By Philip Collins
It will take an age to recover from this victory for the exit fantasists
It is one of those phrases which goes straight into the memory as soon as you read it. The landslide for the Liberal government in 1906 was, wrote George Dangerfield, “a victory from which the Liberal party would never recover”. Boris Johnson, foolishly, has set himself a task in which he does not believe. He will assuredly become prime minister in due course and has ensured that his time in office will be dominated by an issue that he has pretended to care about in order to appeal to the fixated ideological obsessives in his party.
For all the pious invocation of “democracy” by the campaign to leave the European Union it is worth noting that, not much more than a year ago, this country had a general election. It entered a clear verdict. The Conservative Party, led by David Cameron, won an overall majority of 12 seats. The question of Europe was not a big issue. Yet, an unlucky 13 months later, the Conservative Party has decided, collectively, that its own internal squabbling is important enough to override that decision. The arrogance of these people.
If we are all permitted some pious preaching about democracy then I, as someone who did not vote for Mr Cameron’s government, regard that as a democratic outrage. No, Mr and Ms Exit-fantasist the country did not vote for an excessively ambitious clown in Downing Street. No, it did not vote for Nigel Farage to be anywhere near power. Before you lecture the rest of us on taking back control and getting our country back you might like to regard the democratic settlement of May 2015 as something more than an inconvenience to be swept away.
My, but politics is brutal. Mr Cameron has been destroyed by his friends. His career is over and, with his usual dignity and his voice cracking, he resigned in Downing Street. He has been humiliated by a party which, astonishingly, has never regarded him as a proper Conservative. The irony of it. A collection of utopian dreamers, blathering on about romantic nationalism and freeing Britain from the bonds of servitude, have humiliated and slaughtered their prime minister, and his chancellor, for not being real conservatives.
I thought from the beginning that the referendum was a colossal error on the prime minister’s part and so it has proved. I always believed that it was avoidable and that, with every concession to Eurosceptics who cannot take yes for an answer, he simply encouraged the march of madness in his party. Mr Cameron was never as adept a politician as his friends believed. He was lucky to get away with his Scottish gamble. He rolled the dice again and this time was handed the pearl revolver. He deserved better than this. Mr Cameron led a party I could not vote for but he was a good prime minister at a difficult time for Britain and he should be given thanks for being a good ambassador for the country.
Not that his enemies on his own side really care about that. They knew the referendum was a plebiscite on his leadership and they wanted him out. The view of the rest of the nation on the identity of the prime minister they regard as a decision to be made in their own closed rooms. It is not just the sheer arrogance of it. It is the absence of coherence. It will not be long before we discover that power migrated to a band who are even more divided than the fledgling, fractious government that has just been deposed. Even in the jubilant scenes of the Leave victory two competing ideas of the immediate future could be glimpsed, neither of them especially appealing.
The first is the Daniel Hannan world in which Britain, a serf-nation under the European yoke, gains control of its economy and sweeps away the burdens of regulation and tax. The second is the vision, if that is the right word for so murky a prospect, of Nigel Farage, who wants to turn off the clocks. Mr Farage has only one issue, which is immigration. He wants fewer foreigners and nothing more. It is not coincidental that Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front in France, welcomed the result.
I have bad news for the Hannans and Goves and Johnsons of this world. This is not your victory. You are free riders on the back of Mr Farage. You have smuggled through your sixth-form reading list politics on the back of Mr Farage’s stoking up of immigration fears. I hope you are proud of yourself and I hope, though I do not expect, that you are ready for what is coming. You have made a promise, whether you realise it or not, to bring down immigration. Even if you find, as you will, that employers rebel because they need the labour, you have promised. You have condemned yourself to leading a government for whom the number of foreigners in the country is the primary issue.
You will then find, of course, that when the white working class says “immigration” it means something more than the presence of Polish plumbers and Romanian fruit pickers. It means that life is hard, that employment prospects are bleak and that work is either unavailable or of really low quality. It is beyond laughable that the exit fantasists have the first idea what to do about this. Frankly most of them have never shown the slightest concern about that before. Well, it’s their problem now.
They are going to find that everything is their problem now. So then exit fantasist, it is time to make good on your histrionic promise of liberty. Everything that happens is on your watch. All the tribulations and vicissitudes of the economy are yours. The pound fell to its lowest point since 1985 and the Bank of England is poised to intervene. Standard and Poor’s have said that the UK will lose its fine credit rating. The stock market was down 8.5 per cent in early trading. This is not just a downgrade in the value of assets. It is a leading indicator of the financial turmoil to come. If there is a recession, it is your recession. If inflation goes up and interest rates follow with an attendant spate of repossessions, it’s all yours. Well done.
And for what, exit fantasist? For what? The notion that Britain was not free until the early hours of this morning is the single most childish claim I have ever heard in British politics. I have heard grown people, who ought to know better, talk of serfdom and calling June 23rd “independence day”. This is thinking that is profoundly unconservative, placing an abstract idea above the concrete facts of life. When the sun came up this morning — a new dawn was it not? — it meant nothing to pretend that we have passed from servitude into liberty. It is the emptiest campaign slogan, the self-satisfied bluster of a fluent intellectual dwarf. It is a victory but a victory from which it is going to take an age to recover.