Well, the blizzard of noise is over. Tomorrow the country goes to the polls to delver its decision. Or, more accurately, its opinion, seeing as the referendum is not actually a binding covenant, merely advisory. But we are standing on a precipice. Or rather, we have been pushed to it by some of the most concentrated idiocy of the modern era. This campaign has trawled ever lower depths of hysteria and stupidity, and considering barely a year has passed since the last election, that’s saying something. But no, this campaign has made that seem like a glorious, halcyon era of high-minded and sober intellectualism.
Whatever happens, the aftermath with be messy and prolonged. But the most worried man in the country on Friday morning will be David Cameron. Why? Because whatever the result, the man is toast. In the event of an exit vote he cannot survive; his resignation would have to be almost immediate. But even a remain vote is bad news. The result is going to be close. Very close. So close in fact, that Cameron, the figurehead of the remain campaign (and a spectacularly inept one at that) will be fatally holed. And none of it needed to happen.
Back before the recent election, most of the thinking was that there was likely to be another coalition, and the Conservatives needed to bolster their core vote. Adding a referendum promise to the manifesto was seen as a way of both keeping his own right wing a bit quieter, and putting a lid on Farage in the process. When the coalition arrived, the promise could be jettisoned in the negotiations and it would be business as usual. Except, of course,the Conservatives went on to win the fourth smallest majority since the end of WWII, and Cameron was stuck with a manifesto commitment he never wanted, to hold a referendum he didn’t need to hold.
And so, to avoid ripping his party apart, he had to do what Harold Wilson had to do in 1975: break cabinet collective responsibility and let government ministers choose a side. This they have done, very vehemently, for months, almost to the exclusion of all else. The fault lines that have lain barely dormant since the Major years have again split open. The other factor to consider is that, having said he would not lead the Conservatives into the next election, this campaign was always going to be about the upcoming vacancy for the leader of the party. The key thing to consider as a consequence of this is that the most venom has been exchanged across Conservative lines, and most of the most poisonous vitriol has been directed at the Prime Minister himself by those who will once again sit around a cabinet table with him soon. With a wafer-thin majority Mr Cameron can barely afford to give a party in open revolt the feeling they can continue to take pot shots at him in public with impunity.because he’s on borrowed time, but this is what he has done. Cameron has poured petrol on the fire, and seems to be shocked that he’s burned his eyebrows off. Like the Scottish Independence referendum before it, the attempts to win short-term tactical political points will have long-term strategic impacts.
Indeed, one of these impacts is the issue of Scotland itself, who will surely look to have another opportunity for secession if they express a wish to remain in the EIU, and the English do not. So, to keep his own party at peac, Cameron has bet the future of the U.K. He’s in grave danger of losing, and sacrificing the Union for the sake of his party. This is like selling your cow for some magic beans, only to discover the beams aren’t magic after all when you arrive home.
All through this campaign, I have passed the road signs and seen the screaming pamphlets exhorting people to “take control of their country”, and telling anyone they can browbeat that “we want our country back”. And I’ve become more and more despairing and angry, because this is my country too, and I don’t want these fools to have it. I want to live in a progressive, compassionate, outward- looking country. A country that engages with the world, and provides leadership and good sense at a time when the world needs it most. I don’t want to live in a country full of the petty-minded and closed-off, shutting themselves off from a world that will have more important things to do than pander to the delusions of a rocky outcrop off the north-western coast of Europe. This picture of the world is founded on a mistaken perception of our importance in the world. People won’t be queuing to do trade deals with us, and our former EU colleagues will have no desire to let us keep all the benefits of being the member of the club without having to take notice of most of the rules. The people shouting loudest for this isolation are the very people whose desire is strongest to dismantle the fabric of the post-war society, and strip away all the benefits and rights for the majority of us, and not just the privileged, that were so hard-fought for. I don’t want us to build walls at the very time when we should be building bridges.
Make no mistake, this is not really about economics, or even immigration. Tomorrow is a battle for the soul of this country, a time to remind ourselves and the world, what kind of a nation we are. The outcome will shape the lives of our children, and our grandchildren, in the years to come. It is a battle the forces of reason cannot afford to lose. Let’s hope we don’t.