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David Cameron To Step Down As British Prime Minister On Wednesday

Jul 13, 2016
Originally published on July 13, 2016 6:18 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

David Cameron steps down as prime minister today. He hands over the U.K.'s many problems to his successor, Theresa May, the leader of the Conservative Party. And so, after some of the most tumultuous weeks in Britain's modern political history, how will history judge Cameron? NPR's Frank Langfitt has the take from London.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: In recent years, David Cameron had been doing very well at the ballot box, defying the polls that showed a close race. In 2014, he won a victory that halted Scotland's drive for independence.

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DAVID CAMERON: The people of Scotland have spoken, and it is a clear result. They have kept our country of four nations together.

LANGFITT: Last year, Cameron again defied the polls and led the Conservative Party to an easy victory.

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CAMERON: I truly believe we're on the brink of something special in our country.

LANGFITT: It was the first time the Conservatives, or Tories, had won an outright majority in Parliament in more than two decades. And it was a big turnaround for the party.

ANDREW BLICK: It had been considered, for a number of years, unelectable.

LANGFITT: Andrew Blick is a lecturer in politics and contemporary history at King's College London. He says the Tories had a nasty reputation for many years.

BLICK: There was an occasion on which Margaret Thatcher supported a saying - there is no such thing as society. This was taken as meaning, at the time, that she was saying everybody's out for themselves; people shouldn't help each other.

LANGFITT: The quote was said to have been taken out of context, but it stuck. Brian Klaas said Cameron worked hard to change the party's image. Klaas is a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics.

BRIAN KLAAS: He softened the party. He also greened the party. He made it a much more environmentally friendly and much more socially progressive party by ushering in gay marriage, for example. He also will be remembered, I think, for his economic legacy, righting Britain's economic ship. When he took over in 2010, there was a massive economic mess, and he cleaned it up effectively.

LANGFITT: Which brings us to last month, when Cameron's political judgment and electoral luck failed him. Under pressure from the right wing of his own party, Cameron called a referendum on whether to leave the European Union - what everyone calls a Brexit. He personally campaigned against it, then lost and was forced to announce his resignation.

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CAMERON: I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.

KLAAS: Cameron looks like he's somebody who's brought the U.K. into a crisis.

LANGFITT: Again, Brian Klaas of the London School of Economics. Klaas says, if Brexit goes poorly - and there are many ways it could - this is what Cameron may be best remembered for.

KLAAS: There's going to be a lot of fallout from this vote. I think the economy is going to suffer in the short-term. I think that there's going to be a lot of division within the country, and there's going to be clamoring for a second referendum with Scotland. There might be calls from Northern Ireland to break away. And all of this is going to be something that is very clearly Cameron's fault.

LANGFITT: By all accounts, Cameron never thought the Brexit referendum would pass. In cosmopolitan London, where most people voted to stay in the EU, people are still angry with Cameron, people like James Parrish, a-26-year-old who designs game apps.

JAMES PARRISH: Well, I was never too fond of him in the first place, but I think that he's gone a step too far now by gambling the country on his career and losing.

LANGFITT: How do you think history will view him?

PARRISH: I think it will view him as the guy who messed up at the end. And that's what he'll be remembered for.

LANGFITT: Of course, it's too early to say just how historians will judge David Cameron. But after six years as prime minister, he seems ready to go. After speaking to reporters earlier this week, amid the snap of camera shutters, Cameron walked back towards number 10 Downing Street, his microphone still on. He was captured humming this tune.

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CAMERON: (Humming). Right.

LANGFITT: Cameron seemed relieved that one of the world's toughest political jobs was about to become somebody else's. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.