Sunday 26th June
The dust is not even beginning to settle, it may be several weeks before it does. This is possibly the biggest Political upset in years – and all of it so un-necessary. Why did we have a referendum in the first place? Cameron says because it was in the Conservative Manifesto, but since when have we been bound by that, and anyway who wrote the manifesto but him. No, we actually have to go back a few years. There have been calls for a referendum on our European Membership for several years, but hardly from the British public, who before this were frankly rather bored whenever the subject of Europe came up. However in the Conservative Party there had been a growing faction, which has now grown into a majority who have never forgiven Ted Heath for taking us in in the first place, and have done everything to get us out ever since. Margaret Thatcher started off as a committed European but gradually became a skeptic, almost to the point of encouraging our semi-detached view of all things European. Poor old John Major went into the Maastricht negotiations knowing he would have to win some concessions or he might not get the deal ratified by his own party. And he was right, except as Cameron too would have to learn – there is no real compromise with the ‘Outers’; the more concessions you give them the harder their resistance becomes.
Then we had the Blair years and calls again from some Tories for a referendum, which he cleverly kicked into the long grass by agreeing to a referendum only after any Treaty change. Cameron too seemed signed up to this, but then we had the rise of UKIP, funded by Euro-Skeptic Millionaires and supported by some sections of the press whose only aim was to take votes off the Tories and to get them to agree to a referendum. And it worked. Terrified by their apparent success Cameron foolishly promised a referendum in 2017. Well, the polls were consistently showing a huge majority for staying in, in fact it seemed a shoo-in. So he went through the charade of a renegotiation, coming back like Chamberlain waving a bit of paper and declaring Victory, when all he got were vague promises and crumbs swept from the Grand Table. Ever the gambler, he was certain it was enough and rushed to an early referendum hoping to catch the Leavers on the hop.
And it all looked good, polls still favourable, the ‘Outers’ arguing amongst themselves, Cabinet ministers chomping at the bit waiting for the starting gun – and then they were off. Cameron had lined up a whole parade of World Leaders, Economic think-tanks, the Bank of England, and Business leaders to say what a disaster it would be, should we leave. And the polls were still showing a healthy lead for remain. Then a month out Farage started bleating on about Immigration, controlling our borders, getting our country back etc: And it was proving popular, so Johnson and Gove followed suit. And suddenly it was okay to talk about Immigration as the real problem and how we could only ever get it under control if we left Europe. Strange that nobody pointed out that over half the Immigration comes from outside the EU, and we have never been able to control that.
Anyway, too late now to complain about lies – both sides lied pretty badly. But what started as a row in the Tory Party and the creation of a party whose original aim was to force a referendum out of the Tory Party has grown into a huge groundswell of support for – well, for what we cannot be sure. Partly it is about Immigration and a dislike of Foreigners, Muslims in particular, but just about anyone will do. Partly it was a focus for dissatisfaction, low wages, poor life chances, no council houses, NHS struggling, lack of school places and Austerity. Partly it was a chance to stick two fingers up to the whole Political class, to Westminster, to Elitism, to the Establishment. Whatever, it is over now and there is a mess to sort out. But nobody seems to know the way forward, even the Brexiteers, who may be as surprised as the rest of us that the whole country (well, small town and rural England) voted to Leave. It is now up to Boris to decide our future, but I suspect that a huge compromise may be hovering over the horizon, and Boris may be the first to seize it.