David Cameron’s disastrous legacy

[UPDATE: May survived the no-confidence vote within her own party by a margin of 200-117. This is hardly a ringing show of support and was arrived at only after she reportedly promised that she would step aside before 2022, when the next general election is due.]

British prime minister Theresa May is facing a vote of no-confidence within her own party to be held later today, that was triggered by at least 48 members of her party calling for one. At this point, it may be well to recall the key figure that set in motion the current chaotic state of affairs and that is her predecessor as prime minister David Cameron who created a mess and walked away, leaving others to deal with it.

Cameron led his party to a surprising majority when he called an election back in May 2015, after having led the country as part of a coalition with the Liberal party from 2010. That was the high point in his career. One of his campaign promises had been to hold a referendum on continued UK membership in the EU that has now come to be known as Brexit. Losing that referendum (i.e., having Brexit pass) in June 2016 set in motion the sequence of events that led to the current predicament that May finds herself in.

Cameron is not a lawyer by training or he might have benefited from the advice given to lawyers that in arguing a case, it is advisable only to ask questions of a witness to which you already know the answer or for which you are prepared for any answer. In the case of the Brexit referendum, it seems clear that he was confident that the vote would be to remain. Why call for the vote at all? There had long been whining within the Conservative party by those who wanted to leave the EU and it may have seemed like a good idea to call for the referendum. Then when the country voted to remain, he could tell the whiners that the people had spoken and they should shut the hell up. He may have hoped to solve an internal party problem by getting the nation involved and it backfired badly when the country voted to leave.

Cameron then resigned the prime ministership (and his seat in parliament) and May succeeded him, inheriting the mess. But while she inherited a bad hand, she has undoubtedly managed to make things worse by her ineptness and by making promises that she could not keep. Not the least of her missteps was her ill-fated decision to call for a general election in June 2017 that resulted in her party losing its comfortable majority and being forced to depend upon a hardline Northern Ireland party for its survival. Today, she faces a reckoning. It is unlikely that she will not be able to get the 158 MPs to support her that she needs to defeat the motion. But if there is a large enough vote against her, she might find her position untenable and resign anyway.

So here we are. It is clear that the majority of the British parliament, and this includes the Labour Party, is not in favor of leaving the EU. The only way to avoid it is to call for a second referendum and hope the new vote is to remain. And yet, no one wants to be the one who first calls for this second referendum, rightly fearing being castigated as defying the will of the people.

So the UK remains mired in its Brexit quagmire. If May should resign, perhaps the way out of it is if the next person selected as party leader is someone who runs on the promise to call for a second referendum, wins the prime ministership, and then does so. This will unleash the fury of the people who want to leave the EU no matter what (and they are like the Trumpers in the US in their passion and single-mindedness) and that storm will have to be ridden out. What the new prime minister can say is that this detailed discussion of all the complications that leaving the EU would entail that has been playing out over the past year is one that should have been had before the first referendum was called, so that people would be aware of all the complications involving borders and tariffs before they voted. Hence this new referendum would be a much better gauge of people’s intentions than the earlier one that focused more on hot-button issues of nationalism and immigration, things that can tap into deep emotions and fears but do not come anywhere close to dealing with deep-rooted complexities. It is not unlike the US where Trump campaigned on the border wall and against immigrants and vaguely nationalistic sentiments.

Of course, if the second referendum results in yet another vote to leave, then we would be back to where we are now. But at least the country could be confident that they voted having a much deeper understanding of what they were voting on.

Thanks to reader Holms, here is comedian Jonathan Pie playing a journalist nicely summing up the current mess. (Language advisory)


  1. ardipithecus says

    The EU Court ruled that the UK can unilaterally withdraw Brexit. That is likely May’s best option if she survives the non-confidence vote. Pretty much all other paths are now blocked.

  2. says

    If I were May, I’d change my name and move to another country (somewhere in the EU) and find a small quiet job somewhere nobody’d notice me. Perhaps I’d make croissants. And if someone said, “hey you look like…” I’d shake my head and say “you know, people say that, but I don’t see it.”

  3. ridana says

    #2 @ TL: Being an ignorant American, am I right in thinking this sounds like Texans wanting to secede while expecting that they would still have Congressional representation?

  4. fentex says

    Being an ignorant American, am I right in thinking this sounds like Texans wanting to secede while expecting that they would still have Congressional representation?

    Yes, that is a good analogy for one of the problems with Brexit.

    The DUP (which the Conservatives now rely on to hold power) is a small virulently idiotic party in Northen Ireland that wants;
    1 -- Any Brexit deal to treat Northern Ireland exactly like the rest of the UK.
    2 -- Any Brexit deal to treat Northern Ireland differently than the rest of the UK.
    3 -- Brexit to happen!

