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With David Cameron’s Resignation From Parliament, British Conservatism Can Begin A New, Bolder Chapter

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Finding himself prematurely out of power and seeing no value in life as a mere backbench MP, David Cameron brings the curtain down on a bland, centrist, disappointing and entirely forgettable political career

Having successfully completed Tony Blair’s fourth term of office and having a premature end called to his fifth, David Cameron today announced his decision to flounce out of parliament – despite having earlier promised to stay on as an MP after his fall from power.

He took his leave of us with these words:

With modern politics, with the circumstances of my resignation, it isn’t really possible to be a proper backbench MP as a former prime minister. I think everything you do will become a big distraction and a big diversion from what the Government needs to do for our country.

And I support Theresa May, I think she’s got off to a great start, I think she can be a strong prime minister for our country and I don’t want to be that distraction – I want Witney to have a new MP who can play a full part in parliamentary and political life without being a distraction.

[..] I hope I’ll continue to contribute in terms of public service and of course contribute to this country that I love so much.”

[..] I spoke to Theresa May and she was very understanding about this decision. I support her, I support what she’s doing, she’s got off to a cracking start. Obviously I’m going to have my own views about different issues – people would know that. And that’s really the point: as a former prime minister it is very difficult, I think, to sit as a backbencher and not be an enormous distraction and diversion from what the Government is doing. I don’t want to be that distraction; I want Witney to have an MP that can play a full role in parliamentary and political life in a way I think I would find very difficult if not impossible.”

Naturally this has led to speculation that David Cameron somehow disagrees with Theresa May’s loudly-trumpeted plans for new grammar schools and the return of potentially widespread academic selection to the education system.

I find this explanation…unconvincing. If the capsuled history of David Cameron’s premiership and leadership of the Conservative Party has taught us anything about Cameron the man, it is that he has absolutely no core political convictions which he is not more than willing to toss overboard for the sake of political expediency and his relentless desire to engage in centrist triangulation.

Fiscal conservatism? As long as he and George Osborne were able to find some statistical or rhetorical device to falsely claim that they were “paying down Britain’s debts”, Cameron was more than happy to continue spending hand over fist, driving Britain’s national debt ever-upward while exhibiting enormous timidity in reversing many of Gordon Brown’s most draconian tax increases.

Strong national defence? It took his successor, Theresa May, to drive through the parliamentary vote on the renewal of Trident, while under David Cameron’s watch Britain temporarily waived goodbye to our aircraft carrier capability (a true diminution in the eyes of the world) as well as the ability to effectively patrol our own coastline and airspace without the help of allies.

A smaller state? The much-vaunted “Big Society” was dead on arrival in 10 Downing Street back in the spring of 2010, and whatever rearranging of deckchairs the coalition government engaged in, nothing was done to tackle the biggest budget black holes – pensions and the NHS. Under David Cameron, the government preferred to virtue-signal their progressive credentials by spending borrowed money on international aid than get to grips with departmental spending.

So given this singularly unimpressive track record, the idea of David Cameron suddenly discovering an ideological backbone and beliefs strong enough to resign over is frankly ludicrous.

In fact, what really happened is quite obvious. Cast from power unexpectedly and with unexpected speed, Cameron lied when he said that he intended to stay on and complete his term as MP for Witney. To have said otherwise and admitted his intention to resign would have appeared churlish, and more than anything Cameron wanted to cultivate the image of himself as an easy-going happy warrior, ready to relinquish the trappings of office without regret and re-assume a more humble role as a backbencher.

This announcement came as quickly as it possibly could without making Cameron look completely dishonest and reprehensible. At least when Gordon Brown resigned as an MP he had managed four years as a backbencher – albeit four years in which he collected a hefty MP salary while being virtually invisible in Westminster. David Cameron’s brittle ego wouldn’t even permit him to last a year on the backbenches. His top flight political career having been brought to an unexpected end, Cameron saw no reason to stick around as a mere constituency MP.

To politicians like David Cameron, the role of constituency MP is merely a springboard to ministerial power. When the possibility of prize cabinet jobs or the keys to Number 10 Downing Street are no longer an option, wasting time on select committees or dealing with constituents’ issues appears a supreme waste of time – time which could be better spent cashing in on fame and carefully tended relationships while they are still relatively fresh and can bear the most fruit.

