The EU referendum saved the Conservative Party - GulfToday

The EU referendum saved the Conservative Party

Sean O'Grady

@_SeanOGrady

Associate Editor of the Independent.

Associate Editor of the Independent.

David Cameron

David Cameron

Is David Cameron the most brilliant, the most astute, the most far sighted politician in Britain?

Obviously not, and he has a lot to answer for, but bear with me. You see, in many ways, he is the architect, if unwittingly, of the Tories’ present hegemony. If it was his intention to hold an In/Out referendum on EU membership an order to close down the issue nationally, quieten and unite the Conservative party, and return the Tories to their natural (self-entitled) status as the natural party of government, you could say it was he who made it happen.

Of course his strategy was to hold a referendum in order to close down the issue nationally; to win the damn thing, then quieten and unite the Conservative party, and return the Tories to their natural (self-entitled) status as the natural party of government with one Mr David Cameron at the head of it – and certainly not that dangerous maverick, Boris Johnson. Still, as a consolation prize it may provide some balm to his troubled conscience as he stares out of the window of his £25,000 “Shepherd’s Cottage” down in the Cotswolds, contemplating the future.

Only a few weeks ago the possibility of the fall of the Johnson government and the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street was (or seemed) a realistic scenario. Now we see the Labour party not just vanquished, but smashed. If one Eton-educated leader, Cameron, could not persuade the working classes in the North to join him in a populist crusade, then another Eton-educated toff, Johnson, was able to perform that very role. It may have been a dishonest prospectus that Johnson set before the voters (well, yes, it certainly was).

 It is certain that Brexit will not “get done” (that is, completed) in January, and this time next year we’ll be going through the tiresome stuff about getting ready for no deal again. It may well be that the very people who voted Leave and then decided to “Back Boris” will find themselves bitterly disappointed by the consequences of Brexit and the government’s policies. Yet, for the time being, the Tories are in power and they look invincible.

What would the parallel world look like? Not the one where Cameron won the EU referendum, which would be an earthly paradise compared to the present mess, but the one that Cameron had pretty much planned before the 2015 election. The one where he had to form a new nominal “coalition” with a weakened Liberal Democrat party in another hung parliament and could shove the EU referendum on the back burner. What, then, would have happened to the Tory party?

The answer is the same as was happening to the Tories in the preceding years. Endless, futile rows about Europe; Nigel Farage and whatever political vehicle he chose to drive mowing down the Conservatives’ electoral support; a party as divided as ever, if not more so.

A party so weakened that – although nominally in office with Nick Clegg and few other tame Liberals – it could hardly exert its authority.

At least from the point of view of the Conservative party, then, Cameron’s EU referendum was the best thing that could have happened to them, as it has turned out. In future there will be no Tory “Leavers” to argue with the “Remainers”. The pro-EU moderates have either been expelled, left or have renounced their old beliefs and joined the cult of Johnson.

The Tories’ new MPS are the first post-Brexit cohort. Of course the arguments about no deal will go on, but the principle and fact of formally leaving the EU will be a matter of no debate in mere weeks. Whether we like it or not (and still a good half of the country still do not) the Tories’ civil war is over.

Johnson, in 2019, did not join Harold Macmillan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, David Cameron and Theresa May in the list of Tory premiers who had their careers fatally damaged by the European question. The Tories today are united, strong and look likely to dominate the 2020s, as they did most of the past century. Maybe they could find a moment to say thank you to Cameron?

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