The dismal legacy of David Cameron

Written By: John Holden
Published: April 7, 2017 Last modified: April 10, 2017

David Cameron tendered his abrupt resignation as Prime Minister on June 24 last year. For many he may now be no more than a memory but his legacy is very much with us – consider the turbulence and volatility of political events over the past several months. Is the any evidence of evidence of good performance by Her Majesty’s Government on Cameron’s watch?

The former PM is proud that employment levels increased under his administration. His claim can be justified by the numbers but many highly-paid jobs, especially in the private sector, were lost to be replaced by lower-paid jobs, jobs with zero-hours contracts which paid at or just above the minimum wage, with little or no employment security.

Cameron’s repetition of claims about the extent to which expenditure on the National Health Service rose during his years in Number 10 Downing Street was interminable. But has the performance of the NHS improved? According to the British Red Cross, there is a “humanitarian crisis” in NHS hospitals in England.

The NHS is fine in theory – free at the point of use – but all too often it fails in practice, with long waiting times for appointments, shaky arrangements at Accident and Emergency departments, and the all too frequent exposures of underperforming by and grotesque over payment of senior managers.

On terrorism – or, to be more precise, anti-terrorism – Cameron adopted an almost Panglossian stance: all was for the best. However, many would have preferred a more robust performance in combating terrorism on the home front with rather more caution about joining the queue of the those wanting to bomb Syria.

On the economy, Cameron made much of replacing Labour profligacy with careful housekeeping. But his claim to have brought about improvements in the management of the nation’s finances lacks validity. For instance, powerful voices are warning about the anticipated failures of many if not most company final salary pension schemes due to a combination of poor investment returns and people living longer than was in the plan, if there was a plan.

Cameron deserves some credit in the area of sexual equality and gay marriage but it is progress that did not require a great deal of work and there remains much to be done with regard to civil partnerships.

Cameron was fond of delivering critical strictures to overseas regimes that he thought were failing to tackle corruption. His time and energy would have been much better deployed in tackling the pervasive corruption within the UK, corruption which was his responsibly and which he had the power to curb.

Two examples from a long list. First, the extent to which university vice-chancellors have diverted funds intended to provide improvements in the higher education sector to inflate their own reward packages. Consider the £618,000 collected by Malcolm Gillies, who ran the worst university in the UK, London Metropolitan University. And there is no shortage of competition for that title.

Second, the extent to which senior managers in the NHS have diverted funds intended to improve the health service towards themselves.

Cameron presided over a widening gap between the rich and the poor. There were tax cuts for the most affluent. For those at the other end of the scale, there were benefit cuts, food banks and insecure employment conditions, and a plethora of payday lenders offering cash at extortionate rates of interest. It is an appalling indictment of Cameron’s administration that payday lenders continue to prey on the vulnerable, the impoverished and the desperate while when the bank rate of interest is 0.5 per cent and falling.

Cameron presided over the rapid growth of gambling. The desire to get rich without working is an understandable but unrealistic aspiration, with the odds inevitably stacked against the gambler.

Every circus has its clowns and Southern Railways is one of the those from the Cameron Big Top.The directors and senior managers of Southern Railways are relaxed about the shambles over which they preside. After all, their high salaries and huge bonuses are more than sufficient to insulate them from the fury of commuters.

The Government has sought to distance itself from the cauldron of frustration caused by cancelled trains, late trains, overcrowded trains, mystery trains – will they run or won’t they? – and very expensive trains. Ministers have taken the view that the list of problems, including allegedly recalcitrant unions, are for management to sort out. But this aloofness is increasingly problematic as the suffering of passengers increases. Theresa May would be advised to put the entire HS2 project on hold until the railways we have already got can be run properly.

HM Revenue and Customs, under Cameron’s purview, was a source of embarrassment because of the inability of its senior managers to carry out the straightforward job of collecting the taxes as laid down by Parliament. By an incredible feat of abysmal selection, Lyn Homer was given the top job and the consequence was a stream of cock-ups resulting in a significant gap between the tax owed and the tax collected. For obvious reasons, the principle beneficiaries of HMRC ineptitude were the super-rich. Homer left her job with a damehood and huge pension pot, having been rewarded for her failure with a massive bonus.

Perhaps there is no aspect of life more appalling in the UK now than the extent of food banks A necessary evil? They ought not be necessary and they are an affront to a civilised society.
How can it be that these were unknown 50 years ago and that national productivity has improved enormously in the intervening half century? All the people living in the UK today ought to have a much higher standard of living and the reason why this is not so is overwhelmingly down to poor government and, in recent years, an all too ready acceptance of widening the gap between rich and poor.

The most damaging example of poor judgement by David Cameron is his part in the Brexit fiasco. Cameron decided to resolve the issue of the UK membership of the European by calling a referendum. This was an unwise, although maybe a courageous decision and contributed more to his abrupt departure than all the other factors put together. How could he get it so badly wrong? He used the wrong strategy at the wrong time for the wrong reasons with no pressing need to do so.

It is difficult to think of any remotely comparable example of a British Prime Minister taking careful aim, kneecapping himself, inflicting enormous damage on his administration and his country, and triggering his own unplanned departure.

Why on earth did Cameron, alone of the 28 EU leaders, opt for that clumsiest and least democratic of tools, a referendum? His occupation of Number 10 was characterised by energy bordering on frenzy, and this surfeit of energy masked the absence of content.

Some commentators have suggested that the UK Brexit vote helped Donald Trump to secure the White House. Not exactly a point in Mr Cameron’s favour. And now it seems that Theresa May is working tirelessly to surpass the performance of Cameron in terms of sheer ineptitude.