James Kirkup is similarly unimpressed with the manner of Cameron’s departure:

On June 27, David Cameron issued this statement: “I will continue with my duties as the MP for Witney. It is an enormous privilege to serve the people of West Oxfordshire.”

So enormous that he could only bear it for a few more weeks, apparently. He’s off, leaving the Commons and triggering a by-election in Witney: some lucky Tory will soon inherit one of the safest and prettiest seats in the country.

What does this tell us about Mr Cameron? Nothing terribly positive, to be honest. Let’s remember, he fought the EU referendum campaign promising not to quit if he lost, then quit when he lost — but only having clung to office as long as possible and having banned the Civil Service from doing any preparatory work for Brexit, thus making it harder for his successor to actually get on with the job.

In between breaking his promise not to resign as PM and breaking his promise not to resign as an MP, the only significant official work he undertook was drawing up an honours list handing an OBE to his wife’s stylist and a knighthood to his press officer.

Not exactly the most dignified departure from office, is it? And certainly not one that’s easy to reconcile with many, many statements from Mr Cameron about the sense of duty he owed to his nation, the selfless service he felt obliged to render.

And Kirkup’s unsparing conclusion:

And this is why flouncing out of Parliament in this way is so telling: it speaks to something fundamental about Mr Cameron’s character and his approach to politics: a lack of seriousness, the absence of real commitment.  Yes, he wanted the job and yes he put the hours in, to the cost of his family.

But he would never die in a ditch for his political beliefs, never shed blood and move mountains to hammer home his arguments. It was always enough to get by, to do just enough to get the top grade and do better than the rest.

Sadly, that describes Cameron perfectly – far more obsessed with optics than reality, and forever in search of the path of least resistance, even when that path ran direct through traditionally left-wing territory.

Ultimately, David Cameron was a weak and instantly forgettable prime minister because he was a centrist triangulator and a technocrat at heart. As prime minister he had no real interest in reforming Britain in his own image, imposing his own worldview or being a statesman. Rather, he was content to campaign and govern as a mere Comptroller of Public Services, the living, breathing symbol of the diminution of our national politics.

With his happy departure from Parliament (en route to a minor footnote in history) one hopes that the ground has shifted under British politics, and that the age of the technocrat might be coming to an end. His successor, Theresa May, while far from being this blog’s preferred choice, at least seems to have some strongly held political views of her own, while Jeremy Corbyn’s imminent re-election as Labour Party leader promises a 2020 general election offering genuine choice to the electorate.

All we need now is for George Osborne to follow his chum David Cameron into political retirement and we may finally be able to turn the page on this most boring and depressing chapter in Conservative history.

 

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George Osborne Must Resign, Now

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Worse than useless

Ben Kelly of The Sceptic Isle makes a devastating case for George Osborne’s immediate dismissal from the Treasury:

During the campaign Osborne forgot his responsibilities as Chancellor and showed himself willing to damage the economy by deliberately fomenting uncertainty and prophesising catastrophe. This has aggravated the economic fallout in the aftermath. He wasted £9million of taxpayer’s money on pro-EU leaflets and converted the Treasury into a partisan propaganda machine. He pressed public officials to publish dodgy dossiers predicting economic doom if we left the EU. This can only have increased the cynicism that the public feel towards politicians and damaged the reputation of the Treasury.

For the entire first weekend after the referendum, with the markets panicking, George Osborne apparently went into hiding. We needed him to offer reassurance and some indication that the Treasury was prepared. When Osborne finally appeared he made it “very clear” that the country would be poorer following the people’s decision to leave the EU. In an interview with Nick Robinson on the Today programme, he repeated his pre-referendum threat of a tax increases and spending cuts. Instead of offering reassurance he is making the situation worse and rather than revealing contingency plans he has petulantly insisted that “it was not the responsibility of those who wanted to remain in the EU to explain what plan we would follow if we voted to quit the EU.” This is the second most powerful man in our government abdicating responsibility.

