One of the joys of working in British politics for this Clintonista Yank was the regularity and viciousness of the Tory Row, pronounced in the Queen’s English r-AHw, like in “rowdy”. The single greatest interview in the history of the BBC was about a Tory Row. A particulalry delicious Tory Row would explode into a classic British sex scandal, long knives out, envelopes filled with money, that sort of thing. During election season, they would erupt into the front pages like clockwork, like a sitcom.
And every Tory Row at its beating heart was always about Europe. In, or out.
David Cameron is getting off the hook very lightly here. Every Tory prime minister since and including Margaret Thatcher herself fought this fight over Europe constantly, and each of Cameron’s predecessors had managed to keep a referendum promise out of the Tory manifesto. The only way Cameron even became leader was to have been so weak, that manifesto promise was extracted, Cameron won an election on that manifesto, and the clock started ticking.
To have missed Brexit coming is truly an act of willful blindness at best, total ignorance at worst. Alas, we know how Brexit “surprised” everyone. To be precise, Gramsci knew. A Marxist who Mussolini had thrown into jail, his prison writings gave rise to the theory of capitalist hegemony, that we ourselves enforce the laws of capital because we ourselves buy into it with such faith, it becomes a “taken for granted” set of norms and principles by which we all live. Impentrable as culture, or language. In this way, capitalism finds its lasting power over the nation state, making the state impotent to capital. Neoliberal Washington Consensus has reached this Gramscian level of hegemony in our elites, did so long ago.
That’s the polite explanation of how everyone forgot about every single glorious Pythonesque Tory Row, oh, since at least Thatcher was deposed, over Europe. Our elites were surprised because they have this ideological blindspot, so strong, it can withstand clear warning for decades and remain blind. It’s probably a defense mechanism of some sort, Gramsci might say.
The Tory Row thus goes global. And it was David Cameron who popped the cork on his classmate Boris Johnson’s champagne. It’s already a keeper.