I wonder just how you feel, deep down inside, about the way the last couple of days have gone. Normally I would be one of the last people to express concern for your well-being or mental state, but now… Well, look, I know everyone who goes into public life and politics probably has at least one eye on posterity and how they will be remembered by future generations, so I expect this has occurred to you already, but I just feel the need to remind you that (as things currently stand) you stand a very good chance of going down in history as the man who destroyed the United Kingdom and dissolved the post-war settlement both here and on the continent. How do you feel about that, Dave?
The ironic thing, of course, is that this is the exact opposite to what you actually wanted. The opposite of your stated intentions, at least, and I must confess I do doubt your ability to consistently lie so convincingly. You promised people a vote on Europe in the hopes of preserving unity, and as a result the UK and its people have ended up tearing themselves apart. Nice work, fella.
Is it worth repeating the narrative that this is all on some level the result of Charles Kennedy’s alcoholism? Both the promise of the vote and the fact you found yourself in the awkward position of having to keep that promise are on some level consequences of the Lib Dem’s deeply unwise participation in the coalition government, which would have been unimaginable under the leadership of someone more in touch with the traditional ties between the different progressive parties, like Kennedy. You might want to run one more public health campaign on how alcoholism wrecks lives before handing over to Boris, Dave. Just a thought.
It’s all a bit academic now, though, of course. For whatever reason, there you were, trapped in a coalition with the Lib Dems which it seemed like only you and Nick Clegg really wanted – watching the pair of you often put me in mind of two men in free fall, fighting over a parachute – blasted by the left for the simple cruelty and cynicism of your economic policies, blasted by the right for the progressiveness of some of your social policies, Mr Toad snapping at your heels and threatening to steal all your supporters and MPs for his UKIP bandwagon, the old Tory faultline juddering and shuddering – Europe, Europe, Europe.
Things looked bleak. The Tories seemed likely to tear themselves apart. You couldn’t go down in history as the man who split the Tory party, could you? So promise them a referendum. That’d shut them up, for the time being at least. But promise it for after the next general election, the one which you knew you had no real chance of winning outright. You’re a politician, no-one seriously expects you to deliver on your promises. It was a sticking plaster on a deep wound, but it would do the trick.
But then, of course, the Tory press ground into action, those great engines of loathing and fear which hate you and think they own you. You had reckoned without them, and without the fact that the Lib Dems would be quite so devastated in the election, and the fact that the SNP would be quite so buoyed by your perceived lies in the last independence referendum campaign that Labour would lose its Scottish heartlands. And you found you had won that unwinnable election after all, and were obliged to give the people at your back their prize.
Still, I expect I know what you were thinking – this will be close, but every sane person will stand up for Remain. When the paucity of the case for leaving becomes apparent, people will understand there is only one sensible option for a forward-looking UK.
Of course, you had forgotten that for many people who are mildly unhappy with their lives, any election is an opportunity to reflexively kick against the status quo – one could argue that the whole UK electoral system is founded on the principle that a minority of people are going to switch parties every few elections, regardless of policy or ideology. And perhaps you had underestimated the extent to which we now live in a post-factual world, where reason takes a back seat to simple instinctive emotionalism – ‘we have had enough of experts,’ said your former education secretary and (former?) friend, whether consciously or not giving voice to the anti-vax, anti-evolution, anti-climate change mindset. But could you really have forgotten that the Tory press was also out there?
You know the Tory press well enough. It exists not to tell people the news but to educate them on how it believes they should think. It serves not the interests of the people who fund it by buying newspapers and satellite TV but those of the cabal of rich men who own it. Pulling the UK out of the EU is very good news for them, for they despise all those protections and rights the EU has given to workers and unimportant poor people. Destabilising the European project suits them very nicely. That they could take your head as well, post-Leveson, would be an added bonus.
But they couldn’t campaign for departure on an ‘it will make rich people richer’ basis, which is why we had week upon week of dog-whistle scare stories about immigrants coming, and EU waste, and undeported criminals, and immigrants coming, and Eurocrat arrogance, and immigrants coming. Much of it not true, or totally irrelevant to the vote, but enough to scare people and create the right climate of uncertain hostility. The people responsible don’t care about these things, know that they are trading in lies, but they did enough to get what they wanted: the UK heading for departure. Europe itself gripped by uncertainty. You, off into well-paid millionaire obscurity.
So what does the future hold? (Not for you personally, of course – you’ll be all right, that was never in doubt, though I wouldn’t hold my breath for many sympathetic biographies.) Division in Labour, with Corbyn under attack for his role in the recent disaster. Division in Europe, with other sceptic groups demanding their own referenda. Division in England, with the capital and the provinces, the educated and the ill-informed, the young and the old, seemingly irreparably split. The prospect of division in the UK itself, with a further Scottish independence referendum on the cards – perhaps the ghost of a chance of one in Northern Ireland, too.
(Of course, one consequence of Scottish independence – and I note that this is something your lot are very careful not to mention in public – is that it would practically guarantee Tory hegemony over the rest of the UK, at least in the short to medium term. As we saw in last year’s great disaster, without a strong showing north of the border, Labour will never be able to challenge for a Commons majority, so in some ways the end of the UK as we know it would be very good news for your party, even though the grim right-wing wasteland it would propel the rest of us English people into scarcely bears thinking about.)
But, you know what, there is one place where people seem to be… well, not quite coming together, but at least not trying to tear each other apart with quite the usual gusto. The Tory party’s lethal instinct for power and survival seems to be as strong as ever. Perhaps you have managed to lance the European boil for them, Dave, although not many people are happy about your method of doing so. Perhaps the Tories will become united in a way they haven’t really been since the days of the old hag queen. If so, your plan succeeded. You have managed to unify your party after all. Never mind that there has been a degree of collateral damage on a potentially historic, potentially global scale, maybe you will in fact be remembered as the leader who made the Tory party whole again.
I wouldn’t bet on it, though.