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Cameron: the man who broke Britain

cameron-ineptOne man is responsible for today’s fiasco, and that is the Prime Minister. Or, thankfully, the soon-to-be-ex-Prime Minister. Dave joins Neville Chamberlain and Anthony Eden – coincidentally Tories too – in the hall of notorious failures. For his political vanity, for narrow party advantage over a hard right insurgency that began petering out before he conceded them the EU referendum, Dave has inflicted incalculable damage on the British economy, on the politics of this country, and goes into retirement trailing a bitter legacy of division and hopelessness. Well done that man. Well fucking done.

There’s a lot to be written about the referendum – the character of the people voting leave, what it means for mainstream politics, whether UKIP will do a SNP, and the looming no confidence vote in Jeremy Corbyn. But here, while he’s still relevant, I want to concentrate on Dave’s miserable figure and the trajectory of his career. And there are a couple of things that stand out. As I’ve argued before, actually Dave is a proven weak leader but his sole discernible talent is to look the part. Hence when politics is aestheticised and image is everything, that is able to cover for his legion of faults. This brings us to his big problem. Dave, you see, is an addict. A gambling addict, and this frame can be usefully employed to think about his career.

Dave’s brinkmanship started small. Upon his election in 2005, he put the party in the bath to hose down the muck of ages and the nasty, bigoted toxins the Tories had accumulated. A lot of members didn’t like it, and off they went. At the end of it we had a shiny new entity. “Vote blue go green” was the slogan as our youthful PM-to-be preached compassionate conservatism and made out with huskies in the Arctic.

It wasn’t long before Dave faced his true test. Going up against a wounded and flailing Gordon Brown, he took a chance breaking with the Tory commitment to matching Labour spending and used the window opened by the financial crisis to oppose the measures necessary to save Britain’s banking system. Economically, it was as bankrupt as Lehman’s, but politically Dave skillfully – with some help from his media friends – turned a crisis of capitalism into a crisis of public spending. Matters were helped by Brown and Darling deciding that the route back to normality meant passing through a period of austerity. Dave gambled by staking out new political ground, and won by setting the terms of the debate.

The next big gamble came shortly after. His “big, open and comprehensive offer” to the Liberal Democrats to join him in a coalition government was a novelty, and commentators – including not a few Labour MPs – were bowled over by this new “cooperative” approach to politics. In practice, there was little qualitatively different between it and any other Conservative government. But Dave reasoned rightly that the LibDems were hungry for ministerial office, and would cling on for as long as they could knowing another chance may never come their way. A recipe for chaos it was not.

Dave’s next big stake was the war of equal marriage. Trying to give the Tories a progressive gloss after implementing their first round of cuts, Dave more or less purged the party of its remaining bigots and homophobes. Tory associations folded and UKIP, then presenting itself as a libertarian party, promptly junked these principles and cleaved to the old school to hoover them up as recruits. A risky gamble because a declining Tory party could ill-afford to dispense with activists, and it gave UKIP the shot in the arm it needed.

His gambling appetite was now whetted. While it had simmered away for a while, Scottish independence wasn’t a decisive issue then in Scotland. But with the SNP in power, he thought to lance the boil and go down in history as the British PM to see off Scottish nationalism. I don’t believe he was far-sighted or Machiavellian enough to believe the referendum would destroy Scottish Labour, but this was the happy consequence as, somehow, the project fear approach of Better Together won the referendum at the price of immeasurably strengthening the SNP and Scottish nationalism in general. It doesn’t matter, as what happened in Scotland allowed him to play the English identity card and scaremonger enough voters in swing seats to grant him a slim majority.

The problem with problem gamblers is, unfortunately, they don’t know when to stop. Fresh out of the Scottish referendum, Dave sought to neutralise the UKIP vote in the marginals by offering the in/out EU referendum. Fully expecting it to be negotiated away in subsequent coalition talks that didn’t happen, the majority landed him with a promise he’d be hard pressed to wriggle out of. What raised the stakes even higher is Dave went away to Europe with the promise to renegotiate the UK’s relationship, and came back with thin gruel. He gambled this would be enough, along with a project fear-style ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ campaign to win again and secure his place in the pantheon of all-time greats. His gamble failed. For the sake of a small number of votes from a minor party in decline, he was happy to risk everything. With the risks so high for a stake so small, why didn’t someone make an intervention earlier? It’s too late. He lost, and – ironically – it will disproportionately be those who voted against him who will pay the cost of exiting.

Dave’s career is one gamble after another, gradually growing in risk and increasingly marked by personal vanity. I always knew Dave would get found out one day, and when that happened he’d be finished. He has, and a dislocated and dysfunctional country is what it took.

6 Comments

  1. John Penney says:

    All perfectly true, Phil – but add to the “Hall of ignominy” of guilty men and women, all those Labour Blairites and collaborators who for decades turned Labour into a political transmission belt for the continuation of the “Thatcher counter revolution”.

    Nothing the Tories are doing today, from selling off the NHS, to privatising education, wasn’t already begun by Labour during the Blair/Brown years. and these guilty politicians are still either members of the Labour party, and constantly lecturing us (Blair, Brown, Mandelson, to name but a few) or are still in the PLP, sabotaging the efforts of Jeremy and his team to turn Labour into a Party to defend the working class.

    1. Susan O'Neill says:

      Well said John Penney, with you on every point

    2. Carmen Malaree says:

      I totally agree with your analysis John Penney

    3. john P Reid says:

      o.k but the reason labour had to do it was too win a the previous labour government of the 70’s was so incompetent and too left wing it nearly destroyed the country, so labour accepted we lost the argument with Thatcher, and then we went back to being old labour in 2015 and Cameron won a overall majority,based on his record of 5 years in power

  2. Carmen Malaree says:

    I totally agree. Cameron is responsible for taking this country into the abyss. He said yesterday that he loved this country but this thought was not in his mind when he called for a referendum on the EU; he had in mind his own party, how to manage and reconcile differences within it and massively miscalculated the risk.

  3. David Pavett says:

    It is safe to say that when one man is held to responsible for a complex chain of historical events we are closer to a Hollywood view of events rather than serious analysis.

    I agree with John Penny.

    Of course Cameron bears a large part of the reponsibility but its not his alone. Others could have made a difference. Both the Labour left and the Labour right conducted campaigns that I can only describe as laid back. Corbyn’s “7 out of 10” line was honest and sensible but to cut any ice in an infantile debate it would have needed to be pursued and developed on a daily basis. It wasn’t. Even a large percentage if LP menbers didn’t know where Labour stood.

    So I am afraid that the “One man is responsible” line won’t bear a lot of examination.

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