I came of age in an era of unserious politics. In America, there was George W. Bush, a Republican who preached the platitudes of “compassionate conservatism” and global democracy and left the US poorer and the world more chaotic. In the UK, there was Tony Blair (along with Gordon Brown), a New Labour politician who preached the platitudes of pious multiculturalism and the “end of boom and bust” and yet who left the UK with greater immigration and racial problems then it has ever had before, and a huge deficit and a huge bust. Obama too followed in the footsteps of the virtue signalling pious politicians- preaching hope and change and a new era of bipartisanship but leaving the US an ultra-indebted country with racial problems the worst in recent history, and a demagogue in Donald Trump on the crisp of taking the White House. However, from 2010 to 2015 there seemed to be at least one serious statesmen leading a country like an adult- and his name was David Cameron.
I have always had a soft spot for David Cameron, a man who shares my birthday (9 October) and a man whom I fought many an internet battle (usually with Kippers) in his defence. While I can’t say that I had always completely embraced his agenda (the tree party symbol and the hugging husky thing were a little silly for instance) I was “all in” for the big society and for the serious “long term economic plan” focus of his first government. Though I never thought Cameron was the brightest (let’s be honest we can’t exactly seeing him writing a Churchill biography or even regularly in The Spectator any time soon) or the most convicted of politicians, I truly appreciated the seriousness with which he took governing the country. I wrote of Cameron after the general election what I think summed up why he was a good PM- he got results: “David Cameron has been a very good Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party. He has taken the party from being entrenched in opposition to being the majority government. He has led a government which has helped bring an economy back from the brink to now leading the G7 in growth. There is record employment in Britain, the union has been saved (for now), the deficit is being tackled and education is vastly improving.” Furthermore, though I never was under the impression that Cameron was an enthusiastic eurosceptic, I respected how he handled European issues. I respected how he worked to actually cut the EU budget, how he helped form a new Conservative alliance in Europe, and how he got Britain out of European bailouts (it seemed). Overall, I respected that he always talked up Great Britain and trusted the British people to be adults and decide European Union membership for themselves. Though I suspected he would want to stay in, I much admired his Bloomberg speech and I assumed he would at least try to get a substantive renegotiation before presenting the referendum to the British people. I even had dreams that maybe even he would see the problems of the EU and lead Vote Leave.
I was wrong. The past year has shown me Cameron is not a statesman or serious politician. I say this for largely three reasons.
The first sign I saw of the unseriousness of Cameron (or more accurately of the Cameron-Osborne axis) was the attempt to play the Tony Blair/Bill Clinton trick of stealing issues from their opponents. First, it was the poaching back of the “One Nation” mantra from Labour right after the election. While I am very aware that “One Nation Conservatism” goes back to Disraeli, to me the mantra “lost its shine” when it was the standard of crony “wet” Big-Government Tories like Ted Heath and Harold Macmillan. Frankly, I thought Ed Miliband made a very compelling reason why One Nation philosophy belonged with modern Labour.
I would not have been too worried about “One Nation Conservatism” if the Cameron-Osborne duopoly were not falling over themselves to attract centre-left voters. (Do they really miss Clegg that much?) The first example was Cameron’s obnoxious virtue signalling party conference speech where he proceeded to insinuate that employers and Oxford University are racist– with largely no supporting facts. He then spouted a very incendiary line that there are more people of Black origin in prison than in top universities- which was a lie and insulting to Black people and universities alike. But even that would not have mattered to me so much if his chum George Osborne did not decide to reward hard-working people and businesses (remember them?)- the mainly Conservative supporters who are responsible for the majority government- with increased stamp duty, a “living” higher minimum wage hurting small businesses and a sugar tax parents will now have to pay when shopping for their children on their stretched pound. And what makes all of this so cynical is that the only reason Cameron and Osborne took these centre-left stands was to attract disaffected centrist Labour voters following their party’s election of a hard-left socialist as leader. This playing politics at the expense of your party, instead of advancing Conservative values at a rare point of left weakness, was “strike one” for Cameron.
