The Daily Toast: Douglas Murray On Putting Country Before Party

Tim Montgomerie - 2

The exodus begins…

Douglas Murray lends an eloquent voice of support to Tim Montgomerie and his brave decision to quit the Conservative Party as an act of protest against Cameronism:

In the wasteland of principles that is Westminster, Tim Montgomerie has always been an exception.  The area is filled with ambitious, bland careerists whose idea of taking a stand (as with most of the commentariat) consists of trying to locate two ‘extremes’ before comfortably wedging themselves equidistant between them.  But in resigning from a lifetime’s membership of the Conservative party, Tim Montgomerie has demonstrated that there is still room for principles in politics.

[..] But here is the bigger problem for [Montgomerie’s critics]. It may well be that they shouldn’t care about the founder of Conservative Home, and one of their party’s most loyal and thoughtful members, choosing to leave the party.  Just as they may for the time-being not mind taking all those leaflet-deliverers for granted while riding against their core wishes.  But one day they may wake up to discover that amid all the high-handed dismissals and principle-free careerism, there is nobody around left to watch their political backs.  What a day that will be.  And perhaps it will come sooner rather than later.

If anything is going to hasten this day of reckoning, it will be the coming EU referendum. The party grassroots are overwhelmingly at odds with the leadership on the key question of Brexit. The parliamentary Conservative Party is on course to split just as dramatically as Labour split over the vote for military action in Iraq back in 2003.

Then throw in a rancorous, ill-tempered EU referendum campaign – our country is debating an existential issue, and tempers will inevitably fray and then snap. Things will be said that are far worse than David Cameron’s prissy, coded jibes at the expense of Boris Johnson in Parliament today.

And in the midst of this intra-party warfare, Conservative MPs may come to realise – or recall – that there is far more that divides them than just the question of Brexit. Other ideological differences, suppressed in the name of the “greater good” of general election victory, will come bubbling back to the surface.

Some Tory MPs might even make the mistake of asking themselves what the Cameron/Osborne legacy will be – and then recoil in horror when they realise that they fought their way back to power only to blindly implement Tony Blair’s fourth term New Labour agenda.

And then will come the desperate casting around for a more authentic conservative vision, and a more credible leader to bring it about. And vindication for Tim Montgomerie.

 

Read my take on Tim Montgomerie’s resignation from the Conservative Party here, as part of the “What Conservative Government?” series.

 

Tim Montgomerie

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The Daily Toast: Iain Dale Is Right, Boris Johnson The EU Agnostic Is No Leader

Boris Johnson - EU referendum

Any politician who has not yet stated their position on Brexit is politically calculating, not genuinely agnostic, and forfeits the right to call themselves a leader

Iain Dale makes the short and convincing case that Boris Johnson is a man of absolutely no conviction on the most important issue of the day, and that consequently he should not be looked up to as a potential Conservative Party leader or prime minister.

Dale writes in Conservative Home:

Potential prime ministers need to be leaders, not followers. The fact that we won’t find out until today which side of the EU argument Boris Johnson will fall down on says a lot. We all know that he’s not a genuine Eurosceptic, so for him to continue to flirt with the Leave campaign tells us much about his political calculation.

I still think he will ally himself to the Prime Minister in the end, but let’s assume he doesn’t. Does anyone believe that such a move would be fired by genuine political conviction? Of course not.

In such circumstances, he will have calculated that if he becomes the de facto public face of the Leave campaign and that Britain then votes for Brexit, David Cameron would have no alternative but to resign – and that he himself would become party leader by acclamation.

Such a calculation may be right. But it would make Frank Underwood and Francis Urquhart look like amateurs. Some people may think that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I think it would stink.

Meanwhile, the Independent breathlessly “war-games” all of the possible outcomes, focusing on the most important thing in this entire EU referendum debate – the consequences for Boris Johnson’s precious career:

It’s decision time for Boris. Having spent months – if not years – teasing David Cameron (and the rest of us) as to whether he is an ‘outer’ or an ‘inner’ the time is fast approaching when the Mayor of London and possible future Tory leader (and Prime Minister) will have to make up his mind which side he is going to back in the EU Referendum.

Boris calls for Brexit – but the country says we want to stay.

This would be the worst of all worlds for Johnson’s burning ambition. He would have staked his reputation on a ‘leave’ vote and been rejected by the voters. He would be punished by Cameron and left to languish on the backbenches. His electoral mystique would be shattered and his chances of succeeding Cameron would disappear. Johnson knows this – and that is why he is so reluctant to take such a big risk and nail his colours to Brexit.

No, the time for Boris Johnson to make up his mind is not “fast approaching”. That time is now a rapidly-shrinking dot in the rear-view mirror.

