The legacy of David Cameron

14 Sep 2016

He is the man who is indirectly responsible for the country’s decision to leave the European Union, an outcome I regret enormously. He led a government that trebled tuition fees, and used the country's honours system to reward friends, rather than hard work.


These are but a few of the reasons why I should take pleasure in the resignation of David Cameron, yet I find it incredibly hard to do so.


By most, he will be remembered as the prime minister responsible for Brexit, regardless of how they voted in the referendum.


Whilst the many up and down the country may not be sorry to see him go, the Conservative Party certainly should be.


To use a phrase coined by Cameron's successor, during their time in the political wilderness of opposition, the Conservatives were very much seen as 'the nasty party'. A reputation for fear rather than hope, and a knack for electing uncharismatic leaders was enough to keep even the increasingly unpopular Tony Blair in office.


After their third consecutive election defeat in 2005, activists and MPs alike began to recognise the need for change. Enter David Cameron.


Arguably, little about David Cameron is unusual. He boasts no great tale of struggle or hardship. On the contrary, he has never been in any way apologetic of his background.


Downing Street has seen many an Old Etonian walk through its famous black door, and for many years British politics has been dominated by Oxbridge graduates. For some, no doubt, "posh tosser" would be a most fitting description.


Yet even those who fiercely oppose his politics observe that, despite his privilege, he isn't a typical Conservative.


In 2004, he voted in favour of civil partnerships, later apologising for Section 28 and stunning delegates by endorsing the idea of same-sex marriage in his 2006 conference speech. In his final Prime Minister's Questions, Cameron named the 2013 decision to legalise same-sex marriage as one of the highlights of his career. Indeed, his response to a hypothetical question from Newsnight’s Evan Davis about gay men kissing in a park remains one of his best: “If I can kiss my wife in public, I don’t see why you can’t kiss your husband in public".


As well as defying traditional Conservative opinion on equal rights, Cameron made major changes to the outlook of the party. Even during the periods in which they dominated the political scene, the Tories were generally thought to be unfeeling, with a less than sympathetic attitude towards immigrants and the unemployed.


Many in the party remain tough on both, but David Cameron has at least remodelled a seemingly ancient part of the establishment into a "modern, compassionate" political party fit for the 21st century.


Despite his unexpected victory over Ed Miliband last year, some consider the success of his reformation to be debatable. But even the most hardened leftie must concede that the intention was undeniably there, marking further differences between Cameron and his nearest predecessors, who too quickly abandoned their own programs for modernisation.


Conservatives are so often stereotyped as stiff and cold, with a great pomposity about their character and a notable lack of empathy. Even in my borderline-communist days (an unfortunate episode that is now, thankfully, far behind me), I never got any such impression from David Cameron.


Never this century has the Conservative Party had a speaker so effortlessly brilliant at the dispatch box. True, his poor attempts at an American accent and last year's terrible Back to the Future jibe at Jeremy Corbyn are best erased from the memory of all, but even in his worst weeks Cameron managed to bring to the Commons a degree of light-heartedness and cheek that is so notably absent amongst his colleagues


Such highlights include one of his earliest taunts towards Ed Miliband, who invited Cameron to echo his criticisms of the then foreign secretary William Hague's handling of Libya at a session of Prime Minister's Questions in 2011. The prime minister replied "when it comes to it, there's only one person I can remember around here knifing a foreign secretary, and I think I'm looking at him", a decent poke at the wounds dealt by Miliband's victory over his brother David in the Labour leadership contest of the previous year.


Ed Balls also fell victim to the barbs of the former leader, with Cameron gleefully referring to the then shadow chancellor's notorious 'Bill somebody' gaffe, remarking "Bill somebody is Labour's policy".


Together, the two Eds were less than lovingly referred to as 'Red Ed and Redder Ed'. Given their perception as a party without charisma, the Conservatives should be very sorry to see such a natural performer leave the Commons.


Humour aside, it’s easy to be cynical about the impression David Cameron has made on the Conservative Party. His decision to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was at least partly influenced by the mutinous mutterings of his more troublesome backbenchers.


Such a concession suggests that Cameron’s attempts to stem the flow of raging Euroscepticism within the party were not very successful, but do not be too quick to disregard his impact entirely. Indeed, I consider myself living proof of the effectiveness of David Cameron’s message.


Being of old Labour stock, I grew up with a perception of the Conservatives as unsympathetic and old-fashioned. You might expect David Cameron- a straight, white male of a wealthy background- to cement that perception, yet he did the opposite.


His brand of conservatism is a liberal one, which puts social mobility on par with fiscal responsibility, and gives people the opportunity of greater control over their own affairs.


The idea that it doesn't matter where you come from, only where you are going is one that appeals to me very much. Cameron emphasised these things far more, and with greater success, than his predecessors ever did. Last year’s surprise election victory should testify as much.


Theresa May, understandably, is keen to lead the Conservative Party her own way, but I would caution her against distancing herself from the Cameron era too much. For Cameron’s conservatism was one that rescued the party from ruin.


It broke free of traditional ideas about society and its binds, and turned the Conservatives into a machine that doesn't look set to break down any time soon. It earned the party a general election victory most thought impossible, leading to the resignation of one useless Labour leader and the election of another. And, perhaps most astoundingly, it made me a Conservative.



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