All political parties go through spasms, but the Conservative Party seems to suffer from them more than most. It is about to have another one.
It was inevitable that the EU Referendum campaign would divide the party. With 143 Tory MPs defying their leader and supporting Brexit, divisions don’t come much bigger than that. Even so, it was possible to think that both sides could respect that the other had deeply held views. It was possible to think that there could have been a calm debate, lacking in personal insults. OK, maybe it wasn’t.
Instead, Project Fear from both sides has meant that the personal insults from each side have increased as the weeks have dragged on. I won’t bother to list the insults here as I am sure we can all recall them.
But today it’s reached a different level. MPs Andrew Bridgen and Nadine Dorries have called for David Cameron to be overthrown whatever the result of the referendum. Yes, you read that right. The political titans Andrew Bridgen and Nadine Dorries think they know better than the people who voted for David Cameron last May. The irony is that Nadine Dorries actually voted for David Cameron to be Tory leader back in 2005. Indeed, most of the more swivel-eyed Eurosceptics on the Tory backbenches did the same, believing that his Eurosceptic credentials were greater than those of David Davis. They always did have such impeccable judgement.
These two MPs are wallowing in their own self-indulgence in the full knowledge that saying something like this will guarantee them acres of media coverage. Nadine even shared with us that she’s already sent a letter to Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee. She was, however, rather coy about its contents. How funny is that?
Iain Duncan Smith is surely right when he says that everyone should concern themselves with campaigning in the referendum rather than trying to undermine the democratically elected Prime Minister of this country. Any sensible politician should be able to deflect speculation about post-referendum leadership issues. It’s hardly rocket science.
What these two MPs have done is totally undermine the Vote Leave campaign by deflecting discussion onto David Cameron’s (or Boris Johnson’s) future. That’s what will be on tomorrow’s newspaper front pages and what will headline the Today Programme. They’ve given every media outlet an excuse to ignore the issue of the day for the Leave campaign and instead indulge in leadership speculation. Well done guys!
I suppose at least Bridgen and Dorries have the bollocks to say all this on the record, unlike the anonymous Tory MP who is quoted in today’s Sunday Times…
“I don’t want to stab the Prime Minister in the back. I want to stab him in the front so I can see the expression on his face. You’d have to twist the knife, though, because we want it back for Osborne.”
Certifiably insane. Did that MP get off on appearing important to Tim Shipman? Why would you give the media that kind of ammunition if you had any semblance of a brain?
Priti Patel’s comments about some people being “too rich” to care about immigration were also unwise in the extreme. She didn’t name Cameron and Osborne and will no doubt deny she had them in mind, but it’s quite clear to anyone what she meant. And she’s no backbencher, she attends Cabinet. For now.
This referendum is a once in a lifetime event. There are many people for Eurosceptics to blame if it all goes wrong and Remain win by a narrow majority. The leaders of the Leave campaign may be blamed for many strategic mistakes and decisions – not least the decision not to unite with Grassroots Out – but those who indulge in post referendum leadership fantasy will also have blood on their hands and won’t easily be forgiven by many of their colleagues.
On June 24th the leadership issue ought to be quite settled. If Remain win, Cameron wins and stays. If Leave win, Cameron will resign. Yes, there will be deep wounds to heal in either scenario, but if the Prime Minister is on the winning side it is difficult to think the electorate would understand a leadership spill (as the Australian’s delightfully call it).
Having said that, there is part of me that thinks that Cameron’s way out of this may be to do a John Major and put himself up for re-election by his parliamentary party. If he did, I have little doubt he’d win with a bigger majority than John Major had.