With that, it became abundantly clear that he could no longer perform his role as Chancellor and was incapable of restoring economic confidence. With this man in charge project fear will be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

We now know that Wolfgang Schäuble issued his warning that we couldn’t participate in the Single Market if we left the EU at the behest of George Osborne. I have no doubt that in time we will find out that the Chancellor spent the months before the referendum making many calls and pulling in favours in order to boost his fear mongering campaign. Just think about that! A British Chancellor appealing for authoritative institutions and economists to warn that the British economy was weak and risked collapse outside the EU. Has there ever been a Chancellor so aggressive in his desire to run his own country down?

Remainers now point to our current economic turmoil as proof that they were right all along, but it was always inevitable that a political decision of this magnitude, with such huge potential for change, was going to cause economic uncertainty and short term pain. Now we need people in government to restore confidence and map out the future. The Chancellor who has been actively sabotaging our economy is the wrong man for the job. There should be no place for him in government.

Osborne took a huge gamble with a scorched Earth policy, he lost; and we are now suffering the consequences. Now he must go. It is too late to do the honourable thing now, but he can at least finally do the right thing and signal his intent to leave office when the next Conservative leader is elected.

I am very sympathetic to Kelly’s argument. It would be one thing if George Osborne had graciously accepted the result of the referendum and then immediately and publicly got to work ensuring that Britain’s sails were perfectly trimmed as we sailed into the short-term storm of post-Brexit hysteria. It would definitely have been positive if Osborne had pulled a secret Brexit plan from his back pocket and set the Treasury to implementing it.

But Osborne did none of these things. The submarine chancellor did as he always does – disappear for days on end while others take the flak, appearing before television cameras only when it absolutely cannot be avoided (such as at Treasury Questions in Parliament).

And while it was inevitable that there would be market turbulence following geopolitical news of the magnitude of Brexit, it is hard to deny that Osborne almost certainly exacerbated this fallout – the steepness of the fall in the pound, the stock market fluctuations, the delayed investment decisions by firms – by endlessly catastrophising Brexit in his failed bid to win the referendum for the Remain side. Of course this was a difficult line for a Remain-supporting chancellor to take, wanting to make his case but careful not to “talk down Britain” at any point. A true statesman would have successfully trodden this fine line. George Osborne stepped way over it.

But most damning of all is the way that Osborne helped to furtively arrange for senior foreign voices – politicians, NGO heads and others – to make their own interventions in our national EU referendum debate, actively putting words in their mouths. In many cases these words turned out to be unduly harsh and threatening words, representing the chancellor’s own bluster more than the sincere and considered opinion of the speaker concerned – which is why we are now seeing partial recantations from the likes of Wolfgang Schäuble.

As the EU referendum campaign drew to its hysterical, bad tempered climax, this blog openly wondered what T-word best describes a senior serving politician who deliberately seeks the help of foreign leaders, business moguls and NGO heads to bully and threaten his own people into making a certain decision.

I do not regret floating the T-word for a single second. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne debased and demeaned himself and his high office. He came down hard on the wrong side of the most profound and existentially important question to face Britain since 1945, and made almost zero preparation for the eventuality of a “Leave” vote in the referendum. By his words and actions he sullied both the tone of the EU referendum campaign and contributed toward the subsequent instability.

As Ben Kelly says, the time for George Osborne to do the honourable thing has long since passed. But this failed chancellor – who proved himself unable to deal with Britain’s deficit and unable to plan strategically in the event of a Leave vote – must now do the right thing and quit the British political scene at the earliest responsible opportunity.

 

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The T–Word

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We are fast running out of measured words to describe the character and behaviour of the prime minister and his chancellor during this EU referendum campaign

There is one word which thinking Brexiteers will do almost anything to avoid using to describe an opponent, however much they may want to: the T-word. While sanctimonious, virtue-signalling EU apologists are often quite happy to sneer at eurosceptics and make baseless charges of xenophobia and racism (accusations which can do grave real-world reputational damage in the modern world), Brexiteers are generally much more reticent to to deploy their own nuclear word.

