I was never the biggest fan of David Cameron’s. I didn’t dislike him either – I just felt he prized party unity over the hard yards his modernisation project needed if he was to have done it in real earnest. I always thought the Coalition provided him with the opportunity to redefine the Tories as the party of the centre for the foreseeable future, one he was too squeamish to take up.
As it turns out, Labour and Jeremy Corbyn have done the job for the Tories anyhow. The Conservatives would have to travel very far to the right to even begin to seem as far from the mainstream of British political thought as Corbyn and his inner circle – and May is far too crafty for that to happen, as her initial speeches since winning the leadership have already demonstrated.
Yet I was struck by just how sad I was watching Cameron’s final PMQs. Much of what has happened since June 23rd has felt like being trapped in a parallel universe, but this was perhaps the biggest moment on that journey thus far. As Ken Clarke asked his final question of Cameron as PM, and Cameron answered, speaking his last words as prime minister in the House of Commons, I felt a lump at the back of my throat develop. I chastised myself for this internally – why was I actually getting emotional about David Cameron’s exit?
I realised quickly that it is because there was something about yesterday in the Commons that made me think this was the end of an era in terms of basic decency and order in British politics before a long journey into a hostile desert post-Brexit vote. As everyone but the SNP essentially wished Cameron well on his way, I felt like I was witnessing the last time something of this kind was ever going to happen – a collegiate farewell to a sitting prime minister, noting the importance of the House itself.
Perhaps this feeling I have is wrong – and I really hope it is. But at present we seem to be on a downward trajectory that not only isn’t close to bottoming out, but rather is only just beginning in earnest.
At the moment, everyone assumes Cameron’s legacy will be negative. Part of it undoubtedly will be, if for Brexit and nothing else. However, there could be nostalgia for his premiership too in years to come – even on the Left.