How would you like to be remembered? It’s a question that most of us will consider at some point in our lives. It’s also one we might consider in our careers – particularly as they draw to a close. And it’s a question that you would almost certainly ask if your job is likely to put you in the history books.
The Prime Minister might well be thinking this week about how he’ll be remembered when he leaves office. David Cameron has made no secret of the fact that he won’t serve a third parliamentary term as premier. In fact, he’s been very open about it. And the feeling is that he might stand down after an EU referendum has taken place, giving his successor time to establish themselves.
So in many ways, Mr Cameron’s renegotiation with Europe has something of a last hurrah about it. But a quick look through the papers this morning suggests that his legacy could now be at risk because of an apparent watering down of his initial demands, particularly on subject of migrants’ access to benefits.
In taking a path that is decidedly middle of the road, Mr Cameron risks being hit by traffic from both sides. His proposals have come under swift and unreserved criticism from Eurosceptics – including those within his own party – and likely achieve no more than add to their determination to win an in/out referendum. Meanwhile, Mr Cameron’s proposals will likely do little to alter the approach of arch-Europhiles. The Prime Minister has insisted he would like Britain to remain in the EU following a successful renegotiation, but he’s now at risk of an ‘in’ vote being credited to others rather than to him. This is in part due to the way in which Mr Cameron’s negotiating position has been communicated.
The question is then what Mr Cameron’s supporters will point to as his lasting achievements in government. Even the economic recovery of the last five years has been largely attributed to the heir apparent, George Osborne. Similarly, the Scottish referendum was hardly affected by Mr Cameron, who was almost excluded from the Better Together campaign as it was felt he would be unable to appeal to Scots.
Mr Cameron will of course have a lasting legacy as the party leader who returned the Conservatives to majority government for the first time in nearly 20 years. But, based on today’s headlines, if he wants an EU negotiation and referendum result to be his lasting contribution to the country, he’s facing an uphill battle.