Theresa May will quit after an ‘orderly handover’ but when the EU withdrawal deal is done, we may actually come to miss her
Theresa May will leave office in an “orderly handover” whenever an EU withdrawal deal is done. No one is weeping. The oddity is: we may yet come to miss her, though she has been the worst prime minister of our political lifetimes – bar none. Yet there was one great good purpose in her premiership: by occupying the space, however vacuously, she kept out the barbarian hordes of Brexiteers barging one another out of the way to seize her throne.
Now she has surrendered that one useful role, leaving the country to the untender mercies of those competing in Europhobia for the votes of some 120,000 dwindling Tory party members. To use her deathless phrase, nothing will be changed by her departure. Parliament will be as gridlocked as ever, the combat deadlier with an avowed Brextremist at the helm.
Looking back, in comparison with who comes after her, she may yet come to be seen as having attempted a muddled middle way, fighting off no-deal delusionists, forging a plausible enough plan to gain agreement from the EU27.
Judge her legacy by her own “mission” announced on the steps of Downing Street in July 2016. Did she mean the heartwarming words she spoke that day? As each of her list of pledges has failed and failed again, she seemed to make no attempt to “fight against burning injustices”. More people are poor, especially children, and they are poorer than before as universal credit rolls over them – but there are twice as many billionaires. Ethnic minorities are no better treated by the criminal justice system, working class white boys no more likely to reach university and escalating numbers of her “just about managing” are using food banks. Taxes continue to be cut more for the better off and corporations, despite her pledge not to “entrench the advantages of the fortunate few”.
As for Europe, read her words now and weep: “As we leave the EU we will forge a new, bold, positive role for ourselves in the world.” Instead, polls show the overwhelming view of voters is that we have suffered a “national humiliation”.
In that speech she spoke of the union as that “precious, precious bond”, but she leaves the UK closer to breaking apart than it has ever been, by ignoring the Scottish and Northern Irish remain vote, just as she ignored remainers everywhere. Recklessly, she chose an illusory Conservative party unity – and lost even that, leaving her party irreparably split. That may turn out to be an accidental bonus she bequeaths to the nation.
The mystery is how this woman without qualities, with all her incapacities, infelicities and ineptitudes, ever came to hold the highest office. Or why she wanted it. No one made her do it, greatness was not thrust upon her; indeed, it’s said she planned for it all her life. So feel no pity that she chose to take on the impossible Brexit task with a vipers’ nest of a parliament and a party at war with itself. Her unsuitability was well known. Every encounter with others is an excruciating display of gaucheness. No small talk, no big talk, no ideas, no charm, no warmth, but famous for making everyone she meets painfully ill-at-ease. Her polite and courteous EU counterparts were dumbfounded by her inability at the essentials of diplomacy. She never had it in her to be the healer the country desperately needed. Instead she chose to appease the ERG, and sacrifice the 48% – now grown to be the majority.
Her every leopard skin-shod move was a misstep. At first, the vicar’s daughter had the benefit of the doubt: surely she was at least sincere, honest, a truth-teller? But as she foolishly laid down contradictory red lines, breaking them was inevitable. For far longer than was credible, she swore blind that Britain would leave the EU on 29 March. No border down the Irish Sea – well, yes, in the backstop. No role for the European court of justice – but it will remain as necessary adjudicator of agreements. No free vote, but oh yes there is. So who knows, maybe there will no resignation after all or not until after a long extension?
When she goes we face yet another disgraceful handover of near absolute power without consent of the electorate. As in the case of both May herself and Gordon Brown, that is a political error. This time a field as big as the Grand National will compete, but not for approval of the public, only for the backing of a very small, very peculiar selectorate. Never again. At least let every contender pledge to hold a general election to win public consent. It’s a grim thought that we may look back on May’s misbegotten premiership as better than what came after.
William Barr: Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.
Barr immediately makes clear that his letter will only be a summary of the top-line conclusions from Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation. At just four pages long, the letter makes no claim to outline the full substance of the special counsel’s findings, nor does it detail the evidence Mueller has amassed or the legal reasoning behind his decision making. Instead, we have the bare bones. Mueller had handed the full report to the attorney general less than 48 hours earlier, and Barr makes clear he is still reviewing its contents.
