Cameron Quits Again

Glen Newey

On 19 June, shortly before the EU referendum, David Cameron tweeted that 'Britain isn't a quitter.' Outside 10 Downing Street three days later, he reaffirmed that 'Brits don't quit.' The next day, Britain voted to quit the EU. During the campaign, he had let it be known that if it did, he would remain prime minister – before quitting on the morrow of the referendum. In his resignation speech he vowed to stay on until the autumn, to 'steady the ship' for his successor. When he was elbowed aside within a fortnight, he vowed not to quit as MP for Witney. Now he's quit at that, too.

In an emergency meeting with close confrères at No. 10 at about 3 a.m. on the morning of 24 June, when it had become clear that Brexit was looming, Cameron rehearsed Enoch Powell's dictum that all political lives end in failure (Powell qualified: 'unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture', not a caveat that applies in this case). Some failures are bigger than others. Taking the state on a joy ride and crashing it, along with his sometime mates Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, must rank, along with Suez and Iraq, among the bigger ones.

Admittedly, the man whom Norman Tebbit once compared to Pol Pot has logged some successes, notably hauling his party back from the electoral boondocks. Against mostly mediocre opponents, Cameron blagged wins in the 2010 and 2015 general elections, as well as the alternative vote and Scottish independence referendums of 2011 and 2014. His luck ran out with the EU poll, but the luck itself largely consisted in his being spared blowback from his own lack of political judgment, a trait about which he unsurprisingly also showed a lack of judgment.

His government made more U-turns than a toilet factory. Often in cahoots with George Osborne, Cameron flip-flopped across the gamut of policy, including taxes on granny flats, tampons, solar panels and pasties, as well as on cuts to pension relief, personal independence payments and working families' tax credits. Latterly Cameron seems to have assumed, like many, that the referendum was in the bag. After last year's election win, I suggested that Cameron would succumb to the Promethean hubris that often overtakes premiers in their second term. Power coupled with robust self-belief (Cameron once said he thought he'd be 'rather good' as prime minister) slips easily into assuming that believing something can make it so. Hubris met comeuppance on 24 June.

Nowadays there are few second chapters in British political lives. Partly that is because failure is less tolerated. Ted Heath managed to lose three out of four elections before getting the heave-ho. Politics, no longer showbiz for ugly folk, now favours the young and telegenic, the slick over the non-vacuous. Burn-out comes early. So top politicos quit while relatively young (Cameron is not quite fifty) and hoover up directorships. Tony Blair's Stakhanovite post-premiership nest-feathering is well known. Margaret Thatcher bagged $1 million a year for advising the tobacco firm Philip Morris. Before he took over as Tory leader in 2005, Cameron had a part-time executive job with the pub chain firm Urbium; now he'll be able to spend more time with 'the causes that mean so much' to him, and his directorships. After today's boundary redrawing he has an intact constituency to bequeath to his successor, unlike Osborne or Jeremy Corbyn. Serving his Witney constituents, as he pledged to do on 24 June, lasted a couple of months, with two holidays thrown in.

He leaves a nation in limbo, certain neither of its own internal integrity or relation to the outside world, with a booming 0.00 per cent growth forecast for this quarter and the NHS facing a funding crisis. The final impression – the tsunami of the referendum result aside – is of a man without qualities, of one who leaves no final impression.


  • 13 September 2016 at 3:25pm
    Greencoat says:
    Actually, David Cameron made rather a good impression on me.

    I didn't agree with everyone his government wrought but he did at least look and sound like a British Prime Minister - something that Messrs Milliband and Corbyn have never remotely approached doing.

    • 13 September 2016 at 4:12pm
      whisperit says: @ Greencoat
      Don't fret, Greencoat! Even if Teresa May doesn't do it for you, the Tory party is stuffed with PPE graduates who have no actual life experience outside of wrestling with the problems of inherited wealth and a couple of years in their mates' PR consultancies. And despite these disadvantages, many of them can do an excellent impression of "looking and sounding like a British Prime Minister".

    • 13 September 2016 at 4:32pm
      suetonius says: @ Greencoat
      One wonders, what does "looking and sounding like a British PM" mean? Churchill? William Pitt? Gladstone? Disraeli? Clement Atllee? Do any of them have anything in common? Nowadays of course the British PM is pretty meaningless worldwide. I wouldn't be much surprised if the British PM is meaningless in Scotland soon.

