David Cameron on tax, coalition, ‘green crap’ and Team Nigella

He’d like to present you with single-party government and lower tax rates, among other things

14 December 2013

9:00 AM

14 December 2013

9:00 AM

It’s 9.30 a.m. on a Friday and David Cameron is about to head for his Oxfordshire constituency and work from home. This is precisely the habit that his Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, is trying to beat out of the civil service, but the Prime Minister has a reasonable claim to some downtime. In the past five days he has met 150 businessmen and toured four Chinese cities. This morning, he has paid a visit to Tech City, London’s answer to Silicon Valley, and travelled to South Africa House to pass on his condolences following Nelson Mandela’s death. His last appointment, which will last for as long as it takes to drive to Beaconsfield service station, is an interview with The Spectator.

I’m ushered into the back of his car to wait for him, and sit next to his battered prime ministerial red box. It’s one hell of a temptation for a journalist, given that it’s supposed to be chock-full of secrets. As I eye it, wondering if the security is as ancient as the box itself, his chauffeur clears his throat and narrows his eyes at me in the rear-view mirror. Then the PM’s door opens, he jumps in and we pull off. ‘So this interview is for your Christmas special,’ he says. ‘That’s the one that sits around the house for weeks. Well, I’d better get this right.’

(Photo: Nick Ansell - WPA Pool/Getty)

David Cameron in South Africa House, a few minutes before jumping in his car for his Spectator interview. (Photo: Nick Ansell – WPA Pool/Getty)

It is, he says, eight years and one day since he became leader of the Conservative party. But he didn’t celebrate. ‘I went out for dinner with Samantha and a couple of friends, but I don’t think anyone was aware of the date. I was — 5 December is a big day in my life.’ His campaign message, then, was ‘change to win’. Of course he didn’t exactly win and ended up with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. After three years of coalition, the frustrations are starting to show.

‘Increasingly, today, I feel very strongly and see very clearly the case for more accountable, more decisive and active government.’ He means government without the Lib Dems. He starts to reel off his areas of frustration: welfare reform (‘to sharpen work incentives and get more people out of poverty’), Europe and business (‘cutting business taxes’). The coalition is still strong and radical, he says, ‘but because of what I see as the problems facing Britain — and what I want to do next as Prime Minister — I feel very passionately that I want single party government’. It’s strange, I say, he doesn’t come across as a man held captive by the perfidious Liberal Democrats. ‘I don’t believe that you succeed in government by sitting around whingeing about what you can’t do,’ he says. ‘But I’m happy to tell you — and Spectator readers — privately that there’s a good list of things I have put in my little black book that I haven’t been able to do which will form the next Tory manifesto.’

When Cameron stood for Tory leader he had a wind turbine fitted to the roof of his north Kensington house. This Christmas, he’s vying with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to offer voters cheaper power. The Prime Minister has been quoted as saying, ‘We’ve got to get rid of all this green crap.’ He doesn’t deny using the phrase, saying only that he doesn’t ‘recall using it’. But he has been ‘concerned about the eco’, by which he means the way that green levies were loaded on to bills rather than funded through general taxation.

(Photo: Mark Richards - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The partner he’d like to ditch: Cameron and Clegg (Photo: Mark Richards – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

‘It’s taken me longer to reform eco than I would like — sometimes, in a coalition, that happens.’ Those perfidious Lib Dems again. He still rejects the idea of tension between green energy and affordable energy. ‘I would describe shale gas as a green energy source that can cut energy costs,’ he says. But he still wants to subsidise those ‘renewable technologies which otherwise wouldn’t get off the ground’. So the husky-hugging agenda is still there; it’s just tempered with a few more policies aimed at keeping the lights on.

Cameron still seems to sign up to the environmentalists’ idea that aircraft should carry as many people as possible: he seldom travels abroad without a Boeing full of chief executives. His ‘trade-first’ foreign policy was at its most visible in his recent trip to China, where he was accompanied by over 100 company chiefs and entrepreneurs. To some, this demonstrates an admirable commitment to enterprise. To others, it’s a depressing sign that Britain judges countries by how much they have to spend. Is there a danger, I ask, of conflating national interest with corporate interests? When the Arab Spring broke out, for example, Cameron was touring the Gulf with arms companies. I put it to him that this was not a good look.

