Prime minister David Cameron is Britain’s most popular major party leader and his Conservative Party the most trusted on the economy after helping revive it. However, win or lose a knife-edge election today, his career hangs by a thread.
If he loses, it’s over instantly. And even if he wins but doesn’t secure an overall majority, which opinion polls suggest no party will achieve, he could face a leadership challenge from inside his famously ruthless party before too long.
A descendant of King William IV, Cameron, who came to power in a coalition with the centre-left Liberal Democrats in 2010, says he wants to serve another five-year term “to finish the job” of fixing the economy.
He also plans to deliver a European Union membership referendum, which he hopes will cure his country and party of its Eurosceptic angst.
However, if he doesn’t get the Conservatives re-elected on their own, with their first overall majority in the House of Commons for 23 years, he may struggle to serve out a full term.
“The Conservatives are very hard-nosed,” Greig Baker, said a former Conservative staffer who now runs a public affairs firm called Guide.
“If Cameron can deliver them ministerial red boxes he’ll survive the election. But his long-term prospects are very bleak. The party has never loved him,” he said.
Tim Bale, author of a history of the Conservative Party, says Cameron faces a rough ride from his party even if he keeps the keys to the prime minister’s residence, 10 Downing Street.
“If he manages to hang onto Number 10 I think they’ll forgive him for a couple of weeks.
“Then it could be difficult,” said Bale.
While polls show voters generally like him personally, Cameron, 48, is the product of an unusually privileged background. The son of a wealthy stockbroker, he attended exclusive boys’ boarding school Eton College and Oxford University, and married a woman who traces her ancestry back to another king — Charles II of England.
In a country acutely attuned to class, that rubs many Britons up the wrong way.
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