Moving Out from 10 Downing Street

David Cameron showed up 90 minutes after Gordon Brown resigned. How did the former PM pack his bags so quickly?

David Cameron and Nick Clegg walk into No. 10 Downing Street

Defeated Labor leader Gordon Brown announced his resignation on Tuesday after the British Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats agreed to form a governing coalition. Just 90 minutes later, a triumphant David Cameron waltzed into the traditional prime minister’s residence at No. 10 Downing Street. The speedy transition seemed to leave no time for movers to pack up Brown’s belongings. Did Cameron sleep in a bedroom full of Gordon Brown’s stuff last night?

No. David Cameron may have arrived at No. 10 Downing Street at 8:45 GMT on Tuesday night, crossed the threshold, and shut the door behind him—but he wasn’t moving in. He and his wife, Samantha, stayed in the house for just a few minutes to greet their new personal staff. Then they spent the night in their private home in London. * Cameron probably won’t live in No. 10, anyway. The one-bedroom apartment with no kitchen was too small for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, both of whom lived in nearby No. 11. The Camerons, who have two children and one on the way, are expected to do the same. (The chancellor of the Exchequer has been residing at the more traditional address. He’ll have to move out as well, to make room for his replacement.)

The apartment at No. 11 wouldn’t have been ready for Cameron, even if he had planned to move in right away. The moving trucks—Brits call them removal vans—didn’t arrive at the prime minister’s residence until about noon on Wednesday. There’s a good chance the wardrobe there is still chock-a-block with Gordon Brown’s whistles and flutes. The Camerons are expected to complete their move over the next few weeks.

Prime ministers typically get a little more time to pack up during an intraparty handoff. Tony Blair announced that he would step down nearly two months before actually tendering his resignation, and the moving company started hauling his possessions out of his Downing Street residence three weeks before Brown moved in.

Cameron isn’t obligated to live on Downing Street at all; it just shortens his commute. During much of the 19th century, the neighborhood was infested with prostitutes and pickpockets, and the British heads of government preferred their own private estates. The flat was a shambles when Benjamin Disraeli decided to move there in 1877. (He was too crippled by gout to walk from his residence in Whitehall Gardens to the Downing Street office.) Disraeli had the place renovated and even convinced Parliament—over the vigorous objections of rival William Gladstone—to buy the furniture for the public entrance hall and first-floor rooms. Today, even the residential furniture is paid for by John Bull. In 1897, the government stopped charging outgoing prime ministers for the cost of repairing or replacing the stuff they wore out.

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Explainer thanks Denis Campbell of UKprogressive.co.uk, S.I. Strong of the University of Missouri School of Law, and Graham Wilson of Boston University.

Correction, May 13, 2010: This article originally stated that David Cameron spent his first night as prime minister in his constituency home in Witney, Oxfordshire. In fact, he slept at his private home in London. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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