Clarkson may be obnoxious, but Cameron’s loyalty to his friends is admirable

“I don’t know exactly what happened” says David Cameron about motoring motormouth Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘fracas’ with a Top Gear producer, but “he is a constituent of mine, he is a friend of mine, he is a huge talent.”

Yet again the Prime Minister stands by his friends and allies, even when their backs are against the wall, despite brickbats from his critics and for no discernable short-term advantage to himself.

There’s a pattern here and, in the snake-pit of British politics, something of a curiosity.

Think of the way Cameron kept Andy Coulson under his wing until the bitter end, despite early warnings about his seamy conduct as editor of the News of the World.

The Prime Minister is a reluctant butcher in a business where carving up enemies and allies alike is second nature. Look no further than the way he has kept ministers in cabinet jobs for the full run of this parliament.

It is inconceivable that Iain Duncan-Smith and his, as yet, unfurled universal credit reforms would have been given so much latitude under either Blair or Brown.

Or that Andrew Lansley would have stayed in post long after it was abundantly clear he had made a complete hash of the politics of his NHS reforms.

Or that a figure like Oliver Letwin, the brainy but bumptious ‘Minister of State for Government Policy,’ would become a mainstay of the government frontbench.

Only the politically reckless Michael Gove has felt Cameron’s lash. And that was down to the inescapable conclusion that replacing him at education with anyone else – literally anyone – would mend fences with the electorally influential teaching profession.

Cameron rewards loyalty and friendship in a system where both are usually in short supply.

Among his senior courtiers, he retains Ed Llewellyn as his chief of staff, an old friend from their days at the Conservative research department, despite sniping about his “chumocracy”. (Most notably, it has to be said, by Michael Gove’s former special adviser, Dominic Cummings, who described Llewellyn as a “classic third-rate suck-up-kick-down sycophant presiding over a shambolic court”).

By way of comparison, think of the way Tony Blair despatched Peter Mandelson – as much a friend to Blair as anyone – not once, but twice. Labour politics is far more casually ruthless.

Indeed, apart from Gordon Brown, only competent and low-profile uber-loyalists, Jack Straw and Alastair Darling survived the New Labour Cabinet from beginning to end.

It was the same with Thatcher. Look at how she marginalised and picked off the ‘wets’ in her early government.

So is Cameron wrong to stand by his man, even one as unappealing as Jeremy Clarkson? The calculating political rationalist would say “yes”, but there is something slightly noble about the Prime Minister’s instinctive defence of his friends.

Not all will agree. But if personal loyalty, that most basic human impulse, is regarded as a weakness in British politics, a deficit in the game of any self-respecting political professional, is it any wonder that the public detest politicians?

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3 Responses to “Clarkson may be obnoxious, but Cameron’s loyalty to his friends is admirable”

  1. SD says:

    I think Margaret Thatcher kept wets in her cabinet pretty well for the whole of her first parliament. She even promoted Pym to the Foreign Office when Carrington resigned over the Falklands. Tony Blair dispatched his opponents in Cabinet after just one year.

  2. Mike says:

    Fair article. I think it is an advantage for ministers (when at least competent) to stay in for the full term. Constant reshuffles harms delivery and the building up of experience. It also does very little to lift poll results. If a minister stays in post for 5 years (like May at the HO) then they can master the brief and the department (including the Sir Humphreys), it also aids accountability because if something went wrong based on decisions made a year ago then they were still there and can be held responsible. If they had been constantly reshuffled (like John Reid under Blair) then he was never accountable because he kept moving (not his fault).

    I like this website because even political opponents are not dehumanised, which is all too common on political websites.

  3. John P reid says:

    Cameron knows that he’s too attached to Clarkson to start criticizing him now, and Clarkson settle racism, plays well with those ex Toeies thinking of voting Ukip, if Cameron backs Clarkson, then he can appeal to Essex man sun Reader,

    As for Blair getting rid of opponents from his cabinet, he got rid of Harriet harman, but he had to get rid of Frank Field despite Blair appearing to back Field on getting rid of welfare cheats
    Not sure if the other John Reid going from post too post got away with not being responsible for mucking up education, and the home office, Blunkett was at Education for 4 years,same as the home office,and got away with being the worse education sec, and worse home sec, ever

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