Fourteen years in power. Five prime ministers in eight years, including ‘strong and stable’ Theresa May, ‘get Brexit done’ Boris and Liz Truss, the PM whose premiership was outlived by a lettuce. It was all too much for the British public to swallow. But when Rishi Sunak stood in the pouring rain to announce a snap election, while ‘Things can only get better’ blared at the gates of Downing Street, Keir Starmer must have thought the Gods were smiling on him. Prime Minister Sunak then went from gaffe to gaffe, first visiting the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, then discussing the Euros in Cardiff, when Wales hadn’t even qualified, and finally, disastrously, leaving the D Day commemorations early to do a political broadcast. The resulting landslide for Labour was the predictable outcome.

The UK is in for a long period of socialist government.  Any careful analysis of the Party’s steep decline should trace its roots back to the election of David Cameron as Prime Minister on 11th May 2010. Cameron defeated David Davis to win the leadership of the Party following a postal ballot of Tory members in December 2005. He did so, having pledged to tear the team of Tory MEPs out of the ruling European People’s Party (EPP) majority group in the European Parliament, forcing them to join a new, Eurosceptic group called the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). The ECR comprised of a ragtag of defectors from Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats, ultra-right-wing Poles, and mavericks from Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands and Denmark. 

Cameron’s masterplan was to show the arch anti-Europeans in the Tory Party, like Bill Cash, Mark Francois and Andrew Bridgen, how his muscular Euroscepticism could tame the demands for a Brexit referendum. It was a spectacular miscalculation. Tory MEPs had reached the highest offices of the EPP group and with a network of support from across the EU and even across the political spectrum, were poised to re-shape EU policy in a way that would benefit Britain. I myself was a vice president of the EPP group, sitting on the front bench in Strasbourg. After Cameron ordered us to leave the EPP I found myself sitting on the second row from the back in the Strasbourg plenary chamber, right next to Marine le Pen! At a stroke, Cameron had fractured Britain’s influence in the EU. Our former colleagues and partners couldn’t understand why he had done such a foolish thing. 

On several occasions I was approached by Angela Merkel at EPP meetings in Berlin. She was perplexed and keen to know why Cameron was divorcing himself from Europe’s Conservative family. “He will need our support when he becomes prime minister” she kept saying.  Before the 2009 EU elections I went on the Eurostar from Brussels to London in a last-ditch attempt to persuade Cameron to change his mind. On the day we met in the opposition leader’s office, it was his first day back at work after the sad death of his son Ivan. It was an inauspicious time for such a meeting. Cameron slammed his fist on the desk when I raised the matter and shouted that he had made his mind up and had no intention of discussing it again. I left with my tail between my legs.

Having dislocated UK Conservatives from the centre of power in the EU, Cameron now fought a rear-guard action against UKIP and Nigel Farage at home. Far from silencing the Brexiteers, demands for a referendum on EU membership burgeoned. Having won the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, Cameron assumed that he could win a referendum on EU membership, persuading the British public to vote to remain as members. His plan failed, with 52% of votes to leave the EU, against 48% to remain in the ill-fated 2016 poll. It was the end of Cameron’s inauspicious premiership and the beginning of a long struggle to secure an amicable divorce from Brussels. 

Cameron left his successor Theresa May with little chance of securing a friendly separation. With a slim majority of only 13 MPs, Theresa May decided to call a general election to give herself a working majority. Everything went wrong. She famously coughed her way through a speech at a Tory conference as things fell off the wall behind her and a prankster handed her a P45. The election resulted in her losing her majority entirely and having to rely on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland and their combative leader Arlene Foster. Finally, in June 2019 she admitted defeat and stood down as PM, paving the way for Boris Johnson to enter Downing Street. Boris called for a December election that year, with the rallying cry that he could ‘Get Brexit Done’, winning the support of a vast swathe of traditionally Labour seats in the red wall of Northern England and a big victory with an 80-seat majority.  

Boris’s shambolic term in office was doomed from the outset. He was perhaps the worst possible person to be prime minister just as the Covid pandemic struck and the partygate scandals erupted, earning himself a conviction and a fine. A series of humiliations and mishaps led to a mass revolt by ministers over his leadership and he resigned as PM in September 2022, making way for Liz Truss and her catastrophic 49 days in office. The combination of Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine which sent energy prices soaring, together with Liz Truss and Kwazi Kwarteng’s infamous minibudget, caused panic in the financial markets. Interest rates rose, mortgages soared, inflation spiralled, all of which had been predicted by Rishi Sunak, Truss’s rival for the leadership. She stood down as PM after only 49 days, with the Daily Star newspaper showing how an iceberg lettuce had lasted longer than her. 

It was the final straw for the exhausted British public. Even Rishi Sunak’s success in getting inflation back down to 2%, with wages rising faster than prices and energy bills falling, it was never going to be enough. The British people wanted change. Having secured the greatest Labour majority in more than a century, Keir Starmer may now reflect that the architect of his success was David Cameron, possibly the worst Tory prime minister in British history.