As of 5:23pm today David Cameron is no longer Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He has, like so many others, stepped down after his position became untenable. Unlike many Prime Ministers, he has been defeated not by the official opposition, but by his own party, in a vote he promised in the hopes of uniting the country. He failed, and when future generations look back on his leadership, this will overshadow much else. It was Cameron, they will say, who must ultimately be held responsible for the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, and whatever else that brings.
Yet David Cameron was Prime Minister for six years. Not a short time, by political standards, and he had hoped to be remembered for so much more. For ‘modernising’ his party. For creating a more equal country, with greater opportunities for everyone. For putting the nation back on sound financial footing after the Great Recession. The best laid plans of mice and men…
Since June 23rd, we have seen just how much Cameron’s social project has failed. It is clear now that the results of the EU referendum are deeply tied up with the social and economic dislocation of whole communities across the UK. Communities who lost their economic identities in the ‘80s and have had nothing to replace that. Communities whose votes have seemed to make no difference. It it hardly surprising that, when offered a choice between more of the same or uncertain change, they took the leap into the dark.
But this situation has been, if anything, exacerbated by the last six years of Conservative-led government. During this time, community services which can bring people together, from libraries to sports centres, have fallen to the axe of austerity. Individuals and families have suffered too – from cuts to ESA and SureStart centres, from the end of undergraduate grant support, above all from the longest, slowest economic ‘recovery’ on record. Wages have stagnated while prices have risen, excluding first time buyers (homelessness has doubled under Cameron’s leadership). Job security has collapsed while in-work poverty has sky rocketed, meaning that even people not dependent on the state have had to turn to food banks – in 2015-16, over a million packages were distributed by the Trussell Trust, up from 60,000 in 2010-11. That is before we even consider the impact of cuts to Disabled Support Allowance and the deaths resulting from work capability assessments. Pensioners alone have been safe-guarded by ring fences which feed into existing demographic divisions.
Then of course there is the impact of six years of public service underfunding. Many departments have been asked to make efficiency savings which are simply untenable – instead it is public service users who suffer. This is most clear for the NHS, which is likely to have a £22bn shortfall by 2020 (this will only be avoided if it is able to make 2-3% savings annually, a target widely seen as unrealistic), but everything from policing and prisons to education and transport have seen cuts and budget reductions.
Under David Cameron, our very country has changed. Immigrants have been systematically demonised (largely under the direction of our new Prime Minister in her previous role). Our country has become the subject of United Nations condemnation for our human rights record. We have seen a dramatic rise in racially motivated hate crime, and, the final cherry on top, David Cameron may well end up being the man responsible for the destruction of my national identity. Not exactly what I would call a legacy of modernisation and equalisation.
This is the country we find ourselves in. A country bitterly divided between the rich and poor, between cosmopolitan London and small northern towns. Between those worried about not only the UK, but the whole world, and those for whom putting food on the table pushes all other concerns aside.
It is also a country with no real opposition, though that is not the fault of David Cameron. So this is our challenge. To not only oppose four more years of Conservative rule, but to rebuild our country. To bring in those who have been excluded. And to do so in a way which is not petty or mean, in the face of a Prime Minister elected by 0.000003% of the population.
So, to quote Jed Bartlett “what’s next”?