From PM to MP: Covering David Cameron’s Resignations

Earlier this month, former British prime minister David Cameron resigned as a member of parliament (MP) representing Witney in the House of Commons, a position he has held since 2001. He informed the BBC that remaining in Parliament would be “a big distraction and a big diversion from what the government needs to do for our country.”

This marks his second resignation in the past three months.

Following the tumultuous Brexit vote, David Cameron,  who fervently advocated for Britain to “remain” in the European Union, resigned as prime minister under the belief that new leadership would better serve the country. He was succeeded by Theresa May, who previously served as Britain’s home secretary.

Cameron’s original resignation was evidently overshadowed by the enormity of the Brexit decision. And, Cameron’s resignation was expected after the referendum went against his and his party’s favor.

This second and final step out of British politics has drawn more questions than when he initially stepped down as prime minister back in June. In resigning, Cameron broke his pledge to remain in the House of Commons until 2020, a plan he announced in July. After formally quitting as an MP, media outlets questioned his motivations.

Media outlets, both American and British, assigned controversy to his decision, questioning if May’s move to create new grammar schools caused Cameron to make an early exit from politics, as he opposed expanding the grammar school system during his tenure as leader of the Conservative Party.

Alice Foster from the Daily Express, a British tabloid, asked the same question following both resignations: “Why is Cameron stepping down?” Following the Brexit vote, her answer drew on the recent referendum as the catalyst. Most news organizations made the connection between the Brexit vote and his resignation, adding little commentary.

In an interview with Michael Wilkinson, a political correspondent at the Telegraph, Cameron discussed the timing of his resignation in connection to a debate regarding the grammar schools.

Even the BBC looked to rope grammar schools into Cameron’s resignation motives. The government sponsored media outlet mentioned Cameron’s comment that the timing of his resignation was purely coincidental, rather than driven by a desire to avoid exacerbating inter-party contention on the issue.

Grammar schools are one of the most controversial issues in UK politics. They are selective schools that enroll pupils after they take a standardized examination at age 11. These are contentious because if students do not pass the exam, they are put in what are called Secondary Modern Schools, which focus more on learning trades rather than academic values. Proponents argue that these institutions boost student success and redistribute class-based privilege, giving students from low income families more opportunities to succeed. Opponents claim the tests are unrepresentative of students and the schools have negative psychological effects on students that are not accepted.

However, when Cameron stepped down  as Witney MP, Foster called on a professor of political science to analyze additional reasons for Cameron’s permanent move out of UK politics. Her article referenced a “damning report” on the UK’s role in Libya, Cameron’s desire to write his memoirs, and his distaste for sitting on the back benches of Parliament.

The final question raised by Cameron retiring is the legacy he leaves behind. Having seen the nation through many challenges, including the vote for Scottish independence, continued unrest in the Middle East, and leading the nation out of the 2009 recession, there is no question he contributed to defining moments in British and world history.

Wilkinson added that although there may be a myriad of reasons for Cameron’s resignation, the man who was formerly one of the most powerful in the free world appeared unaware of the consequences,  “Cameron’s former policy aide did, however, suggest that perhaps he was not really that aware of the wider context of his resignation – but I suppose we will only really know what he was thinking in the passage of time […].”

How history sees his leadership of the nation will in part depend on how the media covered both his time in office and his motives for voluntarily stepping down from power.

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