Bow Group Chairman Ben Harris-Quinney on David Cameron's legacy

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Transcribed from a radio interview with Henry Riley on 'A Student's Perspective' at Kingston Green Radio

Ben, what do you think David Cameron’s legacy is going to be? Is it going to be the Prime Minister who got us out of the EU?

‘Well, I don't think it's going to be 'got us out of the EU' in a positive way because obviously David Cameron campaigned quite vigorously to keep Britain in the European Union and I think even in terms of the EU referendum, that was something that he delivered under significant duress. I don't think that's something he wanted to do and all evidence points to the contrary.

So I think he will be remembered negatively by those who wanted Britain to remain in the European Union; as someone who mishandled the process, for the Brexiteers I don't think they will remember him favourably either. As Margaret Thatcher said 'if you stand in the middle of the road you get hit from both sides.'

So, you obviously campaigned to get Britain out of the EU. I actually hosted a debate, as you will remember, at Warwick University on the issue. Your opinion of David Cameron isn’t going to be one that’s one of success is it?

'That's right, David Cameron was Prime Minister for six years so it's always likely that because Britain leaving European Union is such an enormous undertaking and an important part of a history that that will be what he is remembered for, but that's of course not the only thing that he did.

So on that issue I disagree with him - I disagree with him on many issues - but I think there were some aspects of his legacy as Prime Minister that were positive.’

What else do you think he will be remembered for, obviously some people on the left will praise him somewhat for legalising things like same-sex marriage, what else do you think he will be remembered for?

‘Well of course in the case of same-sex marriage, that's another issue that made him pretty unpopular with the Conservative Party and the conservative base, but really it depends the direction in which the economy takes from here.

If there is another recession and the economic reforms that the Conservative Party brought forward are shown up to have been inadequate to weather future storms, I think he will lose any positive legacy, but as things stand, I think he can - and his supporters can - legitimately the claim that the Conservative Party under his leadership, and Conservative Government under his leadership enacted a large amount of economic reforms that were designed to bring the UK economy back from the 2008 brink and on current evidence, they have been moderately successful in doing so.

So, in terms of the sort of positive national significance of David Cameron's tenure as Prime Minister I think that would be the main thing that I would focus on.’

How do you think Theresa May’s done so far?

‘So far, so good, but very little has actually been done. I think that's the real challenge that Theresa May has -  that she will find it very difficult to unite the disparate ends of the Conservative Party and the country as a whole in terms of the Brexit package that she delivers.

There has been a honeymoon period, both in terms of her premiership and  the time she has to solidify her ideas as Prime Minister and decide on the direction that she wants to take to move Britain out of the European Union.

But I think that honeymoon period is now coming to an end and people want real concrete answers. We had an extraordinary interaction about 10 days ago from the Government of Japan.In diplomatic terms it's very unusual for a government to really bang the table in frustration and say 'what on earth is going on? we are dissatisfied by the amount of information we are getting from the UK Government'.

And I think that not only goes for foreign governments. it goes for people in the United Kingdom and even people in the Conservative Party, we're at a point now where we want to know the details of what Theresa May's vision for Brexit looks like and that's where the crunch time comes because she's going to have to disappoint someone.’

A lot of people voted – and campaigned – to leave talked about a points-based immigration system and she’s essentially ruled that out. She’s surely going to upset a lot of people there, most of the people who voted to leave the EU, and therefore she hasn’t really delivered has she?

‘I'm someone who believes in a points-based immigration system. What the Government have said is we're going to go for an even more rigorous immigration system than that.

I don't see how they achieve that. The real measure of Theresa May's success on immigration reform will be whether she can hit their own targets as Home Secretary and Prime Minister of bringing immigration down to the tens of thousands.

I see no realistic way that the Government does that under the status quo system, whether we are in the European Union or not. The work visa system,  that they are proposing, I don't think will deliver the kind of thing that people that most people that voted for Brexit envisaged. So again, there's a huge amount of detail still to come on Theresa May’s immigration policy, but I'm inclined to agree with you: I think it is going to disappoint a lot of people.’