On the size of the investigation
In the report, the Special Counsel noted that, in completing his investigation, he employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.
Here, the sheer size of the Mueller investigation is laid bare for the first time. Although the cost of the Russia investigation has been public for some time, along with the 37 public indictments issued by Mueller, the scale of the evidence he has amassed has not been known. Barr is clearly alluding to how comprehensive the special counsel’s investigation has been. While the length of Mueller’s final report is not known, it is likely to be based on hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence. Democrats have made clear they want access to as much of the report and its underlying evidence as possible.
The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments yet to be made public.
This is the first of Barr’s major announcements: Mueller will issue no fresh charges as the investigation wraps up. This is clearly good news for members of Donald Trump’s inner circle, including his son Donald Trump Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and, indeed, for Trump himself. There had been speculation that a number of sealed indictments in the same district court handling the Mueller prosecution could relate to further indictments from the special counsel. This is now clearly not the case. However, other criminal investigations involving the president and members of his inner circle are ongoing, most notably in the southern district of New York. Barr makes no comment on the status of these proceedings.
On collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia
The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
This is undoubtedly a pivotal conclusion of the investigation. Following almost two years of investigation Barr says that Mueller has found no evidence to prove that any member of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. He quotes only a partial sentence from the report to substantiate this.
Also of note here is Barr’s supplying a short definition of how Mueller defined collusion. Quoting directly from Mueller’s report in a short footnote, Barr says the special counsel counted collusion as an “agreement – tacit or express – between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference”. This means that for any member of the campaign to be accused of colluding with Russia they would have had to have done so knowingly. Barr says that Mueller found two ways in which Russians interfered during 2016: a coordinated internet disinformation campaign and direct computer hacking. He provides no further details on the crimes themselves but further information on at least some of these actions has already been made public by Mueller through criminal indictments.
On obstruction of justice
The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Barr briskly moves on to the last major revelation from Mueller: the special counsel was unable to decide whether Donald Trump obstructed justice during the investigation. Barr once again hangs a partial sentence quoted from the report making clear that Mueller did not completely clear Trump of obstruction. But the scant details make it impossible to understand the legal reasoning behind Mueller’s decision nor all the evidence taken into account to make it.
Conclusion on obstruction of justice
After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.
This revelation is likely to be the most controversial, at least until more of Mueller’s report is released. It was Barr and his deputy Rod Rosenstein, both appointed to their positions by Trump himself, that decided the president should face no prosecution over obstruction of justice. Although Barr displays those he consulted with to make that decision and cites justice department guidelines governing the process, there is no escaping that the decision not to prosecute the president was made by one of his own cabinet members who has already privately described Mueller’s investigation of obstruction of justice as “fatally misconceived”.
Barr explains his decision not to charge Trump with obstruction
Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding. In cataloguing the President’s actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgement, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense.
Barr provides a little elaboration on his decision not to charge Trump with obstruction. Critically, Barr makes the point that at least part of the reason Trump is not being charged is due to the lack of an underlying crime. That while there may be sound arguments for Trump obstructing justice, it was not itself a criminal act because there had been no crime in the first place.
There is also a suggestion from Barr here that while many of these potentially obstructive actions took place in public – it seems likely he is partially referring to Trump’s public comments on his decision to fire FBI director James Comey – there are others the public may not yet know about.
Will the public see the Mueller report?
As I have previously stated, however, I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.
The attorney general concludes by making a commitment to making parts of Mueller’s report available to the public. There is, however, no commitment to a time frame, nor any indication of how much will be made available. Senior Democrats have indicated they will issue a subpoena for the full report if they are not satisfied with what Barr provides.
As the fall-out from the Mueller report unfolds …
…The Guardian is editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion.
This is important as it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different from so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical.
Shoshana Zuboff’s new book is a chilling exposé of the business model that underpins the digital world. Observer tech columnist John Naughton explains the importance of Zuboff’s work and asks the author 10 key questions
We’re living through the most profound transformation in our information environment since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing in circa 1439. And the problem with living through a revolution is that it’s impossible to take the long view of what’s happening. Hindsight is the only exact science in this business, and in that long run we’re all dead. Printing shaped and transformed societies over the next four centuries, but nobody in Mainz (Gutenberg’s home town) in, say, 1495 could have known that his technology would (among other things): fuel the Reformation and undermine the authority of the mighty Catholic church; enable the rise of what we now recognise as modern science; create unheard-of professions and industries; change the shape of our brains; and even recalibrate our conceptions of childhood. And yet printing did all this and more.
