Case study David Cameron

David Cameron, Conservative, 2010–16

Parliamentary majorities

2010: no majority

2015: 12

State of the party

The party that Cameron inherited in 2005 when he became leader was both demoralised by its three consecutive election defeats and divided. It has remained divided since then and this was a major barrier to Cameron becoming a dominant leader. He is, by nature, a controller, but control often eluded him. The party did unite around the need for a programme of austerity (cuts in government spending) after the 2008 financial crisis so he was able to govern effectively. The internal divisions over the UK’s relationship with the EU, however, constantly made his party diff cult to lead and ultimately led to his downfall.

Examples of key policies

A programme of austerity — higher taxes and reduced public spending — to reduce the government’s financial deficit

Progressive social policies including the introduction of same-sex marriage

Promoting more devolution, mainly to Scotland

Reducing direct taxes on those with very low or very high incomes

Targeted reductions in welfare benef ts in order to encourage more people to find work

Subsidies for pre-school childcare to help families with young children and encourage work

Significant rise in the minimum (‘living’) wage

Introducing sharp increases in university tuition fees

Decision to hold a referendum on UK’s membership of the EU

Style of leadership

Cameron had problems exerting the personal power he would have liked to wield. To combat the barriers to his leadership he formed a strong bond with his chancellor, George Osborne, and his home secretary and eventual successor, Theresa May. He kept his rivals close by avoiding the temptation to remove them from government. Thus such opponents as Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson remained near the centre of power.

Prominent events

Cameron’s main achievement may well be seen as his government’s success in bringing the UK out of recession and stabilising the financial system. He will also be notable for having kept together a coalition for a full 5 years and followed this with an election victory. However, he has been bedevilled by foreign policy setbacks, especially when Parliament restricted his freedom of action to intervene in the Syrian civil war. Despite this mixed picture, Cameron’s term in off ce will probably be best remembered for one single event — the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. The fact that he lost that referendum will define his premiership in the same way the Iraq war defined that of Tony Blair.

Circumstances of loss of power

Having led the calls for a referendum on UK membership of the EU and campaigned strongly for the UK to remain a member, it was inevitable Cameron would have to resign following defeat in the referendum.