Barnie Choudhury: Voters want someone to resolve this Eton mess

David Cameron
David Cameron

Former BBC journalist

“I AM completely party-less,” were the words of my friend Ashish as we met for lunch last week.

In the turmoil of Brexit, I dismissed it as hyperbole. He continued, “I hate the Tories, can’t stand Corbyn, and I know I am liberal and a democrat, but am a leaver, even now.”

Not only does he feel that he has no party, he also feels that his vote does not count. Ashish lives in an area where if you put a red rosette on a dog, it would get in. Then it hit me. Up and down the country there are thousands of people like Ashish. South Asians who have voted all their lives for Labour, would never vote for ‘the racist party’ and believe in a fair, supportive and democratic society where we offer a hand up and not handouts. So how have we come to this?

Former prime minister David Cameron is how. If only he had not promised a referendum on a binary issue of in or out of Europe. Indeed, if he had done what countless Tories have been doing for years, burying their heads in the sand and ignored the trap that is EU membership, we would not be in this mess.

I interviewed Cameron for the BBC when he was the opposition leader during the 2005 elections. As I spoke to him, I realised the power of an independent school education and someone moulded to think his destiny was to lead his country, as countless Etonians have done over the centuries.

When I met him years later, when he was no longer the prime minister, he was kind enough to pretend he remembered me.

The snippets of Cameron’s memoirs I have read reveal his thinking leading up to that fateful decision. His chancellor, George Osborne, advised him against calling a referendum. But hubris won the day. After all, he had won the Scottish independence referendum, and, in his words, he was ‘lucky’. How could he lose?

The thing about autobiographies is that you get to write the version of history you wish you had. It is your perception, it is your reality, and therefore it is true, no matter what others say or experienced. But Cameron has forgotten the most telling axiom: history is written by the victor and losers can be as Vicky Pollard (Little Britain ‘yes but, no but…’ character) as they like, no one will believe them.

What Cameron has done is to be expected. He has had to come up with a reason, for his own sanity, for making a terrible mistake, rather than own up to a human failing that none of us is perfect. The most honest thing he has said thus far is, ‘I failed’.

Few will disagree with that. Cameron failed himself, and he failed the country. His lack of thinking through the implications of what would happen if, heaven forbid, he lost, or that in politics you don’t have friends, or that the other side would lie and cheat to win, meant failure.

The former prime minister relied too much on his ‘luck’ and forgot that the best lawyers never ask a question to which they do not know the answer. It is easy for me to chastise Cameron. I am not an ego-driven politician who believes his destiny is to run his country.

Speaking of ego-driven politicians with this belief, in the next few weeks we are likely to have to choose our next prime minister. It will be the third general election in four years, and Asians will hold the key in several key marginal seats. It is our best chance of getting the law makers we deserve.

There is a new generation of south Asians who will be voting for the first time. They will not care one jot about Cameron or history or how we came to be where we are today. They will vote for the party which promises them a better and safer world, free from the existential threat of climate change, free from racism and class prejudice, and free from unfairness which strangles hope and opportunities.

At least that is how I felt when I first voted. Speaking to a group at the University of Buckingham, where I am a professor, I distinctly felt the audience wanting something basic – someone to deliver us from this Eton mess.

For my friend Ashish, the pessimism is gut-wrenching. He cannot see a way out of his quandary. At this time in our history, perhaps we simply need a leap of faith and believe that, no matter what, Britain, a former superpower, can find its mojo once again. Or is that too Cameron-esque?