Exit Cameron

Glen Newey

A slightly belated prediction for 2016: it’s as likely as not that by the year’s end David Cameron will no longer be prime minister. Well, less a prediction that a statement of probability. It rests on a series of further predictions:

1. Cameron goes to the European Council meeting and claims major concessions.
2. On the strength of these, Cameron recommends a ‘Remain’ vote in the In/Out referendum.
3. Cameron’s concessions are widely derided by the Europhobic right in his own party and beyond.
4. Several Cabinet ministers, as well as Boris Johnson, come out for ‘Leave’.
5. Cameron schedules the vote for September, to counter Outers’ claim that the referendum is being run to a truncated timetable to favour ‘Remain’.
6. The refugee crisis drags on, strengthening the hand of Outers who blame the EU’s open borders policy.
7. Another terrorist attack in an EU member state has the same effect.
8. The vote favours Brexit.
9. Cameron quits.

It is clear that Cameron is going to act as in 1 and 2; he’s already made clear that he wants to stay in. He’ll head for Brussels making demands long on rhetoric and short on substance, apart from the one about migrant benefits. British premiers go to the EU blustering like Henry V and come back like Neville Chamberlain.

To paraphrase Gore Vidal, the Conservatives are now one party with two right wings. Even if Cameron scrapes a couple of sops from Merkel on the Lisbon treaty and migrants’ benefits, boostered as ‘major concessions’, nothing will appease the Europhobes, any more than the atrophied Europhile wing will favour Brexit.

On 4: some Cabinet ministers will out themselves, the more so if they reckon that ‘Remain’ is doomed and they can buff up their leadership prospects (the Tory party nationally is overwhelmingly Europhobe) by slashing the Eurohydra. They may include such revenants as Grayling, Gove and May. Johnson will have made the same calculation. The ensuing gravywrestling, dragged out over the spring and summer, is unlikely to enhance the PM’s authority.

It’s possible the vote will be earlier, say in June, though Nicola Sturgeon has warned that then the Euro poll would overlap with the Holyrood elections. A June referendum would reduce some risks – the longer the campaign drags on, the more likely it is that the migrant crisis, or a terrorist attack, gives Outers further munitions to hurl at the EU. It also cuts the time in which British voters are treated to the spectacle of Tory civil war. Even so, it’s not clear that shortening the campaign will save Dave’s bacon.

That brings us to 8. Recent polls suggest that ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ are more or less evenly split. But one of the likeliest explanations for the polls’ failure to predict the 2015 election result – bashful Tories – may understate support for ‘Leave’. Outers are more liable than Inners to lie about their intentions. The trouble for Inners is that ‘Remain’ is the establishment option – it’ll be backed by all parties in Parliament apart from Ukip's Douglas Carswell. As Corbyn’s election and the Labour wipe-out in Scotland have shown, voters are sick of same-old.

As for 9, Cameron has said that he wouldn’t resign if he lost the referendum. He has to say that, given that his position was too weak to enforce a ‘Remain’ line on the party – if he said he’d go in the event of a 'Leave' vote, Tories campaigning for Brexit would in effect also be campaigning for his ouster. Still, it won’t be his call. If ‘Leave’ wins, the loss of face will be terminal (and anyway, staying on, even with a narrow win, would swap the pearl-handled revolver for the poisoned cup).

Happily Osborne, tethered like the PM to ‘Remain’, can win only if Dave retires sometime after winning the referendum, not if he’s booted out after losing it. Whoever takes over then – probably Johnson, assuming he’ll have campaigned for ‘Leave’ – will take over what is, in all but name, the English nationalist party.

Scots will be pissed off at winding up in the custody of the wrong parent after divorce. It’s not just that Scottish and English nationalisms take opposite views of the EU: the SNP benefits, as the Tories suffer, from hostility to the establishment. Brexited against its will by England, Scotland would be likely to walk in a second referendum. And the little Englanders who dominate the parliamentary and constituency Tory parties will take over the remains of what Dickens, quoting Charles Dibdin, called ‘our tight little, right little island’.


  • 29 January 2016 at 8:36pm
    David Timoney says:
    Re "But one of the likeliest explanations for the polls’ failure to predict the 2015 election result – bashful Tories – may understate support for ‘Leave’. Outers are more liable than Inners to lie about their intentions. The trouble for Inners is that ‘Remain’ is the establishment option".

