I think it's interesting that if you were to take the time to look up a list of British politicians who are most widely respected and whose legacy is most highly valued by the British public, you would almost certainly come down to the same three candidates every single time; and they would be Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Conversely, if you were to look for lists of British Prime Ministers whose reputations have suffered most over the course of time; and whose legacies are mostly viewed in a highly negative way by the British public, then once again you would find a similar three candidates, only this time in the form of Neville Chamberlain, Gordon Brown and John Major, although not necessarily in any fixed order of disrepute.
At the time that most, but not all, of these various lists were actually being put together, Tony Blair was still the British Prime Minister; and so it is pretty fair to say that if these same lists were put together now, or in the near future, his name too would feature prominently on any lists of Britain's worst politicians, not least because of the widespread unravelling of his own personal legacy, as significant numbers of his New Labour "chickens" have inevitably come home to roost, so to speak. In the same way, David Cameron currently fails to feature on many of these lists, generally because they were constructed before he became Prime Minister, although on at least one of the more up-to-date lists, he had at least begun to feature, right down at the bottom, alongside one of his Conservative predecessors, Sir John Major.
It is desperately sad to think that politicians from several decades ago are now still much more respected and esteemed than those who would seek to govern us today, that Margaret Thatcher, one of the most socially divisive and ideologically driven politicians of the 20th Century even today, stands head and shoulders above her political successors. While Winston Churchill undoubtedly deserves his plaudits for helping to rally the country and the wider international community in opposition to the Nazi menace, some of the lists referred to, see Clement Attlee, the post-war Labour Prime Minister as being the greatest peacetime political leader this country has ever had, easily overshadowing the reputations of the likes of Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Perhaps it's a case of history often being kinder to political reputations, as time passes, memories fade and long term policies ultimately come to fruition, although for the likes of Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement towards Adolph Hitler, his reputation still continues to suffer, albeit not on the same scale as it did in the 1940's and immediately beyond. Maybe too, it's because our modern day country hasn't faced the sort of catastrophic events that confronted the likes of Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee or Margaret Thatcher, whether that be the threat of Nazi invasion, the devastating wartime destruction of our country, or indeed the threat of unionised labour bringing the entire country to the very brink of social and economic ruin.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man (or woman) goes the old expression; and perhaps it is precisely because we haven't faced such a grave crises since the late 1970's that none of our leader since then has had the opportunity to shine, to prove what a great national leader they are in the face of an impending disaster ? But then, that isn't exactly true is it? We've had a range of political, military and humanitarian disasters in Eastern Europe where the outcome of our country's intervention has been mixed. We've had the Exchange Rate Mechanism disaster that occurred under the Major government, that was thought to have cost the country billions in lost revenues. We've had our involvement in the Iraq War thanks to Tony Blair, that not only removed Saddam Hussein from office, but also helped turn that country into an almost biblical disaster area, which is continuing through to the present day. We've also had Gordon Brown selling off the nation's gold reserves at knock down prices, raiding pension funds, with the result that investors lost out; and we've had a failure to properly regulate the city, which resulted in near financial meltdown when the world markets caught a cold. We've had military interventions in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Libya and almost the very same thing in Syria, which but for a dose of common sanity, might well have been an even bigger disaster for our country than both Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
And over the same period of time, we've had hundreds of patients dying because of NHS incompetence, billions of pounds being wasted on ill-thought-out computer projects, the NHS and schools being put into hock for billions of pounds under the PFI program; and we've seen billions more wasted on wasteful procurement programs for our Armed Forces. In addition, we've seen millions of foreign migrants come into the country, both from the European Union and elsewhere in the world, while at the same time spending hundreds of billions to maintain our membership of the EU's political union, which in return has surreptitiously supplanted our elected British legislature, with an un-elected foreign one based in both Brussels and Strasbourg. It is hardly any wonder then, that when people are asked to name a British political leader who they believe has brought credit, character and strength to our nation, they don't choose the likes of Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron, or even Chamberlain, because for the most part these men are examples of failure, of weakness and of poor judgement, definitely not the sort of characteristics that we would look for in our national leadership.
Okay, okay, some people will point out that the country has just re-elected David Cameron and his Conservative Party to a second term of office, although it's equally fair to point out that only one in four people actually voted for him; and even that was with a weak opposition and the country being scared witless by the threat of an insurgent political party, the SNP, taking substantive control of the levers of government. Hardly a ringing endorsement then of David Cameron's political status within the country as a whole, or indeed of him as a political leader, but rather just another compromise candidate that the country has got into the habit of electing to high office ever since the early 1990's. Of course this dearth of serious political candidates for the job of Prime Minister isn't David Cameron's fault, because he along with the likes of John Major, William Hague, Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith, Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, are simply symptomatic of a British political that is fundamentally broken. And it is broken to the point that the British electorate have little or no faith in it, to the extent that in this most recent election more people chose NOT to vote at all, than chose to vote Conservative, making the entire electoral process a complete and utter sham. How can any political party that only attracted one in four votes possibly claim to have any sort of democratic legitimacy in the country, when three out of four voters chose to vote elsewhere, or not to even cast a ballot in the first place. It is absolute madness!
