Grant Woodward: David Cameron our worst Prime Minister? I'd say so

Ranking by Leeds academics puts him rock bottom of post-war table.

Thursday, 13th October 2016, 10:59 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 17:31 pm
David Cameron

AS Prime ministers go, it’s widely accepted that Anthony Eden was a walking disaster.

He plunged us into the Suez Crisis, only to have to pull out British troops when America failed to support a show of power which promptly turned into a demonstration of impotence.

So to be judged a worse post-war leader than a man who reduced the country to a laughing stock on the world stage is pretty good going.

Yet, according to Leeds University, that is the principal achievement of the David Cameron years.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

To be fair to the just departed Prime Minister, it’s not the best time to be judging his legacy.

The pound plummeted to an historic low this week and while that’s good news for Britain’s exporters, it brings the post-Brexit comedown with its attendant dip in outside confidence in a future outside the EU into sharp focus.

Yet the verdict of the Leeds academics, who recalibrate this league table every time the removal vans turn up at Downing Street, is pretty damning.

Nearly nine out of 10 said the EU referendum was Cameron’s greatest failure, with one claiming it was the greatest defeat of any prime minister “since Lord North lost America”.

While he scored a little higher for the coalition years, the rating for the 14 months when he was in sole charge put him rock bottom of the table, below even Eden, and poor old Gordon Brown.

If Cameron was liable to pay any attention to this sort of thing, that might hurt.

Judging the Cameron years has a lot to do with perspective, of course.

For Brexiteers he will be remembered fondly as the man who finally gave them the vote they wanted.

For everyone else, however, his casual acquiescence to a vote on Europe on the hunch that the country would opt to stay put was the mark of a man who frequently seemed more interested in filling the 24-hour news cycle than providing proper leadership.

Time and again he made rash promises there was little hope of keeping. Eliminating the deficit in five years. Not a chance. Cutting immigration to tens of thousands a year. It went up.

His actions overseas left a lot to be desired too, displaying yet more evidence of a leader acting on impulse rather than reasoned thinking. The bombing of Libya created another chaotic, failed state. His defeat in a vote for military action in Syria left his foreign policy in tatters.

Theresa May is already picking apart the machinery that facilitated his relentless harrying of the disabled through crude work assessments and poorly targeted benefit cuts.

Then there were the meaningless catchphrases, the sound and fury signifying nothing, that marked him out as an heir to Blair.

“Big Society”, “Hug a Hoodie”, “The Greenest Government Ever”. All hollow, vague and indicative of a man who seemed to think he was still working in PR rather than running a country.

Even the manner of his resignation bore the stamp of someone who wore his responsibilities all too lightly, despite the frown of sincerity and relentlessly rehearsed delivery.

Having thrust the country into a maelstrom of political and economic uncertainty he walked away from the cameras and whistled his way merrily back to the door of Number 10.

Having sold himself as the safe pair of hands to guide post-crash Britain through stormy waters, it seemed he was all too happy to abandon ship after discovering there was a hole in the hull.

The caveat, of course, is that only time will tell if Brexit will work out. But if it is a success then it will owe more to luck than any judgement on the part of the man responsible.

The other crumb of comfort for David Cameron is that in the last Leeds University poll, Tony Blair was third. In other words, things can change.