‘Well I’m not interested in looks, I’m interested in results — and I think Britain has a very strong and entirely legitimate defence industry and it’s right that we make the most of that,’ he says. I ask about the China trip: is it true that the price of taking his business friends to Beijing was his promising not to meet the Dalai Lama again? ‘I’ve met him in opposition, I’ve met him in government, I don’t have any plans to meet him,’ he says. But is he ruling it out? ‘I don’t have any plans.’ Not quite the same thing: the implication, I say, is that he has ruled it out but can’t say so in public. ‘Well, I think I’ve answered the question,’ he replies, with an air of finality. We move on.

The other way to help business — cutting taxes — is going rather well. The top rate of tax has been cut from 50p to 45p and the richest are now paying more income tax than ever. Cameron feels vindicated. ‘I knew we would get attacked for it, but I thought the evidence was so strong that actually cutting the top rate of tax would probably result in more revenue,’ he says. ‘I thought, you can’t just not do something because you’re going to be attacked, that’s just feeble politics.’ His original plan was to cut the tax to 40p, but the Lib Dems vetoed it. Is that the next stop? He purses his lips. ‘I will leave tax as a matter for the Chancellor,’ he says. ‘I am a low-tax Conservative.’

Still, in effect, the ‘welfare trap’ means that the top rate of tax for the poorest is 87 per cent — that is to say, some of the lowest paid in Britain keep only 13p of each extra pound they earn, because welfare is quickly withdrawn from those who try to increase their income through more work. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit reform aims to remedy this, and introduce, in effect, a top rate of 65 per cent. Still outrageously high, but even this change is subject to repeated delays. ‘It is an important reform and I make no apology for introducing it slowly,’ says Cameron. But when it is up and running, might a Chancellor stand up on Budget day and update the nation on the real tax rate for the poor and perhaps reduce it below 50 per cent? ‘I would love to see that happen,’ he says. ‘My aim is low marginal tax rates for everybody, especially the poor.’ But the welfare trap remains.

(Photo: PA)

Cameron is understood to have promised the Chinese not to see the Dalai Lama again. (Photo: PA)

We pass a road sign that says ‘Beaconsfield Services’, which is my four-minute warning. I ask a question I feel sure he’ll dodge: about the trial of Charles Saatchi’s former housemaids and the revelation that his ex-wife, Nigella Lawson, used cocaine. Her fans have rushed to her defence: ‘Team Nigella’ is used as a hashtag on Twitter and even sprayed on city walls. Is the Prime Minister on Team Nigella? ‘I am,’ he says. ‘I’m a massive fan, I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting her a couple of times and she always strikes me as a very funny and warm person. Nancy [Cameron’s nine-year-old daughter] and I sometimes watch a bit of Nigella on telly. Not in court, I hasten to add.’

Does he have any book recommendations? He singles out Beautiful Ruins, a novel by Jess Walter (‘a brilliant book about Richard Burton’). But he says he is ‘obsessed’ with Why Nations Fail, by two American academics who argue that a nation’s fate is determined not by the quality of its politicians but on the strength of its institutions — courts, schools, banks, government. ‘Someone said to me: you only like this book because it’s two academics who have written a very complicated book that confirms all your prejudices. I said, well, what’s wrong with that?’

His favourite Christmas song? ‘Although it’s been out all year I really love the Mumford & Sons album, Babel. It’s driving Samantha mad. You know what it’s like when you overplay something and it’s even beginning to annoy you, and it’s annoyed everyone else in the family.’

(Photo: Getty)

The Mumfords, a somewhat unusual choice for favourite Christmas tune. (Photo: Getty)

Cameron has peppered his answers with references to recent Spectator articles both in the magazine and on our Coffee House blog. Does he really, as Prime Minister, have time to read what we write?