Boris Johnson apparently aspires to lead the country. Real leaders (not that we have seen one in awhile) set out their vision and inspire, persuade, cajole or threaten their followers to march on toward their chosen destination. They do not wait to see which direction the majority of their flock split before sprinting to the front of the column and pretending to have been leading them all along. They do not skulk quietly at the back, grinning and flirting with both sides of an existential debate and hedging their bets until the last possible moment.

For a biographer and self-professed admirer of Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson is almost singularly lacking in any of the key qualities of our great wartime leader. Winston Churchill endured many years in the political wilderness due to the unpopularity of his political beliefs – beliefs which he expressed loudly and eloquently, whether they were right or wrong, wildly popular or deeply unfashionable. Churchill did not hedge his bets by making ambivalent noises about Nazi Germany’s re-armament in the 1930s – he railed against Hitler and strongly opposed the policy of appeasement, at a time when many in the country preferred to bury their heads in the sand and avoid facing reality.

Boris Johnson, by contrast, puts his own career first, second and third. And if he does have strong feelings one way or another about Britain’s membership of the EU, they are firmly subordinate to his concern for his own personal advancement. Yet he gets a free pass from the media on account of his bumbling persona and the fact that he is endlessly quotable, even when (as is nearly always the case) he is actually saying absolutely nothing of any importance or lasting value.

We have had leaders who care primarily about their public image and personal career advancement before. We have one now. Boris Johnson would just take this trend to its logical conclusion: the pursuit and holding of power as the first and only objective, with any core principle liable to be cast aside if doing so will help to shore up the incoherent centrist coalition of a support base – support which may be a mile wide but only an inch deep, as Tim Montgomerie warned on his recent departure from the Conservative Party.

Richard North says it best when it comes to the media’s obsession with Boris Johnson’s conspicuous fence-sitting:

Having to contend with this obsession, I have advanced, is like being a policeman attending a multiple car pile-up while a passer-by attempts to talk to him about their pet hamster.

If and when Boris Johnson finds it within himself to act like a leader, we should reconsider giving him the time of day. But so long as he continues to act in such a nakedly self-serving and principle-free way, the media should stop reporting on Boris’s dithering and start holding to account those people who actually have the courage to publicly declare their positions.

 

EU Democracy - Brexit

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The Daily Toast: Peter Oborne, A Fellow Jeremy Corbyn Admirer

Peter Oborne is a journalist of uncommon principle; what he says should be taken seriously and treated with a measure of respect. But Peter Oborne has publicly stated his admiration for Jeremy Corbyn…

This blog has often felt like something of a voice in the conservative wilderness for not viewing Jeremy Corbyn as an unmitigated disaster for British politics.

One does not have to agree with Jeremy Corbyn’s sometimes loopy policies to admire the way his unexpected leadership of the Labour Party has shaken up a dull, lumpen, self-satisfied consensus among the Westminster elite, and put the fear of the voters back into a good many Members of Parliament who were more focused on the smooth progression of their own careers than the trifling concerns of the electorate.

That’s where this blog stands. I’m the first to criticise Jeremy Corbyn for his particularly crazy policies (like building a paper tiger nuclear deterrent with all the expensive submarines minus the all-important warheads) and his naive political operation (as embarrassingly revealed during the so-called Revenge Reshuffle). I’m also willing to give credit where credit is due, such as the holistic way Corbyn looked at education during the Labour leadership contest (and his proposed National Education Service).

What I don’t understand are conservatives who endlessly criticise Jeremy Corbyn because he doesn’t think or say all the same things as David Cameron or Tony Blair (and who could pick those two apart if blindfolded?)

Surely having two party leaders who think and say different things is the point of democracy. The fact that Britain has increasingly been afflicted with party leaders who say and think nearly identical things (once the rhetorical embellishment is stripped away) since Margaret Thatcher left office is the root of our current centrist malaise, and one of the primary reasons why a third of the electorate don’t show up to vote at general elections.

What’s the point in voting if the choice is between Prime Minister Bot A and Prime Minister Bot B, both of whom will automatically praise the NHS without looking more seriously at fixing healthcare, both of whom will tinker around the edges of welfare reform to get the Daily Mail off their backs but without doing anything substantive to fix our broken non-contributory system, both of whom are achingly politically correct at all times (“It’s Daesh, not ISIS! I can’t believe you called it Islamic State!“) and both of whom have so little faith in Britain’s ability to prosper as an independent, globally connected democracy that they strive (overtly or covertly) to keep us yoked to the European Union?

I’m a conservative libertarian. I have enough of a task on my hands trying to push the Conservative Party in a less authoritarian, more pro-liberty direction without worrying about what the Labour Party is doing every minute of the day. And I have enough confidence in my political worldview that I believe conservative principles will win the battle of ideas when promoted and implemented properly (hence my ongoing despair with the current Tories).

