This week, upon advice from strategists and pollsters, David Cameron is taking a step back from the Stronger In campaign. This is not how DC saw things going down a few months ago – by this stage, Remain were going to be 20 points up in the polls, all down to his magnetic popularity. Instead, he is starting to be seen as increasingly toxic to the Labour voters who are going to swing this referendum. Politics is like that.
It makes me think that David Cameron has one last card to play if Leave are still ahead in the final 48 hours before the poll: he can announce to the nation a few days before the referendum vote that after June 23rd, regardless of outcome, he will step down as prime minister.
For a start, I don’t see how he continues anyhow. Even if the polls are all wrong and Remain wins by 20 points, he has created so much anger in the Conservative Party that I don’t see how he can continue as the party’s leader. While if Leave wins, he has to go as well. So either way, his premiership is finished. By doing it proactively, he can remove the urge for Labour voters to give him a bloody nose, which may be enough to swing it for Remain if it stays this close.
Cameron can reach an audience by resigning he cannot at present reach, all across the political spectrum. Resignation speeches by political leaders are interesting for a reason: unburdened by the need to speak as a political leader all of a sudden, they offer voters a moment of unguarded truth. We saw that after the last general election: Clegg in tears, clearly having hoped it would all work out for the Lib Dems and crushed by it not having gone that way; Miliband, very chuffed about some young girls on the internet thinking he was hot and not bothered by much else; Farage showing his control freakery, blaming everyone for UKIP and his own poor electoral showing other than himself as he attempted to create wriggle room to un-resign later.
Cameron would be given huge licence in a resignation speech to be heard on why staying in the EU is all important. If the result was close but Remain won, that part of his legacy might be worth it to him. His only real reason for staying on is because he thinks he can keep the Conservative Party in one piece. Wherever that is now going, he certainly isn’t the man for the job anymore. I don’t say this out of hope that Cameron will go either – I am actually scared of what happens to the country post-Cameron, particularly as whomever the Tory membership picks for the job will be prime minister for some time. But this could be a realistic nuclear option for Cameron if it looks like Brexit is coming our way.