The party of Brexit

Following the vote of the UK to leave the EU, Brexit, an article in the Guardian reports that the Conservative Party is now the party of Brexit, “ow different defeat feels in practice. Before the referendum David Cameron was consistent in his formula: the vote was not a test of his leadership or of his tenancy of No 10. Should he lose, he would continue to govern, providing the continuity and experience that the nation would require as it exited from the maze of the EU. There was a cool rationality to this argument, typical of the man and his distaste for drama. Those around him were ready to fight a confidence vote and believed they had sufficient numbers to prevail in such a test of his position. As collateral, they already had a letter to the PM signed by more than 80 Tory Brexiters urging him to stay on, even if he lost the referendum. At the very least, this would give Cameron – and his party – a breathing space to consider their options”.

The author writes “in the pitiless light of day, the plan collapsed like Dracula turning to ash in a sunbeam. In December 2005, the new Tory leader rebranded his party as “Cameron Conservatives”: compassionate, modernising, no longer “banging on” about Europe, green by inclination (Steve Hilton replaced the party’s torch logo with a tree), and supposedly at ease in contemporary Britain. This morning it became overwhelmingly clear that the party now belongs to the Brexiters and that the era of Cameron Conservatives is over. For now, the voters do not want to hear about pluralism, global interdependence, the complexity of modern society, or the difficulty of striking the right balance in migration policy”.

The writer goes on to make the point that people “want “control” – which is another way of saying that they want, and expect, the results that, in their opinion, the political elite has woefully failed to provide. How, to put it more crudely, could the defeated leader of the remain campaign preside over the negotiations to get out of Europe, and what would the leading Brexiters be doing while he got on with it? David Davis and others had tried to negotiate potential compromises in the past month. But there was no sense in a new government in which all the kinetic energy belonged to the victorious leave camp but the crucial actions were delegated to the very man it had defeated. Cameron had fought, as he admitted in Downing Street, with “head, heart and soul” to stay in the EU but been answered with “an instruction that must be delivered” to bring about precisely the opposite. There would have been no dignity in this – effectively, a return to coalition government but, in this case, an alliance between two wings of the same party”.

The piece ends with the writer noting “I will not say of Cameron that nothing became his career like the ending of it. More than Gordon Brown, he was the first prime minister to feel the unmitigated wrath of the electorate post-crash, amplified by social media, oxygenated by a broader contempt for elites of all kinds. The Brexiters will soon discover that the flames they fanned are not easily controlled. But that is a theme we shall address fully in due course. For now, let us say that Cameron made errors, but his record is not the litany of disaster that some obituarists are already claiming. He held the coalition together for five years and returned his party to government with a majority for the first time in 23 years. He pursued the austerity in practice that Alistair Darling had promised in theory: such decisions, by definition, are harsh and unpopular. Does anyone imagine that the Brexiters will be kinder? No government can sustain a rival government in its ranks. It must concede defeat, or destroy the pretender. Cameron knew the latter option was not open to him, and had the guts to follow where the implacable logic led. Better than most, he knows what lies ahead and how expectations of change, unmet by those who promise it, can compound anger faster than we imagine. As he reached the end of his speech, his voice broke. He yearned to weep, but I do not think his tears were principally for himself”.

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