Why choose 1495? Because we’re about the same distance into our revolution, the one kicked off by digital technology and networking. And although it’s now gradually dawning on us that this really is a big deal and that epochal social and economic changes are under way, we’re as clueless about where it’s heading and what’s driving it as the citizens of Mainz were in 1495.
That’s not for want of trying, mind. Library shelves groan under the weight of books about what digital technology is doing to us and our world. Lots of scholars are thinking, researching and writing about this stuff. But they’re like the blind men trying to describe the elephant in the old fable: everyone has only a partial view, and nobody has the whole picture. So our contemporary state of awareness is – as Manuel Castells, the great scholar of cyberspace once put it – one of “informed bewilderment”.
Which is why the arrival of Shoshana Zuboff’s new book is such a big event. Many years ago – in 1988, to be precise – as one of the first female professors at Harvard Business School to hold an endowed chair she published a landmark book, The Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, which changed the way we thought about the impact of computerisation on organisations and on work. It provided the most insightful account up to that time of how digital technology was changing the work of both managers and workers. And then Zuboff appeared to go quiet, though she was clearly incubating something bigger. The first hint of what was to come was a pair of startling essays – one in an academic journal in 2015, the other in a German newspaper in 2016. What these revealed was that she had come up with a new lens through which to view what Google, Facebook et al were doing – nothing less than spawning a new variant of capitalism. Those essays promised a more comprehensive expansion of this Big Idea.
And now it has arrived – the most ambitious attempt yet to paint the bigger picture and to explain how the effects of digitisation that we are now experiencing as individuals and citizens have come about.
The headline story is that it’s not so much about the nature of digital technology as about a new mutant form of capitalism that has found a way to use tech for its purposes. The name Zuboff has given to the new variant is “surveillance capitalism”. It works by providing free services that billions of people cheerfully use, enabling the providers of those services to monitor the behaviour of those users in astonishing detail – often without their explicit consent.
“Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”
While the general modus operandi of Google, Facebook et al has been known and understood (at least by some people) for a while, what has been missing – and what Zuboff provides – is the insight and scholarship to situate them in a wider context. She points out that while most of us think that we are dealing merely with algorithmic inscrutability, in fact what confronts us is the latest phase in capitalism’s long evolution – from the making of products, to mass production, to managerial capitalism, to services, to financial capitalism, and now to the exploitation of behavioural predictions covertly derived from the surveillance of users. In that sense, her vast (660-page) book is a continuation of a tradition that includes Adam Smith, Max Weber, Karl Polanyi and – dare I say it – Karl Marx.
Viewed from this perspective, the behaviour of the digital giants looks rather different from the roseate hallucinations of Wired magazine. What one sees instead is a colonising ruthlessness of which John D Rockefeller would have been proud. First of all there was the arrogant appropriation of users’ behavioural data – viewed as a free resource, there for the taking. Then the use of patented methods to extract or infer data even when users had explicitly denied permission, followed by the use of technologies that were opaque by design and fostered user ignorance.
And, of course, there is also the fact that the entire project was conducted in what was effectively lawless – or at any rate law-free – territory. Thus Google decided that it would digitise and store every book ever printed, regardless of copyright issues. Or that it would photograph every street and house on the planet without asking anyone’s permission. Facebook launched its infamous “beacons”, which reported a user’s online activities and published them to others’ news feeds without the knowledge of the user. And so on, in accordance with the disrupter’s mantra that “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission”.
When the security expert Bruce Schneier wrote that “surveillance is the business model of the internet” he was really only hinting at the reality that Zuboff has now illuminated. The combination of state surveillance and its capitalist counterpart means that digital technology is separating the citizens in all societies into two groups: the watchers (invisible, unknown and unaccountable) and the watched. This has profound consequences for democracy because asymmetry of knowledge translates into asymmetries of power. But whereas most democratic societies have at least some degree of oversight of state surveillance, we currently have almost no regulatory oversight of its privatised counterpart. This is intolerable.
