Later this year, it seems likely that those same Conservative members will choose Theresa May’s successor. The perceived need to appeal to their preferences on Brexit has persuaded several otherwise sensible MPs to claim that they do not fear and even embrace the prospect of leaving the EU without an exit agreement in place.
In short, the Conservative members fixated on Europe above all else have won. They got their referendum, got their Brexit and soon they’ll quite likely get their prime minister.
In that sense then, the person who called at our table in the Blue Boar was quite right. But that’s not the whole story, of course. Because nothing about that tale was inevitable; it didn’t have to go that way. Having identified the fact that Conservative activists were pushing the party and its MPs towards misguided and destructive positions, the Cameron team, like their successors, could have acted. They could have attempted to broaden the membership, to infuse new blood and new opinions into a small and shrinking membership.
This isn’t impossible. Tony Blair did it, and so did Jeremy Corbyn. ‘Change to win,’ the Cameroons used to say, but they never really tried to change their own party. Under Cameron and the person who called at our table, Conservative membership numbers more than halved, handing ever more power to a smaller group of people whose interests and priorities are extremely hard to reconcile with those of the country as a whole.
Did Cameron and his friends mind about that, or about the consequences of their failure? No doubt the man himself will answer that question expensively in his book this autumn, though not in a way that will change the country’s scornful view of him.
As for that person at our table that night six years ago, I have only this to say: he said it and he was right. The mad, swivel-eyed loons were calling the shots then and have done so ever since, taking the country right to the brink today. But since he and his friend David Cameron knew it then, why didn’t they try to stop it? Was it because they didn’t know how, or because in the end, they didn’t really care?
My emphasis. Aside from the question why (to which the answer’s in the last sentence – they didn’t care) allowing party members such a significant role in the direction of both the Labour and Conservative parties has had significant consequences. The whole topic and possible alternatives should be explored.