CommonSpace columnist Neil McLeod eviscerates David Cameron’s political record, after newspaper reports suggesting he is seeking a return to frontline politics because he’s bored
NOTHING illustrates the arrogance and sense of entitlement of the Tory party like David Cameron pondering a return to a government role, preferably as Foreign Secretary, because according to friends he’s bored. Here’s a man who decided on the EU referendum as a gamble designed to silence backbench critics, lost that gamble, and immediately walked out on his responsibilities in the midst of the national crisis that followed. He flounced out and now he wants to flounce back in again.
There was a belief for several decades until Cameron’s ascent that the Etonian, Oxbridge stereotypical ruling classes were of a bygone age. But they’re back with a vengeance and with unwavering confidence in their own abilities despite the glaring evidence to the contrary. Evidence which mounts up in the political decisions, old school tie machinations and petty rivalries that have produced the wasteland of UK politics we see before us. Like P.G. Wodehouse and George Orwell had collaborated on a dystopian novel in which Bertie Wooster and his Drones Club pals take over government.
They view the running of the UK as their birth right and national and international politics a mere playground for their self-interest and infantile bickering. Cameron was their leading playground bully, and arch manipulator with the pretence of the common touch, with his rolled-up sleeves and ‘call be Dave’ attitude that made him seem more palatable and ‘real’ than the likes of rivals like Boris Johnson and predecessors like Michael Howard.
Underneath all that smoothly-spun image is someone addicted to mendacity and deception. In 2010 he crept into power promising a ‘new politics’ which would involve removing big money from party politics, a mainly elected upper chamber and a greater share of prosperity for all, while pursuing policies that did the exact opposite. He swore that he would invoke article 50 if the EU referendum went against him, then stood down as Prime Minister immediately. At that point he said he wouldn’t be leaving Parliament and a mere three months later did just that. Throw in the parcel of broken promises made to Scotland under ‘The Vow’ during the independence referendum and it looks like ‘Call me Dave’ is addicted to lying. Like all addicts, one’s too many but a hundred’s not enough.
One could charitably, euphemistically call Cameron’s impact on the UK ‘hugely significant’ but it certainly falls well short of ‘illustrious’. He deserves kudos as few people have managed to make quite as deep a mark as David Cameron has in a relatively short parliamentary career. Just 15 years in total: leader of his party after only four and a half years and leader of the country after a further four and half. Six years as Prime Minister in which he failed in every one of his stated aims. We don’t therefore need to wait for history to judge him we can judge him now, using his own targets as a gauge of his merits. He was one of the worst Prime Minister’s in British history.
Back in 2010 he asserted his primary goal of eliminating the UK’s current deficit in a single parliamentary term but ended with it barely halved. His government was “paying down Britain’s debts”, he declared in 2013, while actually adding more debt than every Labour government in history put together. Upon assuming office, he committed “to ensuring our whole country shares in rising prosperity”: his government presided over the longest fall in wages and the most protracted economic stagnation for generations. The much vaunted welfare reform programme has proven both astronomically expensive and catastrophically unsuccessful, with its flagship Universal Credit still to be fully implemented and causing misery wherever it has been introduced. Housebuilding stayed at its lowest level since the 1920s. Cameron then casually spun another vow: to make the Conservatives “the party of the NHS” he then imposed another expensive and botched reorganisation with today’s underfunded and overstretched health service the sorry outcome.
History may give Cameron some credit for ensuring the passing of the legislation on same sex marriage. History might also however reflect that this Act came to pass more due to the progress we made in attitudes as a society rather than the political machinations of the PM.
He didn’t really have a strong enough political identity to reform his party in his own image. Not quite a vindictive, back to the workhouse Tory, not a one nation conservative, not just a Thatcherite. He therefore left a void easily filled by unreconstructed zealots.
This lack of a real political credo and conviction propelled him to consider the EU referendum a sensible tactic when in fact it was his greatest, defining folly. Despite leading a party jam packed full of Eurosceptics, and a country in thrall to their line in casual xenophobia and anti-immigration scaremongering, Cameron apparently still believed he could strengthen his position by silencing these voices and win a referendum. This was surely the greatest misjudgement by a British Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich triumphantly waving that bit of paper in his hand with Hitler’s written assurances of fair play.
Now, implausibly and conceitedly, after causing the sorry shambles of Brexit and skipping off into the sunset whistling a jaunty carefree tune, he wants to roll his sleeves up again and return to frontline politics. Like a plumber who flooded your bathroom and caused the ceiling to collapse coming back a couple of years later and fancying a crack at your fitted kitchen.
When Cameron quit as Prime Minister I was reminded of legendary darts commentator Sid Waddell’s remark, with reference to Eric Bristow’s early success that, when “Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer. Bristow is only 27”. In the flipside of this Cameron was only 49 when he left parliament and must have lamented that there were no more worlds to screw up.
Now he’s had a rethink and decided there must be some more damage he can do. Just riding the gravy train like Blair, Major and Thatcher before him and making full use of the goodwill and money thrown at him by the thankful corporations he helped in government hasn’t been enough to satisfy his avarice and lust for power.
The chances of a comeback appear slim. He’s too unpopular both within and without his party. But even if the man himself doesn’t take centre stage again his legacy still lingers, his lack of particular passion for anything and valuing power for powers sake is his abiding bequest in the mercenary, capricious nature of the current Tory party.
It is Cameron who ushered in a fearful new world in which shameless narcissists like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are treated as serious politicians and contenders for Prime Minister. The latter in particular would have been treated as no more than a malevolent cartoon character at any time in the past sixty years. His status alone is enough to tell us everything we need to know about the retrogressive nature of UK politics in the twenty-first century.
Despite this cavalcade of Oxbridge buffoonery and the shambles of the Brexit negotiations, Corbyn’s Labour party has failed to provide a meaningful opposition to the malaise, a few coherent economic policies and some easy blows landed at PMQs aside. An unsubtle blend of poor leadership, mainstream media bias and old-fashioned forelock tugging from swathes of the English electorate has helped the government limp along in power.
In Scotland, the Tories dilute the blue-blooded brand. Such overt, old-school, spirit of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Tory privilege doesn’t play so well across the vast majority of the country. However, it’s nothing but delusion if Scots Tory voters think they’re voting for something different with Ruth Davison at Holyrood and the Scottish Westminster contingent. Their purpose is to back the Government’s Brexit plans and austerity agenda and attempt to block another independence referendum. They are simply dancing to the tune of the Westminster Tory hierarchy, conducting choruses of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ as the anthems for their warped, Brexit-inspired backward land where in their imagination the sun never sets. We need to change the record not just settle for another David Cameron remix.
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