Why? Because it sounds hysterical. To use the word in seriousness or in anger suggests that we have lost our minds, that we are deliberately exaggerating, that we and our arguments should not be taken seriously. And so we suppress it. We sit on the T-word, lips clamped shut even as Remainers paint an offensively false picture of Britain as a weak an ineffectual nation, and even go as far as suggesting that other European nations would be right to “punish” us for daring to reject their vision of a common European state.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid levelling the T-word at some – though by no means all – people on the Remain side. In fact, some people, through their abhorrent and irresponsible behaviour, seem to be going out of their way to live up to the word, to goad us into saying it. And sadly, senior members of the current government – including David Cameron and George Osborne – can now be included in that number.

As the Remain camp continues to slide in the polls, we have already seen David Cameron pledge – for no good reason at all – to take Britain out of the single market as well as the European Union in the event of a Leave vote, promising to implement the most irresponsible form of Brexit as a pure act of spite rather than through any democratic imperative (the referendum asks whether we want to leave or remain in the EU, not the EEA). And he followed that up with a shameful attempt to scare Britain’s pensioners.

But that is nothing compared to George Osborne’s indefensible decision to attempt to scare the British people into voting Remain by releasing a mocked-up “emergency budget”, detailing a catalogue of arbitrary and vindictive actions a future Conservative government would implausibly take to punish the British people for defying his will and voting to Leave the EU.

The BBC reports:

In the latest of a series of government warnings about the consequences of a vote to leave, Mr Osborne shared a stage with his Labour predecessor, Lord Darling, setting out £30bn of “illustrative” tax rises and spending cuts, including a 2p rise in the basic rate of income tax and a 3p rise in the higher rate.

They also said spending on the police, transport and local government could take a 5% cut and ring-fenced NHS budget could be “slashed”, along with education, defence and policing.

[..] Mr Cameron said “nobody wants to have an emergency Budget, nobody wants to have cuts in public services, nobody wants to have tax increases,” but he said the economic “crisis” that would follow a vote to leave could not be ignored.

“We can avoid all of this by voting Remain next week,” he told MPs.

This is blackmail, pure and simple. This is the prime minister of the United Kingdom threatening to inflict arbitrary and deliberate damage on the country in retaliation if we vote against him in the EU referendum.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is apoplectic:

George Osborne is disqualified from serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer for a single week longer.

Whatever his past contributions, his threat to push through draconian fiscal tightening in an emergency Brexit budget is economic madness, if not criminal incompetence.

Such action would leverage and compound the financial shock of Brexit, and would risk pushing the country into a depression. It violates the known tenets of macro-economics, whether you are Keynesian or not.

Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor, has connived in this Gothic drama. He professes to be “much more worried now” than he was even during the white heat of the Lehman crisis and the collapse of the Western banking system in 2008.

So he should be. The emergency Budget that he endorses might well bring about disaster.  The policy response is the mirror image of what he himself did – wisely – during his own brief tenure through the Great Recession.

We all understand why George Osborne is toying with such pro-cyclical vandalism – or pretending to – for he is acting purely as as partisan for the Remain campaign. He has fatally mixed his roles. No head of the Treasury can behave in this fashion.

Absolutely. And the figures on which George Osborne has cooked up his Armageddon Budget are of course based on the most extreme and unlikely  Brexit scenarios, the Treasury having dropped the practical and popular interim EFTA/EEA option from its analysis because this Brexit method fails to bring about the kind of telegenic economic disaster the Remain campaign need for their propaganda.

But even if it were not in response to an incredibly unlikely and pessimistic set of economic assumptions, Osborne’s emergency budget would still be hugely irresponsible, as Evans-Pritchard points out:

This is a fiscal contraction of 1.7pc of GDP. It would hammer the economy just as it was reeling from the immediate trauma of a Brexit vote and the probable contagion effects across eurozone periphery, already visible in widening bond spreads.

It would come amid political chaos, before it was clear what the UK negotiating strategy is, or what the EU might do. It would be the worst possible moment to tighten.

The Treasury has already warned that the short-term shock of Brexit would slash output by 3.6pc, or 6pc with 820,000 job losses in its ‘severe’ scenario. The Chancellor now states he will reinforce this with austerity a l’outrance.

It is a formula for a self-feeding downward spiral, all too like the scorched-earth policies imposed on southern Europe during the debt crisis.

A funny time for George Osborne to finally discover fiscal conservatism, one might observe.

