Peter Bingle considers the political legacy of former Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne.

As politics resumes after the summer holidays the timing is propitious to consider the political legacy of David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne. Their abrupt and rather unseemly departure from government aside, what will they be remembered for and how will history judge their time in office?

It is a truism that people’s memories are short but I sense that they have already been forgotten, not just by the general public but also by the Tory Party. This is no mean achievement considering the ‘famous’ general election victory only last year. It is worth considering the reasons why as they explain why posterity is unlikely to be kind to either of them.

From the start of the Dave & George years it was clear that the Tory Party had been taken over (hijacked?) by the Notting Hill set, a group of rich young men who had been well educated and who then learned their political tricks in the Conservative Research Department under the tutelage of Guy Black, Alistair Cooke and Andrew Lansley. After a spell as special advisers (Dave was superb at the Home Office, George rather less so at MAFF), there was a period in the wilderness (Carlton Communications for Dave, Hague’s Private Office for George) and then election to the House of Commons.

From the moment Dave became Leader of the Tory Party it was clear that ideology was dead. The focus was on image and brand. Every Hoodie was hugged. No part of the world was safe from photo opportunities. Tory MPs and aspirant Tory MPs spent their holidays rebuilding villages in Africa. It was all part of creating a new modern, caring Tory Party. Ties were for a period banned. Every television interview featured a Tory spokesman proudly showing off his open necked shirt. Lady Thatcher’s name was rarely if ever mentioned.

The first general election campaign in 2010 was a disaster. There was the famous row about the airbrushed election poster. Against the most unpopular PM in living memory Dave was unable to win an overall majority. If Nick Clegg had not at that moment put the interests of the nation ahead of his own party’s that would have been the end of Dave and George. The Tory Party and, in particular, Tory funders were incandescent with rage.

Dave’s speech after the election result was the best of his political career. It paved the way for the coalition years, a style of government which suited him perfectly. Believing in very little other than winning power and then retaining it, the votes of Lib Dem MPs enabled him to govern in a pragmatic and issue by issue way. The Right of the Tory Party was irrelevant. He hated Right-Wing Tory MPs and they hated him.

At the start of the coalition George was impressive. He made deep cuts in public spending and won the political arguments over austerity and welfare. There were even occasional signs that he still believed in a smaller state. His liberal view of the world also helped the PM to agree to push ahead with same sex marriage, a policy which was popular with the public but deeply unpopular with Tory activists.

The trouble with George is that he gradually morphed into a strange mixture of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Budgets became more and more complex. Tory MPs cheered him when he sat down after every Budget speech and then cursed him when they read the economic and political analyses in the following Sunday’s newspapers. He became a tinkerer rather than a great reforming radical Tory chancellor. He also never earned the love and affection of the Tory Party. He was perhaps too clever by half! It was always clear that his fate was directly linked to that of Dave. And so it proved …

Dave never expected to win in 2015 even though his opponent was the hapless Ed Miliband. Another terrible election campaign in which he seemed bored for large parts. I am not sure he really wanted to win an overall majority as he could no longer count on the Lib Dems to save him from his own party. In the end the British public handed him the poisoned chalice of an outright majority. In so doing they sealed the political fate of both Dave & George.

It was ironic but strangely fitting that the Notting Hill set was brought down by an election pledge they never thought they would have to implement –  the EU Referendum. They didn’t think they were going to win an overall majority so it was never going to happen. Again the British public intervened and then they were gone. Dave at least departed the stage voluntarily. George had to be brutally shown the back door of Number 10 by Theresa May.

So farewell Dave & George. They could have achieved so much more if they had actually known what it was they were trying to achieve. Being modern and in the PM’s case being rather good at being PM wasn’t enough. At a time when trust in politics is at an all-time low the public wanted something more, something more substantial and enduring. Dave & George weren’t able to deliver. The PM gambled once too often and lost everything. And that is how he is going to be remembered. I sense very few tears being shed at his departure, except perhaps in Notting Hill. I am actually much more upset about George’s departure but that will be the subject of another posting!

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