On 23 January 2013, David Cameron made a speech in which he promised British voters an in-out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Two days later, I wrote: ‘There is a strong possibility that David Cameron, in one single, ill-considered, badly-timed and unnecessary speech, may have sown the seeds of his own downfall.’
I don’t often claim powers of clairvoyance, but perhaps on this one occasion, I might be excused. Because now he’s gone, and history will not be kind. Like Chamberlain at Munich, Eden at Suez, and Blair in Iraq, he made an error of judgement so monumental that it will overshadow everything else for as long as people remember his name.
I have tried to imagine the chapter in the history books of the future: ‘The Cameron Years – 2010-2016’. It will describe the coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the fetishisation of ‘austerity’, the salami-slicing of welfare benefits and the encouragement of a low-wage, zero-hours labour market in which ‘high employment’ was lauded and chronic job insecurity was ignored.
It will describe a housing market in London and elsewhere that incentivised buy-to-let but saw rents and property prices rise so fast that millennials were in effect locked out of the market completely. In the ‘plus’ column, it will mention same sex marriage, an iron-clad commitment to overseas aid, and the fact that during his 11 years as leader of the Conservative party, he managed to prevent it fracturing over Europe.
And it will end with the words: ‘Cameron’s legacy was a country adrift from its former European partners, regarded as an unreliable nuisance by its allies, and with an economy dangerously vulnerable to sudden changes in global trading patterns.
‘He had once been quoted as saying that he wanted to be prime minister because he thought he would be good at it. He wasn’t.’