David Cameron flunks his final test

by Atul Hatwal

Twenty years. That’s what it will take for David Cameron’s name to be anything other than a byword for political failure. In the 2030s a new generation of Conservative politicians, untainted by the assumptions of their political forbears will rediscover David Cameron like some long lost Beatles recording.

I recall the process well from the mid-1990s when many of us working for the Labour party unearthed our own Rare Groove classics: Jim Callaghan and Harold Wilson.

When nostalgia and retro-chic return Cameron to relevance he will be 69.

Just three years older than the current leader of the Labour party, one year older than Hillary Clinton, most likely the next President of the United States and one year younger than Donald Trump, god forbid, the next President of the United States.

Instead of ascending to the highest office in his profession, based on a life of experience, David Cameron’s most productive working years will be spent trailing around the world engaged in lucrative but transitory and ultimately hollow pursuits.

He branded himself the heir to Blair a decade ago and as he travels through his fifties and sixties, David Cameron will truly take-up this mantle.

Just as Labour’s last election-winner has become more and more frustrated at his peripheral position, so David Cameron will endure a similar, but even more drawn out, fate, further and further removed from the ambition that has animated his life: power.

David Cameron is an exemplar of the political Progeria that defines the professional experience of increasing numbers of modern parliamentarians.

There have always been MPs that are young. Harold Wilson was 29 when he was elected in 1945; Ken Clarke was also 29 when he became an MP in 1970, while Robin Cook won his seat on his 28th birthday at the first 1974 election.

The difference now is that careers end so quickly.

The ageing process is super-accelerated – MPs arrive in the Commons, are almost instantly promoted to the front bench, become cabinet ministers and then leave. All in the relative blink of a political eye.

None more so than David Cameron who will have gone from new MP in 2001 to retired ex-PM in 2016 – just 15 years. In comparison, when Ken Clarke retires at the next election he will be one month short of a fifty year innings.

In suddenly quitting, despite his protestations that he’d serve at least until 2020, David Cameron has flunked his final test as a parliamentarian.

He had the chance to set a precedent, to redefine the path of the modern ex-PM. He could have stayed until 2020 and beyond.

Yes, it would have been difficult initially but David Cameron has twenty years to find a new role. Twenty years in which he could have leveraged his status as an ex-prime minister and considerable political capital to advance the causes that he cares about most.

Even if it meant taking a vow of silence for the first few years, he could have made an enormous difference to issues that he is committed to, by staying in the Commons and fighting for them.

Short of becoming President of the EU Commission (yeah, right), nothing David Cameron does now will have the political impact that he could have achieved by remaining an MP.

Edward Heath remained in the Commons as a brooding, sulking presence sniping at his successor. But it didn’t have to be that way.

David Cameron had the chance to demonstrate that the after-life of a prime minister does not have to be rancorous and can be politically relevant.

Unfortunately, confronted with a difficult slog, once again, David Cameron seems to have taken the easy way out.

Politicians are prone to talk about the privilege of service. They are right. Most enter politics with the idea of serving the public at the forefront of their thoughts.

But given his decision to leave politics after only fifteen years, it’s hard to believe that this is what motivates David Cameron. The inescapable conclusion is that he simply does not care about any issue or cause enough to put in the hard time working out a new role in parliament so that he can make a difference.

Not only will David Cameron’s political career be defined by his failure in the EU referendum, the nature of his exit is the antithesis to the notion of public service which is meant to be the raison d’être of politics.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut



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7 Responses to “David Cameron flunks his final test”

  1. AdamP says:

    I disagree with the verdict of David Cameron as a political failure. I believe his reputation will be as a more popular PM than Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The fact is, David Cameron did not take us into war and presided over a relatively peaceful decade in British history. He offered the population the EU referendum he stated passionately his belief in the EU yet respected the democratic right of the public to make their own minds up.

    More than that, David Cameron is the first PM in years to increase the government’s majority whilst in office, the reverse of what Blair did. In fact, Cameron came in as head of a coalition, and went on after five years to secure a full majority for his party. That is a fantastic achievement.

    In terms of policy, Cameron’s most last social legacy may be come to be seen as the legislation of same-sex marriage, which might be a peripheral issue to many, but is an important symbol of how Cameron SUCCESSFULLY modernised the social attitude of the Conservative party.

    Cameron never really screwed up in my opinion, he campaigned on a referendum pledge, he offered it, he made his case for remaining in the EU, campaigned vigorously for what he believed (a damn sight more persuasively and passionately than Corbyn, it has to be said), and respected the will of the public when they voted to leave.

    I’m not even a Tory, just objectively don’t really see much wrongdoing or failure on Cameron’s part.

  2. John P Reid says:

    He did win a overall majority by fighting the middle ground, with both, the distractions of labour were likely to gain ex Lbdem votes in 205′ Ukip were splitting the right vote, both worked in our favour, and Ed swing labour to the left, Denounce New Labour miliband, lost.

  3. Mark Livingston says:

    I’m not sure anyone will ever feel a sense of nostalgia for New Labour’s Tory-liteness. Nor will they reflect positively on the suits, the coiffured hair, and the insincere grins of the New Labour era’s worst careerists.

  4. John Jones says:

    Correct. There was an opportunity here to try to re-write the script and turn the role of ex-PM into something useful and public-spirited. And he’s flunked the test.

    Yet to be fair any ex-Tory PM who has to decide whether to stay on the backbenches has a particularly horrible precedent to navigate from well within living memory: Ted Heath, who for 30 years conducted the longest and most childish sulk in political history.

    As Heath showed, an ex-PM who continues to sit in the Commons becomes the inevitable focus for internal party dissent against the incumbent leader/PM, has his voting record in the Commons constantly scrutinised for evidence of hostility towards the current leadership and finds himself being badgered all the time by every journalist in need of an easy story in the hope that he will say something that can be presented as an attack on the incumbent PM.

    Looking at that, and at the clear indications May is going to be a different sort of PM, perhaps it’s no surprise Cameron has had a think and concluded that after all his future lies entirely outside national poltiics?

  5. Tafia says:

    All political careers end in failure as a rule. Politicians just don’t know when to move on and usually have to be thrown out, voted out or dragged out, ex-Prime Ministers especially. Cameron nailed his credibility on the mast of the Referendum and lost, ergo he had to step down. He has resigned as an MP because that is the correct thing to do. And current Prime Ministers do not like former ones hanging round in the House, Lords or Commons. They are a hinderance and a distraction. He knows it and May knows it.

    He might have failed in the Referndum (interestingly it has come out that Lynton Cosby told him he would lose it straight after the fake negotiations because the British public would not buy those as geniuine concessions and they didn’t address mainstream voter concern).

    He’s now yesterday’s man. He knows it and has shown the fortitude and above all dignity to move away.

  6. Carol says:

    I am surprised that the fiasco of Libya has not been mentioned. For me, morally, this is equal to Iraq. Yet Cameron has got away with it.

  7. Sue Davies says:

    ‘The fact is, David Cameron did not take us into war and presided over a relatively peaceful decade in British history.’

    Sorry what? Libya, Syria…?

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