A lasting legacy?
David Cameron cut a triumphant figure at his last Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, sharing some jokes, setting out his achievements and receiving glowing tributes from veterans such as Ken Clarke. Brexit will count as his defining legacy for the future of the UK but he can claim some measure of success in public sector reform, from apprenticeships to keeping the NHS running (just).
Journalists and commentators will pore over his policy legacy and compare in minute detail how this compares to Theresa May’s government. What may end up being the starker contrast is the new PM’s managerial style. Cameron’s history here is one of stability. He was loathe to move Ministers from their jobs if it could be helped, allowing them to gain a firm grasp of their portfolios and experience of how to best manage their civil servants, the press and relevant interest groups. This compares to the frequent ministerial reshuffles seen at the end of the last Labour administration, which saw policy development pass more into the hands of the civil service.
Cameron’s lesson here is that stability breeds results. He often resisted the clamour from the press to sack ministers and his relatively stable top team enabled him to effectively manage difficult political waters through Coalition Government and then a slim majority in the Commons after 2015. For Ministers this meant that they could focus on the long term, ending the desire to shape policy around making headlines in the near term. David Willetts, for example, served for over four years under Cameron as Universities Minister, where he was able to put in place long term reforms for the sector while navigating the controversial tuition fee increase.