David Cameron addresses business people at the CBI dinner on August 28, 2014 in Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Will Cameron's "effing Tories" remark help or hurt the No side?

The PM told Scots that the referendum was not about giving "the effing Tories" a kick. 

Last week, in an attempt to stop the tribal anti-Toryism in Scotland pushing voters towards the Yes camp, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson declared that it was not "likely" that her party would win the general election. Today, in his speech in Edinburgh, David Cameron went even further and told Scots that they would have other opportunities to give "the effing Tories" a kick. 

He said

Sometimes, because it's an election, because it’s a ballot, I think people can feel it's a bit like a general election. That you make a decision and five years later you can make another decision. If you're fed up with the effing Tories give them a kick, and then maybe we'll think again. This is totally different. This is a decision about, not the next five years, but the next century.

It is a mark of Cameron's desperation that he is prepared to so explicitly acknowledge his party's toxic brand, but will it help or hinder the No campaign? The PM's words could remind voters of precisely the point he made: that the referendum is not a judgement on one government, but on a 307-year-old Union.

Alternatively, they could be seen as profoundly patronising (many Yes supporters want to kick Westminster, not just the Tories) and another sign of panic. Cameron's comments will also surely be clipped by the nationalists to make it appear that he simply declared: "If you're fed up with the effing Tories give them a kick". The obvious rejoinder is that Scotland has regularly kicked the Tories but has still had to endure years of Conservative government.

Yet at this desperately late stage, the PM is probably right that the biggest risk is not to take any. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.