  • 13 September 2016 at 7:14pm
    streetsj says:
    My impression of David Cameron as PM was that he was a decent man. He will be remembered for pushing through gay marriage at some personal cost. I think his sticking up for the foreign aid budget was admirable and his policy of trying to help Syrians where they were rather than encourage more refugees was the right sort of difficult judgement.
    Most of the "nasty Tory" stuff seemed to come from Osborne; as did many of the U -turns.
    Much forgotten in the discussion on the decision to hold a referendum was the UKIP showing in the Euro elections where they were the largest party by vote share. Cameron needed to put them back in their box and calm his right wing. He misjudged it badly that is for sure. The remain campaign was woeful - not a positive message to be heard on the good of the EU. They were as at fault as the leavers in lying - and while I have no doubt that disentangling the UK from the EU will be horribly complex it's simply not obvious why it should be disastrous. Plenty of countries aren't members of the EU.
    Lastly I don't see why people care about his lies about staying in the job. As long as you are in the job that is what you have to say. The one moment he told the truth (no third term) he was pilloried. I sort of get the game in the mainstream media but I don't think on this sort of blog anything needs to be made of those sort of "lies". Let's be real.

  • 13 September 2016 at 7:19pm
    streetsj says:
    I did also want to say that Cameron's legacy might also be to highlight the impossibility of the NHS. It has been ringfenced pushing all the pressure on to other public services. And still it's not enough. The day when "free at the point of delivery" goes has surely come closer.

    I, as it happens, have a potential solution. My idea is that people who don't use the NHS (hospitals or GPs)in a year should receive a tax benefit. I think it would remove a substantial number of trivial time wasters without discouraging poor people who were genuinely ill.

    • 13 September 2016 at 7:35pm
      whisperit says: @ streetsj
      Yep, that's the neoliberal legacy alright - to know the the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

    • 14 September 2016 at 5:35am
      sol_adelman says: @ whisperit
      You're being too generous in suggesting they even know the price. The NHS is ranked the second least expensive healthcare service in the developed world despite delivering the best care.

    • 14 September 2016 at 7:41am
      streetsj says: @ sol_adelman

      For a slightly broader view of how the NHS ranks.

    • 14 September 2016 at 8:08am
      Graucho says: @ streetsj
      This is all going a little off topic. Just to say that because the privatisers knew they couldn't get rid of the NHS directly, they decided to manage it to death instead. It ran far more efficiently before all the so called reforms and the internal market came into place. The shenanigans at Southern health trust with £240,000 p.a. jobs for the boys (or in this case girls) are symptomatic of its real problems.

      I believe the fact that Cameron had to raise a severely ill child taught him that life isn't fair and misfortune can befall even the most privileged. It gave him a human touch which all too many of his colleagues lack.

    • 14 September 2016 at 9:02am
      whisperit says: @ Graucho
      As a long time NHS employee, I heartily endorse the notion that the marketisation of the NHS has resulted in massive - hough often invisible - increases in costs due to the inefficiencies of running multiple, independent, short term contracting arrangements.

      Meanwhile, it is a testament to Cameron's PR abilities that people have so readily accepted his "humanity" - and attributed his Governments' brutalities as the work of others. As if he was somehow powerless to prevent Osbourne's viciousness.

      As another blogger has pointed out, the true story is like a version of the Trolley Dilemma.

      Osbourne simply pulls the lever so that the train headed towards a rich man on the line is diverted to crash into a dozen poor. In the same situation, Cameron reaches behind his back to pull the same lever, but all the while smiles and assures us that the poor people won't really get hurt, as he has a plan. Just as the trolley is about to hit, he kicks a plank onto the line, causing the trolley to derail, engulfing the poor in a massive fireball, and leaving the trolley itself a smoking wreck. Cameron changes his singed suit and goes off to manage another railway - at ten times the salary.

    • 14 September 2016 at 12:29pm
      rolandino says: @ streetsj
      The comment: "The day when “free at the point of delivery” goes has surely come closer" drives me nuts.

      The question is - what's the best, fairest, most cost-effective way of providing health care for 65 million people. As soon as you introduce direct costs, the costs people pay per head will increase dramatically, far more than the cost per head if taxes were increased to pay to maintain 'free at the point of use'.

      Health care costs will increase due to ageing populations however it is paid for - direct payments will simply lead to an explosion in the cost per head of population and make things much worse.

      It will of course allow many Tories who have vested interests in private healthcare to trouser large amounts of our money.

      This vastly increased risk of full-scale NHS privatisation, aided and abetted by the LibDems, and following the template laid out by Oliver Letwin in 1998, is indeed one of Cameron's legacies.

      For this deceitful increased risk alone, he should be hounded, shamed, and villified day and night.

    • 20 September 2016 at 6:11pm
      eeffock says: @ Graucho
      Two overarching objectives of the neo-liberal project are the so-called efficiencies of compelling more work for less wages (aka productivity, austerity), and of leveraging debt. The second they demonstrated with aplomb in 2007-2008. The first they have demonstrated before and especially since the crash.

      Cameron presents these objectives with stylish hair and neat clothing, but that's way they put him forward as PM, isn't it?

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