It Is All Cameron’s Fault.*
The Remain camp now claims that it is all Cameron’s fault, and that Cameron never should have called the referendum. Of course, this completely rewrites history.
The referendum came about because of a statute: European Union Referendum Act 2015.** That statute passed the 650-member House of Commons (on the key second reading) by a vote of 544 to 53! It was supported overwhelming: (1) by the Tories—by both its pro-EU and the Eurosceptic wings; by Labour—by both of Labour’s wings; and by all but one of the Lib-Dem members. (Courageous Nick Clegg, the former Lib-Dem party leader, did not vote.) The Referendum Act was only opposed by one party:*** Scottish National Party (“SNP”). Pro-EU Tory, pro-EU Labour, and pro-EU Lib-Dem members and their supporters would do better to blame themselves rather than place all the blame on Cameron.
Second, in the 2015 UK general election (which took place before the referendum), both Labour and the Lib-Dems campaigned against holding an in-out EU referendum. Both parties were clobbered at the polls, and that is why they both supported the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which was enacted by the Parliament which met after the general election. Everyone knows this, except those who want to blame it all on Cameron.
Finally, you might ask why did Cameron promise the referendum in his party’s election manifesto? It is simple. Even with the promise of a referendum, Cameron barely overcame the UKIP surge: a 3.8 million vote surge. It was only by peeling off voters from UKIP—through the promise of the in-out referendum—that made him PM. Had he not made this election pledge, any number of marginal Tory seats would have tipped: Labour, Lib-Dem, or UKIP. There was no blunder here by Cameron. It was not the referendum which destroyed Cameron’s ministry; rather, it was the promise of a referendum which made Cameron the Prime Minister in the first instance.
So let’s understand the let’s put all the blame Cameron meme. Those that blame Cameron are saying that he should have never promised a referendum in the lead up to the general election. But the opponents of the referendum had a full, fair, and free opportunity to contest the Tory (i.e., Cameron’s) position in the general election. Those who opposed holding the referendum lost; they lost big. And after losing the general election, Labour and the Lib-Dems joined with the Tories in passing the statute implementing Cameron’s promise of a referendum. (SNP opposed the referendum before and after the 2015 general election: SNP acted with more democratic scruples than the other main opposition parties.) Those that put all the blame on Cameron are really saying: So, he made a promise in his election manifesto—he should have reneged on it in spite of the fact that we supported him at the time! More importantly, there is no principled explanation in regard to how Cameron would or could have justified his reneging, except their taking exception, after-the-fact, to a result they don’t like, and taking exception to the result after they had joined in authorizing, campaigning, and voting in the referendum. But somehow it is all Cameron’s fault.
Parties who have been rejected at the polls twice should engage in meaningful introspection, at least, if they expect to be taken seriously in the future. The let’s put all the blame on Cameron position lacks just the sort of gravitas that one hopes to see in serious opposition parties.
* My use of “blame” and “fault” is only for expositional purposes. I am not suggesting that Brexit is a bad result. It is a political question: different people are likely to have different views. It is precisely because the right result to such questions is contested that elections and referenda are held.
** There was a separate act permitting Gibraltar’s participation in the referendum.
*** My analysis leaves out the 8-member Democatic Unionist Party (with members from Northern Ireland), several other smaller parties (which have 5 or fewer members), the 1 independent, and, of course, the Speaker.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SethBTillman (@SethBTillman )
My most recent prior post: Seth Barrett Tillman, The Message of the UK’s Brexit Referendum and Fintan O’Toole’s Fantasy, The New Reform Club (June 28, 2016, 2:42 AM).
My other Brexit posts include:
Seth Barrett Tillman, Dewey beats Truman ... Dewey beats Truman ... Dewey beats Truman ..., The New Reform Club (June 24, 2016, 10:32 AM);