The nation’s politicians are consumed by the referendum debate. 23 June is seen as a momentous day. But politics will not stop on 24 June. Who has the campaign benefited so far? And, just as interestingly, who is on the wane?
A Good Campaign
Simply by doing not very much, he has found that the heat has come off him to a large extent.Â The public is being reminded that Labour is not the only divided party and that loonies come in flavours other than lefties.Â He’s straightened his tie and smartened himself up (national anthem singing remains pending).Â He now needs to show the public a fresh face and some of the attractive aspects of old school socialism.Â Tata Steel in Port Talbot has promise for him.Â But one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
Michael Gove gave a crisp principled exposition of his rationale for backing Leave, instantly propelling himself to the forefront of heavyweight Eurosceptics and thrilling a large part of the party faithful.Â He has managed to keep his links to David Cameron and George Osborne.Â Whatever the result of the referendum, he will be one of the Conservative party’s big beasts and a serious contender for next leader.
Theresa May, mildly surprisingly, backed Remain. Since then she has stayed largely quiet, remaining above the fray. Given the damage that the other favourites for the next Conservative leader have suffered by getting stuck in, this looks wise.
Will she be able to maintain her position on the back seat for the rest of the campaign? With migration looking set to play a major part and perhaps the defining role in the campaign, she will need to stay nimble to avoid being dragged in.
A Bad Campaign
Boris Johnson surprised everyone, including it seems himself, by coming out for Leave.Â He did so with unwonted hesitancy and feeble arguments which he has been changing on almost a daily basis.Â Astonishingly, he seems embarrassed by his choice.Â For someone so devil-may-care normally, he seems to have forgotten that if you cross the Rubicon there’s no point gingerly tiptoeing. Â He should have been strategically well-placed by this decision but right now he looks diminished, trusted by no one.
George Osborne started the year looking in pole position to become the next Conservative leader.Â Thanks in part to being identified strongly with the Remain camp and in part to having been knifed in the front by Iain Duncan Smith over the budget (which surely would not have happened if the referendum were not on foot), he now looks like an also-ran with no obvious way to retrieve the position.Â So far, George Osborne looks by far the biggest loser of the referendum campaign.
Sajid Javid has had a mirror image experience to that of Boris Johnson.Â Widely rumoured to be thinking of backing Leave, he opted for Remain giving unconvincing reasons that will have satisfied no one other than himself.Â He might have overcome this but his subsequent maladroit handling of the Tata Steel crisis make it look most unlikely that he will recover his position as a dark horse for the next Conservative leadership race.
We are in the middle of a referendum campaign that is the entire raison d’etre of UKIP and where is their leader?Â Completely invisible.Â He surfaced recently only to indulge in some internal party machinations.Â His personal polling and UKIP’s own ratings have improved in his absence from the airwaves.Â But who is going to own the referendum result on the Leave side if UKIP are absent from the field of battle?Â There has been a suggestion that he is planning for a realignment of politics after the referendum, expecting the right of the Conservative party to calve from the Cameron-dominated glacier.Â But why should former Cabinet ministers hasten to tie up with a party led by a man who has a long and continuing track record of insisting on total control?
To be determined
Iain Duncan Smith
IDS has taken to the referendum campaign with a light in his eyes worthy of a revivalist preacher.Â This evidently means the world to him and he has not just come out for Leave, he has thrown himself into the campaign.Â He took the opportunity to settle a long-running score with George Osborne, resigning in a manner calculated to destroy the Chancellor’s chances of ever becoming Conservative leader.
If he took some collateral damage himself, that was acceptable.Â He has, however, burned his bridges with David Cameron.Â To return to the Cabinet, he will need to see a change of Prime Minister.Â In the short term, that probably means his career is unusually bound up with the Leave campaign.
David Cameron has been spending his political capital like a drunken sailor in port.Â He has little choice: if Remain lose the referendum, his authority will be over.
His popularity is slipping as erstwhile supporters are offended by his aggressive backing for Remain.Â But what else can he do?Â And if Remain secure a clear victory, his authority will be strengthened for the remainder of his tenure.Â Will the Prime Minister win this gamble? It’s simply too soon to tell.