While many conservatives have rightly chafed at Osborne’s inability to get to grips with public spending, none but the flintiest ideologue would celebrate a significant, deliberate fiscal contraction at a time of political uncertainty and sensitivity. Osborne’s critics are right to castigate him for his profligacy with the International Development budget and unwillingness to tackle the real drivers of government spending (yes, including pensions), but fulfilling every single demand on the fiscal conservatives’ wish list in one spiteful go – and at the wrong moment – would be deliberate vandalism, pure and simple. And it shows that George Osborne is thinking politically at a time when Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer most needs to act like a statesman.

It is also astonishing that a chancellor who has been perfectly happy to falsely claim to be “paying down Britain’s debts” while actually still running a persistent budget deficit and adding greatly to the national debt should now propose to deal with any economic shock resulting from Brexit exclusively through fiscal tightening and not with increased short term borrowing. Again, this is only more evidence that Osborne has absolutely no core convictions or political philosophy of his own, save furthering his own power and thwarting his political enemies. Certainly the idea that the chancellor has somehow discovered strict fiscal conservatism now out of genuine principle is absolutely laughable.

But of course, this “emergency budget” is a political ruse, not a work of policy. For starters, in the event of a Leave vote, both the prime minister and his sorry chancellor of the exchequer will be sent packing from Downing Street back to their home constituencies almost immediately, to the sorrow of absolutely nobody. The Conservative Party will not tolerate their presence a moment longer. But more to the point, even George Osborne doesn’t believe his own apocalyptic predictions.

As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard points out:

There are quite enough dangers in Brexit already without adding more. What the Chancellor should do is the exact opposite: prepare an emergency stimulus of 1.7pc of GDP if need be,  targeted at critical infrastructure and strategic investment that pays for itself over time.

The money should be borrowed. As of today the Treasury can raise funds for five years at 0.66pc, for ten years at 1.12pc, and for thirty years at 1.94pc. These are lowest yields in our history, and they have been falling steeply over the last three weeks.  There is no sign yet that Brexit will trigger a ‘Gilts strike’ or a run on the British debt markets.

Mr Osborne could have taken advantage of these give-away rates to build up a war chest for any post-Brexit turmoil. He has not done so. Over the last three months the Government has raised just £36bn of its estimated needs of £131bn for this financial year. Either he is negligent, or he does not believe his own doom scenario.

[..] It takes a nuclear bomb or the Bubonic Plague to bankrupt a developed country that borrows in its own currency, has its own central bank, and has deep layers of wealth. Mr Osborne has not yet conjured either.

(Where I depart from Ambrose’s excellent response to George Osborne is his call for a national unity government drawn from all the parties in the event of a Leave vote, to guide us through the “turmoil”. To my mind, this could only make things worse, diluting the strategic direction of government by weighing it down with the statist, centralising baggage of the Green Party and SNP – though I concede that a unity government would help to dispel John McDonnell’s “Tory Brexit” line.)

So here we have a chancellor of the exchequer citing economic scenarios he does not believe (as evidenced by his lack of preparation for them) to produce a vengeful and counterproductive fictional budget in an attempt to frighten and bully the British people into abandoning their desire for democracy and self-government outside of the EU.

Brendan O’Neill’s response is best, condemning the Left’s complicity in this Cameron and Osborne-led campaign of intimidation:

Today in Kent, the establishment united, across party lines, to tell us that they will have no choice but to financially punish us if we vote to leave the EU. There will be severe budget cuts if you people vote for a Brexit, says Osborne. In short: we’ll hurt you, we’ll make your lives harder, we’ll inflict economic pain on you if you make the wrong political decision. How the left can line up behind this elite crusade that has now descended into blackmailing the poor and the plebs to support the EU “or else” is beyond me. The left has been dead for a long time, but its backing of the EU is the stake in its heart — after this it won’t even be able to pull off its zombie act.

So, back to that awkward T-word.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the crime of betraying one’s country”, or “the action of betraying someone or something”. If you were, say, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, that “someone or something” might reasonably include the British national interest and the wishes of the people to be represented and served honestly and honourably by their government.

David Cameron and George Osborne wish Britain to remain part of an ever-more tightly integrating, expressly political union whose ultimate intention is to merge the countries of Europe into a common state.

