James Forsyth James Forsyth

This referendum has shown us the real Cameron

Freed from normal election constraints, senior politicians are revealing what truly motives them

Westminster has a tendency to get ahead of itself. MPs want to discuss the aftermath of an event long before it has happened. They play never-ending games of ‘What if?’ At the moment, the political class cannot stop discussing, in great detail, what the post-EU referendum political landscape will look like. The speculation is, in and of itself, part of the political process. Much of the talk of the post-vote challenges facing David Cameron is intended to persuade him to pull his punches in the final weeks of the campaign.

What no one disputes is that the Prime Minister will find governing even harder after 23 June. His majority is already thin and he has had to U-turn on a host of policies since the election. After such a bitterly fought referendum, a handful of Tory MPs will take every opportunity to obstruct Cameron and Osborne’s legislative agenda. It will be very difficult for the government to get anything controversial through the Commons. One member of the payroll vote predicts ‘a zombie parliament’, with hardly any bills being passed. No. 10 is aware of this danger. Its plan, I gather, is to start thinking and acting like a minority government, working out how to do as much as possible without the need to pass laws or win votes in Parliament.

The EU referendum has already told us a lot about the country’s senior politicians, revealing what really motivates them. This does not happen in general elections because party loyalty, and the need to defeat the opposition, keeps the show on the road. And it has, perhaps, told us more about David Cameron than it has about anyone else. Take his decision to promise the referendum. His friend and former adviser Steve Hilton describes this as his throwing Britain a lifeline to escape the sinking EU.

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