‘Yes I do, funnily enough,’ he says — then he opens that red box. It’s almost empty, save for the latest issue of The Spectator. ‘I haven’t read this week’s yet,’ he explains. Then he submits a Dear Mary question: ‘What do you do when a journalist has asked you too many questions in a car?’ The answer is to drop him off beside the petrol pumps, head for home and settle down to read the world’s greatest magazine.

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Show comments
  • Mike Barnes

    You’ve got Dave in trouble Fraser.

    Apparently the judge doesn’t think its appropriate for the PM to pick sides in an ongoing court case as if it’s some kind of reality TV show.

    • Fraser Nelson

      you mean the PM had the temerity to answer a question?

  • newminster

    For God’s sake! Has this man no brains? This is what you get when you let children run the country. Imagine the PM — of all people — making any sort of comment about a witness in an ongoing trial especially one as high-profile as this and where the witness is as closely involved.
    And half-an-hour on the naughty step for you, Fraser! A journalist of your calibre should know better than to ask the question and you should have had it subbed out when he did answer it.

    • Appears to be a similar scenario re childish leadership to Golding’s chaotic Lord of the Flies!

  • English Republican News

    Nicola Dandridge is a dead man walking.

  • Tom Tom

    Has Chris Grayling explained Separation of powers to Dave the Dunce ? Maybe he learned no Constitutional Theory or History at BNC and was too focused on tennis ? Interference in a trial is something the A-G was supposed to be warning newspapers about but Dave Dunderhead seems to be oblivious

    • perdix

      Stupid frothing comment. The Spectator hack should not have published the comment at the time of the trial. Cameron was asked a question entirely unrelated to the trial. Tom Tom should keep taking his tablets.

  • John McEvoy

    ‘.. he still wants to subsidise those ‘renewable technologies which otherwise wouldn’t get off the ground’..’
    I have this great idea. It’s renewable tea-pots, made of chocolate. Do you think I can get a public subsidy to fund the development? Think of all the chocolate jobs that would be created!

  • Doggie Roussel

    Dave is guilty of contempt of court… bring him to book !

  • justejudexultionis

    By apparently committing contempt of court Cameron has shown that he is completely unfit to be PM of this country. He took the silver spoon out of his mouth just long enough to come out with an imbecilic and inappropriate remark that should land him in court.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Seems the Judge has had a few harsh words for Dangerous Dave.

  • Tom Tom

    Did Fraser get threatened with Contempt for his disappeared thread ? Very irresponsible for the Speccie editor to solicit support from the PM for the daughter of a former editor and the sister of a former editor

  • Isonomia

    The lack of intellectual engagement with the question of whether it might be a good idea to tax energy is the aspect of Cameron’s approach that’s hardest to understand. Surely, things we want people to use less of are the ideal target for taxation – rather than raising the burden on incomes, general sales or profits? Yes – energy taxes are regressive; but wouldn’t the solution to that be to provide support to the poorest through general taxation, rather scrapping a sensible source of tax income?

    Dom Hogg explains the economics here:


    • Weaver

      Isn’t the problem not that you want people to use less energy, but you want them to emit less CO2?

      • Isonomia

        In the medium term, don’t those amount to the same thing? In any case, using less energy is a reasonable thing to aim for, even without the CO2 question – generating energy is expensive and there is no means of power generation that anyone wants to live next to. The less energy we need, the less we must generate, leaving more public money for other purposes.

        • Weaver

          Not really. Its important to be precise in language, especially about ultimate objectives.

          The energy-Co2 intensity link only holds for fossils. Nuclear and geothermal and hydro and solar and biomass and wind have negligible carbon intensity. You can certainly generate more energy with lower CO2 emmissions.

          Anyhow, I fear you may have the economics backwards, by confusing a good with its price. Using less energy is not a desirable end in itself. (Otherwise energy would be a bad, like pollution or Caroline Lucas, not a good, like bread, holidays, and ferraris). All other things being equal, it is desirable to have more energy than less. But this is Econ 101…

          …again, reducing need (DEMAND) is good, all other things being equal (say, via improvements in efficiency). But you’re talking about reducing SUPPLY, which is exactly the opposite. Now, energy is required for nearly all goods we consume. Reduced supply will increase prices and make everything else more expensive. Perhaps a LOT more expensive. You don’t save public money at all on this course; you burn an awful lot of it.

