The Observer today ran a series of short comments on David Cameron’s legacy. Here is my take (the original, not the Observer‘s cut version, which made a short comment even shorter).
Had David Cameron not won an election he never expected to win, he might not have lost a referendum he never expected to lose. Had the 2015 general election produced a continuation of the Coalition government, as many, including Tories, expected, it is unlikely that there ever would have been an EU Referendum.
And that, in a sense, sums up Cameron’s legacy. He was a man whose achievements, for good or ill, seems wrought as much by accident as by design. He was a pragmatist, but in the worst sense of the word; not a pragmatist in the sense of changing his mind when the facts changed, but rather in the sense of having few real principles to guide his actions in the first place.
Many laud Cameron as a social liberal and a Tory modernizer, pointing to his role in legalizing same-sex marriage. But his attitude to migration, from the campaign against ‘benefit tourists’ to the reluctance to accept Syrian refugees, does not suggest a liberal. Nor do his attitudes to civil liberties or to free speech. Others see him as a one-nation Tory. But Britain is now more fragmented, unequal and disaffected than it was in 2010, a disaffection that expressed itself so clearly in the Brexit vote.
Cameron’s legacy is difficult to define because there is little that does define him. He is the embodiment of an age in which old ideological divisions have eroded and technocratic forms of governance have become fashionable. The irony is that the Brexit vote was fuelled by the anger of those who felt politically voiceless in this new technocratic world. In the end, a man bereft of political vision was brought down by those estranged at losing their political voice.