Not Going According to Plan
There was not supposed to be a general election in 2017. In May 2015, David Cameron had formed the first Conservative majority government for 23 years, having won what he called ‘the sweetest victory of all’. Committed to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, his plan was to negotiate a reformed relationship with the EU, which he would then put before the country, where a campaign focusing heavily on the economic risks of leaving the EU would secure a relatively easy victory. The Conservatives would then govern for the rest of the Parliament, before he handed over to his successor, widely assumed to be the Chancellor, George Osborne. Instead, at 7 am on 24 June 2016 and with Britain having voted by 52% to 48% to leave the EU, Cameron remarked dryly to his advisors: ‘Well, that didn’t go according to plan.’ In his first party conference speech as leader back in 2006, he had said he wanted the Conservatives to stop ‘banging on’ about Europe, ‘while parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life’. There was therefore an irony in a referendum over Europe resulting in him announcing his resignation as Prime Minister at 8.23 am, when many parents were getting their kids to school. The third successive Conservative Prime Minister to have been fatally damaged by his party’s European divide, he had been Prime Minister of a majority Conservative administration for just over a year.