A principled, talented politician has bequeathed to his successor a constitutional crisisby Oliver Kamm / July 1, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Who is the real David Cameron?
David Cameron succeeded in restoring the dominance of the Conservative Party at horrendous cost to the national interest. Though he didn’t intend the destructive part of that outcome, it is his handiwork and will be his political legacy. His premiership will be defined, like Anthony Eden’s, by a single disastrous decision. Unlike the Suez debacle, however, Cameron’s misjudgement has caused a rupture not just with Britain’s most important ally but with all our allies simultaneously. The referendum on EU membership, for which there was no reason beyond the internal politics of the Conservative Party, will have costs that are as yet unknown but are certain to be heavy. Britain will be poorer materially and culturally because of Cameron’s gamble. There may cease to be a United Kingdom altogether.
How did it come to this? When he unexpectedly won the Conservative leadership in 2005 against the uninspiring David Davis, Cameron had an acute sense of his party’s problems. Against Tony Blair, the dominant centrist politician in Europe, the Tories had collapsed in electoral support and public respect. They still bore a reputation for economic failure after the 1992 sterling crisis and a succession of leaders (one of them of awesome incompetence) had failed to make headway.
Cameron at least perceived that the party was out of step with the mores of modern Britain. He purged the remains of a rancid xenophobia from the party and positioned it as force for social liberalism. If history had been only slightly different, he’d probably be remembered above all for the great social reform of same-sex marriage—on which he lost the faith of a predominantly elderly base of party support yet judged it necessary.
Even so, and against a Labour prime minister who handled the financial crash well yet was temperamentally unsuited to high office, the Tories lacked the breadth of social support across the UK that they needed to win…