Finding himself prematurely out of power and seeing no value in life as a mere backbench MP, David Cameron brings the curtain down on a bland, centrist, disappointing and entirely forgettable political career
Having successfully completed Tony Blair’s fourth term of office and having a premature end called to his fifth, David Cameron today announced his decision to flounce out of parliament – despite having earlier promised to stay on as an MP after his fall from power.
He took his leave of us with these words:
With modern politics, with the circumstances of my resignation, it isn’t really possible to be a proper backbench MP as a former prime minister. I think everything you do will become a big distraction and a big diversion from what the Government needs to do for our country.
And I support Theresa May, I think she’s got off to a great start, I think she can be a strong prime minister for our country and I don’t want to be that distraction – I want Witney to have a new MP who can play a full part in parliamentary and political life without being a distraction.[..] I hope I’ll continue to contribute in terms of public service and of course contribute to this country that I love so much.” [..] I spoke to Theresa May and she was very understanding about this decision. I support her, I support what she’s doing, she’s got off to a cracking start. Obviously I’m going to have my own views about different issues – people would know that. And that’s really the point: as a former prime minister it is very difficult, I think, to sit as a backbencher and not be an enormous distraction and diversion from what the Government is doing. I don’t want to be that distraction; I want Witney to have an MP that can play a full role in parliamentary and political life in a way I think I would find very difficult if not impossible.”
Naturally this has led to speculation that David Cameron somehow disagrees with Theresa May’s loudly-trumpeted plans for new grammar schools and the return of potentially widespread academic selection to the education system.
I find this explanation…unconvincing. If the capsuled history of David Cameron’s premiership and leadership of the Conservative Party has taught us anything about Cameron the man, it is that he has absolutely no core political convictions which he is not more than willing to toss overboard for the sake of political expediency and his relentless desire to engage in centrist triangulation.
Fiscal conservatism? As long as he and George Osborne were able to find some statistical or rhetorical device to falsely claim that they were “paying down Britain’s debts”, Cameron was more than happy to continue spending hand over fist, driving Britain’s national debt ever-upward while exhibiting enormous timidity in reversing many of Gordon Brown’s most draconian tax increases.
Strong national defence? It took his successor, Theresa May, to drive through the parliamentary vote on the renewal of Trident, while under David Cameron’s watch Britain temporarily waived goodbye to our aircraft carrier capability (a true diminution in the eyes of the world) as well as the ability to effectively patrol our own coastline and airspace without the help of allies.
A smaller state? The much-vaunted “Big Society” was dead on arrival in 10 Downing Street back in the spring of 2010, and whatever rearranging of deckchairs the coalition government engaged in, nothing was done to tackle the biggest budget black holes – pensions and the NHS. Under David Cameron, the government preferred to virtue-signal their progressive credentials by spending borrowed money on international aid than get to grips with departmental spending.
So given this singularly unimpressive track record, the idea of David Cameron suddenly discovering an ideological backbone and beliefs strong enough to resign over is frankly ludicrous.
In fact, what really happened is quite obvious. Cast from power unexpectedly and with unexpected speed, Cameron lied when he said that he intended to stay on and complete his term as MP for Witney. To have said otherwise and admitted his intention to resign would have appeared churlish, and more than anything Cameron wanted to cultivate the image of himself as an easy-going happy warrior, ready to relinquish the trappings of office without regret and re-assume a more humble role as a backbencher.
This announcement came as quickly as it possibly could without making Cameron look completely dishonest and reprehensible. At least when Gordon Brown resigned as an MPhe had managed four years as a backbencher – albeit four years in which he collected a hefty MP salary while being virtually invisible in Westminster. David Cameron’s brittle ego wouldn’t even permit him to last a year on the backbenches. His top flight political career having been brought to an unexpected end, Cameron saw no reason to stick around as a mere constituency MP.
To politicians like David Cameron, the role of constituency MP is merely a springboard to ministerial power. When the possibility of prize cabinet jobs or the keys to Number 10 Downing Street are no longer an option, wasting time on select committees or dealing with constituents’ issues appears a supreme waste of time – time which could be better spent cashing in on fame and carefully tended relationships while they are still relatively fresh and can bear the most fruit.
James Kirkup is similarly unimpressed with the manner of Cameron’s departure:
On June 27, David Cameron issued this statement: “I will continue with my duties as the MP for Witney. It is an enormous privilege to serve the people of West Oxfordshire.”
So enormous that he could only bear it for a few more weeks, apparently. He’s off, leaving the Commons and triggering a by-election in Witney: some lucky Tory will soon inherit one of the safest and prettiest seats in the country.
What does this tell us about Mr Cameron? Nothing terribly positive, to be honest. Let’s remember, he fought the EU referendum campaign promising not to quit if he lost, then quit when he lost — but only having clung to office as long as possible and having banned the Civil Service from doing any preparatory work for Brexit, thus making it harder for his successor to actually get on with the job.
In between breaking his promise not to resign as PM and breaking his promise not to resign as an MP, the only significant official work he undertook was drawing up an honours list handing an OBE to his wife’s stylist and a knighthood to his press officer.
Not exactly the most dignified departure from office, is it? And certainly not one that’s easy to reconcile with many, many statements from Mr Cameron about the sense of duty he owed to his nation, the selfless service he felt obliged to render.
And Kirkup’s unsparing conclusion:
And this is why flouncing out of Parliament in this way is so telling: it speaks to something fundamental about Mr Cameron’s character and his approach to politics: a lack of seriousness, the absence of real commitment. Yes, he wanted the job and yes he put the hours in, to the cost of his family.
But he would never die in a ditch for his political beliefs, never shed blood and move mountains to hammer home his arguments. It was always enough to get by, to do just enough to get the top grade and do better than the rest.
Sadly, that describes Cameron perfectly – far more obsessed with optics than reality, and forever in search of the path of least resistance, even when that path ran direct through traditionally left-wing territory.
Ultimately, David Cameron was a weak and instantly forgettable prime minister because he was a centrist triangulator and a technocrat at heart. As prime minister he had no real interest in reforming Britain in his own image, imposing his own worldview or being a statesman. Rather, he was content to campaign and govern as a mere Comptroller of Public Services, the living, breathing symbol of the diminution of our national politics.
With his happy departure from Parliament (en route to a minor footnote in history) one hopes that the ground has shifted under British politics, and that the age of the technocrat might be coming to an end. His successor, Theresa May, while far from being this blog’s preferred choice, at least seems to have some strongly held political views of her own, while Jeremy Corbyn’s imminent re-election as Labour Party leader promises a 2020 general election offering genuine choice to the electorate.
All we need now is for George Osborne to follow his chum David Cameron into political retirement and we may finally be able to turn the page on this most boring and depressing chapter in Conservative history.
This post was originally published by the author 12 September 2016: https://semipartisansam.com/2016/09/12/with-david-camerons-resignation-from-parliament-british-conservatism-can-begin-a-new-better-chapter/