What will be the legacy of ‘Cameronism’? Some would suggest that after only three years of government – and then at the head of a coalition – one should not deign to give a name to the philosophy of the current occupant of 10 Downing Street. I disagree. By the time of the next general election, David Cameron will have led the Conservative Party for over a decade. When the history of this period is written, I have no doubt that focus of such narratives will dwell on themes including the economy, British interventions aboard and the relationship with Europe.
For me though, there is an untold story of Cameronism, something that has quietly developed during his time in office and which, in my opinion, might be his greatest legacy. That is, the evolving nature of the British-Irish relationship.
From the apology for the events of Bloody Sunday, to the first visit by a British Monarch to Ireland since the founding of the Republic, Cameron’s term of office has witnessed events that have seen a growth in British-Irish relationship that few could have predicted. The decision to allow the Olympic torch to pass through Dublin was one such occurrence. Rather than see the symbol of the Olympic spirit being forced into a jarring volte-face at the border, it continued its journey through the Emerald Isle towards Dublin. It was carried by athletes who would compete against our own and cheered by their home crowd. It was a wonderful example of the changing nature of British-Irish relations. You needed only to hear the enormous roar that greeted the Irish entry to the Olympic stadium to realise just how important a place this nation occupies in our hearts. But this relationship is not built of pure symbolism. There’s meat on its figurative bones.
In late 2010, Ireland’s banks were on the verge of collapse. Despite all the efforts of the Irish government to stave off the financial crisis, it was forced to seek a bailout from the EU and IMF. At that time, Britain had resolutely refused to be part of any EU-led bailout program for Greece or other embattled euro zone economies. And yet in the case of Ireland an exception was made. In the days after the announcement of the EU bailout, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced a £7 billion bilateral loan to the Irish Republic. When questioned later that day on the terms of the loan, Osborne explained that the UK was not looking to make a quick buck: this was about aiding a friend in need. This matched my sentiments entirely. When asked by a young Greek politician why the UK had been so ready to help Ireland but not other euro zone nations in need, the answer came readily and without effort. It was, I told him, because they’re family.
Before this can be misinterpreted, I am keenly aware of the different paths our nations have chosen over the last forty years. On Europe, for example, the positions could not be more different. Britain is edging towards the European periphery whilst the Republic, as part of the euro zone, heads towards the further integration of a banking union. We will both continue to develop along these lines in what we hope are the best interests of our respective peoples. But to deny a spirit of kinship would be foolhardy. Indeed, there is barely a family in Britain that does not contain some Irish heritage.
And there is so much more we can do together. If the President of the United States can attend cabinet on a one-off visit, why not the Irish Taoiseach on a more regular basis? Why is there no unified energy policy with the only other country with which we share a land border? Where are the joint infrastructure projects to both boost investment into the UK and kick-start the Irish economy? In these and other areas more cooperation is vital, but let us not forget that progress in such areas would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
Cameronism may indeed end up giving us far less than it promised, but with regard to our relationship with Ireland it would be thoroughly churlish to ignore it’s achievements.
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