How David Cameron will see out his last day as PM - and hand over to May

Tom Peck
Wednesday 13 July 2016 08:06
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David Cameron on Downing Street yesterday
David Cameron on Downing Street yesterday

The British system of democracy, which has despatched itself with such beautiful efficiency over the last few weeks, will have another of its periodic moments of charming idiosyncrasy, when one Prime Minister hands over to another via two meetings with a woman appointed by birthright that no one else is allowed to see.

But before David Cameron goes to the palace to offer his resignation, he will attend his last Prime Minister’s Questions, a fittingly similar end for the self-styled heir to Blair. On that occasion, in 2007 David Cameron, then Leader of the Opposition, compelled his MPs to join in a standing ovation for the departing Prime Minister, many of whom did so with extreme resentment.

It seems unlikely Jeremy Corbyn will return the favour. He may not even do up his tie and wear a proper suit for the occasion (He certainly won’t sing the national anthem).

He will be expected to pay some sort of tribute to the departing Prime Minister. At the State Opening of Parliament two months ago, he couldn’t even bring himself to make small talk with him, and that was before Cameron gambled the nation’s future on an internal party problem and lost. Cameron’s PMQs attacks on Corbyn have grown increasingly personal this year. It is hard to see quite how Corbyn will summon anything like a bon mot in the circumstances.

Cameron’s own side will no doubt applaud him. The anti-EU zealots have much to thank him for. The rest owe him a debt of gratitude for modernising the party, even if his sudden demise marks a quantum leap backwards from his own achievements on this front. The relics have won.

Cameron’s own remarks will be brief. He has met the most ignoble end of any Prime Minister in modern times. His final appearance in public will have been to booed by the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon. They are not the booing a Prime Minister kind. Cameron will no doubt list a few of his achievements, but in the full knowledge they have all been overshadowed.

Then will come the drive to Buckingham Palace in the Prime Ministerial car. The news helicopters will hover. He will tender his resignation to the Queen and drive away in a different one. Theresa May will arrive, take up the seals of office, and find something to say to the nation on the steps of Number 10. Such words haunt every Premiership, none moreso than Margaret Thatcher’s, who promised to bring harmony where there was discord, and left in the raging public riots over the poll tax. Gordon Brown pointedly read out the motto of his old comprehensive school. But the Etonians floored him in the end.

Ms May knows the nation has rarely ever been more divided. Between young and old, city and country, rich and less well off. It may yet be under her watch that the union breaks apart. All this in the context of no one having voted for her. Even if the referendum might be considered an exercise in representative democracy by proxy, which it shouldn’t, then she lost that too.

Ms May is every inch the doer, not the talker, but in these rarefied times, these words will matter. But there are none that will fully suffice.

Then she will turn her back and go through the famous door, to a job that has rarely been more impossible.

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