Politics

Revealed: David Cameron's rehearsed resignation speech

On election night, he wrote – and even delivered – his resignation speech. He’s not been quite the same since

13 June 2015

9:00 AM

13 June 2015

9:00 AM

At 6.30 p.m. on 7 May, the Camerons invited guests at their home in Oxfordshire into the garden for a drink. Everyone stood on the patio, wrapped up in coats and shawls and drinking wine. They were understandably nervous. The Prime Minister had prepared a resignation statement and read it out to the assembled gathering.

The group that huddled together on the patio that day tells us a lot about the qualities which Cameron values in people. Most of them were close to him long before he entered No. 10. Ed Llewellyn, his chief of staff, worked with him at the Conservative Research Department more than 30 years ago. Kate Fall, Llewellyn’s deputy, was one of the first to sign up when Cameron went for the Tory leadership in 2005. Even the campaign photographer, Andy Parsons, did the same job back in 2010. Craig Oliver, the director of communications, is the only one to have been admitted to the inner circle since Cameron became Prime Minister.

One of the things Cameron says he likes about his team is that they are a calm bunch. But that evening there was plenty of emotion as he tested his leaving speech. It seemed all too possible that he would be delivering it for real in a few hours’ time.

At 9 p.m., Cameron had a conference call with various members of the cabinet in order to prepare them for the turbulent night ahead. Even if the Tories led on seats, he told them, Labour would try to use SNP support to force him out of No. 10 by the weekend.

An hour later, of course, the exit poll was released and the mood shifted dramatically. But Cameron had not just written his resignation speech that night; he had had a glimpse of what posterity might have to say about him. The experience has informed his every act since returning to Downing Street.


The Prime Minister has no interest in trying to rewrite history to suggest that the Tories always knew they would win. At a party for No. 10 staff last Thursday, he joked about how they had shared his confidence that he’d be back. One member of his inner circle remarks with satisfaction that the night gave a measure of both Cameron and Ed Miliband. The Prime Minister had not prepared a speech for outright victory; his opponent hadn’t prepared a speech for outright defeat. All of this helps explain why the government has sometimes seemed surprised by the prospect of having to implement its manifesto.

Few things annoy Cameron more than the suggestion that he is an ‘essay-crisis Prime Minister’ who prefers to ‘chillax’ until the last minute. He has been conspicuously busy since the election. While his family went on holiday to Ibiza, he toured European capitals to drum up support for his re-negotiation. He had to eat 12 courses in 24 hours, which will not have helped him to get ‘beach-body ready’ this summer.

No. 10’s focus is now on ‘delivery’: that is Westminster-speak for getting things done. In the coalition years, Downing Street had to act as a relationship guidance service; an inordinate amount of time was spent resolving disputes between Tory cabinet ministers and Nick Clegg. And Cameron was in any case keen to avoid the command-and-control structures of Blair’s presidential No. 10. All that has changed. The new Downing Street set-up, full of implementation committees and the like, would be instantly recognisable to anyone who had worked there under Blair.

Having won a majority, the Tories are determined to use it to secure another. One priority is to keep the seats they won from their former coalition partners. I gather that Tory HQ is already planning how to knock out Liberal Democrat councillors in these constituencies in the forthcoming local elections, denying them a base from which to recover.

The Tories also fought the election on a promise to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. It had been assumed Cameron would quietly abandon this pledge rather than have Tory MPs fight one another for re-selection — even if it did redraw constituency boundaries in a way that favours their party. But I understand No. 10 is pressing ahead. They reckon that any MP likely to lose their seat can either be found a new one or sent to the Lords.

This will all be for naught if the Tories end up feuding over Europe so badly that the public just wants to kick them out in 2020. In private, Downing Street reckon that winning the referendum, by which they mean getting Britain to stay in on new terms, will be the easy bit. It’s the next bit that will be difficult: putting the Tory party back together.

George Osborne believes that the party will be fine as long as there is nothing that Eurosceptics can label a ‘great betrayal’. This is why it would be a huge mistake to rush the referendum. Imagine how the Tory party would react if the vote was held next year after a minimal renegotiation, only for Greece to leave the euro a few months later and trigger dramatic changes in how the EU functions. Cameron’s job now is to drive the best possible bargain from Europe. To do so, he needs to make it more explicit that he won’t campaign for an ‘yes’ vote unless he get what he demands.

