president, and promoting research on dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

His son, he said, had asked when he left for the flight to India, “Why are you wearing a suit? It’s not as though you’ve got a job or anything”.


  1. thanks Denise and ‘John Clove’. It certainly wasn’t meant to be gushing, nor recanting on Riding the Elephant’s previous, and continuing, criticism of Cameron, the former pr man who became a disatrous prime minister.
    It was a spur of the moment quick piece, not analysis; but maybe with hindsight it needed a clear negative para saying that I was shocked by his apparent indifference in Delhi to all he got wrong and the Brexit damage he left behind. I intended that to come out in the second para and in the general tone of the rest, but maybe I should have been more explicit.
    Newsweek, where this blog also appears, got the sense right with their headline “Cameron Says No Regrets as he Pockets Six Figure Fee”, which I’ve now inserted as a sub-head above

  2. I’m writing as a great fan and faithful reader of Riding the Elephant. This time though I have to say I was a little “bowled over” by the gushing tone on Cameron. The man may sound and look like a PM, which is how he got elected and how he governed. But at this stage the historical verdict has already loomed pretty large: the man is a blithering old Etonian, brought up to believe the world was his plaything, who gambled his country’s future (twice actually) for small-time party-political reasons, and he ended up losing the gamble. His trite explanation about losing because of a populist upsurge is as shallow as the man himself. But I agree: he does look good in a suit.
    We live in complicated times. Increasingly it is becoming clear that we have to strike out in new directions, and we will need more than a few Cameron-types to do the job.

  3. John you need to refer to the elephant you ride. Elephants have a reputation for good memory and you seem to have forgotten that in previous blogs you have expressed contempt for the former British PM dismissing him as a PR man with no aptitude or relevant experience of government. Now when you have good reason for criticism given the confusion left by Mr Cameron following the referendum and the unseemly speed with which he unshackled himself from government, you appear to extol his style and PR skills as demonstrated with Mr Modi, even going so far as to suggest he has some useful advice for Mr Modi ! Is this a U turn ? If so, The elephant could also remind you that more recently in fact in the past few weeks, you were critical of Mr Cameron’s successor for having no PR skills and failing to turn on the charm.

  4. Cameron was certainly one of the better PM of UK. A class above Tony Blair. It is sad that he could not steer the post Brexit agenda. He would have done a marvelous job.
    India, US and the common wealth are the best possible friends of the UK and its economy. if UK were model itself along the lines of Singapore, much can be accomplished. Educated immigration population is key to this.
    I am not sure Mrs May has what it takes to get there. She is too rigid and may not have the vision.
    Radical changes in taxation and free flow of money is critical for London’s survival as the financial capital of Europe which is an essential ingredient of UK’s future.

  5. Well said, now in post Obama there could be huge changes ahead and the UK and US and India…..emphasis on democracy could be hugely influential but must be best of allies. It does need vision and not someone scared to dip toe in the water, in case it is cold….the uncertain is always …. cold.

  6. David Cameron of course was very convincing as PM: sadly he made tragic mistakes which cost his country, and Europe, dear. No post-career glibness will ever disguise that fact.

  7. Heartening, but I suppose there’s not much point in being clever and articulate, yet losing power through such a disastrous referendum. Maybe we are better off with less cerebral leaders.

  8. David Cameron is was a PR man, shows enthusiasm and sometimes gets it wrong but tried or tries. TM the PM is a closed individual who spends so much time weighing up the pros and cons she sometimes misses the opportunity.

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