By Simon Basketter
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2507

Oh yes? What would Churchill do in the EU vote?

This article is over 7 years, 8 months old
Issue 2507
David Cameron and Boris Johnson are both trying to claim the old racist Winston Churchill would be on their side
David Cameron and Boris Johnson are both trying to claim the old racist Winston Churchill would be on their side (Pic: Flickr/Martin Deutsch)

David Cameron believes that Winston Churchill would vote Remain on 23 June. Boris Johnson claims that Churchill would have been a Brexiter. Who is right? Who cares? Tories.

Churchill was a determined defender of the interests of the British ruling class. The Tories have spent most of their history ensuring that they are the natural party to express that interest.

Yet they are in a mess over Europe.

Remember Cameron didn’t want to have this referendum. He wanted to persuade Tories to stop “banging on about Europe”.

Yet here he is, leading a party that does nothing but bang on about Europe and whose members talk about decapitating him over the very same referendum he called to please them. 

So former Tory prime minister John Major stuck his oar in last weekend. Major dismissed Johnson as a “court jester” and accused him of overseeing a “squalid” campaign.

On Johnson and Tory minister Michael Gove he said, “The NHS is about as safe with them as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python.”

All of which in its own way is true enough.

In contrast Gove boasted of being on the side of the people, not arrogant, gilded elites. Which is an interesting pitch from an Oxford-educated lord chancellor, privy councillor and justice secretary.

Cameron and Johnson took to BBC’s Countryfile to thrash out the finer points of making things up about Europe. Cameron was filmed next to sheep—no pigs being available.

And through it all there is competitive racism. The key thing is who is doing the most to keep foreigners out.

So George Osborne stuck on his well worn high vis jacket and said, “It would be a pretty crazy way to try and control immigration to push your country into a recession. That would be entirely self-defeating.”

Which is sort of where the campaign has got to on both sides. The EU will save or destroy the economy and it will let in or keep out all the immigrants.

Osborne and Johnson have been sniping at each other for months. The referendum campaign lets them do it more openly and more obliquely.


They both share the right sort of education for top Tory. Both are poisonous.

Importantly the rows in the Tory party always reflect real things. The bosses are divided on Europe—and so, therefore, are the Tories.

Margaret Thatcher failed to stem Britain’s global decline. One consequence was a fragmenting of the British ruling class consensus in favour of European integration.

Tory factionalism in the 1990s onwards over Europe became a code for wider political differences.

The Conservatives responded to Labour’s 1997 landslide win by electing the most right wing, Eurosceptic leaders possible.

First came William Hague, then Iain Duncan Smith. In desperation, they turned to Michael Howard.

Each responded to defeat by seeking to mobilise the Tory “core” vote. They did so by highlighting the “dog-whistle” issues of Europe, immigration and taxes—the so-called “Tebbit trinity”.

One result is that the Tory party is now essentially Eurosceptic—including those arguing for Remain.

By 2005, in a further attempt at rebranding, the party chose David Cameron to lead them out of the quagmire. He did for a while but the underlying contradiction seeps out.

So a Leave vote ends Cameron. A narrow Remain means he’ll go early.

A strong Remain vote will mean Cameron chooses his own departure date. But at least 30 troublesome Eurosceptics could make the Tory majority meaningless.

That is far from the only reason to vote Leave but it’s not a bad one.

The argument against is Vote Leave—Get Boris. But why Vote Remain—Get Osborne is any more desirable is not clear. The division in the Tories needs to be pushed open. A vote to Leave can only help that.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance