David Cameron is right up there with Lord North who lost America and Neville Chamberlain who waved his pathetic piece of paper after meeting Hitler, as a contender for the worst Prime Minister in our nation’s history.
His achievement in reviving the British economy is completely overshadowed by his reckless gamble with not only this country’s future but the whole European Union. He only promised the referendum for narrow political advantage to fend off UKIP’s Nigel Farage who is now dancing on his political grave. And before people say he wanted to give the people their voice, there is a widespread belief in political circles that he never expected to have to deliver the promise. He didn’t expect to win the General Election and could rely on Labour and the Lib Dems to stop it.
I so wish I hadn’t been right in January 2013 when Cameron made the referendum promise. I wrote “if he wins the election he will attempt a major renegotiation. He will fail but pretend the scraps he does get will be a good enough for people to vote yes. He will be ridiculed by UKIP and half the Tory Party egged on by the Murdoch press and I fear the British people will vote to come out.”
Of course people voted on the issue of our membership of Europe but a lot used the referendum to express their total frustration with the political establishment and their expert advisers. That’s the problem with referendums, people use them for a variety of reasons. The binary choice leaves no place for nuance.
Alienation was particularly strong in parts of the North. What is striking is the difference between the large cities and smaller ones. So Manchester had a 60% vote for Remain, Liverpool 58% and Leeds 50%. But outside the big urban areas Labour voters picked up Jeremy Corbyn’s lukewarm approach to the Remain campaign. So Blackpool recorded a 67% vote for Leave, Blackburn 56% (Barbara Castle would have been pleased), Bradford 54% and Preston 53%.
It is true that the economic recovery has not been felt across large tracts of the North. Austerity has been the wider experience but voting to leave the EU is likely to make the problems of the depressed areas of the North worse. The short term damage to the British economy is already being done as the world’s stock markets give their damning verdict. This will be followed by medium term uncertainty as we try to ask our angry former EU partners for decent trade deals. In the longer term what’s left of the UK (Scotland may have left) will have to try and paddle its own canoe in a world which has consolidated around large trading blocs.
Until 2010 the North had the powerful Regional Development Agencies backed up by regional investment from the EU. The RDA’s were scrapped and replaced by the Northern Powerhouse which has clearly not convinced working class people that they are being heard. The architect of the NP is George Osborne who will surely follow the Prime Minister into resignation. As far as regional investment is concerned we will now have to rely on Whitehall rather than the EU.
The Conservatives will probably elect Boris Johnson as leader and Prime Minister. Labour need urgently to replace Jeremy Corbyn who is just not up to the job.
But ultimately these leadership changes will only mask the need for a realignment of politics with the creation of a left of centre party that one day can provide competition for the rampant right.