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13 July 2016

David Cameron made these 6 promises – what he actually delivered

David Cameron gave Britain equal marriage, but also Brexitpocalypse.

By Julia Rampen

Speaking at his final Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, David Cameron said he would “never forget” the day a staff member at No. 10 told him that “because of something your lot have done I am able to marry the person I’ve loved all my life this weekend.”

He told the Commons: “There are many amazing moments in this job but that was one of my favourites.”

But Cameron never set out to introduce equal marriage. Back in 2010, the Conservative manifesto only stretched as far as promising civil partners equal treatment in the tax system (romance ahoy). It was Cameron who framed the debate in Conservative terms, when he told party members:

“I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

So one pleasant LGBT surprise aside, what did Cameron actually promise? And how far has he delivered?

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1. The Big Society


In 2010, Cameron declared: “My great passion is building the Big Society.” This was, he said, a “huge culture change”, where society started to work together on a grassroots level rather than turning to officialdom for advice. He promised decentralised power, and finance to match it.


The Big Society was declared missing in action some years ago, but some of Cameron’s thinking filtered through. He embraced free schools – an extension of the New Labour academies programme – which communities could set up themselves. But the scheme has always been more popular with blue sky thinkers than actual parents. Four years after the first free schools opened, there were just 254. A 2013 poll found just a quarter of the population supported them.

Nevertheless, under a Tory Government the number of free schools is likely to quietly creep upwards.

2. The economy


Cameron swept to power on a promise of restoring the UK’s economy. While his Chancellor, George “Scissorhands” Osborne planned deep budget cuts, Cameron took a gentler tone. We were all in this together, he repeated again and again.

In 2013, he declared:

“So, yes, we are making tough choices about our future but we are making the right choices.  If there was another way, some easier way, I would take it, but there is no alternative.  The only way we’ll fix our broken economy and compete successfully in the global race is by fixing ourselves to a clear plan and sticking to it.  And that is what we’re doing.”


In the face of widespread scepticism, the UK’s economy did recover – at least until Brexit sent the markets jittering again. But voters were certainly not all in it together. A reluctance to curb the excesses of a rejuvenated City, combined with deep cuts to public services and benefits exposed how hollow Cameron’s slogan really was. Osborne’s March Budget, where he attempted to cut disability benefits while cutting taxes for the rich, underlined this. Three months later, poorer voters in England and Wales voted for Brexit.

3. The NHS


Citing his own reliance on the health service for help with his disabled son, Cameron promised to protect the NHS and ringfence it from the sweeping austerity cuts planned.


Cameron has succeeded in protecting the NHS from a Treasury that otherwise tore chunks out of ministerial budgets. But he has also backed deeply controversial reforms – Andrew Lansley’s reorganisation in 2011, and Jeremy Hunt’s decision to change junior doctor contracts. Meanwhile, the demographic shift towards older and sicker patients means a funding crisis looms.

4. The environment


In his early, husky-hugging days, Cameron visited the Arctic, bemoaned climate change and expressed a desire to lead the “greenest government ever”. This kind of talk delighted his Coalition partners, the eco-friendly Lib Dems.


At first glance, a lot. Impressive reductions in emissions have accompanied record high consumption of renewable energy sources. The phase out of coal helped solar power to trump coal generation across a whole month earlier this year. Recycling rates have climbed, the electric-car market has been born, and new marine protection zones were launched.

But in fact,  much Conservative policy has been toxic. The policy which saw 99 per cent of the UK’s solar panels installed was introduced by Labour.  The Tories instead slashed solar subsidies. Funding for carbon capture storage, green homes, and energy efficiency has been axed.

Cameron’s owns views on climate change appeared to flip flop according to his changing political self-interest. Thus what started out as “one of the biggest threats facing the world”, by halfway through the coalition government had been reduced to a frustrating load of “green crap” (language attributed to Cameron in the Sun newspaper and not explicitly denied).

5. Crime


In his 2006 “hug a hoodie” speech, Cameron urged his party to understand the reasons behind crime, and stop labelling all teenagers in hoods as junior delinquents. The 2010 Conservative manifesto promised a Britain where police were on the streets rather than filling out paperwork, and prisons offered genuine rehabilitation.


Cameron placed Chris Grayling – now Theresa May’s right-hand man – in charge of Justice. It was a bad choice. Grayling’s ban on prisoners receiving books in prison was widely criticised, while cuts to legal aid hit the poorest and most vulnerable. Grayling’s successor, Michael Gove, immediately began reversing his reforms.

6. The European Union


Cameron wanted to move his party on from Europe, which he saw as a weak spot. In 2006, he told party members:

“While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life – we were banging on about Europe.”

The 2010 manifesto pledged: “We will be positive members of the European Union.” It also set out the context for a future referendum: “Any proposed future Treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a referendum.”


Cameron’s attempt to close the hatch on what one aide termed “swivel-eyed loons” deteriorated. In 2014, a gamble to hold a referendum on Scottish independence had apparently paid off. He expected to be working with the Europhile Lib Dems for some years to come. In 2015, he felt secure enough to offer an EU referendum as a sop to party activists.

The move backfired. When the public voted for Brexit on 23 June, Cameron’s premiership went tumbling down with it. The Eurosceptics won.

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