Over the last thirty years the main European story that the media have focused on is Tory splits.
I remember well the Maastricht divisions and the votes in the House of Commons back in 1993. At the time I was just setting up my own business but my private secret was that I was a paid up member of the Anti-Federalist League (and there really weren’t many of us!)
At the third reading of Maastricht, twenty-six Conservative Members of Parliament opposed the government with seven abstentions. It was seen to be one of the biggest historical splits in the Conservative Party and comparisons were drawn with the great debates about the corn laws in the 1840s. As it was, John Major used a motion of confidence to get the treaty through, but there is no question that the European Union (EU) split dogged, perhaps even ruined, the rest of his premiership.
I had wondered with the referendum coming in June just how many Tories would defy the Prime Minister. I can scarcely believe that the number appears to be around 140 Tory MPs who are supporting leaving the EU. I really couldn’t be more pleased, and I know that the influence that UKIP has had out in the shires has emboldened many Tory activists and perhaps has even pushed one or two Tory MPs into thinking they had more chance of being re-selected as an outer.
In so many ways the world for me is a less lonely place. No more talk of gadflies now.
However the truth is that most MPs, even ministers and believe it or not cabinet ministers, have a relatively low recognition rating with the general public. Many of those who we in the political world would regard as “big names” have trivial followings online – where much of this debate can be won.
They are not the stuff of conversation in my local. The growth of the identikit career politician who always plays safe and rarely says anything has left little impression upon the public.
Our private polling shows that there are literally only a handful of people in British politics who would have a significant influence over how people vote in this referendum.
And one of them is the blonde bombshell who is currently Mayor of London. Yes, it’s Boris Johnson.
Literally everyone knows who he is. And whether they think that he’s a clown or a towering man of classical intellect matters little. They actually know who he is.
So I waited last Sunday for the announcement and it seemed pretty clear to me having bumped into his sister Rachel in the morning that Boris was coming for out.
Into the street Boris came from his North London home, embarking upon a very bizarre press conference.
I was delighted that he was going to support the leave side but I became increasingly worried as he spoke to the media, a fact confirmed by his article in the Daily Telegraph, that he was sending a mixed message. The idea that we should vote to leave to get a better deal then vote to stay has worried me ever since UKIP’s meeting with Dominic Cummings at the Vote Leave offices.
I’m sure they think they are being terribly clever and that they will get soft eurosceptics to vote the right way in this referendum.
But my view has always been that we win this referendum by reaching out to the millions who care about this country and its future but are disengaged from party politics.
The message for them must be a simple proposition: that this is a once in a life time opportunity to take back control of our country and its borders.
If you hang out of your bedroom window the flag of St. George for the European football championships this year, I want you to be a voter. The idea that this referendum could be the best of three will put these people off.
But on Saturday morning, as I tucked in to my full Welsh breakfast in Llandudno at the UKIP Spring conference, I saw in The Times that Boris had rethought his position.
Perhaps the only thing this week on which I’ve agreed with the Prime Minister – who by the way increasingly looks like Mr Angry – was when he said of the Boris double referendum proposal “that you don’t file for divorce in order to renew your vows.”
Gosh that hurt. Boris looked a little diminished sitting on the backbenches after that jibe.
But now it’s all okay because Boris has said leave means leave.
And his interview in Telegraph even ended with the phrase let’s vote to go.
I asked the UKIP conference to give a cheer to the conservative mayor of London. A brave thing for me to do given that most UKIPers see the Tories as the betrayers of our nation. But they responded with a deep heartfelt cheer. And I was one of them.
I hope this nonsense of a double referendum is now dead.