And it won’t be easy to fix because it requires us to tackle the essence of the problem – the logic of accumulation implicit in surveillance capitalism. That means that self-regulation is a nonstarter. “Demanding privacy from surveillance capitalists,” says Zuboff, “or lobbying for an end to commercial surveillance on the internet is like asking old Henry Ford to make each Model T by hand. It’s like asking a giraffe to shorten its neck, or a cow to give up chewing. These demands are existential threats that violate the basic mechanisms of the entity’s survival.”
The Age of Surveillance Capital is a striking and illuminating book. A fellow reader remarked to me that it reminded him of Thomas Piketty’s magnum opus, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, in that it opens one’s eyes to things we ought to have noticed, but hadn’t. And if we fail to tame the new capitalist mutant rampaging through our societies then we will only have ourselves to blame, for we can no longer plead ignorance.
Ten questions for Shoshana Zuboff: ‘Larry Page saw that human experience could be Google’s virgin wood’
The PM leads a party that is divided and a country stockpiling food and medicines as if preparing for war. She needs to humbly reach out to her opponents and find a way to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU in weeks.
The overwhelming and decisive rejection by MPs of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement to leave the European Union is a shattering blow to the authority of the prime minister. She has spent two years negotiating a deal, which in substance was the opposite of what she said she wanted in public, only to see it repudiated by parliament. Her minority government has now been defeated on no fewer than 28 occasions
Britain is leaving the EU in weeks and Mrs May leads a cabinet that is hopelessly split, a party that is riven with disagreements and a country that is deeply divided. So emphatic is the Commons historic rebuff that Mrs May’s deal is finished. Mrs May lost by 230 votes – the greatest defeat of a government ever. The scale of the opposition means it is not credible Mrs May could bring the motion back to the Commons, modified with a few tweaks from Brussels, and hope for success a second time round.
We do not have to settle for the Hobson’s choice of the May deal or no deal. The trouble is the Tory party is split between those who want a deal and those who do not. Mrs May has intensified the divisions within her party, rather than resolve them. She chose to start negotiations over Brexit not with the EU but with her own hardliners.
The red lines Mrs May subsequently set made it impossible for her to get a deal that would bring her fractious party together, let alone reach out to her political opponents. Her agreement ended up shaped by Mrs May’s obsession with immigration and placating Brexit extremists. The result is a “blindfold Brexit” –where almost everything about the future relationship with Europe is up in the air for two more years. It required a leap of faith to place trust in a prime minister who, the Commons wisely decided, deserved very little.
In the current circumstances, there is no majority in parliament for any of the alternative Brexit deals. This could lead to a disaster: Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal. That is why MPs must remove it as an option.
Labour has triggered a vote of no confidence in the government but is unlikely to win. That points to the need for a mechanism to allow a Commons majority to take control of the Brexit process. This would require innovation, of the kind seen last week, so committees can be empowered and laws brought forward. But to have other options would require asking the EU for more time. It requires parliamentary cooperation of the kind hitherto unseen.
Jeremy Corbyn and Mrs May ought not to stand in the way of such dealings. Constitutional devices such as citizens’ assemblies, raised by Labour MP Lisa Nandy, and another referendum would allow leaders to hold their parties together and provide legitimacy for whatever the public decides. These are not denials of democracy but a reinforcement of it.
Mrs May’s decision to put party politics ahead of national interest means this country will aimlessly drift as the government attempts to recast a withdrawal agreement. An absence of leadership can lead to a sense of panic, one inflated by a government stockpiling food and medicines as if preparing for a war.
We need to end the chaos and division that have done so much to disfigure our country. The question we face is whether there can be a durable relationship between Brexit Britain and the EU, which allows both to cooperate on the basis of shared interests and values. Mrs May left it far too late to accept the costs of leaving, preferring to pander to MPs whose snake-oil sales pitch is that there will not be any cost associated with Brexit at all. “Having your cake and eating it” is the Brexiter attitude that encapsulates this inability to think in terms of costs and benefits.
Yet coming clean about these things is necessary to move forward. The country now faces a situation without precedent in its constitutional history: how to reconcile the sovereignty of the people with the sovereignty of parliament.