  • davidshort10

    This article confirms even more my opinion that Cameron is thoroughly disreputable, slippery and riddled with self-entitlement. Awful man.

  • Daddy Warthog

    And this is our LEADER?! So far he is guilty of contempt of court, supporting a JUNKIE that had class A drugs lying around near her children and Brooks, who is ALSO currently in court.
    I’ve supported the conservatives for over 20 years, but I am REALLY uncomfortable having a PM that is so obviously into jailbirds and junkies.

  • drydamol1


    The appalling state of the UK Political System today all
    Politicians on taking their Oath should be compulsory made to join the Actors
    Union Equity and even the Magic Circle .

    At least being members of these two institutions it gives
    some respectability to their constant Lies & Deceit they churn out to an
    unsuspecting Public or the more naive of us .

    If the devastating effect of their Immoral Draconian Policies
    were not so affective upon us they are an almost laughable farce .

    Generally Politicians convince themselves that what they
    are standing up for is the Right thing for us or the Country to ease their
    consciences .

    Others similar to ID Smith vehemently know what they are
    doing is abhorrent but a necessary evil
    to demoralise and reduce to poverty the people not of his Ilk .

    Both scenarios are delusional on the part of the perpetrators
    but when forcibly backed by a flock of
    highly paid with extra bonuses sheep of MPs it seems to legitimise their
    behaviour .

    I do not name people lightly as being either a Liar or
    Public Purse Thief but you can call ID Smith without impunity because it is
    true .If he sued or tried to defend himself he would end up Bankrupt .

    It is time that these Charlatans of Public Office were
    made to answer for their brutal attack on the British Public and not by any Puppet
    Commons Committee as we have seen
    Whitewash after Whitewash .

    Karma might take a hand in their retirement but that is
    no deterrent in todays Political Environment to safeguard the Public from a future
    immoral onslaught .


  • cambridgeelephant

    You’re a lying rat Cameron. I wouldn’t believe it if you told me Christmas is imminent. You wait until the Euro elections. I shall vote for the first time since 2001 – and it will be for UKIP. Or ‘the Conservative Party in exile’ as Robin Harris described it.

  • Marie Louise Noonan

    Should have gone to Harrow, my friend, should have gone to Harrow.

  • david denton

    Looking forward to Dave’s anthology of computer games?


  • drydamol1


    A concerted genuine effort is being made by one MP that
    feels strongly about returning shared responsibility to the Electorate where
    their voices are pivotal in future
    decision making .

    He has tabled a motion supporting the right for us the
    Electorate to be able to sack our MPs for underachieving or lack of
    representation within Parliament .

    Early this year MPs of all Parties voted against being accountable
    by us and therefore that proposal became history .Nick Clegg opposed it saying giving us Power was like
    setting up a kangaroo court . But a new proposal is on its way for a Second
    Reading and does propose that we the Public have the Power to bring to account
    our MPs .

    Zac Goldsmith has motioned the Recall of Elected
    Representative Bill a Bill giving us the right to recall our elected MPs in
    specific circumstances ; and for connected purposes . He said constituents are
    not able to punish their current MP, whatever their behaviour, as “there
    is nothing literally their voters can do about it until the next general

    If you feel as I do then back the Petition it is a major
    step in our voice being heard like it should be .

    Actions speak louder than words different Charities and
    protest groups on facebook have made little impact on the Draconian Policies
    introduced because there are so many and unjustly easily defended by the Regime
    .Let us back this and get a firm footing for future accountability . Please
    share and show the Regime we will not put up and shut up .http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/56449 http://brokenbritishpolitics.simplesite.com
    (See Zac Goldsmith explain )

  • Peter Stroud

    When will Cameron stop believing those, so called, scientists whose models forecast ever increasing temperatures: yet we see a 17 year hiatus? And those that forecast melting Antarctic ice: yet whose research ship gets trapped in meters of sea ice, that resists even purposely designed ice breakers? Then when will he act and open the coal fired power stations: and save his country from power blackouts, and ever increasing energy prices.