Josias Senu | Editor-in-Chief, The Box | Wednesday 13 July 2016 | GMT 16:25 | senujosias@
I was 12 years old when David Cameron entered Parliament as the Prime Minister of the UK. I had a modest understanding of UK politics, but I admired his youth, vigour and determination while he was sat on the opposition benches. As the years have passed and at the culmination of compulsory education, Cameron’s intention of taking “Britain in a historic new direction” seems more vivid now against a political landscape of Brexit, Labour leadership battles and a rise in racism and xenophobia. Yet it seems like yesterday when I saw him and Nick Clegg, former Deputy Prime Minister and then Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, announce their visions for the UK in a coalition government.
Today is the day David Cameron resigns as Prime Minister of the UK. He leaves the House of Commons for the last time as the leader of our country in the same humorous, defiant and captivating manner in which he arrived.
When Cameron defeated David Davis in the December 2005 party ballot, many in the Conservative party saw Mr Cameron as the “heir to Blair”. He was the man to make people “feel good about being Conservatives again”. To some extent, he appears to have managed this with success. Despite a three week leadership contest that ended in the coronation of Theresa May as the next Prime Minister of the UK, the party has remained steadfast behind Cameron’s record at No.10 Downing Street.
So what will the former cannabis-smoking Etonian who wanted to “hug a hoodie” be remembered for the most? The left will describe Cameron as a man who accidentally took the UK out of the EU simply to stop his party “banging on about Europe”. They will say his government added more debt than every other Labour government put together. They will say Cameron’s flagship academies are being outperformed by local authority schools. And they will say Cameron’s war in Libya left devastation, war and a rise in radical extremism.
Yet the Conservative faithful will point to Cameron as their saviour, who recovered them from their precarious position in 2005 and made the Conservatives attractive to women, students and ethnic minorities who had once viewed the Tories as their bête noire. They will point to his remarkably astonishing victory and majority in the 2015 general election where a hung parliament was predicted by almost every political commentator. They will point to the fact that the UK has the highest growth of any developed nation in Europe. And they will point to the 2.4 million more people in work since 2010, and the 1 million fewer people on out of work benefits.
I could lazily bring out statistics and facts concerning the balance of payments, immigration, poverty, inflation, employment and so forth. But I don’t see why. Cameron took the British economy following the greatest collapse of global economic systems since the Great Depression, with the UK close to bankruptcy. There is every possibility that we could have been Europe’s Greece. The stability Cameron provided is enough for me to not get petty over his record.
Moreover, it must be clear that no prime minister is perfect, but I’m sure we’d all agree with Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister, when he said prime ministers “are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those [they] slip out”. Cameron’s humming as he walked back into No 10 on Monday, minutes after announcing he would resign today, was certainly one of his more masterful attempts at being human.
While we could adopt one view or the other of Cameron’s premiership, I would have to agree with Professor Vernon Bogdanor when he argues “the outgoing prime minister brought in a generous and civilised Conservatism”. I’ve grown up in a firmly Labour constituency my whole life, and many hardships have been faced in my local community as a direct consequence of Cameron’s policies. Whereas it is easy to be emotionally caught up in a furore of self-pity and wallow, it’s fair to articulate that Cameron’s embrace of social liberalism has lessened the full blow of austerity. And his time as prime minister has personally taught me that conviction and honesty are more important qualities than promise and potential.
If in 30 years from now, the UK extends its global influence and its economy grows beyond the imagination of Jean-Claude Juncker (current President of the European Commission), then future history textbooks will be wittily acknowledging the bravery of Cameron to hold an EU referendum amidst a period of economic recovery. Rather than being an unwilling villain, he would have heroically yet unknowingly liberated the full potential of the UK.
For the past six years, Cameron has provided UK politics a mixture of brilliance and foolishness. He is not the worst prime minister in British history, but he is also not the greatest. He was never uncomfortable in office, but he was also not relaxed. He was clever, but not a genius. So while he deserves our respect, never our adulation. Cameronism has had its day, but as a young 18 year old man it’s time to talk about the future. He was the future once…