In this EU referendum so far, the Tory Party is the problem, not the EU – but no-one is saying that

If you read ex-PM John Major’s Telegraph piece from Saturday about the dangers of Brexit you’d think all is generally well in the fine and pleasant land of England. Our pick and choose with regard to the EU has worked, he argues, and “we have the best performing economy in Europe“, and he happily states he loves the country – as if that phrase were ever to be in doubt from a Tory. You can almost imagine the words wurbling off his tongue.

The problem actually is this whole Brexit referendum is borne of the very uncoupling of the Tory Party from the reality of the country it is purported to govern, while at the same time the very same politicians reassure themselves all is well in the country before them.

I am not so sure.

This weekend there was former Minister David Davis arguing that Brexit is the “safer option” for the UK. There is a case for Brexit, don’t get me wrong, and I understand it and have some sympathy for it, but the very notion that leaving the pre-eminent international organisation in your part of the globe is the safer option? That’s absurd. It’s not, as Major argues, that the UK has been doing so badly on the inside. But go ahead, David Davis, make up the case to fit the result you want.

And then we have Iain Duncan Smith flounting out of the government over cuts to disability benefit that will not happen, after having sat in the same job for 6 years approving a whole slew of cuts that did actually take place. But then, as Matthew D’Ancona correctly writes, this is where it gets really nasty in the Tory Party – because Duncan Smith is on the opposite side of the party to Cameron and Osborne ideologically, and he is positioning himself for the messy aftermath of the referendum and the battle for the soul of the Tory Party.

As Francesco Guerrera I think correctly argues this morning in Politico, even if the UK does remain in the EU, all this bickering in the Tory Party is going to make UK-EU relations worse in the short term after the vote. Reading between the lines of the D’Ancona piece, a leadership challenge to Cameron in the aftermath of the referendum, whatever the result, looks rather likely, and Brexit advocate Boris is favourite to win it.

All of this hence gives the impression that things are not at all well. This is not a government confident about its own future, or the future of the country, or even trying to govern with that in mind. The very future of the UK, and its role in the EU (and by extension world affairs) is being reduced to a combination of delusion and petty fights within the Tory Party – a party riven now more than ever before with factionalism, beholden to an ever older, ever less representative membership of fewer than 150000 people, meanwhile being cheered along by a fervent media. The very need to hold the referendum, let us not forget, was due to Cameron trying to clear up this internal party fight back in 2013.

The Tory Party still reassures itself about the preeminence of the UK, while it cannot manage to resolve its own internal conflicts, and the party puts the future of the country at stake as a result. The EU isn’t really the problem here – British politics is, but no-one is really capable of saying that.

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3 comments

  1. Richard

    Basically agree. The Tory party looked vaguely functional as part of the coalition but as a majority government the full extent of how dysfunctional they are is obvious, given that the government is already essentially at a point where it cannot govern; its proposals for reducing the deficit have effectively hit a brickwall against the reality that the sick, unemployed and disabled were never the scroungers they were made out to be, while while series of policies have been forced into retreat. Even if Cameron wins, I have no idea what the Tories intend to do with the remainder of the Parliament and I suspect neither do they. And if he loses, the position gets worse given that the Leave camp have nothing resembling an even semi-realistic exit strategy and that many beloved leave shibboleths (like cutting employment rights) have no popular mandate either.

  2. Ben Carlin

    UK politics is very messy at the moment, and you can’t even really talk about “UK politics”. Northern Ireland is a completely separate political planet. So is Scotland and increasingly Wales as well.

    In England, both Conservative & Labour parties are divided internally. Cameron has said that he will not lead the Conservatives into the next General Election. Hardly any Labour MPs believe that their current leader (Jeremy Corbyn) can win the next General Election – which is very unlikely to happen before May 2020 in any case. Meanwhile, other parties (Liberal Democrats, Greens & UKIP) only have 8 out of 533 MPs (in England).

    Party politics overlaps with the EU Referendum to the extent that politicians are the main messengers on both sides of the debate. On the Leave side you have Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and other Tories like David Davis and IDS. On the Remain side there’s David Cameron and assorted centre-left politicians (Nick Clegg, Caroline Lucas, Alan Johnson). I suppose if people don’t like or trust David Cameron then they will be less likely to vote Remain.

    I think issues such as “immigration”/”free movement” are more important that personalities in the context of the EU referendum. Only 32% of people in the UK think that free movement of EU citizens is a “good thing” (for Britain). 73% of people in the UK think that the British Government should impose annual limits on immigration to the UK from the [rest of the] EU – which would be incompatible with the EU Treaties.

    Source: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/mar/20/britons-on-europe-survey-results-opinium-poll-referendum

  3. David Robinson

    Yes, but remember pledging a referendum was also Cameron’s attempt to try and soften the risk from UKIP.
    If there were to be a decisive Remain vote UKIP would be a (largely) one-issue party with that issue closed.
    The problem is a decisive Remain vote has always looked a long shot so the current Conservative leadership has just fueled the internal tensions on the centre/right with the referendum.