THE Conservative Party is speeding towards a division so deep that it may end up being unable to govern
So bitter have Conservative divisions over the EU referendum become that they threaten not just to overshadow the debate on Europe but a political crisis unless there is a heavy majority for ‘Vote Remain’.
The weekend brought a direct public attack on David Cameron by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson that his pledge to reduce migration to the UK was “corrosive of public trust”.
It is a full frontal assault on the credibility of the prime minister from two senior Conservative figures and one that makes it very difficult to see a reconciliation after the EU poll.
There is talk that some Conservative MPs are threatening a post-referendum leadership challenge.
Positions are now so polarised within the party that unless there is a hefty majority vote in favour of staying in the EU it is difficult to see how the prime minister’s authority can be re-established.
From an early stage in the referendum battle attention has been increasingly focused on the “blue-on-blue” exchanges over our membership of the EU.
Many Tory backbenchers who favour a ‘Leave’ vote believe the prime minister, together with chancellor George Osborne, have orchestrated a “Project Fear” campaign, with dire Treasury warnings that a vote to leave would severely damage the UK economy, trigger a “do-it yourself” recession, cause house prices to fall, household incomes to be diminished and the pound to tumble. A weaker sterling could well be the result of the internecine Tory war. Critics charge that other leading figures such as the Governor of the Bank of England have been encouraged to join an “Armageddon onslaught” to scare people into voting to remain in the EU. While there are signs that this has helped to bolster the “Vote Remain” side, many voters are being turned off by the relentless claim and counter claim. While the prime minister is vulnerable on previous pledges to curb immigration to the “tens of thousands” – the actual annual net migration figure revealed last week is running at 330,000 – the Brexit campaign has done itself no favours by using the gross £350 billion figure as the cost of the UK’s EU membership, while the net figure is much lower.
This relentless exchange of claim and counter claim and the exaggeration of argument is doing nothing to inspire an electorate desperately in need of informed guidance and facts on which they can rely.
Now the charge of corroding public trust has been made so openly against the prime minister, the party is careering towards a division so bitter it may render it unable to govern.
Some Tory backbenchers warn that a Cameron continuation would be little more than a “Zombie government” forced to contemplate a snap general election.
All this has raised the stakes. It is, it seems, no longer sufficient for the prime minister to win on 23 June but to do so with a commanding majority.
And even then there is little likelihood that the EU issue will cease to be a dividing issue for the Conservatives.
A pioneer of Scottish winter sports
Few cannot be untouched by the remarkable story of Scotland’s oldest skier.
She has died aged 102 – just weeks after she revealed she had been forced to give up the sport.
For Hilda Jamieson, taking to the ski slopes was no passing fad or one made possible only by the arrival of ski lifts and the most modern equipment.
Hilda, who was still taking to the slopes as late as this year, learned to ski on homemade wooden skis in the 1930s. Together with her husband David, who predeceased her, they were pioneers of the sport in Scotland and their enthusiasm blazed the trail for the facilities that thousands now enjoy today.
The difficulty of getting to the top of the slopes encouraged David to build the Glenshee Ski Centre. Prior to that, as Hilda recalled, it was about two minutes’ skiing before having to climb up the slope again – a trek that would take about an hour.
All this was done in the early days with heavy leather boots and huge cumbersome skis with no edges. Hilda had to clean and dry five pairs of the boots every weekend.
Today the Glenshee Ski Centre now has 27 ski lifts, 36 runs and is billed as one of the best winter sports resorts in the UK – a direct result of the couple’s commitment and dedication.
It was only in April that she revealed she had a degenerative eye condition that put paid to her career on the slopes. She had to use one of her daughters as a “beacon” to help her navigate the pistes.
What an inspiring example she has set, not just for her 10 grandchildren and 20 great- grandchildren, but for lovers of winter sports the world over.