David Cameron leaves with a blighted legacy
He will be blamed for Brexit, and missed on this side of the Irish Sea
Just months ago a senior British official advising the Remain campaign suggested to an Irish audience that their winning weapon was prime minister David Cameron himself. Private polls showed Cameron alone worth a 20 percentage-point vote bonus, he said.
The man had stunned everyone by winning re-election and an absolute majority in the general election, and had a “real feel” for voters ’ preoccupations.
Times have changed. Yesterday the big blue vans removed the last of Cameron’s belongings from No 10 after six years in residence. If he was indeed worth 20 points in the poll, it was clearly the wrong 20 points, and – ironically – it would be the Leave vote that would prove his undoing, an unnecessary gamble to placate dissident backbenchers and wrong-foot a growing Ukip which set a runaway train in motion. He it was, after all, who had told his party to stop obsessing about Europe.
His legacy will be defined and blighted by how he left office. Above all he will be blamed for Brexit. Landmark achievements such as same-sex marriage or education reform, or piloting a fractious party through a difficult coalition with the LibDems and out of an economic disaster, will be eclipsed.
But perhaps the longer view of history will acknowledge a more nuanced view of a pragmatic moderniser who projected and made electable a more compassionate, green and caring image than his post-Thatcher predecessors; a successful foil for an increasingly tired New Labour.
But the wheels have been coming off the compassionate conservative bus with the squeeze on welfare and services and his deficit-obsessed government’s austerity programme. The “One Britain” mantra has rung increasingly hollow.
This side of the Irish Sea he will be missed. His relationship with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, notably in the councils of the EU, has been warm and may prove difficult to rekindle with Theresa May.
Cameron was also engaged actively in the never-ending Northern talks process and will be particularly remembered for the heartfelt sincerity and comprehensiveness of his apology for Bloody Sunday in the aftermath of Saville.