Even with all the unseemly political gamesmanship of centre-left flirting I would have “let it slide”, if on the whole Cameron was still leading a government that was passing Conservative legislation. Looking back on the past year, I struggle to point to any significant Conservative legislative accomplishments. Take for instance the issue of tax credits. I think a “living wage” for people over 25 might have been acceptable if it was coupled with reducing the deficit and weening working people off tax-credit state dependence. It seemed like a fair way to bridge the transition for the low paid. Instead, the government capitulates to an unelected House of Lords, defying 400 years of precedent– even when Labour is weak and decimated- and ditches the tax credits in their entirety. But it is not just the tax credits where they have not governed seriously and advanced a proper agenda- it’s backing down on forced academisation of schools, it’s watering down the trade union bill, it’s fox hunting- it’s pretty much always the proper Tory policies that this Conservative majority government is not willing to fight for. The Independent has a list of 11 major u-turns from this government, the Queen’s Speech lack of inclusion of a sovereignty bill makes the u-turns an even dozen. Speaking of the Queen’s Speech, can anyone seriously tell me they found it inspiring? Besides a seemingly mostly positive prison reform idea and a watered down British Bill of Rights, there was almost nothing worth getting excited over. Glad they want a driver-less cars and a space port but how about starting small: how about another runway at Heathrow?
With even all of that disappointment listed above, I could probably excuse Cameron’s ineffectiveness as Prime Minister over the past year if it were not for his deranged and disgraceful behaviour in trying to scare people into voting to remain in the EU. Since the end of his “renegotiation” in which beforehand he threatened to pull the UK out of the EU if he did not get the minor welfare changes he wanted (which we find out was a sham exercise to begin with), he has outrageously claimed that ISIS and Putin want Brexit, that Brexit may lead to war and genocide (while using the memory of the dead who fought a continental power to support the EU), that Brexit will lead to economic depression and he has smiled along while both the President of the United States and the President of France have threatened the United Kingdom. He has further tried to rig the referendum result by attempting to change purdah (which was thankfully defeated by a backbench rebellion) and sending out £9 million in taxpayer funded EU propaganda leaflets to every household in the country. He even stooped to further new lows by trying to enlist every major figure he can think of to back his position- sometimes including those who don’t support his position- like former SAS general Sir Michael Rose– and he even went as low as to rant and rave about the most prominent Leave campaigner, Boris Johnson, personally in the House of Commons. His Facebook and Twitter page, both his personal and 10 Downing Street, spew EU propaganda daily- thumbing his nose at his own party and traditional supporters who the majority support leaving the EU. His behaviour has not been one of a statesman to say the least.
I cannot in good conscience wish upon the United Kingdom a leader who acts in such an underhanded and sleazy manner against his own Conservative friends and allies. (To speak nothing of how he treats his opponents- look at the methods he used to attack Sadiq Khan). Although he has said directly he will lead the country if the UK votes to leave the EU, I just don’t see how that is possible. How can a man, who has any substance or conviction, possibly lead a country out of an organisation when he spent the entire past few months talking the UK’s prospects down. How can he heal a party whose members he has treated with such contempt? I just don’t see how it is possible or desirable.
I want to think the man David Cameron has been the past year is not the real David Cameron and the one that was the leader of the Conservative Party over the past ten years will return. I want to think he will snap out of his scaremongering madness. I sometimes wonder if the Prime Minister is suffering from a King George III style temporary bout of insanity or is suffering from a substance abuse problem and wonder if he just got help he could right the ship. But the only thing Cameron appears to be suffering from his megalomania and/or Boris-envy derangement syndrome. I am afraid the EU referendum has revealed the true David Cameron: a self-serving, inside-the-box thinking, typical unserious politician.
In 50 years, on the 1,000 anniversary of the Norman invasion, when people are thinking of the history of England, Cameron is likely to be little more than a blip. Whether in 2066 the United Kingdom is free proud and independent, long gone from the EU, or whether it is a subservient region of the EU with powers on par with the state of Texas; not many besides the biggest political junkies will likely have remembered David Cameron. He’ll be a Stanley Baldwin or a Ted Heath, a forgotten centrist politician. When people look back at the 2012 Olympics and the subsequent EU referendum people will be likely to think Boris Johnson was the dominant figure of the era. It’s a shame really. Cameron had so much potential. But his real character has been revealed. Great Britain needs a lion and not a Davos man to lead it after the referendum- whether it is the dynamic Johnson, the brilliant Gove or a surprise outsider like Penny Mourdaunt. Come June 24, 2016, Cameron must resign.