David Cameron promised to extensively renegotiate the terms of our membership of the European Union but came back with less than nothing – a reaffirmation of the status quo, contracted not with the EU but with current heads of government, whose successors are in no way beholden to honour what little was promised to Britain.

David Cameron, George Osborne and their allies in the Remain campaign have used every trick in the book to threaten, deceive and coerce the British people into voting to stay in the EU. They have abused the bully pulpit of government, ignored Electoral Commission recommendations, produced and distributed taxpayer-funded propaganda, peddled in subliminal messaging techniques to influence people to vote Remain, misrepresented what the European Union really is and misrepresented their opponents.

And they did all this while supposedly serving their country – Cameron and Osborne as prime minister and chancellor respectively, and many of their Remain allies as fellow MPs, all of whom also swore the parliamentary oath.

I have put off using the T-word on this blog, thus far – mostly because while I am but a mere blogger, I do still want to be taken seriously and have my ideas and opinions listened to rather than rejected as the rantings of a blind partisan.

I will again put off using the T-word today, even though there is no longer any doubt in my mind that the word is justified when used to describe specific people and elements of their conduct during this EU referendum campaign.

But the reckless behaviour of the prime minister and his chancellor of the exchequer now contravenes their fundamental duty to the people, not to mention the basic standards of human decency; even the most ardent Remain supporter will surely look back with shame on what is being done to tilt this referendum in their favour.

On this present trajectory, it may not be long before whole swathes of the British public (justifiably) begin openly using the T-word as an accusation levelled at the two most powerful political figures in Britain, as well as many of those who might plausibly replace them.

And if we reach that acute point, we will face an unprecedented crisis in this country.

 

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What Conservative Government? – Part 6, EU Referendum Legacy: A Tory Party Hated By Left And Right Alike

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By waging such a disingenuous, fear-based campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union, David Cameron and George Osborne are sowing the seeds of their own political destruction

The excellent Archbishop Cranmer blog gives it to David Cameron and George Osborne with both barrels for the grubby, underhanded way in which they have gone about fighting the Remain case in this EU referendum campaign.

The devastating conclusion:

Frankly, both George Osborne and David Cameron have disgraced their offices of state in this referendum campaign, with their lies, hyperbole, disinformation and deceit. Whether or not the UK takes the first step toward leaving the EU on 23rd June; whether or not it becomes our Independence Day or is confirmed as the day we resigned to plod inexorably toward becoming an offshore regional council of a United States of Europe, David Cameron and George Osborne will go down in history as Tory charlatans, cheats and political frauds. They have successfully re-toxified the Conservative brand and made it impossible for many to support a party led by either. You cannot call a referendum on something as crucial as fundamental identity or the determination of national destiny, and then collude with corporates and conspire with other elites to feed the electorate a diet of blight, pestilence and woe. It’s enough to make a man never trust a Tory again.

Amen. And the curious thing is that both Cameron and Osborne seem utterly oblivious to the medium and long term damage they are wreaking on their party. Wanting their side to win the referendum is understandable – both men’s authority and political careers ride on the public voting remain. But the desperate and underhanded means to which they are going to win the referendum – the national propaganda leaflet, the Treasury statistics mysteriously missing an analysis of the Brexit to EFTA/EEA scenario – are storing up serious problems for the future.

In this blog’s opinion, both Cameron and Osborne are overrated as master political and strategic minds. Cameron actually failed to win the 2010 general election, and prevailed in 2015 only against a phenomenally weak Labour leader. Osborne, meanwhile, is much more of a tactician than a strategist, often quick to exploit opportunities to win a particular argument, but with little sense of the knock-on impact on other matters.

This is exactly what is happening now. Cameron and Osborne look at the polls, which generally show a steady lead for Remain, and mistakenly assume that this is the same as approval of themselves. But this is not so. Strip away the vast majority of Labour and non-aligned voters siding with Remain out of fear or ignorance, and over half of the Conservative Party may well oppose the prime minister. Had David Cameron conducted his campaign with a shred of decency or respect for the opposing side, this might not be a problem, and eurosceptic Conservatives might well have kissed and made up after being defeated on 23 June. But the sheer barrage of misleading statistics, analyses and inappropriate interventions from global figures organised by Cameron means that no rapprochement will be possible.

