An awful lot has happened in British politics over the course of the last month. A new prime minister has been installed at Number 10 Downing Street leading what seems like the most right-wing government since the Thatcher era. Theresa May, we are told, is a no nonsense politician. She will have to pick up the pieces left by her predecessor following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
The ‘Brexit’ vote will be David Cameron’s lasting political legacy. His decision to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU has obscured his earlier achievements. When he became leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party in 2005 he set about re-branding the organisation. Out went the old torch logo to be replaced by a new green and blue design. Mr Cameron was seen on a sledge with huskies on a visit to Lapland further underlining his supposed green credentials.
I can recall the final showdown between himself and David Davis (now part of Mrs. May’s newly formed government) during the leadership contest. Essentially it was a battle between the traditional wing of the party and Mr Cameron’s new, more progressive supporters. The ‘nasty party’ was to be reformed almost like ‘New Labour’ under Tony Blair. The Tories would reach out to those they had previously ignored. For awhile I genuinely thought Mr Cameron could radically change his party for the better. But despite going into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, supporting gay marriage and standing up for the disabled, he ultimately failed to resolve the big problem which has beset the Conservatives for decades – Europe.
It is said of political leaders that they ‘campaign in poetry and govern in prose’. This is no less true of Mr Cameron. His ‘Achilles heel’ was the ‘Brexit’ referendum and calling it was his big mistake. It has cost him his political career barely 12 months since, unexpectedly, winning a general election (the first Conservative leader to do so for almost a quarter of a century). All this is common knowledge now, with acres of news print devoted to the aftermath of this incredible referendum. The MP for Whitney has now departed and left Mrs. May to deal with the political fallout. She has assembled a right-wing government with figures like Mr Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox in key positions at cabinet. Far from curbing the harshness of his party, Mr Cameron has, through holding the recent referendum, freed the radicals among his colleagues.
Over the course of the last 40 years, or so, prime ministers have met their demise in various ways. James Callaghan had ‘the winter of discontent’; Margaret Thatcher had the poll tax; John Major had ‘Black Wednesday’; Tony Blair had the Iraq war; Gordon Brown had the banking crisis and now Mr Cameron has succumbed to Euro-phobia. God only knows what troubles are in store for Mrs. May. The post of prime minister is a poison chalice and she will have to tread carefully. At this time it is crucial that a strong opposition is gathered otherwise this newly emboldened government of the right (for that is what it is) could alienate more people than her predecessors did. The Conservative right have been let loose and they must be held to account.