    The lesson of the 2015 General Election polling failure, like the failure of the pollsters over the Scottish Independence Referendum (they called it close when the eventual margin was 10%), is surely that the "quiet sort" opt for stability and the devil you know - i.e. the establishment. Far from 'outers' being more liable to lie (which is a preposterous claim), I suspect they are more likely to be proudly vocal in their opinion.

    If the polls are neck-and-neck ahead of the referendum, form suggests you should put your money on 'stay'.

    • 29 January 2016 at 11:20pm
      streetsj says: @ David Timoney
      "Put your money on stay" - indeed; the only problem is that on Betfair the best odds you can get are 20-1 on ( that is risk £20 to win £1).

      Newey's scenario is a nine bet accumulator and as likely to come off.

      The one thing I would add in favour of a surprise Brexit vote is that the polls for the last election were too heavily weighted towards the young. The last I read was that it was the oldsters who are in favour of leaving so it maybe that once again they're not fully represented. I would still be astounded if there was a vote in favour of leaving.

    • 30 January 2016 at 10:29am
      Glen Newey says: @ streetsj
      Thanks for the explanation of what '20-1' on means. I'm surprised that Betfair gave you odds as short as that – I just looked on Oddschecker and no firm, including Betfair, is quoting shorter than 1/3 for Remain, so maybe you should get punting. I wouldn't back Remain at that. I am aware, coming from a family of bookies, that accumulator odds are longer, or at least no shorter, than those of the component bets. But most of the elements 1-9 apart from the referendum result seem to me to be very likely. And it is not the only route to 9: Cameron's credibility may be so shot by the end even of a campaign – whose most prominent aspect will be a Tory civil war – which results in a narrow win for him, that he has to go.

      On the vote itself, it's worth remembering that nearly 4m people voted Ukip at the last election, and several papers, including the Express and Telegraph, will be backing Brexit. As you say, older voters are much more Europhobe than younger ones. See e.g. And, of course, they are much more likely to vote.

    • 1 February 2016 at 10:55am
      Ken Hoyt says: @ David Timoney
      This comment makes a lot of sense to me, and brought me out of a quick depression brought by the post's feelings towards the Brexit vote.

    • 3 February 2016 at 11:51pm
      Gibbon says: @ Ken Hoyt
      Yes, but you are way off the mark with the polls. The telephone polls are not even close, it's online polls which are showing a right race. The latest two phone polls from Open Research and Ipsos Mori had remain at 21 and 17 points respectively. Only telephone polls came close to predicting both May and the Scottish Referendum and are far more rigorous. Online polls overestimate the usual online activists, which, perhaps surprisingly, includes Cyber-kippers alongside the more familiar Nats and Corbynistas. This failure to weight polls properly is what led to the polling industries collective dissonance not, as you suggest, some in-built propensity for certain groups to lie. It was undiscovered Tories not 'shy' ones wot won it.

      Equally, I agree with the other poster about the 'anti-establishment' thesis. The SNP won around 45% of the votes in the GE. That doesn't get you a majority in a two option referendum, but it does romp home in our broken first past the post system. I would argue therefore it was both too simple and too unique an election from which to draw any wider anti-establishment premises - especially as Scotland's elite all went the same way. And, as ever, drawing conclusions about an unrepresentative internal Labour election which polled less than 0.5% of the population is absurd. Far more relevant are the GE and the independence referendum itself. And the fact that throughout British political history referendums always but always rubberstamp the status quo.

      Besides which, how many times to we on the left - and I assume you are in the left - want to underestimate Cameron? Your predictions about May, Johnson, Gove et al are entirely rational - though the Mayor of London, in particular, would stand accused of naked opportunism such is his know europhilia Westminster. And yet Cameron - or Osborne - has, it seems, squared them all off. If you take his starting position, he has won more seats than any Prime Minister in the 20th century I think. Throw in landslide victories in electoral reform and Scotland - 10% in a two horse race is a landslide - and he stands as an electioneer of some substance. No doubt there'll be champagne uncorked in Islington if you're proved right. But you'll forgive me if I decide to bet against him, again, seems foolish.

  • 31 January 2016 at 7:47am
    cufflink says:
    What is not under consideration is the fact that DC is really an AC supply. As an ex PR man DC will not take no for an answer and therefore proceeds as if things are as he wishes and projects all alternatives like Boris as being hands up at the back of the class.
    There will be no Full English Brexit, we are on course for Scot's porridge from now on - unsalted too.

