Columnists > Supreme gifts of healing will be required from the Prime Minister

26 May 2016 | by Peter Hennessy

Supreme gifts of healing will be required from the Prime Minister


Political life pulses to an emotional geography all its own. But the special power of the European question to disturb the atoms of our political class has been tangible, audible and visible since Easter and the cacophony is still rising in volume.

Whatever the outcome, whatever the margin of victory for “leave” or “remain” that emerges on 24 June, the nerve ends of the Cabinet and the Conservative Party will be so raw that supreme gifts of healing will be required from the Prime Minister with an outbreak of forbearance all around. There is scarcely a ripple of effective opposition from Labour at the moment, so the Conservatives are providing a DIY version out of their own resources.

The prospect for intra-Conservative balm, once the vote is over, looks forlorn as the campaign has been conducted with a level of acrimony that I do not recall blighting the first European referendum 41 years ago.

In 1975, the United Kingdom had only been a member of what was then the European Economic Community for two and a half years. The country had yet to become jaded by the accumulation of directives and the cornucopia of irritations at which the EC excels. Inflation was touching 25 per cent; de-industrialisation was proceeding apace. Casting ourselves adrift in the cold northern seas was not attractive. I am sure this was a powerful ingredient to the two-thirds to one-third victory of the remainers in 1975.


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