Britain leaves the EU: What now for David Cameron and Co.?

Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Photo: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Photo: Tim Ireland/PA Wire - Credit: PA

It is a vote which has tested long-standing political friendships, and seen insults traded that even a politician with the thickest hide will find hard to forget.

But it has been predominantly among the party's hierarchy there have been things that have been said that are going to be difficult to unsay.

The very public, almost Shakespearean, blood feud that has been played out daily as each campaign has tried to convince the public that they are the ones to be trusted has had a limited cast.

Those fearing for the future of the Conservative Party should take heart in the fact that among the overwhelming majority of the 2010 and 2015-intake of MPs, there will be the ability to move on.

They have been students of the bitter divisions of the 1990s which rendered the party unelectable. Some erstwhile MPs have also kept their cool, having lived through it personally.


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While in Essex, MPs Priti Patel and Bernard Jenkin have been vocal and attack-dog-like in their campaigning.

Newer members of parliament, including Braintree's James Cleverly and Colchester's Will Quince, have been quieter.

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In Norfolk, the two leavers - South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon and North-West Norfolk's Henry Bellingham - have campaigned for their side, but without the personal insults. Euroscepticism has not defined these MPs.

But is not just the parliamentary party where this matters. The activists base in the Conservative Party has also been divided.

Fears that MPs publicly backing a remain vote against the wishes of their constituency association might be punished have not been evident -yet.

The leader of the Conservative group on Ipswich Council, a campaigner to leave, remains on friendly terms with the town's MP Ben Gummer.

Among most there is an agreement to disagree. The bile we have seen on the national stage has not been in such evidence locally.

But of course who takes David Cameron's place as the leader of the Conservative Party has been an undercurrent of this referendum.

How soon there will be a changing of the guard is still unclear.

There are those who want to see it immediately, despising Cameron and the way he has run the campaign using the government machine as a resource.

And it is hard to tell if the party faithful will back a prominent campaigner to leave - Boris Johnson, if he makes it onto the ballot paper. Grassroots blog Conservative Home has put another high profile campaigner to leave Michael Gove into contention.

It is believed that while the prime minister is strong in the House of Commons and largely engenders support, he is weak among his activists.

For the Labour Party though, the reverse has been true.

The often understated way he has campaigned for Britain to stay in the European Union has annoyed many committed europhile Labour MPs and even trade unionists.

While the likes of Harriet Harman and Sadiq Kahn have put grudges aside and joined forced with Conservative rivals, the Labour leader has truculently avoided standing near David Cameron.

And the party will have to confront the fact that some Labour heartlands have backed Brexit.

While Mr Corbyn is unlikely to face a challenge, this referendum has likely damaged his authority.

As the dust settles on the European vote, he may well have to turn his attention to the vote on the Trident nuclear deterrent. If the rumoured pre-summer House of Commons vote on the issue takes place, divisions, like those seen over whether to extend strikes in Syria, may well creep to the surface again.

What is no doubt true is that the conclusion of the EU referendum vote will be one of the last chapters of the Cameron era.

It will likely be the last major volume in his tenure as prime minister. If it is the new generation which shapes the future of the party, there are many who are optimistic that European division will not dominate in the way they have done for the past decades.

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