    This is impossible, and they insist May delivers it.

    FYI -- (1) is all about the UK enclave in Northern Ireland beiung treated like it damn well is part of the UK and no kind of concessions to the fact it’s a foreign “colony” on the island of Eire be made at all, ever.

    (2) is about the fact that Northen Island is on the bloody island of Eire and has borders with the irish Republic that need to be kept open and free to cross least people get violently pissed off about the fact there’s a UK colony on their island again.

    These are irreconciliable positions that the DUP insist be reconciled by May.

    There is no solution to this, if Brexit is to happen it will be without a deal and possibly at the cost of violence erupting on Eire, again.

  5. DavidinOz says

    During “the Troubles” it was said that the Irish don’t know what they want, and they won’t be happy until they get it.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Two things I’ve saying with varying degrees of seriousness for a while now:

    1. David Cameron is the worst prime minister we’ve ever had. Not “since Chamberlain”. Chamberlain just got us into a world war. You can WIN a war. Nobody can “win” Brexit.

    2. The Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party (the ones selfishly responsible for the no-confidence vote in the middle of the single most important political crisis… well, possibly ever) are, to my mind, a posh man, sitting in First Class, loudly demanding the flight attendant brings him a complaint form… over the sound of five men in the cockpit shouting “Allahu Akbar”.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    I had a thought a couple of days ago -- something I hope is true. What if May isn’t the dithering, worthless incompetent she seems? What if she isn’t the integrity-vacuum opportunist with an arrogant streak that her actions suggest? (She supported Remain in the referendum, but a sniff of power when Cameron left made her switch sides).

    What if… she’s a Machiavellian genius, sacrificing herself and her career and legacy/reputation for the greater good?

    Hear me out: a true Eurosceptic, someone who believed in Brexit, would have started, on day one, negotiating hard for a deal to leave. They’d have gone in early with a strong parliamentary majority and achievable red lines. And right now, they’d probably be in a position to force Britain out on terms that would be advantageous to their millionaire backers and almost nobody else.

    But May has been different. She’s dithered for over two years. She’s appointed a team around her who predictably undermine her at every turn (she made Alexander “Boris” fucking Johnson Foreign Secretary! Tell me you can’t see through that?). She’s squandered a parliamentary majority and went into effective coalition with a bunch of hardline creationists, by literally bribing them with a billion pounds. And she’s presided over a deal that has united BOTH sides in their utter hatred of its terms. It’s genius. The country, far from having a clear way forward, now has options. BOTH sides want something different than what’s on offer.

    NOBODY wants the May deal, and nobody who can tie their own shoelaces wants a no-deal Brexit… and the EU have made clear there are no further deals to be had. Which leaves us with only one realistic option: staying in. It’s legal -- the referendum was advisory only, and the EU have stated we can rescind Article 50 unilaterally. Politically, we might have to have another referendum, but after 2.5 years of more information, I can’t with any hope in my heart believe the British public would vote Leave if they knew it would be a catastrophic no-deal crash-out, rather than the Shangri-la having-your-cake-and-eating-it utopia liars like Johnson promised in ’16.

    May has manoeuvred this country to a point where the only realistically sensible course of action is to cancel Brexit. I so strongly want to believe she’s done it on purpose. If she had, it would make her the greatest leader we’ve had in decades.

    I don’t believe it of course.

    PS: the Tories HAD a vote on their leader in 2016. Now a bunch of them have tried to get another vote on that question, because in the light of what’s happened since, they’ve changed their minds. Ironically, it’s the EXACT SAME pack of bastards who say having another referendum on Brexit would “anti-democratic” because “the people have spoken” or similar bullshit.

  8. Dunc says

    May has manoeuvred this country to a point where the only realistically sensible course of action is to cancel Brexit.

    True. Unfortunately, realism and sense seem to be in very short supply these days.

    I’m not sure I agree that “nobody who can tie their own shoelaces wants a no-deal Brexit” -- on the one hand, there’s a bunch of deluded fantasists who still believe that Maximum Brexit is the road to regaining the Empire (or some such bullshit), and on the other, a lot of those “millionaire backers” are heavily invested in hedge funds that stand to make a fortune if Sterling goes down the tubes. I do believe that a no-deal Brexit is exactly the outcome that the nutjobs in the ERG are hoping for -- it would give the disaster capitalist wing of the party the perfect excuse to impose Austerity Plus and take us all the way back to the 19th Century (if not further).

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