The Parliamentary term ended in sweltering heat with many of us wondering what the hell just happened. In the space of less than a month a Prime Minister who was enjoying reasonably good approval ratings was gone, the country has a new Government (albeit from the same party) and new foreign and economic policies. Theresa May established herself as the new Prime Minister with a powerful performance at Prime Minister’s Questions and then set out on a tour of our nearest and dearest European neighbours where she looked and sounded the part. Meanwhile Her Majesty’s Opposition announced plans to nationalise medical research (think about that one), condemned choice in public services and got stuck into an increasingly bitter leadership election. A powerful voice close to Mr Corbyn declared that MI5 were behind attempts to undermine him. In 1989 Francis Fukuyama wrote about what he called “The end of history”. It doesn’t feel like that now.
When you analyse it, what happened with our referendum fits into a pattern across western democracies. The rise of parties that challenge the established order in Europe and the rise of populists like Donald Trump are just two examples of what one diplomat told me is a “global spring”. The so-called Arab spring was, he claimed, only part of a wider malaise with politics. OK, understood; so what do we do about it? Politicians need to accept that most people feel insecure. Whether it is stagnating pay, the sense that they might not be able to afford their rent or mortgage at some point or just the lack of power they have to counter global economic forces, all of these are some of the root causes of this insecurity. Add Jihadist terrorism and the migrant crisis and you can understand the prevailing mood. The difference now is that such is people’s dissonance from politics and politicians, there is no margin for error. Mrs May must instil into every Minister the need to deliver on our promises - and to be seen to do so. If she is going to succeed in the bold ambitions she stated on the steps of Number 10 she will need to get runs on the board in quick time. One upside: politics is cool again. Everywhere you go people want to talk about it. West Berkshire Conservatives have increased their membership by over 200 in the last three weeks. Keeping politics cool, in every sense, is something to strive for.
On Tuesday evening I went to 10 Downing Street for what was labelled as the last supper. Around 30 family and friends of the Camerons were there. I found the Prime Minister, as he then still was, relaxed and his children were running around determined no doubt, to enjoy their last moments in this historic house. When I left I walked through a building that seemed eerily quiet, almost as if it was holding its breath. The door to the Cabinet Room was open and I wandered in. The French windows were open to the garden and a breeze was blowing through the room. I half expected to see the ghost of a past Prime Minister sitting at the table. As I left No 10 I found Larry the cat sitting on the road outside. His face was inscrutable but he seemed to exude a sense of continuity.
The next day must have been a tough one for the Cameron family. David's performance at Prime Minister's Questions was as faultless as it was poignant. Then the well-choreographed process of transition got underway.
Theresa May took command and showed from the start that she will be a strong and resolute Prime Minister. As for David Cameron, how will his premiership be remembered? At the moment his failure to convince the nation on our membership of the EU occupies minds but over time he will be seen as what someone on Tuesday night called "the quiet revolutionary". He reformed so much of government in a way that has changed so many lives for the better: many more children now in good or outstanding schools; more families with wages coming in rather than welfare payments; fewer people waiting too long for an operation; more people running their own businesses; and Britain a greener and healthier place for future generations. In 2005, I sat in David's House of Commons office with seven or eight colleagues as we discussed whether he should try to lead our Party. My faith in my friend then has been more than repaid by what he has achieved for our country. I hope his successor builds on his achievements. Her words on the steps of No 10 showed she has every intention of doing so.
We now know who the next Prime Minister will be. A vote among the Party membership would have been good for the members who deserved their say but most have told me they wanted the matter resolved sooner than the nine weeks it would have taken. Theresa May will run a competent and professional administration. And it will need to be. There are so many matters to address. First among them is how we extricate ourselves from the EU. This will require skills of negotiation and engagement that would daunt most of us. Then there is the need to show the world we are still a leader in trade, diplomacy and security. Then there is the domestic agenda on which the Government was elected last year. I feel tired just writing this. While Brexit is important I don't want it to dominate the next few years. It is so important that we continue the vital reforms in education, welfare, health and in our criminal justice system.
The long-awaited publication of the 2.6 million word Chilcot Report into the Iraq War took place on Wednesday. I believe that most people had already taken a settled view about this episode in our recent history. There is a general acceptance that Britain went to war on the basis of false information and that the allied plan was deeply inadequate in how it dealt with post-conflict Iraq. I often ask myself how I would have voted in that key Parliamentary moment if I had been in Parliament at that time. I like to think that my caution and concerns for what was proposed would have held firm. However I know some MPs who intended to vote against war but were swayed by Tony Blair at his oratorical best. One said to me that he was left absolutely convinced by Blair’s speech that he knew things that he couldn’t share and at that momentous time he had to give the Prime Minister of the day his support. He remains deeply affected by that decision to this day.