The bitter truth is that far from detoxifying the Conservative Party, David Cameron has retoxified it – to a supercharged degree. The prime minister may not be to blame for the Left’s hysterical reaction to any and every limited attempt at fiscal restraint by this government – with Labour shrieking that attempts to curb growth in public spending amount to a holocaust of the sick and disabled, the Left are to blame for much of the toxicity in our politics today. But Cameron is very much responsible for alienating vast swathes of his own side.

After the referendum is done, there will be a large number of small-c conservative voters who would sooner die than lift a finger to support a Conservative Party led by David Cameron or any of his cabinet allies from the Remain camp. This blog is among them. The Conservative Party is now as toxic among many conservatives as it is among the British Left. How then to fight a general election once the Labour Party finally gets itself organised?

This is David Cameron’s true legacy – a Tory Party hated by the Left despite being so boringly, forgettably centrist as to be indistinguishable from New Labour, and equally hated by many on the Right for having betrayed innumerable conservative principles through a policy of government by appeasement rather than the bold pursuit of conservative goals. Hated by the Left for having risked Britain’s place in the European Union by holding the referendum in the first place, and equally hated by the Right for having shamefully come down on the side of supranational, antidemocratic rule from Brussels.

Dave and George are probably not looking that far ahead right now – they are probably too busy lining up the next NGO head to go public about how apocalyptic Brexit would apparently be. But you could not pay me enough money to change places with either of them when it comes time for the first meeting of the Conservative Parliamentary Party after the referendum.

The anger and vitriol will be immense, and may well consume our arrogant prime minister and his chancellor soon after their moment of ill-begotten triumph.

And who will mourn their loss? If David Cameron and George Osborne are the best that the Conservative Party can offer, we may as well have a Labour government anyway.

 

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The Narrowing Path To Victory For Brexit Supporters

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A big external shock or a rising tide of anti-establishment rage are now the only remaining paths to victory for the poorly-led Brexit campaign

Getting a majority of Britons to vote to leave the European Union – particularly in so compressed a time frame, with the entire establishment chorus raised in unison against us – was always going to be very much a long shot. That much is obvious; asking people to vote against the established status quo is always very difficult, and despite having spent years flaunting their euroscepticism in public, it quickly became clear that many of the “big hitters” had given almost no thought as to what Britain’s future outside the EU should look like.

How different things could be if only the official Leave campaign had…oh, I don’t know, some kind of Brexit plan – not just familiar recitations of everything that is wrong with the EU, but an actual positive alternative vision for Britain, rooted in fact and probability rather than idle conjecture. But the shining ones in charge of Vote Leave and Leave.EU saw no need for a stinkin’ plan, preferring to paint with childishly broad brushstrokes their half-baked vision of buccaneering Britain negotiating and signing tens of trade deals a year, while the EU falls over itself to give us all the benefits of single market access at no cost (because the Germans like selling us their cars, don’t you know?)

Or as Pete North puts it:

From the outset you need to stress test your message. It has to be the words of winners. Eurosceptics bleat on about going global but it’s empty when you contrast it with the rest of their message which is outright hostile to global engagement. Again, it fails the credibility test.

I’ve said it time and again, but simply whingeing about the EU doesn’t work. Very few people like the EU, but they need a seriously good reason to take a risk – and that means you have to have a safe and desirable alternative. Oh, and a plan to get there. Vote Leave’s approach is to pretend there are magic wands to instant prosperity. Rather than seeking experts they sought people who will tell them what they like to hear. The Westminster bubble all over. They are going to lose and they will deserve it.

And so, with an uphill battle on their hands, the official Leave campaign has done almost nothing to improve their chances of victory, preferring to fire up the base and exalt in their lack of a Brexit plan rather than make a concerted effort to win over the undecided. And we are now rapidly approaching the point where all straightforward paths to victory are closed to the eurosceptics. Privately, David Cameron’s team expect to win with as much as 58% of the vote, and it increasingly appears that the only thing which might decisively change the Leave campaign’s fortunes is a big external shock – a flareup of the migrant crisis, a badly timed EU power play or a domestic political scandal, for example.

