COLUMN: December 13, 2018

I used to be Prime Minister, you know?

DAVID Cameron was on the television the other night, after the latest calamity at that point to befall the Brexit process. There were probably three or four more calamities that followed that night, and there will be about another dozen between the writing of this column and your reading of it.

Anyway, a reporter asked him if he regretted calling the EU referendum and he said he did not because he had promised to have one in his 2015 manifesto, before jumping in his car and being driven off, ignoring questions about whether we should have a second referendum now that we know what the Brexit deal looks like.

One has to wonder what it is like inside the previous Prime Minister’s head. He spent years agreeing, presumably for political effect, with the rabid right wing press and his rabid right wing backbenchers, that the European Union was an absolute shower of bounders obsessed with giving us straight bananas and time off work when we have a new baby.

Then he pulled the Conservative MEPs out of their natural grouping in the European Parliament and put them in with the harder-right head-the-balls. He pandered to Ukippers over immigration – Theresa May was at the Home Office, for goodness’ sake.

Then he went to the EU to get a better deal for the UK, despite the fact that the UK had a pretty cushy deal from the EU anyway. We’re not in the Schengen area, which means EU residents still need their passports to enter our country, we’re not in the single currency, and we get a massive rebate despite the fact we’re one of the richest members of the EU.

And, of course, when he came back with a mildly better deal, there was no way it would placate his backbenchers or the Daily Mail, because it was an article of faith with them that the European Union was as bad as the Nazis.

He could have come back with the political equivalent of you finding a £20 note down the back of the sofa, and they would have still complained that he didn’t find a £50 note, and, besides, the sofa was lumpy.

So he spent years doing the European Union down, mostly because it was politically expedient. And then he announced the referendum and put himself down in the Remain camp.

Why did he do this? Because he expected to win. He thought he would be able to settle the issue in his party for a generation, and stop his backbenchers from banging on about Europe, because people like him always expect to win.

What he did not realise is that he had played his entire professional and political career up to that point on easy mode. He went to Eton and Oxford, he got a job at Conservative Central Office after a phone call of recommendation from Buckingham Palace. He was handed a safe seat in Oxfordshire.

His smooth manner put him in prime position when the Tories finally realised they needed a Blair-like character, rather than an oddball, to win elections. And then he was lucky in his opponents, a tired Tony Blair himself, a grumpy Gordon Brown in the middle of a global financial crisis, and Ed Miliband.

And this would be the third referendum he would fight, after the voting reform and Scottish independence polls, which he won convincingly. Because he had the overwhelmingly Tory press behind him.

He still had the Tory press behind him for the EU referendum, but this time they had knives. They were overwhelmingly pro-Leave, pumping out anti-EU propaganda for decades. They were never going to help him. He didn’t stand a chance.

I’m going to assert that nobody who voted in that referendum voted intentionally to make this country poorer or to close factories or to destroy jobs. Nobody who voted Leave did so thinking that it would be a disaster.

That’s why what people on my side of the debate call Project Reality was dismissed as Project Fear by people on the other side. Because, really, if things were going to be that bad, there was no way a sensible PM would put it on the ballot paper.

No. A sensible PM would not have done that. So, if David Cameron is telling the truth, after we crash out with no deal, or limp out backwards, bowing and scraping, with Theresa May’s deal, the only one who won’t regret it is the one who is to blame.

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