By Rhys Tanner
The standard lazy person’s response that ‘they’re all the same’; that politics is dreary, inconsequential, and tedious has been blown out of the water. The monotony of the coalition era has reached an abrupt end with the extraordinary 2015 general election result, the astonishing rise of the Britain’s most radical Labour leader in decades, and now the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU – we are witnessing the most dramatic political theatre since the downfall of Thatcher in 1990, in my opinion. And it is no hyperbole to state that this is the most significant political decision to be made in a generation.
It has almost been a forgone conclusion that voters will do as expected when the question is put – our mental affinity for the status quo will surely result in an overwhelming ‘In’ vote, for a leap into the dark is beyond the realms of the British voter. Yet with the ‘gang of six’ cabinet ministers and now the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, defying the official government position, to support Vote Leave, the race has been blown wide open.
Many pundits have dubbed this to be a civil war in the Conservative Party; they say the EU issue, the spectre which has haunted the Tories since the 1970s, will be the coup de grâce which blows them back into opposition for a decade. I disagree. As a Tory supporting Vote Leave myself, and former President of the Durham University Conservative Association, I’ve witnessed first-hand the gracious nature with which this internal debate is being conducted. We outers or remain-ians fully understand that we are opponents, not enemies – there is a vast difference. Plus after eighteen years of desperately struggling to obtain a majority, we know full well not to squander parliamentary time and the political effort to govern.
MPs and Conservative figures on all sides are immensely grateful to the Prime Minister for granting us an opportunity to put this issue to bed, especially as he is jeopardising his career and legacy in the process. Ministers have also implicitly agreed not to debate each other in public as neither side wants a blue-on-blue bloodbath. This is typical of the well-mannered nature and rhetoric by which opposing politicians are conducting themselves.
Yet it should be stated that to totally reduce this issue to the level of party politics is mistaken – is not about right or left, it’s about right and wrong. It is for this reason that I am bemused that Labour exaggerate Conservative divisions when Corbyn and McDonnell have made loud Eurosceptic noises in the past, and also given that the numbers of the Labour Leave campaign are growing rapidly; the old-left Bennites have not had their day just yet.
This media furore surrounding Boris versus Cameron is little more than theatrics, and amateur dramatics at that. Even Boris has said that Cameron must stay, come what may. In the event of Brexit we need an internationally respected, level-headed figure with decent rapport with other EU leaders to negotiate the best possible free trade agreement for Britain. Boris knows this. Yet Boris also knows that if the knives come out early for Cameron immediately after the referendum he will be punished for his fratricide. Michael Heseltine learnt the hard way that ‘he who wields the dagger never wears the crown’.
The essence of the Conservative Party is enormously much more than banging on about Europe. This issue is surmountable, and come the 24th June when this referendum is over and the people have spoken, we’ll come in from the rain, laugh off our battle wounds, and focus towards retaining a majority in 2020.