So, David Cameron left the office of Prime Minister this afternoon. Many paid tribute to him for his 6 years of service to the country. Many others consider that any and all good he may have done over that time was well and truly torpedoed by his decision to call a Referendum on our membership of the European Union, which “he” then lost.
Much of the criticism of Cameron in the last 3 weeks has been by (largely, Remain voters) expressing the view that the electorate should not have been given the vote on whether the United Kingdom remained a member of the EU. Understandably, this has been called out by Leave voters as sour grapes, because the vote went the other way.
He promised a Referendum, in order to unite his own party, rather than in in the interests of the country – so the criticism runs. He gambled everything, and lost, so they say. He should not be applauded or thanked, because he has plunged the United Kingdom into political, economic, legal and social turmoil.
The United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union affects every single person in the 4 countries, and each person in a slightly different way. Why shouldn’t the people have their say once every 40 years or so? If Cameron hadn’t pledged a Referendum, he would undoubtedly have lost Conservative MPs to UKIP. Now that’s a rock and a hard place if ever there was one. If not him, then the next Conservative Prime Minister may well have gone on to hold a Referendum in the face of increasing political fragmentation and increasing unrest in our society.
Whatever Cameron’s reasoning behind the fact and timing of the Referendum, it is clearly an issue about which the electorate felt strongly. 72% of the eligible electorate voted. It mattered to the people. And it is unacceptable for anyone to say it should never have happened, that the public couldn’t be trusted with such an important decision.
Would a Labour Prime Minister ever have called a Referendum on EU membership in the light of consistent calls to let the people decide the fate of the country? Certainly not in this Parliament (had Labour come to power in 2015), and maybe never. The self-styled People’s Party may have maintained that in Government, it knew best as far as Europe was concerned, and the people should not have a say. I am of course speculating here – and I may stand corrected by those who know more about the Labour Party than I.
Is the drop in Sterling, the now even-more-frosty relationship with the rest of the EU, the outpouring of anti-immigration feeling and blatant racism, and the years of uncertainty the Brexit vote will now cause, all Cameron’s fault?
Not really. It’s the fault of the campaigners on both sides who told untruths to try and win (including Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, as well as the other lot, the Leave people whose names now escape me – where did they all go?). The people who urged us not to listen to experts – after all, what would they know? It’s the fault of people who voted Leave as a protest who never thought it would actually happen. It’s the fault of people who voted without knowing what they were voting for. It’s the fault of the nearly 30% of the electorate who just let the whole thing wash over them. And, as I said in my last post, it is the fault of all of us (including me) who could have done more to increase understanding of exactly what was at stake before people went to the polls (or didn’t), not the day after.
Being Prime Minister is not about the money. Yes, it is a well paid job but I can assure you that David Cameron has just increased his market value considerably on leaving Downing Street. No doubt consultancy positions, patronages of organisations needing a figurehead and non-exec directorships will be winging their way to him before too long.
It may partly be about power, status and influence. But as Tony Blair is now finding out, a rash decision, a poor decision, any chink in the armour of a Prime Minister, will come back to haunt them for the rest of their days. A bit of a double edged sword, you’ll have to agree.
There can be no doubt that holding the office of Prime Minister requires huge sacrifices, of family time, of relaxation, of privacy, of personal safety and security, and very little chance to just be a person, with all the flaws and idiosyncrasies that each of us inevitable have. It is a supreme work of public service.
Maybe Cameron’s best wasn’t good enough. But I’m in no doubt that he took the job seriously, worked hard at it for his 6 years in office and did what he felt was for the best – albeit through Conservative eyes with which many do not see (including me, I must add here). For that, he should be respected.
“doo, doo, doo, doo. Right. Good.”