Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
I sit here in my Leicester Square hotel room. It’s 6.34 in the morning, and a new dawn has broken, has it not? I’ve just had the privilege of presenting LBC’s seven hour referendum results show. I ought to be dead on my feet, but I’m not remotely tired. I feel a profound sense of excitement and anticipation. This is the most momentous domestic political event of my adult life. It is more significant than Margaret Thatcher’s election victory in 1979, or her defenestration in November 1990. It’s bigger than Black Wednesday. The ramifications from today’s vote, both positive and negative, will be felt for generations to come.
I decided to vote Leave a long time ago. Having been a strong advocate of the European Community (as it then was) in the 1980s, I can remember attending European Movement meetings in Norwich. I grew more and more disillusioned as I realised that the EU (as it had by then become) was grabbing ever-more power for itself. When the euro was born, I finally realised that the endgame really was a United States of Europe. That was why I always told selection committees that if I ever voted for Britain to join the euro they should deselect me. They saved themselves the trouble by not selecting me in the first place.
Up until today, I have not for a moment regretted deciding to come off the Conservative Party Candidates list in 2010. But today, I have a slight pang of what might have been. Being an MP over the next few years will be fascinating for those were lucky enough to be elected to the Commons. They will be at the centre of Britain reasserting itself as a fully independent nation.
A good friend of mine only decided how to vote when he entered the polling booth. After weeks of indecision, he voted Remain. He skyped me at around 3am, saying: “I think I must have made the wrong decision, cos I keep cheering when Leave gets in the lead and getting anxious when Remain goes higher.” I didn’t feel that way. I did wonder how I would feel if it looked like a Brexit, but my reactions when the result became clearer merely confirmed that I was glad that I had voted how I did.
It’s been very frustrating that, because of the ludicrous OfCom broadcasting regulations, I haven’t been able to declare my hand until after voting had closed. Those who follow me on Twitter won’t have been under any illusion about how I had voted, even though I couldn’t say so in so many words. It’s ludicrous that on polling day that The Sun can tell its readers how to vote, yet I as a broadcaster aren’t even allowed to mention the referendum, let alone tell anyone how I had voted. It’s a mad system.
Sure, there are going to be some bumps in the road. Sure, it’s going to create havoc in the Conservative Party. But these are mere short term considerations. In the medium to long term I am absolutely convinced Britain has made absolutely the right decision.
In the end, the people have spoken. And it is down to the elected Government to listen to the people. It is also up to the Remain-support 75 per cent of MPs to learn that the people have spoken. Any attempt to have a re-referendum or water down the ‘out’ to a ‘out but with a foot left in the door’ just will not do.
Those MPs who don’t have the stomach to make this work should depart the pitch now and let others take the country forward into this new era. Those who think they know better than the people who elect them need to face a reality check. When I saw Keith Vaz on TV basically saying that the people know not what they have done – and then when interviewing Vince Cable hearing him essentially calling the people ‘stupid’ – I knew that we were about to say goodbye to a failing set of politicians who have let the people down.
The British people have voted for Brexit for a number of reasons. The EU has been its own worst enemy. The European Commission has been its own worst enemy. And then there are those supercilious Remain-supporting politicians who keep banging on about being able to reform the EU from the inside never really believed it (though I certainly don’t include in that category all of those who back that cause)
And there’s another of reasons why I supported Leave. The whole institution is unreformable. It’s dictatorial as the Greeks will tell anyone who cares to listen. It’s fundamentally undemocratic – and I have the quaint view that we in Britain are better at deciding what’s good for us than unelected EU civil servants.
It’s now 7.43. I keep being interrupted by phone calls. The Prime Minister is expected to address the nation shortly, but it’s time to file this piece. There will be a lot of speculation about his future or lack of it. The same can be said for the Chancellor – the same Chancellor who told me on Monday that there were no Treasury plans for Brexit. In that one sentence, he displayed such arrogance and a gross dereliction of duty. In some ways I hope he was lying to me. What a sad state of affairs.
The Prime Minister and Chancellor may stay in office. After all, John Major and Norman Lamont did following the Black Wednesday humiliation in 1992. But it can surely only be temporary. Whether Conservatives admit it or not, they know the Cameron era is all but over. They are looking for the next leader, but there’s little agreement on who it should, or could be. I have two, possibly three, leading contenders.
But that’s for another day. I think.