I’ve been pondering this chart from Open Europe about the latest declared opinion spectrum on Brexit in the Conservative Party:
Like many people, after a first career in market research I am dubious about polls as a means of translating what people say into what they do; but my chief interest in the chart above isn’t a short term one. Rather, it’s about what these numbers say about the future potential of the Tory Party.
The chart shows clearly that the Conservatives are split right down the middle about the EU….as indeed, they always have been. Whereas, over half a century, Labour’s PLP has gone from being a job-protectionist opponent of the EEC to being the rabid supporter of all things Brussels, Tories tend to be obsessive about the issue of sovereignty, and the whole experience of “being British” on the one hand or enthusiastic supporters of Suprastate corporate globalism on the other. In turn, every Prime Minister since Ted Heath has been forced to tread gently through the minefield of xenophobia and munneeephilia in the House plus the reality that grassroots Party workers and consituency activists are overwhelmingly eurosceptic.
Anyone who thinks that the result on June 23rd will bring closure to this issue is dancing on a rainbow with the same fairies who think Scottish independence will gradually wither away because we had a referendum about it. I find it extraordinary that those north of the Border would prefer to be under the interfering diligence of the EC rather than the cynical disinterest of Whiteminster, but then that is a measure of just how much the average ScotNat hates being under the Sassenach yoke….and how utterly Londoncentric most UK governments are.
I mention the Scottish question because it has been assumed by many (including myself) that the eventual break up of the UK will lead to permanent Tory dominance in what would presumably become England and Wales. But as the Brexit drama unfolds, I’m no longer so sure.
Let us suppose that the Remain camp carries the day. Within a year, it is highly possible – in fact, probable – that we will find ourselves handcuffed to an unpleasant Brussels-am-Berlin clique breaking every promise it made while gaily jumping into the sea wearing concrete wellies. Equally, it is a near-certainty that George Osborne’s fantasy economic ‘policy’ will be in tatters. And finally, those who think UKIP would just go away should remember the clean sweep of the SNP in Scotland after the referendum went against them.
Political realignments do not take place until such time as enough backbench MPs feel their reelection to be seriously threatened. If, around 2018, UKIP were at last to attract enough voters disenchanted with fluffy Labour Corbynism and heartless Tory surrender, it wouldn’t be long before Conservative constituency associations made such a reality plain.
That could produce a split so visceral as to torpedo the Tories below the waterline…and David Cameron’s legacy would be that of a latter-day Lloyd George leading the Party into a wilderness.
Stranger things have happened.