So how was it for you? By common consent – and by common here I mean the engaged minority who care about political matters – Dave’s renegotiation is a damp squib. Everyone knew it was going to feeble, but not this feeble. Still, one must remember that his target audience is not us at all but the great mass of the apathetic and undecided who probably vaguely dislike the EU but want an excuse to stick with the status quo, always choosing to stick with nurse, for fear of finding something worse.
Sadly I think the cynical view is right that Cameron will win the referendum on the back of this charade. However, then we must ask, what of the future for the Tories? It is curious how self-destructive they can be: any institution built from humanity’s crooked timber suffers from careerism and venality, but the Tories, both individually and collectively, are morbidly terrified of losing the prestige of office to a quite neurotic degree. As such, they are often rendered incapable of acting in their own long term advantage.
Eurosceptic commentators such as Alistair Heath and Iain Martin have argued passionately and cogently that it would not in fact harm the careers of leading Eurosceptics to fight for their convictions. Nor, with Labour so deeply in the mire, would it conceivably harm the near term electoral fortunes of the Tory Party.
Just suppose that few if any Tory ‘Big Beasts’ do break cover and timidly cower behind Dave’s Bullingdon white tie tails, and then in a few years time the EU comes to a grisly end, perhaps even at the hands of some kind of popular insurrection? The British people will be like a prisoner emerging into the sunlight after years of solitary confinement. Stunned at first, but then realising how conditioned they had become to the soft repression of the EU, they will be very angry indeed, not least with themselves. The fact that they voted for ‘Remain’ in a referendum will be immaterial: any institution identified with the ancien regime will be toast. Looking around for someone to blame, a Tory Party in government that represented a united front going into this referendum would make an ideal scapegoat.
No one knows what the future holds, of course, and only a fool underestimates the will of elites with everything to lose to hold the EU together at all costs, but it is difficult to see anything but decay, disaster and fragmentation on the cards. In his cynicism and myopia, Dave may have inadvertently slipped a noose around the Tory Party neck.