Cameron: premiership marked by serial failures of leadership
It is remarkable to think that less than a year since his election victory we are already seeing the endgame of David Cameron’s premiership.
In the immortal words of Mr Praline in Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch: “’E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace!”
Abandoned by a significant proportion of his own party – including key members of his government – Cameron is increasingly an isolated figure. Having spent so much time rubbishing Europe, his claim that Britain would be better off in Europe rather than out of it carries little weight.
We live in an era where authenticity is critical for political survival, and Cameron – the consummate PR professional – does not speak with an authentic voice. Boris Johnson may well be bonkers, but he has authenticity in spades. Michael Gove, the nerdish Lord Chancellor, too carries conviction when he speaks against the European cause.
Such is the poisoned nature of the British body poiitic, Cameron finds no comfort in the ranks of those who should be natural allies in his campaign to remain within the European Union.
With Labour unwilling to be seen in his company, and the Scottish Nationalists too viewing him as toxic, there is no grand coalition in favour of the European project.
If Cameron cannot rely on the whole-hearted support of those who believe that Europe is better united than divided, then who can he call on?
It is chilling that, at this early stage of a four-month process, the ‘out” campaign has seized the initiative. It has a cast that would disgrace the seediest Whitehall farce: in addition to Johnson and Gove, there’s the adjective-defying Nigel Farage, failed Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, and Respect Party leader George Galloway who meowed his way to infamy on the lap of actress Rula Lenska in Celebrity Big Brother.
The Scottish Independence referendum was nearly lost by the ‘no’ campaign because Labour – the dominant player – could not bring itself to whole-heartedly embrace the Union. It was embarrassed by the need to espouse the benefits of Britishness, and all that entailed.
Similar faint praise for Europe, and a refusal to recognise and celebrate the great achievements of the European enterprise will only encourage the electorate to sleepwalk its way into voting to come out.
One big difference between this referendum and Scotland’s is the position of the media. In the Scottish referendum the media was overwhelmingly in favour of the Union. This time around, the mood music is very different.
The press barons have created a bogeyman out of Europe. Their hatred is visceral, and right-wing commentators are using smoke and mirrors to exploit fears over economic migrants and asylum seekers, so-called benefit tourists, and the ‘imposition’ of European laws on a reluctant British electorate.
The reality is very different. Another Monty Python sketch springs to mind – a variation on a theme of “What have the Romans ever done for us”. The reality is that, for the past 40 years, British and Irish ministers, commissioners, and civil servants, have been joint partners in an enterprise with European colleagues that has benefited us all economically, socially, culturally and politically.
Europe has a voice in the world, a voice that draws on its strong traditions (albeit occasionally traduced) of democracy, civil and religious liberty, and the Enlightenment spirit.
The European voice has never been more necessary. We live in a world riven by political tensions. There is political instability in the United States (with a rampant red-necked right), Putin’s Russia is increasingly imperial and dictatorial, the Middle East is in free fall, and China is facing economic difficulties and a clash between its Communist roots and the desire of its people to better themselves through capitalism.
In the midst of all this Cameron opened the Pandora’s Box of a vote on Britain’s continued membership of the European club.
Where Cameron has been called on to show leadership, he has taken the coward’s way out. The referendum was a concession to bullies in his own party. His mishandling of Scotland nearly cost him the United Kingdom. He may yet destroy it. If Britain votes to leave, you can be sure its exit will be accompanied by Scotland’s from the UK.
Cameron may well become the man who destroyed the Tory Party, the United Kingdom, and Europe. The only way to stop him is to save him from himself.
- A version of this article appeared in The Irish News on February 26 2016