Public Affairs


There has been much speculation, especially in the latter months of 2018, as to the slow-motion car crash of Theresa May’s handling of Brexit and her likely place in the history books. While there is a very long list of political faults on her legacy charge-sheet, the majority of her problems have been the clear fault of the double-act she succeeded in 2016, writes ICTU’s John O’Farrell.

It is difficult to begin to compile the utterly toxic achievements of David Cameron and Gideon Osborne, but here’s a few examples that have formed the narrative we have been living through since June 2016 and will be for a very long time.

We can start with Libya in 2011. Going in and trashing the regime and scarpering with nothing left to fill the political vacuum. Gaddafi was a psycho and a murderer but Libya is now in the hands of a series of factions led by even worse characters.

The Libyan mess meant that Syria was then allowed to fester, as the western powers spurned its potential allies, the Syrian liberal opposition and the Kurds, and abandoned them to Assad’s torturers, Putin’s airstrikes and Jihadi medievalists.

Those two failed states facilitated the 2015 refugee crisis, which galvanised the pan-European far-right and other critics of liberal multiculturalism.

The experience of a million refugees arriving in the EU pushed Cameron into calling a referendum he had pledged, in a bid to outflank UKIP in the 2015 UK general election. Panicked by the prospect of another wave of refugees, the referendum was held early in summer but that meant that there was no effective pro-European campaign in place.

Anyway, the campaign designed by Osborne was rubbish. The lines were confused, there was no attempt to involve people with a positive case to make, (such as EU citizens living in the UK, let alone trade unions), and there was too much reliance on patronising businessmen and ‘Project Fear’.

Cameron tried to unite his party by scrapping collective cabinet responsibility, and was then reluctant to call out his Tory opponents for their dog-whistle racism and outright fibs. Nor did Cameron do what the French, the Germans and Hillary Clinton did soon after and at least try and expose the avalanche of fake news on social media.

Nor did Osborne reveal the curious conflict of interests involving the main funders of the leave campaigns, and the dark money floating around the campaign.

Cameron or Osborne did not see the impact of the very austerity policies they had championed as their greatest achievements. They simply assumed that the English underclass would stay at home on polling day, and would not take the opportunity to exact revenge for those thousands of little cuts to council services, to parks and libraries and Sure Start and job clubs.

They never foresaw that the people they blamed for ‘Broken Britain’ would exercise their votes and exact revenge for the mendacious social engineering involved in welfare ‘reform’, and its quite open side effect of saving billions which were diverted to cuts on the top rates of taxes for wealthy Tory donors.

They ignored the sullen rage of their own shire Tories who hated the ‘liberal’ aspects of modernising their party: equal marriage, anti-racist rhetoric, apologising for Bloody Sunday, imposing women candidates, (accurately) sneering at UKIP’s fanatics.

They did not notice the impact of allowing their Home Secretary to unleash a ‘hostile environment’ on migrants, ramping up fictions about ‘NHS tourism’ and ‘bogus’ asylum seekers, and stamping on the public mind a series of grotesque images of migrants ‘fleecing us’.

On a December day, as Westminster shuddered through another daily catastrophe, an impertinent Sky News reporter collared David Cameron and was told he had no regrets in calling the referendum, and that he supported the Prime Minister. Should she be grateful.

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