It may not be a popular thing to say, but I liked David Cameron. He had his ups and his downs, like most prime ministers, and many people decried his apparent cronyism which, while it was frustrating, was nothing to the level Tony Blair had under his administration.
After being infuriated by the Independent’s article branding him the worst Prime Minister for a century, it is time to defend his record in office.
Firstly, many on the right resented the former Tory leader’s lack of ideological purity when it came to conservatism. He deserves the title of the blurred man when it comes to his beliefs. It is fair to say he was somewhat of a chameleon politician. That is not necessarily a flaw.
In 2010, the country witnessed diverse crises that transcended conventional party politics. In Cameron, the country discovered the antidote. A man who, while keeping a vague centre-right tone to most policies, could spread across the political spectrum. This included social democracy in the form of the living wage, to social liberalism in terms of gay marriage, to fiscal conservatism when it came to deficit reduction and traditional conservatism relating to the marriage tax allowance.
While to the true blue Tory, this idea of forsaking ideological purity seems repulsive, it must be accepted that it was right to do so in the nation’s interest. The country required, requested and needed a prime minister that stretched beyond traditional political boundaries and served the greater good. Within the Party there had always been dissenters against his leadership and modernisation, but the results spoke form themselves in 2015 when we won the first majority Conservative government for over two decades.
Unfortunately, it is a fact that even the bluest of ideological fanatics must accept that Cameron only followed the most fundamental Conservative rule Sir Robert Peel laid down in the Tamworth manifesto in 1834: “We must reform to survive”. The Labour Party’s current fiasco is down mainly to ideological purity and refusal to blend with the times. Perhaps the predicament Labour finds itself in portrays that the blurred man’s vision was not so incoherent after all.
People conveniently forget yesterday’s problems. In Cameron’s case recently, that has definitely been true. It seems easy to discard the state of the nation’s finances back when the Conservatives first came to power. A significant budget deficit, debt spiralling out of control and, as Liam Byrne put in his note in the Treasury, there was no money left. In six years our erstwhile leader did what his critics on the left claimed was impossible. He halved the deficit and controlled spending. All the while, he protected, and in some cases, increased funding, to essential services like the NHS and education.
Contrary to the Independent’s accusations of him being one of the worst leaders ever, there are fewer prime ministers in recent history who have achieved such an economic feat of responsibility. Furthermore, under his tenure one thousand jobs were created a day, a job creation rate completely unmatched by any other prime minister. Now as the curtain has come down on the fallen leader, he leaves the country far stronger than the one he inherited six years ago. We are the fifth biggest economy in the world, with a strong economic foundation and controlled government finances.
He shifted the burden on the banking crash off of the poor by abolishing the 10p tax rate while also ensuring that the wealthy were not burdened by excessive tax rates like the 50p rate. In the face of Miliband’s and Balls’ predictions of tax revenue collapse, the result was increased revenue for the Treasury. This allowed the Government to invest in essential services. While Cameron’s economic achievements are not entirely untarnished, the Omnishambles budget being a prime example, it would be an injustice to call his stewardship of the economy anything less than superb.
Finally, one of my main defences of Cameron are his reforms that essentially saved the Conservative Party. It is all too easy to forget the state of the Party in December 2005, still reeling from their third consecutive crushing defeat, barely chipping away at New Labour’s mammoth majority. They were a shambles. The simple fact was that prior to his leadership of the Party, it was old, ineffective, inefficient and useless. The Party was stuck to the “nasty party” label coined by Theresa May and still congested with aging politicians of the Thatcher era, who were out of step with the modern world.
While it did not sit well with the Party’s old guard, Cameron dragged the Conservatives out of the 1980s and into the 2000s kicking and screaming, tackling the “nasty party” image with the Big Society commitments and focusing on the NHS. It may not have pleased the ideological puritans, but now social justice and social mobility are front and centre in the Conservatives’ message.
But he did more than that. He changed the Party structurally, he made it fit to fight elections, an example of this being the difference in election strategies. The 2005 General Election slogan “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” was dreadful. It appealed purely to our core vote and nothing else.
2010, arguably, was not a brilliant campaign either. In essence, it had the right idea, reaching out on ideas which the electorate cares about and reaching to voters other than their core base. Say what you will about Cameron’s tenure as Party leader, but it is undeniable that in 2016, as a Party, they are immensely efficient, managed and led then they were eleven years ago. They are a Party that looks business-like, fit to govern, competent and is trusted to make difficult decisions. For that we have only one man to thank: Cameron.
Regardless of what anyone thinks of his leadership, policies and time in government, it is undeniable that now the Conservative Party and, more importantly, the country, are in far better positions then before Cameron came to the helm of both of them. While papers like the Independent and the Mirror condemn him and the right of the Tory Party brand him as a Ted Heath, history will look on him better than many of his predecessors, granting him a place beneath Churchill and Thatcher in terms of reform.