Christopher Howarth is a senior researcher working in the House of Commons. Prior to this he worked for Open Europe, as a Conservative Foreign Affairs Adviser and senior researcher to a Shadow Europe Minister.
It’s a tough life choosing to be right when everyone around you has prioritised popularity, their careers, or are simply along for the ride.
Imagine suffering the indignity of being right for 25 years: subjecting yourself to marginalisation, taunts and insults from your opponents, the BBC as well as your own party leadership.
Then, having finally gained the endorsement of a majority in the county, all those who for decades stayed firmly within the Overton window* now airily join you in the new respectable mainstream as if the previous 25 years had not occurred. It would test the patience of a Saint.
But spare a thought also for those like David Lidington MP who, for genuine reasons, on balance believed EU membership was beneficial to the UK and have spent the last two years defending a reform programme that ultimately failed to pass muster. To have your work rejected in a national poll must hurt. We should be charitable.
And there is a need for both these two groups of principled politicians to be charitable to the larger third group: those politicians for whom the UK’s EU membership was always a secondary issue.
For while for some EU and Euro membership raised great issues of democracy and economic management, for others they were always esoteric issues compared to the day-to-day management of public services.
We should also be charitable to the class of professional civil servants, special advisers, and trade associations who for the last two years have been tasked to tell the world Brexit would be a disaster and have now been tasked with extolling its benefits. All those had thought, reports and carefully crafted statistics pulped and consigned to their digital resting places. We should be understanding of their sense of loss.
We should also try and be charitable to the last group, those who believed one thing yet argued another.
Those MPs for whom politics is more about the power and glory of office, the game, the self-publicity. The MP who offered to run the Leave campaign yet ended up with Remain, those who sold their principles for unfulfilled promises of offices or peerages. Those who can now admit that all along they were secretly rooting for Leave while outwardly conforming to the Cameroon line.
We can admire their personal self-sacrifice and public service and should be grateful that the receding tide of EU history has exposed their hitherto privately held virtues.
So at Christmas the Tory family should be in good spirits. We have finally resolved our schism – born of a surfeit of principles – and can look forward to the New Year. Our erstwhile “rebels” are emerging out of the jungle and into the mainstream of the Conservative Party.
They should be allowed time to adapt: the whole Conservative Party is now united in a desire to make Brexit work.
In a further stretch of charitable thinking let us also think of our neighbours, the Labour Party. While for decades Europe was the gift that kept giving, this Christmas the tree is bare.
For Labour, the EU was (one or two exceptions noted) never a great matter of principle. It was a favourite weapon with which to antagonise the Tories. Labour and its allies in the BBC could always rely on Europe to “split” the Conservatives – a narrative we will not hear this Christmas.
There was no need to understand the EU, no need to grapple with its details in the way their opponents did. Just to question, criticise, and hopefully comment on the next Tory debate or split. The EU was simple, it was good – it must be as some Tories opposed it! Brexit has now exposed this superficial understanding in a cruel manner.
Labour MPs who supported Remain and mass immigration when their constituents did not are now left high and dry. Up against a united Conservative Party and with little intellectual engagement or understanding of the EU, Labour MPs accustomed to being in the acceptable middle of the Overton window have been left in a political arena they did not sign up for and have little understanding of.
We should be charitable as these Labour MPs adapt their views to the new political environment. If they chose to fight where they stand as diehard Remainers they should gain some credit, too, before sliding into irrelevance and defeat.
This has been a great year for British politics and democracy, and in particular for the Conservative Party. As we go into 2017 with the challenges and opportunities of Brexit ahead of us we should be charitable to all previous shades of opinion, and acknowledge the good fortune of our united Party.
*The Overton Window is the generally acceptable ‘window of discourse’ that it is thought the public will accept. In practice used to describe the range of acceptable policies as understood in SW1. Sometimes wrongly believed to be a narrow window in the back of the PPE building in Oxford.