Bonnie Prince Charlie on a Push Bike
So it's 23 June for the EU referendum. This afternoon Cameron bigged up his foreseeably footling deal with Merkel and the Eurocrats, insisting that he'd secured the UK's special-snowflake status on ever-closer union, the Euro, in-work migrant benefits, the handbrake on EU laws. Dave had done his best to 'battle for Britain' – but the view from his own party seems to be that his best is still crap. In Britain's previous in/out poll, in 1975, the leavers fielded Tony Benn, Barbara Castle, Peter Shore and Michael Foot, with Enoch Powell for political balance. This time the leavers' A-team is Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan-Smith and Nigel Lawson, balanced by George Galloway.
Cameron lumbered himself with this albatross in 2013 because he was scared of Ukip. Fear will bulk large in the campaign – of the 'unknown', of migrants coming to ravish Britain's welfare system and even, in some of the dafter alarmism, its womenfolk. Cameron recently played the xenophobic card in favour of Remain. This was grossly inept of him: in the long run, scaremongering about foreigners pouring in to steal our jobs, our benefits, our asylum and all the rest, only does leavers' work for them. Beside this, talk about how marvellous the EU is for 'business' cuts little ice. Aware of the problem, Cameron has starting trotting out that Brexit is a 'leap in the dark' – a venerable Tory phrase, applied by Lord Derby to his own 1867 Reform Act. Then the aim was to hurry through a bill for fear of something worse from the Whigs. Now the aim seems to be to keep the tabloids and Nigels at bay.
Johnson ever more resembles something extruded by a 3D printer, to a blueprint by Donald Trump – but without Trump's brute in-the-moment frankness. The mayor of London's opportunism and lack of care with the national interest has already drawn a rebuke from Lord Heseltine, which seems like King Herod moaning about a lack of crèches. Presumably Johnson's thinking was that today's local Tory parties, largely if not overwhelmingly Europhobe, won't elect a Brussels-fancier. Had he joined Remain, his best outcome would be no better than Osborne's, whereas the worst would be career death. Either way he'd be branded a metropolitan elitist Islingtonian Europhiliac, while as a leaver the worst that can befall him is to become blue-heads' paladin of dashed hope, Bonnie Prince Charlie on a push bike.
Johnson's intervention may add a few percentage points to Leave. Its odds have already shortened to around 7-4, though people may end up miffed that that he's hazarding the future of their state on his ambition. Leave may also swell with the Brexity froth from orifices such as the Sun (controlled by US citizen Rupert Murdoch) and the Telegraph (owned by tax-swerving Brecqhuo-residents the Barclay brothers). Then there's the Daily Mail, now 89 per cent owned by the non-dom fourth Viscount Rothermere, whose dividends are funnelled to him via a trust in Bermuda, and the über-Europhobe Express, owned by the billionaire pornographer Richard Desmond, who slalomed round HMRC via paper loans from Luxembourg (effective rate: under 1 per cent). The Brexit revolution offers a new spin on the American one: (over-)representation without taxation.
Meanwhile, the demographics of both the Remain and Leave leaderships are sliver thin. Each side's figureheads are very white and very male. Both Cameron and Johnson boast the full Eton-Oxford-Bullingdon CV. Also on Boris's team is the tax-shielded Etonian plutocrat and Tory candidate for the London mayoralty, Zac Goldsmith. Last week even the Etonian Prince William was at it, nudging Britons away from Brexit. Maybe there'll be an intervention from the Etonian Archbishop of Canterbury, giving Jesus's line on qualified majority voting; the two sides might as well whole-hog it and sport Wall Game jerseys. Small wonder if sickened Scottish or other nationalists feel tempted to vote tactically for Leave on the basis that it will speed independence.
Before Cameron's pantomime turn in Brussels last weekend, the Mail quoted Leo Amery's cri de coeur in the Commons on 2 September 1939, when Hitler had just invaded Poland: 'Speak for England!' (in 1939, as now, other bits of the UK seem not to have counted). Under the first Viscount Rothermere, the Mail had tirelessly championed appeasement, as well as backing Moseley ('Hurrah for the Blackshirts!', 'Give the Blackshirts a helping hand', etc.) and opposed Jewish immigrants escaping fascism. 'Who will speak for England?', piped its headline on 2 February. Now we know the answer.