Of course, it’s supposed to be all about policies, not personalities. The clue’s in the word “politics”. But in a real-life democracy it’s not quite like that. People are naturally more drawn to characters than to principles.
It probably takes a politics junkie like me to recall what the issues were between Harold Wilson and Ted Heath in 1970. And I’d struggle to name the policy differences that divided Disraeli and Gladstone – though I’d have no trouble identifying their portraits, or some of their quotations.
Heath and Wilson, antagonists in most things, were on the same side over Europe. As their successors David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn are now. I’m with Corbyn when he says Cameron’s negotiations for EU reforms were both wrong and a sideshow. But I’m with them both in believing we’re better in Europe than out.
I can’t pretend to understand all the issues (who does?). And I can’t say with any certainty how the future will pan out, Brexit or Bremain (who can?).
We’ll be hearing an awful lot over the next four months from people who pretend to have crystal balls. They won’t agree about the road ahead, and the only certainty is that they’ll all be wrong one way or another. Blind pundits and politicians leading a blind electorate.
It will be impossible to decide whether you personally will be better off in or out. Unless, that is, you’re among the millions of Brits living and working elsewhere in Europe, for whom an “Out” vote would be a catastrophe.
Inevitably confused about the policies, we’ll be left to take this momentous decision on the basis of personalities. Which, let’s face it, is shallow, meaningless, mostly irrelevant, easier to follow and a lot more fun.
So, to be shallow for a moment: has Boris done the dirty on his chum? Will the floppy-haired one’s popular persona sway the outcome of the referendum? And if so, will the end of summer see him swap the London mayor’s office for 10 Downing Street? I wouldn’t rule it out, however much he denies that that’s his plan.
After all, it’s hard to see Cameron spending his last three years in office negotiating the terms of a European exit he says he committed heart and soul to avoid.
On the other hand, if the PM triumphs in a referendum he needn’t – and arguably shouldn’t – have called, what then? A major Cabinet reshuffle in the autumn is the least we can expect.
If the campaigning has turned nasty (and it will), it could be the end at the top level for Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel and co. Precisely those who, if it goes the other way, can expect the top jobs under PM Johnson. And key roles, therefore, in determining where the heck Britain goes once its moorings are cast off from Europe.
Given the uncertainty of that – and the radical right-wing outlook of those people I’ve just mentioned – the vote on June 23 is a far more important issue than any mere personality contest. Yet that is what it surely will become. And the weight of charisma just shifted away from the status quo.
So Cameron, the smooth politician, may yet end up as the clubbable pro-European whose misjudgements take Britain out of the club.