Wednesday marked the end of a significant era in British politics with David Cameron’s resignation. Many commentators in the past have referred to Cameron as ‘more like Edward Heath than Margaret Thatcher.’ Yet the circumstances Cameron came to power in were different to those of Heath’s. Many historians in years to come will judge Cameron’s legacy by his decision to hold an EU Referendum that led to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, and many historians will either commend or condemn Cameron for gambling away Britain’s future in such fashion. But there was a lot more to Cameron’s two administrations than a preoccupation with ending an internal conflict over the European Union. Cameron has carved out his own unique legacy in British politics, but what are his greatest achievements?
Firstly, Cameron was bolder than Blair in introducing gay marriage to the United Kingdom, whereas Blair brought in civil partnerships for same-sex couples. Since the introduction of gay marriage into the United Kingdom in 2013, 1,409 marriages were formed between same-sex couples in the United Kingdom between 29th March 2014 and 30th June 2014. 56% of these marriages were to female couples (796 marriages) while 44% were to male couples (613 couples). Furthermore, this reform to marriage placed social reform at the heart of Cameron’s agenda and this turned out to be one of the most radical reforms during his time in office.
Also, Cameron’s unnoticed long-term legacy lies in his localism agenda that he has implemented since he came to office. Residents now have the power to hold local referendums on whether or not they want to return to the committee-style system of local government or elect a directly-elected mayor instead. Moreover, the Localism Act 2011 provided parish councils with more powers. Prior to this Act, parish councils only had the power to deal with graffiti in local villages, or installing new parks. Now, local councils have the power to take on more significant challenges. For example, Steyning Parish Council in West Sussex has the power to deal with minor road repairs, something never before under their jurisdiction. Due to this empowerment of parish councils, places like Sutton Coldfield have voted for a parish council that advocates the utilisation of these new opportunities. Nevertheless, these two councils only serve as two examples, hence why the localism agenda is still regarded as unnoticed in many places. Perhaps when more local parishes embrace this opportunity to transform their communities the issue will gain greater attention.
Much to the dislike of the Trade Union Congress, which claimed that Cameron’s localism agenda involves a ‘hidden privatisation’ of local services, private businesses and charities are being allowed the opportunity to run local services if they feel that they can provide a better standard for local residents. Fresh Horizon is a group in Huddersfield that has taken over the running of a local library. This demonstrates the potential of this policy and it will be interesting to see if more businesses and charities embrace the opportunity to run services and do a better job than local councils.
Ever since the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act was passed by Parliament, places like Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region, the North East and the West Midlands can now elect directly-elected mayors. That represents a substantial increase from seventeen directly-elected mayors in England.
The state of the economy has drastically improved since Cameron came to office in 2010. In December 2014, Real Household Disposable Income increased by 1.9%. Since 2013, unemployment has fallen considerably due to more flexible labour markets. Unemployment fell to its lowest levels during the final months of 2015. In 2014, the UK economy grew by 2.4%. GDP was 2.6% higher in the second quarter of 2015. In 2013, GDP at market prices was £1.7 trillion. Since coming to power, Cameron has managed to drastically reduce the amount of borrowing from £98.5 billion in 2013/14 to £74.9 billion in 2015/16. This resulted in the annual deficit getting lower than when the Coalition came to power in 2010. With the UK economy currently the sixth largest economy in the world, there is no doubt that Cameron has rescued the British economy from the dire straights that the economy was in when he inherited the economy in its abysmal state from the last Labour government.
Finally, Cameron’s long-term achievement of introducing the Universal Credit deserves recognition as do many of his other reforms to the welfare state. Under Cameron’s lead, Iain Duncan Smith successfully made it illegal for companies to force staff to retire at the age of 65. This reform will relieve a massive burden off taxpayers who are forced to pay for the services of those who still want to work but are compelled to abandon their careers.
Another reform that Duncan Smith implemented during his time as Work and Pensions Secretary under Cameron’s government was the Work Programme. This programme replaced Labour’s welfare-to-work scheme. Instead of allowing people to get away with a comfortable life on benefits, the Work Programme ensures that private companies are provided with incentives to help the long-term unemployed find work. Long-term recipients of Jobseekers’ Allowance are provided with the opportunity to work for private companies in order to ease them into work.
Also, under Cameron’s government, the Universal Credit, a new single payment scheme that brings together all pre-existing benefits like Jobseekers’ Allowance and Housing Benefit, was implemented. Duncan Smith attempted to eradicate the complexities of the welfare system, which allows claimants access to a variety of different benefits, enabling them to extract more money than necessary from the state. Universal Credit ensures that work pays more than benefits. Indeed, through the new system, people are imposed with sanctions if they try to avoid working at all. This year, Universal Credit will finally be rolled out across the country.
Therefore, Cameron’s will undoubtedly be regarded by history as the man who enabled all couples, regardless of sexuality, to choose to be recognised by the state as married. He will be remembered as the man who brought economic recovery and stability to Britain at a time the country was yearning for it. He will be recognised as the man who paved the way for sensible welfare reform. Finally, he will be praised for decentralising power to local government at a rate not witnessed before in British history. Once the aftermath of Brexit has cleared, I have no doubt history will be kinder to him in the long-term. Thatcher once boasted that New Labour was her greatest legacy. Considering May is maintaining Cameron’s legacy, there is no greater compliment to Cameron’s legacy than the work this new Government has already started.