The row, or more technically EU referendum debate, has been seeled. The people have had their say. Cameron accepts the red card from Vote Leave. Has he done the right things in the wrong ways?
Despite letters from his Brexit colleagues, Cameron simply had to go following this referendum result. The country needs a way forward. She needs a leader strong enough to stand up in the negotiations that will come over the next couple of years.
The very nature of the Remain campaign, which Cameron fronted, removed all faith in him as Prime Minister. Despite the slogan, ‘stronger, safer, better off in’ the arguments did not stack up to support what should be a positive message.
Instead, the rhetoric was fuelled by negativity. The overwhelming message was of Project Fear. Britain was, according to Cameron, too small to stand in her own. Along with his friend, Obama, he told us that we were too insignificant to secure trade deals on our own. Merkel would never make concessions over ‘free movement’. We could never make a better deal.
To cap it all, his sidekick from Oxford days, George Osborne, helped to generate some particularly nasty threats. Income tax would have to rise. Pensioners risked poverty. The nation that spawned economic thought through greats such as Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes would not have the wherewithal to deal with impending economic gloom.
Even the more modern radical economist, Patrick Minford, central to the school of Rational Expectations which defeated the twin threats of unemployment and inflation was misrepresented and ridiculed. (Enthusiasts may wish to revisit Minford’s work on the expectations augmented Phillips Curve.)
The sales technique of Cameron and his team progressed from the positive slogan to ‘displacement’ of his competition on a political level too. His team were unable to cope with the substance of the opposing argument. His own product, reform of the EU, proved to be a useless gadget.
The referendum was billed as on EU membership, not on manifestos. He manufactured his own sound bite “they can’t tell us what ‘out’ looks like”. Hardly surprising since the government which he led could not tell us their vision of what ‘remain’ looks like.
Frankly Cameron and his campaign organisers underestimated a pluralist British people. His citizens value freedom. They stand up for what is right. For a relatively small population with more world boxing champions than any other nation, his team failed to recognise that we punch above our weight.
The battle was set on Cameron’s terms. He knew where he stood. By adopting a ‘government position’ he used public money to support his own ends in the £9.3m publication of propaganda. That propaganda was fed by his sidekick. Osborne used Treasury resources to produce not just one but two dodgy dossiers.
Time will tell if the final nail was driven in by those who he sought to trust. At the last minute, news emerged that Turkey’s accession talks would resume within a week. Juncker denied that any further renegotiation would take place. Trust in Cameron was torpedoed.
Democracy is a powerful weapon. At times Cameron has used it to effect in pursuance of his own personal ambition. He certainly had a grounding in political life.
His first jobs were in research for the Conservative Party, slick in preparing John Major for PMQs, including the transition of the Maastricht Treaty. He went on to work for Norman Lamont in the Treasury, then Michael Howard in the Home Office. He later worked in PR for Carlton Communications, associated with their failure in the digital TV market.
The political grounding continued, coming back to his strength in short termism, coaching Iain Duncan Smith for PMQs. His abstention, against the whip, over vote on same sex couples adopting is credited with destabilising IDS’s leadership.
Party leadership was to become his before too long, using the party democratic structure to secure his own political ambitions. His chameleon-like qualities left us all wondering exactly where he stood on many issues. His pseudo euroscepticism allowed him to appeal to a variety of niches. His style of sound bite politics gave him a positive image.
Democracy and his short term niche marketing, led him to power, in the first instance in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. For his 2nd term, he had to live up to some of his commitments.
Democracy, combined with his personal ambition, led him to promise a referendum on the EU. He also promised reform. The growth of public support for UKIP led him to his pledges. The electorate gave him a majority.
Power brought out a different side to Cameron. Sound bite politics were augmented by 6th form bully boy tactics, sneering at others from a position of strength. His insults stretched from Corbyn’s dress sense to telling those of us who feared for our friends in the RAF over Syria were “terrorist sympathisers”.
Until the day before the referendum, Cameron labelled Brexiteers as “quitters”, paradoxically less than 48 hours before his own tactical retreat from Downing Street.
Democracy has a strange way of winning, even though it takes its time. It is not always manifest in the sort of drama that was seen in the shipyards of Gdansk nor the struggle that Mandela endured. Democracy can also take its time.
The roots of this referendum go back for years, at least 1992 with the Maastricht Treaty. Bill Cash led the Maastricht Referendum Campaign (MaRC), James Goldsmith the Referendum Party, Alan Sked formed UKIP. The voices may have been fragmented but the will has continued to exist and go on to unite.
Whatever we may think of Cameron and his motives, we have a powerful reminder that his legacy has been to restore democracy, giving the British people back the right to govern ourselves. He may have abused the process to his own ends. His downfall was of his own making. His short term policies would inevitably not stand up to the long term scrutiny that is democracy.
There is little sympathy in the media for Cameron, nor should there be. It is hard to find any genuine examples of altruism in what he called “service”. There are however expenses claims that have contributed to his personal property wealth. His status as a former Prime Minister guarantees him directorships and a generous enhanced pension.
The identity of the next Prime Minister is not yet known. He or she will be decided upon by the Conservative Party. MPs will have their say on eliminating candidates. For once, the guiding principle must be that the successor has appeal to those who voted to leave and will represent those interests rather than a close inner circle.
Until October, Cameron will be staying on as cover. Arguably, he was already a lame duck, having declared his intention not to lead the country beyond 2012. Should he go now, stepping aside for an interim?
Cameron can redeem his reputation by providing an umbrella for his successor. We know that we have a bright new future. The summer recess can give a chance for a leader to emerge. The kingmakers can have an opportunity to connect with the electorate and find out the democratic choice.
The leader may change but Britain has been a stable country for decades, even centuries. The country has emerged by evolution, not revolution. The most important message now is that Britain is open for business as usual, there is no panic, we shall do what is right in our own time. British values are worth investing in. The British people have proved we lend power to the PM, not vice versa.
In the meantime, we can reflect that the outgoing PM played a slick game. He may have been ahead but was trapped into his equalising own goal. Ultimately, the referendum became a penalty shoot out. Team UK gave democracy a fine victory with a playing model that might be copied across Europe.