Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil review - Shows why David Cameron was quite possibly our worst Prime Minster

Paints a vivid portrait of a leader showing no leadership, and explains how we ended up in such a mess over Europe

Tom Peck
Monday 28 January 2019 23:06
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Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil - trailer

For anyone who’s not altogether sure how British politics turned so suddenly into a rolling dumpster fire from which all exits are blocked then Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil (BBC2) is a necessary public service to explain exactly, and exactly how needlessly, we all came to be here.

Part one of this three-part series follows the Cameron years, which already feel like they never happened, from 2010 until 2016. Within ten seconds of curtain up our hero has already made a vast strategic mistake of immense consequence, pulling his party’s MEPs out of the EPP-ED – a sensible, centre-right faction within the European Parliament, thus hopelessly alienating and annoying such key EU power brokers as Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk. They have all been interviewed, chiefly for the purposes of telling British audiences what a thermo-nuclear numpty their last prime minister but one always was.

Over the next hour, other vast strategic mistakes will occur, grafted on to that original one, turning what was originally a minor flesh wound into death at the hands of a rapidly mutating hospital superbug. All over a problem that never actually required treatment.

William Hague is on hand, as is George Osborne, to shed light on the internal Tory wars that led Cameron to make his terrible decision to hold an in/out referendum. Osborne thought it not worth the risk. Hague thought without it, the party risked a Labour government. An unthinkable consequence, at the time, but in hindsight, one does wonder whether Dave wouldn’t rather have just lost in 2015, given he would only be prime minister for one more year anyway, and that year would be the one that cemented his reputation as, quite possibly, the worst prime minister the country has ever had.

The full hour paints a vivid portrait of a leader showing no leadership but instead bending to the whims of a fully sociopathic political project. It lays bare Cameron’s only achievement, which was to lay a paper-thin layer of modernisation over his beloved Conservative Party, to make it electable again. Of course, this could not stop him from being burnt to a crisp by the red hot volcano beneath it.

It is also a gentle trot through some extremely poor politics. There is a tendency to imagine that, with hindsight, Cameron faced an impossible job, managing a party several decades into a civil war over Europe. But this documentary reminds us that many of his key decisions were abysmal even at the time.

It shows David Cameron standing up at his own party conference, making menacing promises that he will “sort out” various problems with the EU that, in fact, cannot be sorted out, and so served only to shatter his own fragile position.

He promises an in-out referendum, as well as a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU. When his renegotiation is widely (though unfairly) panned at home, he has suddenly trapped himself in a position whereby he must criticise the EU at the same time as campaigning to remain in it. That, we now know, was a disaster waiting to happen.

Donald Tusk was 'shocked' by David Cameron's reasoning behind calling 'stupid' EU referendum

The EU Council president Donald Tusk pops up for the hour’s most revealing moment, when he breezily informs viewers that Cameron told him there would never be a referendum, as his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, would never allow it. Cameron then confounds his own expectations and wins a majority in 2015. As Tusk says, “The real victim of David Cameron’s success is David Cameron.”

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This version of events has already been hotly contested. It is certainly questionable whether the lead party in a coalition arrangement gets to negotiate away as important a policy commitment as an EU referendum. That Cameron thought he could, and that he told Donald Tusk this himself, is certainly a revelation.

Cameron’s head of communications at the time, Craig Oliver, has also expressed doubts. “Watch any speech of the 2015 campaign,” he has said, and Cameron makes clear he won’t lead any government that won’t hold a referendum. He’s right. It’s true. But watch any speech during the referendum campaign and Cameron makes clear that if he loses, he won’t quit. And he did. And we are all where we are now.

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