What a weird weekend.
Friday found many British digesting the news that David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister shortly after Leave won.
The Camerons’ story
Today’s Daily Mail has a report saying that he and his wife Samantha took out a mortgage on their Notting Hill home on June 15, when Leave polling was at its peak. (Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered the following day.)
The article says that the mortgage could help them finance the purchase of a new home. It also said that the EU Referendum campaign drove a stressed Mrs Cameron to take up smoking and the occasional drink. I can empathise. It has been a difficult three months.
Talk amongst Conservatives and Leave supporters that day focussed on Cameron’s resignation. To me, it looked like a toys-out-of-the-pram moment. Others I spoke with saw it differently. Some said Cameron was ‘tired’ of being PM. Others said that he would have to stand down for losing the referendum.
All of us were right. On June 24, The Sun reported:
he told tearful members of his inner circle: “Why should I do all the hard s**t for someone else, just to hand it over to them on a plate?”
The moving scenes played out as the PM came into the office of his key staff, next door to his No10 study, just before 9am yesterday …
The Sun can also reveal Mr Cameron had decided to resign if he lost the referendum while voting was still taking place after a long summit session with close aides on Thursday.
Despite objections from at least one of the advisers, he came to the conclusion there was “no way back after being rejected by the British people”.
The Spectator‘s Fraser Nelson pointed out the Prime Minister’s post-referendum rage but, like many of us, thought he should have manned up to the job, like Churchill did during the Second World War (emphases mine):
I suspect that Cameron, himself, suffered a bit of referendum rage. Perhaps he genuinely believed some of the wilder claims he was making about Brexit bringing on Armageddon. Today’s Sun reveals that he quit after asking aides: ‘Why should I have to do the hard s[—] for someone else, just to hand it over to them on a plate?’ The answer is that he’s the Prime Minister; that’s what it’s about. You do the hard s[—] because a lot of people are counting on you to do so. As Cameron himself knows: he has done plenty of hard s[—] over the years, and did so with almost superhuman cheeriness. I can understand how he’d blurt out something like that, and how it may have informed his decision to resign that morning. But I think it was the wrong decision.
And I don’t think it was inevitable that he had to go immediately. Of course, he would have to go eventually but the Brexit talks need not start for some time.
An analysis of Cameron’s political career in The Telegraph said that he had been highly skilful and successful, but the strain was beginning to show. Samantha was also affected and worried for their children. In the end, David Cameron was tired:
“Essentially Dave was knackered,” says an old friend of Cameron. “He always felt that he had an obligation to see out the referendum, and that is what he did, but the job is totally shattering and he had just had enough.” Another friend says: “I don’t think he wanted to hold on. He had had enough, and it’s a bit of a relief really. During the campaign he looked bloated and ratty, and with a young family that pressure must be incredibly difficult.”
The Guardian also featured a considered analysis of Cameron’s career, calling his resignation a ‘European tragedy’.
The Mail published a detailed account of events as the Camerons experienced them on June 23:
reports throughout the day of a high voter turnout encouraged Cameron to believe that this signalled that younger, pro-Remain supporters were voting and thus they would come to his rescue against the usual hard core of older voters who were known to be more pro-Brexit.
At around 3pm, Cameron’s team took a phone call which made them convinced that victory was in the bag.
Lord Cooper, a co-founder of the Populus polling company and the architect of the PM’s policy on gay marriage, called to say he thought the margin of victory for Remain would be 60/40. A few hours later, Populus published its final poll of the campaign – giving Remain a commanding ten-point lead.
… The fact that Cameron believed Lord Cooper’s poll is a mystery. For Cooper has a terrible track record of predictions …
Cooper’s own polling suggested that Cameron would not be re-elected to No 10. Of course, it turned out to be the best Tory result for more than 20 years.
How ironic, therefore, that it was word of a private poll by bankers Merrill Lynch (which predicted a Leave win by the slenderest margin of 0.5 per cent) that led to the first cracks of doubt. Spirits were lifted around 10.15pm when the hated Nigel Farage appeared to concede defeat.
Cameron, who habitually likes to go to bed by 10.30pm, after the 10pm news, and gets up at 5.45am to work on his red boxes, decided to stay up to watch some of the first results on TV.
It was when Newcastle voted by a slim majority to Remain that there was a dawning realisation in the Downing Street bunker that he might be in trouble.
At 12.20am, it was the much more decisive trouncing of Remain in another Labour stronghold, Sunderland, that sent tremors through No 10.
At that point, the report said that Cameron spoke with Chancellor George Osborne and a close friend, Lord Feldman. Meanwhile:
Samantha Cameron veered between deep distress and bouts of ice cold fury. ‘She felt terribly let down by friends who had convinced her this would not happen,’ I’m told.
