13 Jul 2016

David Cameron will be remembered for gambling and losing

David Cameron’s last Prime Minister’s Questions showed him at his best, the bit of the job he seemed to do effortlessly. It was astute, witty and self-deprecating. But history will cast it aside.


The same superior gifts that fed these performances arguably did for him: a belief in his own ability to out-perform others politically and win a referendum that was always more finely balanced than he thought.

He famously described the “No” victory in the Scottish referendum as a total success: “Alex Salmond? Shot, bagged, on the wall.” It doesn’t always look like that if you’re looking at the seriously energised SNP political base.

You get a sense that Mr Cameron inhaled a bit the General Election victory of 2015 as well. He told EU leaders at last December’s European Council: “I’m a winner.”

David Cameron will be remembered for gambling and losing on the very high stakes of the UK’s EU membership.

Ken Clarke reminded the Commons of the heavy burden of work on Brexit still to come. The SNP Parliamentary leader, Angus Robertson, said the vandalism of the EU exit meant his party “would not be applauding”. Labour’s frontbench decided to clap quietly and undemonstratively. I counted six Labour MPs who stood and applauded. They must hope the camera didn’t catch them with evidence for the de-selection file.

Tories stood to a man and a woman, the DUP MPs too, plus the SDLP and, rather half-heartedly, the Lib Dems. Nick Clegg’s was a masterclass in conflicted reluctant applause.

The focus is inevitably on the alliances in her own party that Theresa May forges today with her government appointments. This is not a “reshuffle,” by the way, all posts are at her disposal from the moment she sees the Queen. This is a new administration.

Tonight, though, is the first moment to start building international alliances, or at least friendly lines of communication.

Theresa May will make some very important phone calls this evening. The one to the outgoing US President matters less than the ones to EU leaders. She may be wise to flatter France with an early call and maybe with an early visit too. Germany knows all too well its influence in Europe. It doesn’t need to be flattered. Others do.

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