Cameron can be forgiven for stumbling this week, as he tried to explain what would happen to ministers who disagreed with him on Europe. He didn’t expect to be running a majority government, one that is able to say what it likes.

He now faces the problems of success: how to manage his party when he doesn’t have the Lib Dems to blame; how to make most of a few months in which opposition is virtually nonexistent. He has pledged to stand down before the next election. When he leaves Downing Street, he will either be the man who ushered in a new era of Tory majority politics or the one who split the party over Europe. Whatever happens, he’ll have more to say in his resignation speech than he did a month ago.

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Show comments
  • A new poster

    Climb down from Cameron’s back passage Forsyth

  • I feel sorry for Samantha – he had obviously promised her he would have more time to spend with the family, probably even planned a month or so off … such is life !

  • misomiso

    What’s revealing about this article is the mindset of Cameron and Osborne. The entire renegotiation is about the party, not about the EU being made to work better or about the best deal for Britain.

    But Cameron and Osborne are right to fear a split. If the referendum is close, then its entirely possible that a unified sceptic movement runs in 2020, consisting of UKIP, English Labor and Conservatives for Britain, and that they win outright. What’s often forgotten is that the Tory party is still much more sceptical than the parliamentary party, and MP’s like Damian Green and Anna Souby could quite easily be purged.

    Of course he could do what’s right and go for an Associate Membership deal, and get us out of EU Law in a treaty WITH the EU as opposed to being PART of the EU. That would be the best deal for the country, but when have the Federalists ever cared about that?

    Cameron’s only saving grace is that his enemies are politically incompetent and lack a credible leader, but then that’s been the Right’s problem for a while.

    • Mary Ann

      Your suggestion would have us following the rules without a say in what they are, a retrograde step.

  • Faulkner Orkney

    Cameron is quietly, steadily, becoming one of the greats.

    • Otto von Bismarck

      Beating Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown, two of the worst leaders in the history of the Labour party? Hardly a ‘great’ achievement, especially as he didn’t quite even beat Brown…

      In 30 or 40 years time, when people look back on Cameron’s time in office, nobody will be able to identify what the basic tenets of ‘Cameroonism’ actually were. The man has no ideology, and thus he will have no identifiable legacy. Most of the big reforms carried out have been pushed forward by his own ministers-Universal Credit, Free Schools etc. The man’s a manager, not a leader.

      The great theme of Cameron’s political career has been luck. He was lucky that through Oxford and Eton he was a part of that old boy’s network that could get him on the first rung of the greasy pole and aid his climb up it. He was lucky he had a friend in the Palace to call up CCHQ and tell them to give him a job. He was lucky that he landed a safe seat. He was lucky that his old friend Michael Howard became leader in 2003, and propelled him to the frontbench. He was lucky that Howard changed the party leadership election rules that essentially meant Cameron had a shot for the leadership. He was lucky that Brown was one of the most gaffe prone and awful PMs that this country has ever had. He was lucky that the Lib Dems went into coalition with him, and could absorb all the blame. He was lucky when Labour elected Ed Miliband. He was lucky that the rise of the SNP essentially handed him the election by default. All politicians are lucky, but Cameron has been luckier that most.

      I could go on, but people didn’t vote for Cameron because they thought he was good, they voted for him because the alternative was even worse.

      • Hamburger

        Mrs Merkel has no ideology and look what has happened to her.

      • MildredCLewis

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      • Terry Field

        And how do you rate Callaghan, Wilson, Benn, Crossland, Crossman, Bevan, etc etc etc – greats!!!!!!!!???????????!!!!!!!!!

        • Otto von Bismarck

          Callaghan? Dealt a bad hand. Had too short a tenure to really have much of a legacy, and much of his time and energy was eaten up dealing with crisis management.

          Wilson? Very good politician, three election victories and 13 years as party leader not to be sniffed at. Admirable legacy as a social reformer.

          Benn? Able politcian, but his ideology was behind the times and out of step with the country at the time. Didn’t hold high office, so didn’t have much of a legacy on the country. Any legacy he might have had over the Labour party was killed off by Blair.