The article states that Cameron was so confident of a Remain result that he had no Leave speech. With the help of two close advisers, he stayed up the rest of the night to write one whilst keeping abreast of the returns.
Senior ministers go AWOL
The weekend was also weird in that many of us felt our political leaders went AWOL. On Sunday, June 26, The Spectator‘s Douglas Murray wrote:
It is now almost three days since David Cameron announced his resignation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been in hiding ever since. And the Parliamentary Labour party is revolting against its own leader and members …
Since Mark Carney’s intervention early on Friday there has been no appearance by any public figure to assure the country on what happens next. I trust that this will start to happen tomorrow. But everyone involved in the running of this country – whatever side they took during the recent referendum – needs to know that there is significant unease in the country over the lack of leadership at a time when many questions need very swift attention …
Today’s headlines explain where nearly everyone was. Although we don’t know about Cameron, Leave mastermind Boris Johnson, former two-term Mayor of London, secured Michael Gove’s support for becoming the next Prime Minister. Johnson spent the weekend wooing MPs to his cause at his country home. Chancellor George Osborne was busy writing a speech to reassure the markets and British businesses.
The biggest surprise was the spate of resignations and dismissals in the Labour Party shadow cabinet. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to take the blame for a Leave win, despite his half-hearted campaign. Corbyn dismissed Hilary Benn, Tony Benn’s son, as Shadow Foreign Secretary. Hilary Benn diverged from his late father in supporting Remain and criticised Corbyn in the early hours of Sunday morning. That was the start of more discord which continued throughout the day.
Early this morning — Monday — Osborne emerged from the shadows to give his speech. He no longer spoke of his Brexit budget — the ‘punishment’ one — but maintained calm. The Spectator has this analysis:
He didn’t wholly change his tune on those warnings, saying: ‘I don’t resile from any of the concerns I expressed during the campaign’. But then again, crucially, he didn’t repeat any of those warnings either. His recession prediction was substituted for the euphemism that there would be an ‘adjustment’ in the economy …
The Chancellor said there ‘will have to be action’ to deal with Brexit. But he did his best to kick the budget football away for the time being by emphasising the role of the new Prime Minister in what comes next. He also seemed to indicate that we won’t see Article 50 being triggered until the autumn, despite what some European leaders have said about the need for Britain to do so immediately …
For now, Osborne has no intention of leaving his post, but, as The Spectator pointed out, he is so closely identified with Remain’s Project Fear that it is hard to imagine how he can stay on in the long term. We can but see.
Immigration reduction in doubt
Meanwhile, the backlash from young Remainers, including those who didn’t bother to vote, has caused senior Conservative Leavers to backtrack on campaign verbiage about reducing immigration. Some want amnesty for illegals who were here for 15 years or more when the referendum took place. Others want to retain an open door policy. No one, it seems, wants to return to the more structured immigration process we had in the 1990s.
The truth is, there is no plan. The Spectator‘s Melanie McDonagh says that will have to change:
… the constituency which voted for out will be justifiably disgruntled if it turns out that immigration numbers don’t fall as a result of leaving. Replacing EU migrants with even more non-EU ones won’t do it. The disaffected want a reduction in numbers, unless you’re talking Australians and Canadians. They didn’t actually vote for an Australian style points-based system but that appears to be the obvious route – so long as it means numbers go down, not up. Dan Hannan [MEP] was correct to say (prudently, after the vote) that no one on the Brexit actually promised to reduce immigration – they couldn’t. But if Brexit doesn’t provide it, boy, there’ll be trouble ahead. I mean, more than we’ll be getting anyway.
Leavers remain silent
It is still advisable for Leavers to refrain from discussing their vote or the result. The Spectator‘s Fraser Nelson aptly described the mood at the weekend, which will no doubt continue in the coming weeks:
I suspect a lot of people who voted out have mixed emotions this weekend, especially given how emotional the debate became. People on both sides did go a little bit mad. My Twitter feed reminded me of that Danny Boyle film 28 Days Later: you watch with horror as friend after friend (on either side of the debate) is infected with the Human Rage Virus. All of a sudden, it’s not possible to have friendly disagreements: you turn into The Enemy for them. And it’s not just a social media thing: there are still people, this weekend, afraid to tell their friends and family how they voted.
Indeed. We were able to openly discuss the result with several Leaver friends on Friday, people we see once a year at best.
We have since resumed our earlier silence on the matter.
This is the best advice for all of us:
No one ever said this would be easy, regardless of the result. We now need to put aside our differences and work together for our nation’s future.