The prime minister has been humbled into admitting she needs to win her opponents over. The Brexit vote was driven by stagnant wages, regional disparities and a soulless form of capital accumulation. These were not caused by the EU, nor will they be solved by leaving it. Only policies enacted by purposeful government can do that. Mrs May has not provided either.
Note : The Democrats have taken control of The US House of Representatives. Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would work to restore checks and balances and be a buffer against Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s “assault” on Medicare, Medicaid, affordable healthcare, and on Americans with pre-existing conditions.
These elections are more important than any in recent memory. Only a vote for a Democratic Congress can constrain Donald Trump and hiscampaigns of hate
The United States midterm elections are always important. But the elections on Tuesday matter in ways that few midterm contests can have matched. Yes, it will take more than one election to mend the damaged and angry political mood that, in the last two weeks alone, has seen a fervent Donald Trump supporter send bombs to several Democrats, and a white supremacist commit the most heinous act of antisemitic violence in the country’s history. The man in the White House is not the only thing that must change. But the journey has to start somewhere. You only have to imagine how much more difficult the journey will otherwise be to grasp the exceptional responsibility that rests on the shoulders of US voters on Tuesday.
“Mr. Trump was the product of already existing toxicity, shaken faith and declining prestige “.–The Guardian
Donald Trump is not the sole reason why American politics have become so toxic, why Americans’ faith in their institutions has been so shaken, or the influence of the US for good in the world so diminished. In many ways Mr Trump was the product of already existing toxicity, shaken faith and declining prestige. But he has turbo-charged this decline deliberately, as a matter of conscious policy. He seeks consistently to be the president of some of the United States, not of the country as a whole. Against those who do not support or agree with him he deploys only hate and scorn. He lies and provokes as a matter of strategy. This is a president without precedent, and although in the US democracy is strong, it is not indestructible.
Take the issue of voting rights. It is often assumed that the US constitution embodies a federal right to vote. It does not. Voting is administered by the states. Most states are in Republican hands, and the districts that will send members of Congress to Washington this week have frequently been gerrymandered. In many states, including North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans have imposed restrictions on early voting, postal voting and voter identification, all of them designed to prevent black Americans from voting. In Georgia, officials tried to close seven out the nine voting places in a predominantly black area on the pretext that disabled access was inadequate.
The US constitution is celebrated for its checks and balances. Yet partisanship is now so entrenched and unbending that institutions themselves are beginning to creak. The White House is in the hands of a lying and rule-breaking racist executive who, apart from all his policy failings, refuses to release his tax returns, blurs the distinction between official and personal interests, meddles in investigations in which he has no business and who deployed thousands of US troops for a purely partisan reason. Meanwhile, since the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation, the supreme court is now more firmly than ever under partisan rightwing control, opening up the near certainty of an attempt to overturn US abortion rights.
So there is a strong constitutional case, as well as a strong political one, for recapturing the legislative branch from its dishonest and sycophantic right wing Republican leadership. Democratic control of the House of Representatives would constrain Mr Trump by investigating issues that have been shamelessly ignored by the current House leadership. Democratic control of the Senate, a long shot, would clip his wings even more. Democratic failure this week, by contrast, would be – and would be taken to be – an electoral endorsement of Mr Trump.
This is a pivotal election for Americans, for American democracy, and for the rest of the world. Yet it comes at a time of decent US economic growth and high employment, when Republicans are energised, and Democrats are divided about their future course. It is far from guaranteed, in the light of 2016, that Democratic enthusiasm and money will turn into the blue wave that we want. But there is no more important political task anywhere in the world today than to seize this moment.
As ex-Prime Minister, he has a duty to offer a solution on Brexit, but lacks the guts
“David Cameron is a former PM. He not only has the right to offer his solution but a duty. If he is to earn the right to a hearing, however, he must first find not only self-knowledge and courage, but an un-English seriousness of purpose he has evaded all his life.”–Nick Cohen
John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have warned of the dangers of Brexit. But where is the former Prime Minister who called the referendum that will blight Britain for as far ahead as anyone can see? Whatever happened to that likely lad? David Cameron doesn’t want to talk about it, one of his friends tells me. “He doesn’t defend the referendum, but won’t say he made a mistake either. Europe is like a family scandal. We know what’s happened but we don’t say a word: it’s his no-go zone.”
