Wednesday 23 October 2019

Colette Browne: 'He unleashed austerity on the UK's most vulnerable and Brexit on the world - yet Cameron isn't sorry'

David Cameron. Photo: BBC/Richard Ansett
David Cameron. Photo: BBC/Richard Ansett
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Spare a thought for David Cameron - the politician whose career was eclipsed by Brexit now faces the indignity of his memoirs being eclipsed by Brexit.

Given his central role in unleashing Brexit on to the world, it's hard to feel much sympathy for the hapless Mr Cameron. Still, it's difficult to imagine there could be a worse time for the former British prime minister to release his tome.

Brexit was supposed to be done and dusted at this stage and the UK should have been enjoying the sunny uplands of its post-EU membership. Or, at least, that was how it was supposed to go.

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In the event, as Mr Cameron embarks on a blitzkrieg of interviews to hawk his book, the country is teetering on the edge of a no-deal precipice, EU leaders are visibly seething at the lack of any discernible progress in negotiations and the Supreme Court is being asked to decide if the current PM lied to Queen Elizabeth and illegitimately shut down parliament.

Perhaps feelings of empathy for the plight of Mr Cameron would be easier to conjure up if, during any of his plethora of interviews, he had opted to communicate a simple phrase, rarely spoken by politicians: "I'm sorry, I was wrong."

Instead of a mea culpa for his decision to hold a referendum in the first instance, and all of the chaos that flowed from that, Mr Cameron has repeatedly insisted that he was right to bow down to pressure from a Eurosceptic rump within his own party.

In an interview with ITV on Monday night, Mr Cameron maintained that a referendum on EU membership in 2016 "had become inevitable" and was "the right approach".

In reality, opinion polls in advance of the fateful referendum show that EU membership was not a burning issue for most UK voters. The majority didn't care a jot.

Mr Cameron opted to hold one, not to remedy some kind of existential democratic deficit, but to try to protect the Conservative Party from a UK Independence Party (Ukip) insurgence that was threatening Tory seats in a few marginal constituencies.

The country may be massively polarised on the issue now, but it wasn't back then, despite Mr Cameron's attempts to rewrite history.

Mr Cameron's rose-tinted appraisal of his own legacy doesn't stop there.

When it comes to the issue of austerity, introduced under his government in 2010, and which ravaged marginalised communities all over the country, he is also unrepentant.

Austerity was not the wrong policy, he has claimed. His only error was in not front-loading the cuts, so that they were even more draconian, in the years immediately following his election.

"There is a case for saying that some of the changes we had to make in year two, in year three, in year four - it might have been better if we did a little bit more a bit earlier," he mused.

Clearly, Mr Cameron has not been using his retirement from politics to peruse United Nations' reports into the real-world impact of the policy he repeatedly championed as prime minister and continues to champion now.

One such study last year, from the United Nations special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights, found that austerity inflicted by the UK's Tory government was "entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world".

In a scathing critique, the report found that "14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50pc below the poverty line and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials".

It noted the huge increase in the use of food banks, which were virtually unheard of before Mr Cameron took office but the use of which nearly doubled between 2013 and 2017.

Cumulatively, Tory governments sheared more than £30bn (€34bn) from public spending, most of the cuts being designed to dismantle social safety nets - such as housing subsidies and disability benefits - that were in place to protect vulnerable people.

When one considers the £6bn (€6.8bn) that is now being blithely spent on no-deal planning, or economic analysis which suggests Brexit is costing the UK economy £6.6bn (€7.5bn) every quarter - £85.8bn (€97bn) and counting - austerity looks like a sick joke carried out by a privileged elite at the expense of the poor, the sick, the weak and the marginalised.

Austerity has also been definitively linked to the Brexit result, a fact which Mr Cameron has failed, or refused, to acknowledge.

According to economist Thiemo Fetzer, writing in the 'Harvard Business Review', "studies have found that areas that supported Leave had an overall weaker economic structure with lower levels of income and life satisfaction, fewer high-status jobs, an aging demographic, and lower levels of educational attainment".

Mr Fetzer's own research has shown that "austerity-induced cuts to the welfare system played an important role in shoring support for Ukip and Vote Leave" and "this association was so strong that the 2016 EU referendum would have resulted in a clear victory for Remain… had it not been for austerity measures such as extensive cuts to public spending".

Decimating already-deprived communities by inflicting a never-ending cycle of public service cuts created the perfect breeding ground for far-right parties, who weaponised people's unhappiness and hopelessness and directed it towards undeserving targets - immigrants and the EU.

Instead of the government in Westminster being blamed for people's suffering, xenophobia and racism were whipped up, with the number of reported hate crimes more than doubling in the past five years.

Into this mess Mr Cameron makes his comeback, with the intention not of exhibiting any modicum of self-awareness or expressing any sorrow at what his policies have wrought, but of selling a few books.

He can add the royalties he earns from his autobiography to his reported £120,000 (€135,000) an hour speaking fee, which equates to £2,000 (€2,260) per minute. Austerity may be the right policy for everyone else, but Mr Cameron hasn't suffered its destructive effects.

His memoir, which is released tomorrow, by all accounts contains some juicy political gossip and a few well-crafted jibes - like calling Michael Gove a "foam-flecked Faragist" - but is mainly a trenchant defence of his record.

Mr Cameron claims he was forced to implement austerity and forced to facilitate the Brexit referendum and those decisions, he still insists, were the right thing to do. Despite all the mounting evidence to the contrary.

Sometimes, sorry really is the hardest word.

Irish Independent

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