David Cameron: Britain's youthful new prime minister

12th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Conservative leader David Cameron, Britain's new premier, is a media-savvy moderniser often compared to Tony Blair for transforming his party to make it electable after years in the wilderness.

Unlike Blair, who swept into Downing Street on a landslide in 1997 and stayed a decade, Cameron had to hold his nerve over five tense days of haggling to forge a power-sharing deal with the Liberal Democrats.

But the 43-year-old has the edge over the former Labour premier in at least one sense: he is a few months younger as he takes office, becoming Britain's youngest government leader for around two centuries.

The smooth rise to power of Cameron, who was singled out early as a star of the party once led by Margaret Thatcher, was given a jolt by the Conservatives' failure to win an outright majority in last week's general election.

Though he eventually got his wish to become prime minister, the man who has never even served as a minister must now hold together a potentially unruly coalition and grapple with Britain's record public deficit.

Cameron was educated at the elite Eton College, Princes William and Harry's old school, and Oxford University, where he was a member of rowdy student dining society the Bullingdon Club alongside Boris Johnson, now London's mayor.

His background -- he is reportedly a descendant of king William IV -- has led to accusations that he is too privileged to grasp the problems of ordinary Britons.

Cameron earned a top degree and got a job with the Conservative party -- then led by Thatcher -- where he rose to become an adviser to finance minister Norman Lamont.

He left politics to spend seven years working as communications chief for media company Carlton but in 2001 won the safe parliament seat for Witney, near Oxford in southern England.

Cameron rose swiftly and replaced Michael Howard as party leader in December 2005 after the Tories had slumped to their third straight election defeat since 1997 at the hands of Blair's Labour.

His first task was to "detoxify" what one Tory frontbencher called the "nasty party", seen as uncaring and out of touch despite the efforts of several short-lived leaders including William Hague, now named foreign minister.

Cameron reportedly dubbed himself the "heir to Blair" as his modernisation of the Conservatives was compared to the ex-premier's renovation of old-left Labour into centrist New Labour to take power in 1997.

His emphasis on environmentalism and fixing social problems in what he called "broken Britain" was among the clear breaks with the party's past.

He also managed to smooth over historic Tory splits on Europe, notably by pulling out of the main centre-right group in the European Parliament and allying with fringe parties.

Although this decision caused consternation in Europe, French President Nicolas Sarkozy predicted last week that Cameron would soon abandon his euroscepticism once he became prime minister.

Cameron has also used his own family to show voters the party has changed.

He was joined by his glamorous wife Samantha on the campaign trail and often talks about his disabled son Ivan, who died last year aged six, saying his experiences shaped his support for the state-run National Health Service.

The couple have two other children and Samantha is expecting another in September.

On Tuesday he took Samantha to Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II asked him to form a government following the resignation of Labour premier Gordon Brown.

Later Cameron gently patted his wife's pregnancy bump for the cameras before they walked through the door of 10 Downing Street.

© 2010 AFP

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