The question about the current Conservative government's democratic legitimacy aside however, perhaps we should be more worried by the fact that one of this country's worst performing Prime Ministers is now back at the helm, making some of the most important decisions that will ultimately come to define Britain's role in the world, now and into the future. There's the major constitutional issues over additional Scottish devolution, along with Mr Cameron's proposals to devolve more powers down to the various city states and regional centres, as in the case of Manchester, where the Conservatives hope to create their much talked about "Northern Powerhouse".
There's the issue of implementing the second round of the Conservatives previously promised austerity measures; and the reduction of billions of pounds in the nation's welfare bill and other vital services, while at the same time squandering billions of pounds on Foreign Aid and vanity infrastructure projects like HS2, etc. Then of course, there's the ever thorny issue of Britain's EU membership, the fabled renegotiation of our treaty terms with the other twenty-odd member states, followed by a national IN/OUT referendum by the end of 2017. On top of these major time consuming issues, the Conservative government of David Cameron will also have to deal with protecting the NHS, our national defence capabilities, the threat of religious extremism, the plight of African refugees in the Mediterranean, and carry forward parliamentary boundary reforms. In addition, Mr Cameron will need to find extra public funding to finance the myriad of "pet" projects that he has agreed to support, help solve the issue of the Libyan refugee crisis (that he himself helped to cause), try to protect Britain's interests in the face of a militarily resurgent Russia; and come to some sort of conclusion as to what action, if any, he intends to pursue with regard to IS and the ongoing conflict in Syria.
Just looking at that brief list of political objectives that David Cameron and his Conservative colleagues have to address during the 5-year term of this parliament, one well might imagine that the Labour Party will subsequently come the view that they have ultimately "dodged a political bullet", in terms of not having to deal with some of the most divisive and intractable issues that are currently facing the country today. With the Scottish independence genie firmly out of its nationalist bottle, thanks in part to Mr Cameron's own political actions, the very idea that Britain, or more properly the United Kingdom, can remain "united" is patently absurd, if only because Cameron is facing two of the shrewdest political operators in the country, in the shape of Nicola Sturgeon and Alec Salmond. No matter what executive powers he offers, no matter how much ground he cedes, it will never be enough for them, or more importantly their nationalist electorate, to settle the issue, unless or until full independence is offered.
In similar fashion, the issue of regional devolution is a social, political and economic accident that's just waiting to happen; and in my own mind is simply a modern equivalent of the Anglo Saxon "Heptarchy" and medieval city states that preceded our single unified nation. For those who might point to London as a shining example of what the likes of Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool or Leeds could become under such a devolved political system, simply consider the disparity between London and elsewhere in the country, in terms of social and economic costs, or the fact that some London boroughs are known to be exporting some of their poorer inhabitants to other cheaper parts of the country, a form of socio-economic cleansing if you will.
As regards the other great pressing issue of our time, our membership of the European Union and all of the vital national competencies directly associated with it, including trade, immigration, transport, energy, education, welfare, justice, defence, foreign affairs, etc. there is probably little to no chance that David Cameron's Conservative administration is going to allow us a referendum campaign that is balanced, fair or informative, simply because as a dedicated supporter of the European project, it isn't in his personal interests to do so. It is almost certain that the "IN" campaign will be financed and supported by big business, the CBI, the BBC, the Trade Union movement, most of the British press, the European Union itself and in fact by any number of UK and foreign based third parties who have a direct financial interest in our country remaining as a fully paid up member of the European Union.
Opposing them will be a mixed collection of small to medium sized British businesses, individual politicians from all sides, a very small number of national newspapers and almost the entire membership of UKIP, the political party that was specifically founded to fight against Britain's continued membership of the European Union. By any measure, this particular subject will be the defining issue of David Cameron's second premiership, simply because, as a committed Europhile and undoubtedly as one of the leading figures of the "IN" campaign, were he to lose the referendum on the question of our membership of the EU, it is surely inconceivable that he could or indeed would, want to be the man charged with renegotiating Britain's exit from the European Union.
It is impossible to imagine any circumstances under which a British Prime Minister has led a referendum campaign, be it fair or foul, who has lost the argument, only then to expect that he could continue in his previous role, even though his personal judgement had not only been questioned, but his entire argument rejected? Either David Cameron is brave enough, or foolhardy enough to take the risk of such a ballot, or more cynically one might actually question whether the entire referendum process is being organised in such a way, as to guarantee a more favourable result for the Prime Minister, in other words, a complete stitch-up?
Perhaps it is worth remembering, that as with all political pledges, the promises are cheap and it's the actual delivery part that tends to be expensive, as we'll undoubtedly find over the course of the next five years, assuming of course that David Cameron and his Conservatives don't fall foul of a Scottish nationalist ambush, or they don't unexpectedly lose the European membership referendum to a largely disadvantaged OUT campaign. And that doesn't even begin to touch on the problems that they might face, if they were to cut our military forces ever further, or were to renege on their promises regarding the NHS, the Human Rights Act, housing, education, taxation, apprenticeships, employment and everything else they promised to increase, at the same time that they promised to keep spending budgets under control. But then again, just like the previous issues of MP's expenses, the phone-hacking scandal, NHS waiting times and any number of the pledges that they made in 2010, including the promise to eradicate the deficit, David Cameron and his Conservatives are extremely good at finding excuses for why they haven't managed to keep their promises; and where they can't find a viable excuse to give to the public, well then, they simply fudge the answer, so I hope everyone is prepared for plenty of fudges over the course of the next 60 months?