          Crossland and Crossman? I don’t have much of an opinion either way. At the end of the day they were just Cabinet Ministers, an institution that by Wilson’s time was simply a creature of the PM, and so they had little real independent power or authority over the direction of the country.

          Bevan? Probably the last great British Foreign Secretary, a man who had the ability to shape world affairs and did so. It’s a great shame he died when he did.

          • John P Hughes

            You mean Ernie Bevin, Foreign Secretary 1945-1950, not Aneurin Bevan who was Minister of Health under Attlee. Quite correct that it was a great shame that Bevin had to step down from ill-health before Labour left office in 1951, and died very soon thereafter.
            Historians of the Arab-Israel dispute such as Avi Shlaim have suggested that, if Bevin had stayed FS until the 1951 election and in full possession of his powers, he would have followed up the end of the 1948 War (the 1949 Rhodes Armistice Agreements) by pushing Israel and Jordan into a peace settlement in 1950-51 One was in sight, but without Bevin using his powers to ensure an outcome, the two sides by themselves were not able to come to an agreement.

          • Otto von Bismarck

            Yep, absolutely right, Bevin not Bevan!

          • Terry Field

            God, were you alive then?!?!? I lived through the bloody disaster. Yes Wilson was a good ‘fixer’ but he and C could not run a pissup in a brewery

          • Otto von Bismarck

            Wilson was a good politician, I gave him that, but not necessarily a good leader. Yes, the late 1970s were probably the worst time to be British since the Fall of France-I remember planning on emigrating. Would have followed through with it too had it not been for Thatcher!

            I’m not sure to what extent it was caused by poor leadership from Wilson and Callaghan. The country was going through some pretty tough times that any PM would have had to have faced. The decline of the old imperial markets, outdated industry, massive defence commitments etc. Not necessarily problems caused by any particular government, but rather the changing nature of the global economy and our failure to adapt since WWII. It was a crisis a long time in the making.

            Wilson, Heath, Callaghan-none of them had the vision or the reformist zeal necessary to radically shake up the country. Thatcher had to do 25 years of work in her first two terms-for too long the tough decisions had been put off because of narrow party electoral advantage or the shielding of special interests.

      • Alan Cunliffe

        also hes a pig fucker now so at least there’s that going for him

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    • Alan Cunliffe

      do you still have this opinion? hahaha terrored

  • greggf

    “He now faces the problems of success:”

    Cameron won his majority by default.

    Voters switched from LibDems and Labour. The SNP collected those in Scotland and UKIP collected most of those in England with Cameron picking up the balance – enough to give him the majority.

    Winning the referendum may not be the easy bit. Junkers’ Freudian comment the other day about “locking the UK into the EU forever” makes Cameron’s (and Osborne’s) intent plain to see but could be that of l’Ancien Régime.
    The EU is already on the defensive and not just about Greece.
    The parliament has had to merge Left and Right to defy the anti-EU parties after the last EU elections. And this latter group should be in a majority next time.

    So, even a Yes in our own referendum may not matter as this strategy unfolds, which as the example of the Scottish referendum intriguingly indicates may result in defeat for the Conservatives as they currently exist

  • Scradje

    Well done Dave. You saved us from the horror of lab/nats. Now dump the HRA and start removing foreign criminals/welfare leeches.

    • Mary Ann

      Where is he meant to send the welfare leeches, most of them are British.

      • Scradje

        The comment refers to the thousands of convicted foreign criminals living on benefits and unlimited legal aid, using the HRA to remain in tbe UK.

        • Alan Cunliffe

          i bet you’ve never even spoke to someone >£20,000.

  • Dogsnob

    It’ll keep.

  • Craig Ryan

    The headline oversells the piece. It merely “reveals” the existence of the speech.

  • William Clark

    He is a winner. He has beaten the combined forces of those who have cornered a cushy state sponsored living, as well as those cheerfully dependent on state handouts and also the abominable commie BBC – twice. Don’t underestimate him.

    • Alan Cunliffe

      pig fucker

  • SNP “AJOCKALYPSE”

    He should keep his resignation speech handy for the Scottish Indyref 2.

  • CiaranD

    So, Ed Llewellyn, Cameron’s chief of staff, worked with him at the Conservative Research Department more than 30 years ago; in other words, before 1985. Eh, at that time, Cameron had only just left Eton. He did not join the Conservative Research Department until 1988.

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