  • 3 February 2016 at 6:20pm
    johnmmorrison says:
    Leaving aside the bookies' odds (I come from a long line of devout Scottish Presbyterians who would turn in their graves), I agree that Cameron is now in very deep political water, at the mercy of the Europhobes in his own party who have pretended to support his ludicrous 'renegotiation' and will now have the chance to campaign against him. If he loses the referendum it will be curtains for him, though not necessarily for George Osborne (who may find a way to extricate himself -- that will be interesting).
    The 'renegotiation' result is a series of fake answers to a series of fake questions. This was always about maintaining a precarious compromise in the Conservative party, not about the interests of the UK, and everyone in Brussels knows it. Cameron's failure to stand up to the right of his own party at crucial moments may well end by dealing a fatal blow to his authority, even if he squeaks a 'Remain' vote in the referendum with the help of Labour and the other parties.

  • 3 February 2016 at 8:01pm
    lars hakanson says:
    Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration. The policy to pick out the benefits without having to shoulder any of the burdens of the European project has come to an end. It will be to everyone’s benefit when the islanders decide to sink on their own.

    • 4 February 2016 at 12:06am
      Gibbon says: @ lars hakanson
      Bevan as an 'English' nationalist?
      Corbyn as popular in Labour's northern heartlands? The North might happily wear Corbyn's economic policies. But everything he does in the cultural-political sphere is a total anathema from open borders, to trials for jihadis, the Falklands and scrapping Trident. Nope, I'm afraid Labour has elected a Lansbury at a time when Europe is infatuated with chauvinist nationalism once again. Let's hope Marx was at least right about the ordering of tragedy and farce.

    • 4 February 2016 at 12:12am
      Gibbon says: @ Gibbon
      How popular do you think European integration is at the moment? I'm voting to stay but the real question is how long will it actually last? What's left of Schengen I give a year, free movement I give three. What's left after that? Enforced German austerity - no thanks.

      Alternatively, Europe digs in and Le Pen or some other such demagogue brings the whole thing crashing down even sooner. It'll be an absolute tragedy, make no mistake. But Europe has shown, time and again, she will not wean herself off blood and soil. I mean, look at the bloody state of it.

    • 4 February 2016 at 1:56pm
      John Cowan says: @ Gibbon
      He usually is. For example, the current US Presidential election is the replay of Europe in the 1930s, with democracy seemingly on the run, extreme left and right battling it out, and so on. Except that democracy is actually quite intact, the "left radical" is barely center-left by European standards, and the "right radical" is a basically liberal (in the Aamerican sense) businessman who'll do or say anything to get elected, and neither set of supporters is coming close to trying to rule by force, rather by farce.

      When Eisenhower was elected President in 1952, certain New York intellectuals, formerly European intellectuals, packed their bags. They knew what it meant when a general was elected, or "elected". Of course, it didn't.

  • 3 February 2016 at 11:59pm
    abrogard says:
    I am an expatriate Englishman. It would please me greatly if England left the EU.

    Not because I think we should not be part of Europe but because I think the current bureaucratic, political setup of the EU is all wrong.

    A dictatorship by unelected bureaucrats is all wrong.

    • 12 February 2016 at 11:38am
      esp says: @ abrogard
      England isn't a member of the EU.

  • 4 February 2016 at 12:02am
    EvanWhitton says:
    Wogs begin at Calais. That view confirms that De Gaulle was right; the European Union should eject England.

    The view also explains events in 1219 and 1993: England rejected Europe’s belief that truth is the basis of justice.

    • 4 February 2016 at 1:58pm
      John Cowan says: @ EvanWhitton
      1219? Meaning when the Dannebrog fell from the sky during Denmark's conquest of Lithuania? Not sure what the English had to do with that.

    • 12 February 2016 at 11:39am
      esp says: @ EvanWhitton
      England isn't a member of the EU.

  • 11 February 2016 at 9:20pm
    Graucho says:
    Well DC pulled his chestnuts out of the fire on the proportional representation referendum and the Scottish one. Going for the hat
    trick now. If he fails then our answer to Donald Trump, Boris will
    take over. Osborne will be too associated with DC to suceed.

  • 26 June 2016 at 3:16pm
    Ben says:
    I read this in January and thought that it was scarcely believable, but said to myself that surely the UK would regain its senses in time for the referendum. How sad that Glen Newey has been proven absolutely right.

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