By Brian Reade 4/02/2010
Few financial journalists in Britain are held in higher esteem than Jeff Randall.
He has been business editor of virtually every heavy newspaper, was the first journalist to be given that title by the BBC and now has his own peak-time show on Sky.
In a peerless career, he has been showered with awards for his honesty, integrity and grasp of City matters.
In the late 1990s, as editor of Sunday Business, he had many dealings with the head of communications at Carlton TV, David Cameron.
And this is what he wrote when he became Conservative party leader in 2005: "I wouldn't trust him with my daughter's pocket money.
"In my experience, he never gave a straight answer when dissemblance was a plausible alternative.
"Whether he flat-out lied I won't say, but he went a long way to leave me with the impression that the story was wrong. He put up so much verbal tracker you started to lose your own guidance system."
Randall was not alone among business journalists in holding Cameron in utter contempt throughout his seven-year stint at Carlton. Like him, some pull up just short of calling him a professional liar.
Chris Blackhurst, City editor of the London Evening Standard says Cameron was "aggressive, sharp-tongued, often condescending and patronising.
"If anyone had told me then he might become Premier I would have told them to seek help."
Patrick Hosking, investment editor of The Times, said: "He was obstructive."
Most damning of all is this assessment by veteran City journalist Ian King, who calls him "a poisonous, slippery individual," adding: "He was a smarmy bully who regularly threatened journalists. He loved humiliating people, including a colleague at ITV he would abuse publicly as 'Bunter', just because the poor bloke was a few pounds overweight.
"He was a mouthpiece for that company's charmless chairman, Michael Green, who operated him the way Keith Harris works Orville."
The hugely ambitious Cameron had been working in Tory Central Office for six years since leaving Oxford, and he realised the quickest way to achieve his goal of becoming an MP was to put some "real-world experience" on his CV.
For most 27-year-olds the chances of landing a prestigious, well-paid City job without any private-sector experience were negligible. But not to a man who had effortlessly glided into every position he'd desired, through family connections.
This time it was Annabel Astor, the mother of Cameron's fiancée, Samantha Gwendoline Sheffield, who pulled strings with her friend Michael Green. "When she says to me, 'Do something,' I do it!" said the usually far-from-timid Green.
When Cameron left in 2001 to become an MP, Green was more than happy with the man he'd employed to do his dirty work. "He can be ruthless," he said.
A view shared by Michael Portillo, who says of Cameron during his time in Tory Central Office: "Not everyone was enamoured.
I have heard he is not, sometimes, as nice in private as you might think. It was said by people beneath him."
This is a recurring theme. As his biographers, Francis Elliott and James Hanning, point out in their book Cameron: The Rise of the New Conservative, he never wasted his time chatting to people he thought were unimportant.
One Central Office colleague said: "He had personality, intelligence, ambition and judgment but wasn't charitably disposed to those who thought differently from him."
thought differently from him." Another said: "He saw it as a way of making himself look good to make other people look stupid. He was a bombastic bully, dismissive of those who didn't agree with him."
At Carlton, Cameron played up to the role of City squire, wearing red braces during the week and Barbour at weekends as he joined the hunting and shooting set. But mostly he kept his eye on the prize of becoming an MP.
In March 1996, his first press reference of note appeared in the London Evening Standard where he was described as part of "a silver-spoon clique" and someone who frequently boasted that he would one day be Foreign Secretary. "David Cameron, a 29-year-old Old Etonian, has come up with a novel strategy for getting elected to the House of Commons, which he announced in a drunken moment at a party. 'He'd worked out his chances of getting a seat by finding out which of the present incumbents were most likely to die,' relates one of the guests. 'Sir Ian McNair-Wilson is about to kick his clogs,' he told us.
"There was a long pause. 'You're completely right,' a schoolmate agreed. 'He is going to die soon. He's my stepfather.' '' It wasn't McNair-Wilson's death that gave Cameron his big break but Shaun Woodward's defection to Labour in 2000, which left the Oxfordshire seat of Witney vacant. Yet again, as Cameron climbed another rung on his career ladder, people were left scratching their heads as to how he managed it.
The selection committee whittled the field down to two candidates - Cameron and Andrew Mitchell (now Shadow International Development Minister). In the run-up to the vote Mitchell was considered favourite. But on the eve of the vote, something strange happened.
According to Simon Walters' book Tory Wars, Mitchell was subjected to an anonymous smear campaign when some activists wrongly claimed he was involved in the cash-for-questions affair.
As Elliot and Hanning wrote: "It is a curious story and one that suggests that someone within Witney Conservative Association bore Mitchell a considerable amount of ill-will - or was very keen that Cameron should prevail."
Prevail he did, and four years later he found himself catapulted to the second top rung of his career ladder, leader of the Conservative party.
But not every Conservative was convinced of their young messiah, some doubting his depth, credentials and vision. Top Tory pin-up Simon Heffer called his political views "philosophically naive and vacuous".
One of Cameron's closest friends, Shadow Children's Secretary Michael Gove, wrote: "He is the kind of poker player who waits and reads the other players, and bets when he knows the alignment is in his favour." And former Tory minister George Walden summed up Cameron's perceived shallowness perfectly when he claimed Cameron's chief criterion for judging a situation is: "What would Diana have done?" But it's not just his lack of ideological depth that is a flaw; it's his upper-class background and the fact he has chosen to surround himself with chaps of a similar ilk.
Tory Speaker John Bercow, says: "In the modern world the combination of Eton, hunting, shooting and lunch at Whites is not helpful when you are trying to appeal to millions of ordinary people."
Sir Tom Cowie, founder of Arriva and a party donor until August 2007, argues: "The Tory Party seems to be run by Old Etonians and they don't understand how other people live."
Even the true-blue Sunday Times wrote: "He has more Etonians around him than any leader since Macmillan. Can he represent Britain from such a narrow base?" But perhaps the most damning indictment of the man who would be the next Tory prime minister is the blatant indifference towards him by the last man to hold that office.
Twice a week for a year, Cameron briefed John Major for Prime Minister's Questions and almost every day throughout the 1992 election campaign, yet Major says he has no clear memories of him.
Fellow Tories say he is being diplomatic. By saying nothing he offers no offence.
But by offering no thoughts on Cameron, when he clearly has some, Major leaves the impression that he either doesn't rate him or doesn't like him. And there is evidence to back both views.
Not only did Major once spectacularly lose his temper with Cameron over a woefully inadequate briefing, but Cameron had hoped after the '92 election victory that the Prime Minister would choose him to be one of two political secretaries.
But Major decided to have just one. And that wasn't Cameron.
The man who gave him his first political job in the Tory Research Department, Robin Harris, now wishes he had followed Major's instincts.
"Cameron was in the category of people who came into the party at the time because they saw it as a way of advancing their careers.
"He is an out-and-out opportunist. I don't believe he believes anything."