At a personal level, the consequences swirl around him. I may be exhausting your capacity for compassion but the smallest of the casualties of Brexit has been the good fellowship of the Chipping Norton set. Naturally, the Cotswolds’ wealthy Leavers are grateful. But Cameron must resent them. He must know that he has been the useful idiot who succumbed to the demands of Rupert Murdoch’s Rebekah Brooks, a member of the local nouveau gentry by virtue of her converted barn, in the crashingly stupid belief that no harm would come from his surrender.
Invitations to “kitchen suppers” from Remainers, however, can only include Samantha Cameron’s name – if, they are extended at all. Tania Rotherwick invited the Camerons to her pool at the magnificent Cornbury Park estate before she split from her husband and Cameron split Britain from Europe. She is now particularly contemptuous, I hear.
Cameron’s memoirs were meant to be published this month but have been delayed until next year. The early signs are ominous. A book has to be coherent if it is to find a readership: its opening must prefigure its conclusion. As described in the publishing press, Cameron’s effort will have no consistency. He will tell the story of the formation of the coalition, his contributions to economic, welfare and foreign policy, his surprise victory in the 2015 election and then – as if from nowhere – the conventional memoir will end with the author carelessly deciding he will settle the European question, without planning a campaign or preparing an argument and, instead, launching a crisis that will last for decades. Nothing will make sense. Nothing will hang together. It’s as if a romcom were to conclude with serial killers murdering the cooing lovers or Hilary Mantel were to have aliens invade Tudor England on the last page of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy.
The book Cameron cannot write would accept that his political battles and achievements were as nothing when set against his decision to appeal to the worst of the Tory party. It would begin with Cameron honouring the decision that won him the Conservative leadership in 2005. He would confess that he should have known better than to pull the Conservatives out of the centre-right group in the European parliament and align them with Law and Justice, the know-nothing Polish nationalists who are reducing their country to an ill-governed autocracy. The manoeuvre was pure Cameron: tactics above strategy; appeasement instead of confrontation.
The pattern continued throughout his premiership. He thought he could buy off the right by refusing to explain the benefits of EU membership to the voters. At one point in 2014 he threatened to leave the EU. He then turned around in 2016 and asked the public to believe that leaving would be a disaster and was surprised when 17.4 million men and women he had never treated as adults worthy of inclusion in a serious conversation ignored him.
If he were being honest, Cameron would admit too that Brexit ought to bring an end to a British or, to be specific, English, style that is by no means confined to the upper class, but was everywhere present among the public-school boys who ruled us.
I mean the ironic style that gives us our famously impenetrable sense of humour (which we will need now the rest of the world is laughing at us). The perfidious style that allows us to hide behind masks and has made England superb at producing brilliant actors for the West End but hopeless at producing practical politicians for Westminster. The teasing style of speaking in codes that benighted foreigners can never understand, however well they speak English. The cliquey style that treats England as a club, not a country, and allowed Jeremy Corbyn to say that Jews cannot “understand English irony”, however long their ancestors have lived here.
Theresa May is no Dame Margaret Thatcher but a bumbling Cameronite
The deferential style that allowed one Etonian to lead the Remain campaign and another to lead the Leave campaign and for the English to not even see why that was wrong. The life’s-a-game-you-shouldn’t-take-too-seriously style that inspired Cameron to say he holds “no grudges” against Boris Johnson now the match is over and the covers back on the pitch.
The gentleman amateur style that convinced Cameron he could treat a momentous decision like an Oxford essay crisis and charm the electorate into agreeing with him in a couple of weeks, as if voters were a sherry-soaked don who could be won round with a few clever asides. The effortlessly superior style that never makes the effort to ask what the hell the English have to feel superior about. The gutless, dilettantish and fatally flippant style that has dominated England for so long and failed it so completely. The time for its funeral has long passed.
A politician who bumped into Cameron said he thinks the referendum result must be respected, but that Britain should protect living standards by going for the softest Brexit imaginable and staying in the single market. This is a compromise well to the “left” of Theresa May and Corbyn’s plans and is worth discussing. Whatever his critics say, David Cameron is a former PM. He not only has the right to offer his solution but a duty. If he is to earn the right to a hearing, however, he must first find not only self-knowledge and courage, but an un-English seriousness of purpose he has evaded all his life.