Andrew Lilico is Executive Director and Principal of Europe Economics.
The Conservative Party is in fairly open civil war: about Europe; about Boris; about welfare; about steel. Given how hapless the Labour opposition is and the fact that we have four years until the next General Election, now seems as good a time to be having a fight as any.
Part of the fight is a proxy for the broader EU debate. But another part of it is a fight about where the party goes after Cameron. Many commentators have expressed mystification that the Conservative Party is content to fall into such a battle only a few months after an unexpected General Election victory. Several suggest that Cameron mis-judged how willing senior MPs and ministers would be to tear strips off each other during the EU referendum campaign, thinking that far fewer would oppose him and that those that did would avoid any attacks that might be seen as politically damaging in a context beyond the EU.
Insofar as it is true that Cameron had not expected opposition, he appears to have fallen victim to the same error that those commentators do who express surprise that the Party is not more grateful to Cameron for winning the 2015 General Election. That error is to believe that just because you think something is true, others must believe it as well.
Remember that after the General Election, there was brief debate over whether we should regard it as a victory for Cameroon modernisation. A number of commentators said that it was and that it represented a final decisive victory for Cameron in which he filled in the last piece in his jigsaw – proving he was a winner. Others (including yours truly) said that was wrong – that the victory in 2015 was precisely because the Party had, after 2013, unified behind a non-Cameroon classic Conservative Right-wing pitch: tough on Europe, solid on defence, internationally interventionist, solid-whilst-humane on crime, and “scraping the barnacles off the boat” when it came to issues such as green policies. According to this view it was Crosby wot won it, not Cameron. We stuck with him because he sold out to the Right after announcing the EU referendum over a wide range of policies (and was criticised for doing so at the time by the Toynbees and Ganeshes) and we won because he did what the Right required of him.
We don’t need to replay that debate here. I bring it up only because those commentators that express mystification that the Party is not more grateful to Cameron appear to either have forgotten that many on the Right did not credit Cameron for anything other than selling out to them or were so convinced by their own case that it was Cameroon modernisation that won in 2015 that they lack the imagination to see the implications of the other side’s point of view.
After Cameron is gone (and he can’t last long after the EU referendum, even if Remain wins), the Right wants either a leader clearly of the right or (probably better) a leader from the broad Cameroon set who is prepared to lead as one of the Right, with the sort of platform the Right believes won in 2015.
If Cameron was genuinely surprised that people in the Party would be willing to oppose him despite our winning in 2015, that just goes to show the danger of believing your own propaganda. Just because you believe other people ought to be grateful to you, it doesn’t mean they will believe that themselves.