Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

David Cameron is still the worst prime minister of the 21st Century

By Jeevan Farthing

Culture Editor Jeevan Farthing argues that David Cameron’s policies are ultimately responsible for the failings of more recent prime ministers.

David Cameron is the worst prime minister of the 21st Century. He did a runner after his big Brexit gamble because he was too scared to face the consequences, leaving it to a trio of incompetents – first Theresa May, then Boris Johnson, and most recently Liz Truss – to try and pick up the pieces.

The worst aspects of Boris Johnson’s premiership were all amplified by what Professor Michael Marmot calls the lost decade presided over by David Cameron. Over 200,000 people needlessly died of Covid-19 because our pandemic preparedness was woeful. The capacity of the NHS to handle emergencies has been devastated by Cameron’s underfunding, and the crisis in social care results directly from Cameron’s sweeping cuts to local authority budgets. One of the largest causes of unnecessary Covid-related deaths was the discharge of infected patients into social care settings; if our hospital capacity were greater, this lethal policy would not have been considered. Similarly, the main reason why lines of ambulances snarl outside our hospitals right now is because patients cannot be discharged – there is no social care package waiting for them. That’s partly because of Cameron’s cuts, but also because of Cameron’s Brexit: the social care industry has record vacancies, and EU nationals are not filling them.

The destabilisation of Northern Ireland’s political order – manifesting in the indefinite absence of government, and even violence on the streets last year – is entirely because of Brexit. There is no way to make Brexit work in Northern Ireland, but Cameron went and did it anyway. While Boris Johnson is ultimately responsible for initiating the lawbreaking Northern Ireland protocol, it’s because of Cameron that he felt compelled to introduce it in the first place. The undermining of the Good Friday Agreement – meaning its 25th anniversary cannot be celebrated – is perhaps the most politically poisonous aspect of Cameron’s stunt: one of the greatest successes of his predecessors, now thwarted.

But Brexit itself broke New and Old Labour, unearthing ideological splits so poisonous as to encompass the traditional left and the neo-blarities, fracturing what Faisal Islam coined the coalition between Hull and Hampstead that used to keep the party together. The debate over whether Labour’s 2019 election defeat was caused by their second referendum policy, or Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity, becomes less relevant when you consider David Cameron to have caused both. Without Brexit, Labour couldn’t commit to a fatal promise to undo it. Without austerity, Corbyn’s explicitly anti-austerity platform could not have transformed a backbench MP into the winner of Labour’s 2015 leadership contest. On the other side of the same coin, Boris Johnson’s success preceding and following the 2019 election can be directly attributed to Cameron. Johnson was getting a Brexit done that Cameron started, while ‘levelling up’ purported to fix the regional inequalities that Cameron’s austerity exacerbated.

Indeed, the premise of ‘levelling up’ has become that much harder because of a pandemic that exposed the cross-departmental consequences of Cameron’s cuts. What austerity did was reduce the productive capacity of this country’s institutions (the NHS and local authority care budgets have already been mentioned), so when Covid-19 introduced a further strain on that capacity, they simply could not cope. 

Take education: the way you ‘level up’ schools, the way you reduce the educational inequalities resulting from online learning, is by having more teachers and more schools. However teacher recruitment and retention have been in rapid decline since Cameron took office, and the same changes to the student loan system responsible for this cost of student living crisis have made a teaching degree unaffordable. How about justice? The backlog of 61,000 criminal court cases is too often attributed to the pandemic when over half of this country’s courts have closed since 2010. That’s not to mention the deep cuts to legal aid since 2012, which have rendered the justice system unworkable and inaccessible to the most vulnerable. Let’s not also forget when Cameron introduced the concept of “affordable rent” – consisting of homes being built at an extremely unaffordable 80% of market rate – which gutted the capacity of actually affordable social housing. That is not to mention the substantial increase in homelessness, across all measures, since 2010.

With many of the crises currently facing the UK compounded by Covid-19, it’s easy to attribute the blame for them to Boris Johnson. This overlooks that the person who mismanaged the institutions before the pandemic made them vulnerable to the pandemic. His reductions to the size of government have fundamentally constrained and will continue to constrain his successors, including current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

What Cameron achieved without a majority is far more damaging than what Johnson managed with the largest Tory majority since 1979. Johnson was harmfully ineffective, whereas Cameron was ruthlessly effective. While the public eventually saw Johnson’s bumptious buffoonery for what it was, Cameron’s malevolent managerialism changed how this country thinks and works. There is no greater example of this than the normalisation of food banks – an ideological masterstroke, hollowing out the provision of bare essentials to the goodwill of volunteers – now so embedded in the British psyche, and so shamefully necessary, that food banks have morphed into warm banks. Cameron was so poisonous because he was an agenda setter, undermining the credibility of his predecessors, and binding their successors (Ed Miliband, Keir Starmer) in perpetual fear of appearing too radical in the name of supposed fiscal responsibility.

One of Cameron’s greatest, perhaps one of his only achievements, was the legalisation of equal marriage. But the propensity of liberal wet wipes to sanitise Cameron’s record on equalities is sickening – his welfare reforms hit disabled people the hardest – and only deflects from the government-imposed harm LGBTQ+ individuals currently face, whether that be the shameful state of healthcare for transgender people, or the lack of LGBTQ+ safe spaces, which have both been exacerbated by Cameron’s austerity. All the while, the culture warriors dominating our most recent iterations of cabinet – Sajid Javid, Priti Patel, Nadhim Zahawi, Suella Braverman – were once Cameron’s rising stars, first elected under his ‘A-List’ of candidates, parachuted into safe seats for the 2010 general election.

A country where life expectancy can decrease under the guise of compassionate conservatism should be haunted and tainted by the person responsible. Britain reels from David Cameron. To ignore his culpability, to attribute the consequences entirely to his successors, would be to espouse the skullduggery he exercised in office. It’s time to do away with Cameron revisionism for good.


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paul frost

He was the most toxic PM ‘ I ever remember ‘ he should be jailed for corruption.


A singularly useless man and an embarrassment to the country.