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David Cameron’s legacy is out of his control

13 July 2016

5:38 PM

13 July 2016

5:38 PM

It was a rather cruel pathetic fallacy that the Prime Minister who had to resign early after creating a political storm by accidentally taking Britain out of the European Union gave his final speech from Downing Street under rumbling, rolling storm clouds. At one point, the wind whooshed back David Cameron’s hair and rain began to splatter on the hundreds of cameras watching his statement.

Cameron clearly wanted to use the statement to tell the British people what he thought his legacy was, and to highlight the ways in which he thought he had performed particularly well. He of course listed his achievements on the economy, particularly when it came to jobs, but he also notably focused on social change and social service, highlighting the ‘200,000 young people who have taken part in National Citizen Service’ and ‘the couples who have been able to get married, who weren’t allowed to in the past’. He clearly feels most emotional about public service and what that sense of duty to the country means to him. Some of the most passionate lines were about this: ‘let me finish by saying this: the spirit of service is one of this country’s most remarkable qualities’, and ‘for me politics has always been bout public service in the national interest. It is simple to say but often hard to do’.

Cameron’s public service in the national interest included going into a Coalition which focused on the economy for its first few years. This meant that it was much harder for him today to point out what his personal, distinctive legacy was from the past six years of being Prime Minister. His social justice reforms that he set out for his second term now sit on a shelf in Downing Street, waiting for Theresa May to pick them up. But even if he had found the time and had the political space to carry out these reforms earlier, the Prime Minister’s legacy will always be the glaring absence in his speech: Europe and his failure to stop the Tories banging on about it, or keep Britain in the European Union. Whether that is in time considered a catastrophic legacy has little to do with him: if his successors botch Brexit, then storm clouds will indeed have been a political omen and Cameron will be remembered far less kindly.


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