But why, besides the obvious ineptitude of the official Leave campaign, is it proving so hard to win over the undecided? It certainly doesn’t help that the arguments for remaining in the EU tend to be simplistic and fear-based*, while those in favour of Brexit (at least the thinking person’s version of Brexit) are more nuanced and complex. Among those who are not already die-hard eurosceptics, the push factor away from the EU can only take root when one has a basic grasp of the EU’s history and workings, while the pull factor toward an outward-looking, globally engaged Britain requires an understanding of the changing global trade and regulatory environment which the mainstream media utterly fails to provide (because they themselves do not understand it either).

(* Here I discount the genuine euro-federalist argument, which is perfectly legitimate but almost never heard in Britain because it is so distasteful to the majority.)

When Remainers crow that most major organisations from the IMF to large corporations want Britain to remain in the EU it superficially sounds like a slam-dunk case for staying, until one realises that most of the organisations held up by the Remain campaign are duty bound to minimise the risk (however small) of economic disruption, but have absolutely no mandate whatsoever when it comes to protecting and preserving democracy.

The CEO of a large corporation is accountable to the board and shareholders for the financial performance of their firm – often, it should be pointed out, with an unhealthy emphasis on the short term. CEOs have no legal responsibility to make public pronouncements about what is best for Britain’s democracy – the ability of British citizens to exercise meaningful control over the decisions and policies affecting their lives. And they certainly do not forfeit their bonuses when political engagement and voter turnout falls as people increasingly realise that it doesn’t much matter which party holds the majority in Westminster.

Were it not so depressing, it would be amusing watching Remain campaigners, particularly those on the Left, eagerly lap up every word uttered by the voices of big business – people whom they otherwise utterly distrust and openly despise, but whose statements that Britain should remain in the EU are accepted gratefully and unquestioningly because they confirm all of the existing biases of the EU apologists. Enjoy it while it lasts, because you are never again likely to hear Ryanair and the Labour Party press office singing so lustily from the same hymn sheet.

David Cameron - Neil Kinnock - Paddy Ashdown - Stronger In - EU Referendum - Brexit

But if, as expected, we go on to lose the referendum by a sizeable margin, our only remaining hope will be that the victorious David Cameron acts in as smug and condescending a way as he did in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum. Counterintuitively, this is when we need the prime minister to be at his arrogant best – to claim that the issue is settled for a lifetime and then swan around taking his gruesome victory lap and talking overexcitedly about how Britain will play a leading role in his mythically reformed European Union.

In other words, we need the prime minister to do everything in his considerable power to mock and belittle us if Remain carry the day, because this will add much needed fuel to the eurosceptic movement, light a fire under the the referendum post-mortem (Pete North is already talking about Nuremberg trials for those Brexit big beasts who did the most to let the side down) and hopefully result in a post-defeat surge in support like the one enjoyed by the SNP last year.

And there is every chance that this will happen – David Cameron has a big ego and a thin skin, and his political radar often deserts him when he gets emotional. Sadly, this may now be our best hope – to keep the margin of defeat as small as possible, and then hope for (or indeed provoke) as many gaffes and missteps as possible from the victorious Remainers.

It bring no joy to report this state of affairs – clearly it would be far better if Leave were consistently ahead by 10 points in all the polls and on course for victory, even if it means winning on the back of a “Brexit plan” drawn in children’s crayon. The only consolation is that this blog increasingly believes that the EU is doomed one way or another, that within ten years or twenty it will disintegrate under the weight of its own paralysing indecision, internal contradictions and interminable one-way ratchet towards closer integration.

We would all like to spend the remainder of 2016 preparing for secession negotiations and pressing the government to adopt sensible stances – and we should continue to fight to win, right up to the end. This is the last negative word this blog will write about the Leave campaign until the referendum is over – at which point you will find me, gavel in hand, on the bench at Brexiteer Nuremberg.

But increasingly it seems that our immediate job on 24 June will be to keep the flame of liberty alive, ready for the next opportunity – if and when it comes. And if we are truly dedicated to the cause, we must now begin preparing for that eventuality, too.

 

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Top Image: Guardian

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