The former Prime Minister is standing down as an MP—what is his legacy?by Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite / September 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Cameron once said he wanted to be Prime Minister because he thought he’d “be good at it.” In the aftermath of the EU referendum and his resignation as Prime Minister, and now as MP for Witney, his failures loom larger than his successes; but his achievements as a Conservative moderniser were not negligible.
In 2005, Cameron’s fellow candidate for the Conservative leadership David Davis tried to paint himself as the “conviction politician”—and Cameron as the lightweight newcomer. Davis had commitments to a raft of “Thatcherite” policies: tax cuts, grammar schools, renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU. Cameron’s pitch was more about style than the substance of policy; he didn’t want to commit to too much years before the next General Election. But the clear message his style conveyed was that of a moderniser and a “compassionate Conservative.”
Well before Theresa May warned the Conservatives at their 2002 conference about their image as the “nasty party,” others had made similar arguments. Ian Taylor, formerly MP for Esher and Walton, argued in 2000 that to win an election, the party needed to stop being “defined by who we hate—the euro, the EU, asylum-seekers, gays and criminals.” The recognition that the party needed to change did not originate with Cameron, but he did address it head-on, and shaped his image accordingly.
He won the leadership in 2005, first because right-wing Conservative MPs were divided over whether to support Liam Fox or David Davis, and, second, because MPs and the party in the country realised that Cameron’s modernising image was more popular among voters, that he had more chance of beating Gordon Brown (expected to become Prime Minister before the next General Election), and that he had a better chance of holding the party together (as suggested by divisions between Fox and Davis). Given Conservative Party MPs’ and members’ well-known ability to put the desire to win elections above most other considerations, they voted for Cameron to modernise the party, to hold it together, and above all, to win.