As David Cameron exits politics, what legacy does he leave behind?

Britain's former prime minister stepped down from his seat in Parliament on Monday, only weeks after leaving the United Kingdom's top job.

Stefan Wermuth/Reuters/File
Britain's outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron, with his wife Samantha, waves in front of number 10 Downing Street, on his last day in office as Prime Minister, in central London, Britain on July 13, 2016.

David Cameron, Britain’s former prime minister, announced Monday he was resigning his seat in Parliament, thereby leaving the British political establishment.

The announcement comes only weeks after his resignation from the top job in the wake of the country’s vote to leave the European Union (EU), which he had campaigned against. It is a surprise to many, after he had stated he would remain in his position as Member of Parliament (MP) until the next elections, in 2020.

Indeed, there has been widespread speculation in British media as to the motives that may lie behind Mr. Cameron’s decision, coupled with consideration of what his legacy will be. In this, there seems to be near-universal agreement on one thing that will forever be tied to him and his premiership: the Brexit.

“With the circumstances of my resignation, it isn’t really possible to be a proper backbench MP as a former prime minister,” Cameron told the BBC. “I think everything you do will become a big distraction, and a big diversion from what the government needs to do for our country.”

Many analysts were quick to agree that the politician has a point: Having headed the “Remain” campaign during Britain’s referendum on whether to leave the EU, it would have been challenging for Cameron to find a constructive way of participating in national politics as the Brexit preparations gets underway. 

Yet some observers have postulated other factors propelling Cameron from public office.

“The bigger truth is that Cameron is going because he gambled his career and reputation on winning the European referendum – and lost,” writes The Guardian’s Martin Kettle. “He thought he could win the referendum on the back of his own communication skills and without building up the pro-European case in his party and in the country in his decade as leader of a largely anti-European party.”

In this, as in many aspects of Cameron’s time in charge of Britain, some observers see a lack of real drive and conviction: that even though he had many laudable ideas and policies, in execution there was often insufficient passion to really make them stick – either in practice, or in the psyche of the British people.

“He was not, overall, a bad prime minister. In fact, he was often quite a good one,” writes The Telegraph’s executive editor for politics, James Kirkup. But, he continues, there was no underlying philosophy or world outlook that seemed to drive Cameron's actions, and his “best ideas were never driven home with real force.”

While Cameron’s time in office certainly produced worthy achievements – not least in the realms of employment, inequality, and crime, as well as a second-term majority won against all expectations – it is his country’s departure from the continental club of countries that will be remembered.

“When students write about Cameron in the year 2066, they won’t be answering questions about intervention in Libya, or gay marriage,” wrote Dominic Sandbrook in the New Statesman. “They will be writing about Brexit and the lost referendum.”

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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