These words appeared more often than I had expected in the extracts in the press from David Cameron’s memoir For the Record published this week. The former Prime Minister admits that he failed in his attempt to use the EU referendum to unite his party. He failed to campaign as effectively he might for the ‘Remain’ vote in the referendum. He failed to identify the real political agendas and personal ambitions of his Oxford peers, Johnson and Gove. He also failed, in my opinion, to show political courage when he resigned as prime minister and left others to shoulder the considerable burden of a divided country. Maybe the book will reveal what the excerpts have not.
More poignantly, Cameron says that he failed his family especially in the challenges posed by his son Ivan’s severe disabilities. Ivan had severe epilepsy with many seizures daily. He was unable to use his limbs and in his development was arrested in many ways. He says: ‘A world in which things had always previously gone right for me suddenly gave me an immense shock and challenge. I tried to rise to it, but am very conscious of the ways in which I failed’. He adds: ‘I know I lacked the real patience and selflessness that are required to be a truly great carer’. He says on the other hand that his wife Samantha never failed to offer the compassionate care needed.
Being retired has its similarities to being in the political wilderness. It gives you pause to reflect on your life. It gives you a chance to consider the things you might have done otherwise, the things you regret – including some failures. Those who simply ‘keep busy’ perhaps miss, or even avoid, this opportunity. Yet it is important to do so without being overwhelmed by it. There are successes mixed in with the failures. It takes time to know which is which.
Not only do ‘I fail’ but also ‘we fail’. It’s a group thing. The biggest failure of my generation is without doubt the reckless disregard for the well-being of our planet. ‘There is no planet B’. Today sees a ‘Global Climate Strike’. As I write, people all across the world – not just the West - predominantly young people and children, are protesting in various ways about the climate emergency. Sea-levels rising, glaciers melting, species disappearing, plastics invading, forests burning. It’s a familiar litany.
Putting pressure on governments – not least by street protests - is probably the most effective way to go. But if we don’t want to fail as a generation, it must be accompanied by our modification of our own habits. Re-assessing our rights to unlimited air travel, going in the direction of vegetarianism, asking our supermarket floor managers what they are doing about single-use plastics. It requires imagination and commitment to live a somewhat modified life-style.
David Cameron clearly has real regrets about failing his child. We do not want to fail our grandchildren nor all the other children and grandchildren in the world. One of our greatest levers is our consumer spending. Time to put pressure on our suppliers and producers who pollute. Time to resist.