As we draw closer to 23rd June, the IN/OUT campaigns are heating up, the rhetoric becoming ever more intense and the media are turning their attention to the likely state of the Tory Party after this is all done and dusted. We can expect to see many stories from “party insiders” in the coming weeks but frankly and whatever the outcome of the Referendum, the simple truth will be that David Cameron’s front bench political career is coming to a close and probably far sooner than he intended.
The “why” is interesting but only time and after various memoirs are published in future years will we have a better insight into the background and motivations for what looks like a very public political suicide on David Cameron’s part.
Margaret Thatcher’s success stemmed from her political nous over the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands, she “knew” with a certainty that she would have the support of the majority of the electorate despite no doubt being surrounded by naysayers at the time. Her downfall later came when she probably either didn’t listen or listened to the wrong people but the key was that she had by then anyway lost touch with her political instincts. David Cameron is not a Thatcher type politician, his strength comes not from being a “strongman” type but from appearing collegiate and approachable. It was this image developed whilst in the Coalition Government plus with help from the SNP in destroying Labour’s Scottish heartlands, that he got the PM job in his own right last year.
It was an advantage he has since thrown away during the EU Referendum campaign with what are “bully boy” tactics, in simple terms, if ever he had it, he has lost his political nous/compass and several things will flow from that fact regardless of the outcome of the EU Referendum.
As the Scottish Referendum demonstrated, inflame passions through too much negativity and the losing side will live on, the issue will not be settled and will return at a future date. David Cameron’s posture has been completely wrong from the start and his ‘aggression’ over this vote can only be explained by one of two things: Either he has knowledge that he has not shared with the electorate but which informs his actions to encourage “Remain” at all costs or, this has become a personal ego trip for him. There is a third choice I suppose, he has known from the moment he left Brussels that what he was trying the hawk around as a “reformed EU” was in fact a load of worthless crap but ‘invests all’ for the sake of his political legacy of not being PM when Scotland became independent or the UK left the EU just before it imploded.
How He Should Have Done It
As the incumbent Prime Minister he has all the advantages of high office and regardless of party political preferences, the electorate will listen to what he is saying. He should never have put himself in the front line, that he should have delegated that to some trusty and ambitious MPs in his own party and he should have stayed above the fray except when in the Commons and stating the Government position. His best approach would have been to arrange a “TV Fireside Chat” to the British electorate where he laid out clearly and calmly his reasons for supporting Remain and most importantly, how by remaining further reforms of the EU might come about, in other words, the “positive message”. He should have put himself in the position where he led the public in laughing at any extreme statements from either camp such as the following:
A prime example of the total nonsense being dished out by both sides but more especially from the Remain camp as reported by the BBC of “An online survey of economists for The Observer showed 88% of those who responded believed that EU withdrawal would be damaging for the UK economy.” The Observer which is a pro EU newspaper had the following headline: “Economists overwhelmingly reject Brexit in boost for Cameron” At the bottom of the article came the “health warning” as follows:
“In total, 639 respondents completed an online survey, sent to non-student members of the Royal Economic Society and the Society of Business Economists, between 19 and 27 May 2016: a response rate of 17%. Data is unweighted and reported figures should only be taken as representative of the views of those who responded” Quote from the Observer on 29/05/16
So if we break the real figures down, we find a clearly self selecting group of people because we end up with the following: 639 out of 3,800 replied. In round terms, this means that 88% of those who replied who represent some 15% of Economists asked, thought that it would be bad news and 83% of the 3,800 didn’t think it worth their attention from this we can come up with two different headlines:
15% of Economists think that Brexit would be bad for the Economy
83% of Economists think that Brexit would have little economic impact
The first would be true, the second an inference based upon the response and therefore to most reasonable people, highly dubious.
By not keeping himself above the fray and becoming embroiled in it all, he has lost sight of what his job as Leader of the Tory Party is in terms of bringing the different parts of it to broad unity on most topics and an agreement to differ on some others, he will get punished by both the Remain and Leave wings of his party regardless of how the vote goes. If he needed a lesson in how to handle this, he need only look at Theresa May who quite deliberately and no doubt with half an eye on a future leadership election, has kept her head firmly down.
He Will Lose the Leadership
Whilst I have no doubt that “Project Fear” will work and the electorate will be cowed into voting Remain by the deluge of doom and gloom, only a massive 75/25% margin could save him for a time perhaps, but not for too long. The likelihood is that it will be a 60/40% margin for Remain, at that level and as it only takes 50MPs to start a process that triggers a leadership election in which Cameron couldn’t stand, he will lose the Leadership and along with it his office of Prime Minister.
Obviously there will easily be 50 Tory MPs that supported Brexit available to kick this process off but it won’t just be them, others who supported Remain will also see the political necessity of removing David Cameron. This will be because he will have become a divisive figure in terms of party unity and given the small majority, too easily fall victim to policy revolts by backbenchers which means he would not be able to deliver policies making it a lame duck government. Under these circumstances he would also be a ‘crippled’ Prime Minister on the international stage too so in terms of promoting our national interests, he would just have to go.
In the unlikely event that the electorate voted for Leave but by a slim margin, hard to imagine it would be a big one, he might be able to hang on for a period as preliminary EU negotiations were started with a projected schedule and timetable mapped out. This might be useful for all parties both domestically and within the EU because he has built personal relationships with others in the EU but even so, having backed Remain so heavily, his authority within the Tory Party would be extremely diminished and he would be replaced sooner rather than later, likely as soon as serious negotiations started.
It is hard to understand just why David Cameron has acted as he has except to say that perhaps his problem was that he got between the argument and what he wanted to achieve and in the process completely lost his objectivity and therefore his way.
When he became PM in 2010, he just wanted to kick the “Europe Thing” into the long grass and not have to deal with it because it had long been a toxic issue within the Tory Party and in this, he was greatly aided by being in a Coalition Government with the LibDems. However and as the 2015 General Election approached he had to keep the right wing of the party engaged and stave off the threat from UKIP hence the EU Referendum promise.
Having failed to get anything from his “renegotiations” rather than do the sensible thing and just walk away for the time being and return to them at a later date, he claimed that he had got the basis of a “Reformed EU” agreed when clearly it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Just how worthless this was is best illustrated by the fact that it hasn’t figured in the Remain campaign at all, instead of being the centre piece around which it should all have hinged in a positive way.
David Cameron in the end forgot the key reason why he promised the EU Referendum, to ensure party unity and has instead been personally responsible for splitting his own party even further than it was on the issue by his own actions. It is not good enough for him to say that as Prime Minister he is promoting his government’s position, politics is the art of the possible and that most often means, compromise and trade offs especially within ‘broad tent’ political parties. If he needed a lesson in this he had only to look across the House to the opposition benches where from the moment Ed Miliband became leader he lost the ‘Blairite Wing’ a process that has continued and accelerated to ridiculous proportions under Corbyn so that the Labour Party are the further away from power than they have ever been.
Having delivered a deal with the EU, he should have explained it, pointed out its benefits and then stood back from it and accepted the result of the referendum. The bottom line is that as things currently stand, it is hard to imagine him surviving this referendum regardless of the result for long, the Tory Party have always been quite ruthless in dumping people. By themselves, his ‘head banging’ MPs couldn’t hurt him but like John Major, all it takes is a handful when you have a slim majority and he doesn’t even have a strong opposition to help keep his backbenches in line, so game over.