What strange bedfellows this referendum produces. Today we had Helen Goodman, the Boadicea of Bishop Auckland and one of the few Labour MPs with the slightest idea about economics, rushing to support David Cameron’s campaign to keep Britain in the EU.
She pointed to the head of Hitachi, a major local employer, who wants Britain to stay in the EU, and claimed Patrick Minford, a Brexit-supporting economist, reckons British manufacturing would be “mostly eliminated” if we left the EU.
Miss Goodman’s cracked laugh can often be heard as she pours scorn on the Tories, but today she beamed with benevolence as the Prime Minister agreed with her.
Being slower in the uptake, and less inclined to modify his views in the light of changed circumstances, Jeremy Corbyn did not take the take the chance to make common cause with the Prime Minister, but instead made superfluous attempts to sow division between Conservatives – something the Tories are far better at doing for themselves.
Mr Cameron suggested “we should celebrate” business and the trade unions being on the same side as far as Europe is concerned, but Mr Corbyn was having none of it, and went on ploughing alone his dreary, rancorous furrow.
“And here I am trying to be so consensual,” Mr Cameron remarked with a smile
Consensus suits Mr Cameron. Although at least five Tory backbenchers disagreed with him about the EU, he somehow managed to avoid sounding bitter or divisive in his replies to them. His show of good nature baffled them, for they had no idea how to get past it. Perhaps this is what we shall see in the final phase of the campaign: Cameron the centrist unifier, urging all men and women of good will to make common cause.
Liam Fox, from the Tory backbenchers, made the serious point that the referendum is “not a consultation but an instruction”, and any attempt by MPs to ignore the outcome would be a democratic outrage. Mr Cameron agreed that there is a clear choice.
He had earlier rejected “Nigel Farage’s Little England” – a remark that made Tom Pursglove, the staunch young Eurosceptic who recaptured Corby for the Conservatives at the general election, cry out with impotent rage. If Mr Cameron wins the referendum, his Eurosceptic backbenchers will be so angry, but what will they be able to do?