Following the Brexit Referendum of 2016, David Cameron resigned as prime minister and seemingly fell off the face of the Earth. Rumours of a book deal spread soon after, which were confirmed only four months later by his publisher, HarperCollins. Speculation around the memoir was rising, especially when Cameron bizarrely spent £25,000 on a designer shed to write in.
Now, three excruciating – yet somehow unproductive – years on from the referendum, Cameron has finally emerged from his shed bearing a 700-page memoir he hopes will “help us understand the past”, hence the title: For the Record.
Cameron claims that the book gives him “the chance to explain many of the things people wanted me to explain – the things I wanted to explain.” This book, however, is less a chance to ‘set the record straight’ and more an opportunity for Cameron to salvage his frankly, yet deservedly, soiled reputation. For the Record is ultimately a vanity project – a pursuit that is not exclusive to Cameron, however, and that has become somewhat of a rite of passage for all former politicians. Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, and Margaret Thatcher have all published their own political memoirs; a common weakness amongst them all is that they are, for the most part, overly self-indulgent aggrandisations of their careers, usually overstating their supposed achievements in an attempt to recolour their less-than-favourable legacies. Cameron’s memoir is no different.
It is very clear that Cameron desperately wishes to reframe his legacy far away from “the man who broke Britain”, as Michael Fletcher described him in The New Statesman, to someone more statesmanlike. Cameron has styled himself as a moderate, Disraeli-esque figure whose legacy should be his self-accredited success in realising what he calls “modern, compassionate conservatism” using “Conservative means…[to meet] progressive ends.” To suggest that Cameron’s government was in any way ‘progressive’ in its own right is seriously delving into the realm of hyperbole. Cameron cites such issues as equal marriage and the environment as examples of “progressive Conservatism in practice”. When one scratches below the surface, however, it’s clear that these apparent accomplishments were not achieved via Conservative means, but in spite of them.
In his book, Cameron claims the legislating of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was a Conservative effort; while Cameron’s personal intentions may have been noble, framing this as an achievement of his party is rather disingenuous. In reality, the Conservatives were a roadblock towards equal marriage, with 127 of the 306 Tory MPs voting against it and a further 58 abstaining, an effective vote against.
Cameron also claims his government “led the way on the environment”, pledging in 2010 to forge “the greenest government ever.” Once again, the reality suggests otherwise. Cameron boasts that 99 per cent of all solar panels in Britain were installed while he was Prime Minister; he fails to clarify, however, that this was accomplished by the Feed-In Tariffs scheme, established in April 2010 by Gordon Brown’s Labour government.
These are only a few examples of Cameron’s flimsy attempt at historical revisionism which demonstrates a recurring issue, not just in For the Record, but in the genre of political memoir.
In truth, political memoirs are little more than vanity projects, usually attempting to rewrite history whilst keeping the author relevant in the ever-changing political zeitgeist. For the first time since his resignation, Cameron has been launched back into the mainstream political discussion and been handed a platform to espouse tenuous excuses and unconvincing platitudes. Blair experienced a similar public resurgence with the release of A Journey, as did Thatcher with The Downing Street Years and Campbell with his ongoing diaries. All of them have been involved in highly contentious and massively controversial missteps: for Thatcher it was the closing of the mines, for Blair and Campbell it was the Iraq War, and for Cameron it was the EU Referendum.
When considering the authors and their legacies, political memoirs can be highly unreliable, especially when discussing said missteps. The likes of Cameron and Blair stand to lose a lot from their questionable legacies, so when given the opportunity to retell their own personal histories, the prominence of the genre becomes clear.
For the Record, along with the majority of high-profile political memoirs, serves little purpose outside of flattery for the established elite and maintaining their position in the mainstream conversation – and if they can convince readers that their mistakes were justified and successes magnanimous, then that’s a nice bonus. Cameron is certainly guilty of misrepresenting his accomplishments and downplaying his failures, rendering For the Record little more than a self-congratulatory doorstop.