24 Jun 2016

David Cameron ‘massively misjudged, over-reached and crashed’

David Cameron never knowingly under-estimated his own abilities. The Times’ Brussels Correspondent reports that he told other EU leaders at December’s European Council: “I am a winner. I can win this.”


To be fair, he had, earlier that year, won a general election with a majority that few had predicted. On Europe, he massively misjudged, over-reached and crashed.

He sits now with Eden and Chamberlain as a Prime Minister leaving office with a central strategic project crumbled to dust in his hands. It was a reverse inflicted by people who felt long aggrieved over immigration, antagonised by the impact of globalisation and the banking crash, by people who’ve hated the pace and direction of change in the UK. It was a referendum he’d never wanted to grant but which he felt was the only way to calm his own party.

David Cameron toiled in Conservative HQ under Margaret Thatcher, then served Norman Lamont and Michael Howard during the turbulent years when Europe violently tossed the political seas.

When he jumped on the stage at the Tory conference of 2005 he auditioned for the leadership as a young, next generation Tory who would help his party crawl out from the wreckage of rows over Europe (and the long shadows of Margaret Thatcher’s political assassination).

Many Tories weren’t at all sure about his attempts to modernise the party but gave him the benefit of the doubt in the hope he’d prove a winner. But the banking crash crashed in on his attempts to modernise the Tory Party and austerity moved up the agenda. The “winner” only half won the 2010 general election and disappointed many in his own ranks by going into coalition.

It was that Tory anger at the half victory and sharing of office that combined with a surge in support for Ukip to force David Cameron into a corner on Europe. He felt he had to concede a referendum to a party that risked slipping into electorally damaging civil war. He will now have to assess whether the price of buying peace in his party was extortionately high.

When he was re-elected, he decided to go for the fastest possible timetable – many, including Sir Lynton Crosby, told him the quicker you hold the vote the more chance people will use it as a protest vehicle. George Osborne is reported to have been sceptical about the referendum promise. He, a solid ally throughout David Cameron’s leadership, now faces the same fate as his boss: cast onto the political scrapheap at an age when politicians used to be starting not ending their careers.

After a renegotiation that under-delivered, his one-time friend Michael Gove defected to the Leave camp and helped to bring Boris Johnson with him. Polling last October suggested that Tory supporters would back Remain 60/40 if Johnson and Cameron were on the same side but could split 50/50 if the two were in different camps.

David Cameron’s greatest political moment was probably the founding of the coalition. As a politician with light ideological baggage and charm he made a relative anomaly seem routine, settled the nation’s nerves and made it work. His lowest is very low indeed.

David Cameron was choked with emotion at the end of his statement in Downing Street this morning. Not far away, in front of parliament, the man he was trying to stymie back in 2013 when he gave his speech promising a referendum, Nigel Farage, was standing in front of parliament triumphant, union jacks flapping around him.

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