Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 26th March 2019
It’s perhaps a natural tendency, when compiling a Wall of Shame relevant to current events rapidly nearing their dramatic dénouement, to concentrate exclusively on the contemporary actors in the drama. The Conservative Woman‘s excellent Brexit Wall of Shame series certainly contains plenty who thoroughly deserve their notoriety, based on their current or recent conduct. But such an approach can risk leaving some of those originally responsible for it undeservedly overlooked.
David Cameron is one such who surely deserves his dishonourable place. Not only did he initiate the events leading up to the 2016 EU Referendum and its unnecessarily chaotic aftermath, but he must also bear a large part of the blame for the ‘Conservative’ Party having degenerated to a state of such manifest ill-preparedness to deal with it.
First, for all that the man himself insouciantly chillaxes in retirement, the Tory Party now struggling and failing miserably to implement the largest ever mandate for one specific policy in British political history is still recognisably Cameron’s Party, and unmistakeably bears his imprint.
Just consider the current crop of senior Party figures, whether those still among ministerial ranks, ineffectively directing its policies and egregiously mis-directing Brexit, or those formerly so but now exerting malign anti-Brexit influence on the back benches. Theresa May, Michael Gove, Amber Rudd, David Lidington, Nicky Morgan, Greg Clark, Matthew Hancock, Oliver Letwin, Nicholas Boles, Justine Greening, to name but a few.
All are identifiably of the Cameroon “moderniser” ascendancy set in train by Cameron and Osborne during their time as interns then advisers at Party HQ, based around their disparagingly, but accurately labelled Notting Hill Set.
As Robin Harris shows in his superb “The Conservatives – A History”, once in control of the Party, its local associations and, crucially, its candidate selection process – remember the notorious A-List and Cameron’s Cuties? – they consciously set out to re-make it in the mould of a red-Tory, closet-LibDem, very metropolitan-‘liberal’ amalgam.
Economically, fiscal rigour and low taxes were out, “spending the proceeds of growth” was in. Socially, the Left’s ‘liberal’-‘progressive’ social justice warrior agenda was enthusiastically embraced, not just in its good parts, but in many of its worst aspects as well. Green-ery was accorded the status of incontestable truth, challenging which was tantamount to heresy.
Predictably, virtue-signalling appeasement of militant feminism, Islamism and cultural-marxism, and either acquiescing in the Left’s war on free speech, or pusillanimity in the face of it, is where his Party ended up.
A key part of this agenda was always an unquestioning pan-Europeanism and acceptance of, if not tacit support for, Britain’s EU membership. Even if occasional lip-service was paid to the membership’s majority Eurosceptic view, such heresy was never allowed to permeate the leadership’s thinking, the preference being to try and bury the subject as an issue.
Sometimes, however, the mask slipped. I still vividly recall a session of Prime Minister’s Questions when, to a question from one of his own back-benches along the lines of “Will My Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister grant the public a referendum on our European Union membership?”, Call-Me-Dave responded with this: “No because it would not be in our interests to leave”. Just reflect for a moment on the anti-democracy implied in that wording.
No wonder this is a party which manifestly can’t cope with heeding and implementing arguably the greatest popular mass revolt against the Elite-Establishment since since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 permanently established the supremacy of Parliament over the Monarch, signifying the shift from absolute to constitutional monarchy.
Forward now to Cameron’s now infamous Bloomberg Speech of January 2013, in which he pledged an In/Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership, to be held after seeking substantial constitutional and institutional reform of it to address Britain’s legitimate grievances. (It included, incidentally, these words: “You, the British people, will decide.” – whatever happened to that, I wonder?)
It would be nice to think that Cameron’s motivation in conceding, at last, an In/Out EU referendum was the principled democratic one of giving the electorate the chance to have its first vote in 38 years on Britain’s continuing membership of a supranational political project which even then had moved so far beyond what was voted on in 1975 as to be almost unrecognisable.
Alas not. As Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant admitted only last November, Cameron’s prime purpose was the narrow, partisan, party-management one of ensuring that “the European question was neutralised”, so as to secure Tory Party electoral advantage. Party before country, and even democracy, in other words. Plus ça change. . .
It’s instructive to compare in hindsight Cameron’s lofty intentions to achieve serious EU reform, set out in his Bloomberg Speech, with the thin gruel indeed with which he returned, tail between legs, from the crunch negotiation in mid-February 2016, at which the EU refused to budge on any of its key policies and extended merely a few cosmetic concessions, after which his “deal” unravelled within hours. The parallels with Chamberlain’s similarly gullible and humiliated return from Munich in 1938 were both irresistible and inevitable, and justifiably satirised mercilessly.
It’s interesting to speculate whether, had Cameron pushed harder, had he told the EU that unless he got something like the degree of meaningful reform he’d outlined in his Bloomberg Speech, and threatened to walk away and campaign wholeheartedly for Leave if not, he might have achieved more and the Referendum might have gone a different way. But such an approach was never, I think, in his DNA, and probably politically-impossible even if it had been, given his previous record and his Remainer-majority Cabinet.
Without going in to the detail – examined fully in the copious literature that exists on it – of Cameron’s leadership – for, although de facto rather de jure, that is what it was – of the Remain campaign, one or two critically unedifying aspects cannot escape mention.
His decisions both to sanction spending £9m of taxpayers’ money, on essentially a pro-EU propaganda leaflet, and endorse Osborne’s egregious and cynical Project Fear, were appalling enough. But, above all, his instruction to Whitehall, born of his arrogant assumption that a Remain outcome was certain, not to undertake any preparation for a Leave victory, undoubtedly was a major contributor to both the febrile political climate and the negotiating débacle which have crystallised over the past 33 months.
Finally, we come to his indecently-hasty exit – eagerly imitating his role-model Blair in quitting the Commons rather than returning gracefully to the back benches for a time, in an acknowledgement of the transient nature of political power, as did Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, and even his immediate predecessor Brown – and that departure’s own, in turn, deleterious effects, from which we are still suffering.
It’s arguable that, had Cameron remained studiedly neutral and above the fray during the Referendum campaign, he could have stayed on as in Number 10 as the statesman pledged to undertake his sacred duty to implement the people’s historic decision. But having been so partisan during the campaign, and lost, and having always been more effete dilettante and party-hack than principled statesman, this option was denied to him.
The consequences of his hurried departure, though, were the abandonment, by the senior legacy-Cameroons who had campaigned for Leave, of any semblance of public duty in favour of personal ambition, and the botched, confused, anti-democratic coronation of Theresa May, probably the most professionally-deficient and temperamentally-inept politician elevated to high office at a critical time for the nation’s fortunes since Lord North.
Now Cameron may not be directly responsible for May’s catastrophic calling of the 2017 election, her personality deficiencies, her deviousness and duplicity, and much else besides. But he cannot evade blame entirely. He did make her his surprise pick for Home Secretary in 2010, so cannot claim to have lacked knowledge of her manifest failings. He must have known there was a chance she would end up as his successor on his hurried relinquishment of his Seals of Office.
So, David Cameron, abandon, even if only briefly, your your lucrative but reclusive existence in your £25,000 designer “Shepherd’ Hut”, aka garden shed, churning out your doubtless tediously self-exculpating memoirs destined inevitably for the “Special Offer – Reduced – Only £4.99” section of dingy airport bookshops. Step forward and accept your thoroughly-merited prominent, permanent, and rightful place on The Conservative Woman‘s Brexit Wall of Shame.
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