After six years of being Prime Minster, the former leader of the Conservative party has resigned. His resignation was an inevitable consequence of failing to win the EU referendum in favour of Remain, which will be the biggest highlight of his legacy. Whether that highlight will be deemed a positive or negative for the country is something that can only be determined over the next couple of decades at the very least. What is certain is that his failure condemned him to resign his position about four years earlier than he anticipated.
David Cameron promised that his government would be a compassionate conservative in it’s approach, with the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition government that Cameron presided over most, you’d have thought this branding may have been more than rhetoric. Likewise Cameron promised to rebalance the economy in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, while cutting the deficit. Cameron also promised to implement the “Big Society”, the idea that voluntary community work would help the most needy in society. Every single one of these ambitions have not been realised.
David Cameron can be proud of one thing in particular, the introduction of gay marriage. It is a progressive cause that even Labour couldn’t and didn’t attempt to introduce during its 13 years in power. It demonstrates that Cameron did have some modernising tendencies within the Conservative movement, that he, or rather George Osborne, recognised the future of conservatism would imply preserving a more open conception of marriage. The institution of marriage as a respectable public institution needed preserving rather than its traditional conception as a bond between a man and a woman.
Sadly David Cameron wasn’t able to modernise the party further. Take cutting the deficit for instance. Cameron could have used the Liberal Democrats to claim impetus that conservatives could be social justice warriors, that helping the lot of the poor and disenfranchised wasn’t Labour’s responsibilities. Economic liberalism need not imply that the poor be left to fend for themselves, but instead it implied enabling the poor to help themselves. A synthesis essentially of one-nation conservatism and the libertarian tendencies of the Thatcherite wing of the party.
To accomplish such ambitions would need successful reform of the welfare state to make it simpler but also less punitive to those who become successful while on welfare. Such reforms were never carried out and the agenda to cut the deficit ended up being a regressive economic agenda that didn’t attempt to self-help the poor to improve themselves but make it a lot harder for those people to tread water, if not sink in many cases. The unemployed were victimised as scroungers, despite the fact that many tirelessly seek jobs of their own but the economic climate doesn’t allow them to. They were also victimised despite the fact that jobseekers allowance consists of only a small percentage of the welfare state. The state pension and tax credits, i.e. benefits to those who had worked hard all their lives and those that are working hard but find ends can’t meet up, are the benefits the state spends most of its money on.
David Cameron willingly allowed George Osborne to politicise welfare cuts which only helped prosper the image that they were still the “nasty party”. Cuts to those with disabilities is the best example of this. Welfare reform ended up being synonymous with punishing those on undesirable forms of benefits, which appealed to the basic instincts of a significant amount of voters. It was a basic instinct that a good Prime Minister would avoid, a good Prime Minister would have used the public angers to make the welfare state work for all instead of being negligent to those who couldn’t qualify, yet may deserved it even if they didn’t want it, and a necessity to those who were receiving welfare, i.e. the welfare trap.
Such attitudes to those on welfare also contradict the sentiment surrounding the Big Society, people are less likely to help those who they perceive as being responsible for their predicament. Human altruism has a rather restrictive set of limits, someone as intelligent as Cameron should understand the importance of that point. Even though he killed of the Big Society, he’d have hoped it emerged anyway. To be fair a Big Society would be emergent in nature, which is why its frustrating Cameron kept undermining the conditions needed to allow such a society to emerge without it being a cover for an attack on the welfare state and the poor.
Cameron also promised to rebalance the economy, George Osborne proposed the Northern Powerhouse to do precise that. After six years nothing substantial has emerged, let alone a powerhouse. Rebalancing the economy would have helped the Conservatives implement structural reforms to the economy which would have helped them implement cuts better equipped to cutting the deficit while allowing the country. The Conservative-Liberal coalition had to significantly slow down the pace of cuts in 2012-13 to ensure the economy started growing before the 2015 General Election. As a result the deficit remains high increasing the burden of public debt on the country to very high levels.
The Northern Powerhouse would also have helped detoxify the Conservatives image in Labour’s urban heartlands. The Tories destroyed the communities in the 80s only to fix them in the 10s. Even though some would still hate the Tories for it, others may have put renewed hope above a bleak past. In the meanwhile, Labour just took their votes for granted with little concern to improving economic conditions in the North. Such ambition would have been worthy of a great Prime Minister. Not so David Cameron.
David Cameron’s time as Prime Minister was one that failed to live up to its ambition, it failed to simplify the welfare state or cut the waste out of the NHS. It has failed to cut the deficit and failed to fight for social justice. It didn’t expand liberty, hope or prosperity to many. It was only component relative to the level of competence seen within the Labour party.