Much has been said about David Cameron suspending collective cabinet responsibility in regards to campaigning to leave the European Union. Some have decried this move as some sort of weakness or betrayal (even though it has been clear for some time this was precisely what he was always going to do, and all previous examples of him dealing with his own party would have led you to conclude this was precisely what he was always going to do); some have praised it as pragmatic. Actually, the really brilliant thing about it is the calculation Cameron has made, I think correctly: in the end, few Tory cabinet ministers will actually campaign to go out, despite the overwhelming Euroscepticism in the membership of the party or indeed in the Conservative Parliamentary Party.
Grayling, Villiers, Whittingdale, IDS….after that, it becomes very iffy. Hammond had now nailed his colours to the mast. Boris will almost certainly be cowed to not turn to the dark side, someway or other, particularly when he sees the odds against him going the other way. Will Javid really cross Osborne so directly on something so huge? I find it difficult to see. Fallon is hard to read, but if I had to bet I’d say he at least stays out of the Leave camp for Cameron’s sake (although probably only for that reason in the end). Patel and Truss? Both Eurosceptics, but both career minded individuals, who will probably make a calculation on that basis.
In terms of big fish, that leaves Gove and May. I think Gove will remain silent, again as a throw to Dave. May is more uncertain, but given she hasn’t jumped already, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to believe she will do now (although this is the one I am, in all honesty, most unsure of in terms of all the predictions I’ve just made).
So in a 26 individual cabinet, it looks like it could be as few four of them openly campaigning for Out. In which case, allowing them to do so is easily the only sensible option. Particularly given one of them is slightly past it, two others are really very lucky to be given such an exulted position in the first place and should they wish to die on the altar of principle then fair enough (for though no collective responsibility exists now, in reality everything in politics that involves disobeying the leader, even with permission, has its political price eventually), and one of them is Chris Grayling. I leave you to work out who is who there.
In this age of one party state, it is easy to overpraise Cameron and/or Osborne, forgetting that if there was a credible official opposition they would look far less brilliant than they often appear to be. But this is one of those moments that has been genuinely well played by the prime minister, with no need for caveats.