David Cameron, ‘The man who led us to Brexit’. That will probably be his lasting legacy, but this is neither fair nor warranted for a man who has led his party and the country so honourably for the last six years. For a man who modernised the Conservative party, and saved the country from the brink of bankruptcy, this being his legacy is poor repayment indeed. Assessing Cameron’s legacy a day after leaving Downing Street is challenging, but here is an early evaluation of how he will be viewed by history…
Back in 2005 David Cameron was elected leader of the Conservative party, beating out David Davis in the run off contest. This was a seismic shift for a party trying to move away from its more recent past as being the “nasty party”; within weeks of his election he was off to the Arctic Circle for a fact finding trip about global warming, and this is where his true legacy starts. Prior to 2005 it was the Labour Party that was the party of modernisation, the party trying to change the status quo with Tony Blair as their leader. Yet Cameron’s election changed all of this, and he brought his party onto the right side of many of the key issues, the most notable being gay marriage.
June 15th 1215, 27th May 1679, 30th July 1948; these are some of the most celebrated dates in the UK’s history, from the Magna Carta agreement and the Habeas Corpus act, to the representation of the people act. Cameron added one more date onto this exclusive list; 21st May 2013, the Gay Marriage act. The Labour party, who had always claimed to champion people’s rights and freedoms, had 13 years to introduce gay marriage but had failed to do so. Even “the great reformer” Tony Blair failed to achieve it. And yet Cameron succeeded within three years of becoming prime minister. It was not opportunistic for him to do this, in fact it lost him a lot of support with some of the grassroots, but this is pure testimony to the type of principled yet pragmatic man and leader he was.
If his reformation of the Conservative party and his leadership on civil rights are his public legacies then surely his most understated legacy will be his brilliant work in saving the UK’s economy. It’s easy to forget just how bad things were back in 2010 when he took office; unemployment had peaked at 2.5 million. Since then Cameron has reduced unemployment down to 1.67 million, there has been a £79.9 billion decrease in the size of the deficit. The cost of living increase is o.2%, and when you compare this to the 3.4% back in May 2010, what you see is a leader who has faced up to the problems in our economy and tried to deal with them. If you listen to Jeremy Corbyn you will believe that austerity is a bad, dirty word and idea. It is not. Austerity as what Cameron has done means tackling the weaknesses in our economy head on and not leaving future generations with crippling debt, and this is a legacy which, while still less than half finished, he should rightly be proud of.
Of course I would be remiss if I were to mention Cameron’s legacy without discussing the EU referendum. Yes Britain voted to leave, and Cameron’s legacy will be tainted by this, but was it the wrong decision to have a referendum, an unnecessary risk? The Lib Dems and Labour have said as much, but they are wrong. In a democracy it is never a risk to trust the people to make a decision; the real risk is when leaders are unwilling to listen to them, vox populi, vox dei. Cameron is not responsible for us leaving the EU, he is responsible for protecting our democracy by letting the people have a say, which is not a legacy he should be ashamed of.
There is an unwritten commandment which all Prime Ministers, nay all of us, must be judged according to; leave this world a better place than when you came into it. That is the test of our humanity, but it is also the greatest test for our Leaders. Cameron’s legacy will not be to have ended terrorism, nor will it be to end poverty, unemployment, racism, or all that plagues our society. His legacy will be that he did make some progress, and has left this country in a better place than when he took over, and that really is quite something.