I have just come out of David Cameron’s Prime Minister’s Questions. Later today, he will travel to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to the Queen. A couple of hours after that, at around about 6pm on Wednesday, Theresa May will become the new Prime Minister.
David Cameron has been Prime Minister for six years and 62 days. I do not think history will judge his premiership to have been a success. In the same way that, despite many achievements Tony Blair will be remembered for one thing – Iraq – and, for readers with a slightly longer timescale, Anthony Eden will only be remembered for Suez, I think David Cameron will be remembered for the Brexit referendum, a gamble which has hastened his departure from No 10 Downing Street. I suppose, of course, that depending on how the Brexit negotiations fare and how well Britain does in the next few years – whether we are a strong, prosperous, outward looking and influential country, or not, is how history will judge him.
I cannot say I have agreed with much of what David Cameron has done while he has been Prime Minister. I can support his determination, despite enormous opposition in his own Party, for same sex marriage. He was a good performer in the House of Commons, which is important for a Prime Minister, but which sort of reinforced the view that he was a performer with style over substance. He came to office already highlighting that the North East (and Northern Ireland) would bear the brunt of cuts in public spending, and in that regard he stayed true to his word. The North East and communities like Hartlepool have really borne the brunt of the austerity programme since 2010. His claim to have sorted the deficit and public debt is ridiculous too; he said he would eliminate the deficit by 2015 and this will not be achieved for perhaps a decade after that. He said he would cut the public debt – on his watch it has actually doubled. That’s right – doubled under the tenure of one Prime Minister. He said he would cut net immigration to the “tens of thousands”. That was a ridiculous claim to make and, as expected, he hasn’t been able to achieve that – net migration was at something like 330,000 at the last count.
However, Mr Cameron is a very courteous and caring man in many ways. My son had a stroke 10 years ago when he was just 12. David Cameron wrote me the most beautiful and heartfelt handwritten note asking if there was anything he could do and if I wanted to chat I should contact him. He was Leader of the Opposition at the time and still had the generosity to say that. His son Ivan had cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy and died in February 2009. I wrote him a note at the time of Ivan’s passing and, remarkably, he replied, remembering my son’s stroke and asking after him, even in his moment of grief.
I don’t think as Prime Minister he particularly stood for anything – he had no ideology - but I do think his sense of public service is genuine. The last thing he said at the Despatch Box as Prime Minister was directly to MPs and I think heartfelt, and which, in times when Parliament and politics are despised more than ever, does ring true:
“Yes we can be pretty tough and test and challenge our leaders – perhaps more than some other countries – but that is something we should be proud of, and we should keep at it. And I hope you will all keep at it, and I will will you on as you do. The last thing I would say, is that you can achieve a lot of things in politics, you can get a lot of things done, and that, in the end – the public service, the national interest – that is what it is all about. Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it. After all, as I once said – I was the future once.”
He was never my choice as Prime Minister, and I think he has damaged communities like Hartlepool, but I wish Mr Cameron and his family well for the future.