But many of my fellow conservatives, particularly those in the media, are in despair at the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the return of real partisan politics. Why? Their professed concern that Britain have a “credible” opposition (meaning one almost identical to the governing party in all respects) stretches belief to breaking point and beyond. I can only think that their fear of Jeremy Corbyn reflects some personal doubt that their own political ideas and philosophies might not be superior after all – that Jeremy Corbyn might actually win people over in large numbers and have a shot at taking power.

I have no such fear. I believe that the principles of individual liberty and limited government beat discredited, statist dogma hands down, every day of the week. And I believe that the rise of Jeremy Corbyn might force conservatives to remember why they hold their views in the first place, and even refine and improve their own ideas through rigorous debate – if only they could get over their collective outrage that a socialist is in charge of the Labour Party.

In this spirit, I share the video of Owen Jones’ recent conversation with former Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne – see above. Oborne is an articulate writer, an unapologetic conservative and a thoughtful journalist of real integrity. That Peter Oborne also finds something to admire in Jeremy Corbyn (despite disagreeing with him politically) is helpful reassurance that I am not alone.

I don’t agree with everything that Oborne says in the video. But on the near-conspiracy of the political class and the media to undermine Corbyn (not to merely disagree with him but to portray his ideas as “unthinkable”) and on foreign policy (castigating our closeness with Saudi Arabia, an odious regime with whom we fawningly do business and lend our diplomatic legitimacy in exchange for oil and intelligence) he is spot on.

And I think that’s what makes Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors so angry. No man can be consistently wrong about everything all the time, and on rare occasions Jeremy Corbyn gets it conspicuously right – such as with his criticism of our closeness with the Saudi regime. People accustomed to either being in power or just one election away from power look at somebody who (whatever other baggage he may have) is unsullied by the continual act of compromise and ideological drift, and it makes them mad. It forces them to ask themselves how many of the compromises, reversals and deals from their own careers were strictly necessary, and how many resulted either from failures of courage or pursuing power for its own sake.

Sometimes, the haters were probably right to do what they did. Governing a diverse nation of 65 million people is not possible without the art of compromise, as Jeremy Corbyn would soon discover if the impossible happened and he became prime minister. But sometimes they were not. And the cumulative effect of all of these small compromises by Labour and the Conservatives over the years were two very slick but ideologically bankrupt political parties that looked and sounded nearly exactly the same on a whole host of issues. Issues (like the EU) which the political class had arrogantly deemed to be settled once and for all, though the voters had other ideas.

I understand this. I sense that Peter Oborne understands this. And if that means there are still only two non-Corbynites in Britain who don’t think that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is an unmitigated disaster – well, at least I’m in good company.

Jeremy Corbyn - Labour Party - Andrew Marr Show - BBC

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Who Is To Blame For The NHS Junior Doctors’ Strike? Look In The Mirror

NHS Junior Doctors Contract Strike

By reflexively worshipping the NHS, vilifying people who don’t and rewarding politicians who tell us only what we want to hear, the junior doctors’ strike – and everything else wrong with the health service – is our fault, and ours alone

Who is to blame for the NHS junior doctors’ strike?

Is it heartless Jeremy Hunt, that doctor-hating, treatment-denying Conservative villain at the Department of Health? Is it the Evil Tories in general, with their single-minded obsession (mysteriously never realised despite all their accumulated years in power) with privatising and destroying Our Precious NHS? And if not them, who could it be? The capitalists? The bankers? Katie Hopkins?

Surely anyone and everyone is to blame, apart from ourselves.We love Our NHS. We are good people who believe that healthcare free at the point of use is one of the fundamental rights of citizenship. We stick up for the NHS at every turn, demanding that politicians pay obsequious lip service to the organisation every time they run for office. We’ll happily slap the NHS logo on our Facebook profile picture, paint it on our faces, wear it on a badge, lapel pin or t-shirt. You name it, we’ll do it to virtue-signal the love we have for Our NHS.

And that, right there, is the problem. Not Jeremy Hunt, not the Evil Tories, not Katie Hopkins. Us.

We don’t want elected officials who take a hard, uncompromising look at changes in medical treatments, life expectancies, the public finances and best practice from overseas to continually assess whether the NHS – that uniquely British solution to healthcare coverage – is still fit for purpose in the twenty-first century, and what changes may be beneficial or necessary.

We don’t want elected officials who tell us that difficult decisions might have to be made – that providing the latest treatments to an ageing, fattening population will cost all of us more in taxes, require radical overhaul of the NHS model, or both. We want our politicians to find the money to provide a world-class health service without disrupting other areas of public spending, or the fatness of our own wallets.

And we certainly don’t want elected officials who do anything to upset the NHS-Industrial Complex – that vast network of people, organisations and vested interests who are first to squeal and protest (always in the name of “public safety”) when their own livelihoods or ways of working are threatened. Like children listening to a trusted school teacher, we innocently take the words of such people as gospel.

Of course, this situation is quite unsustainable. And when any one element of this vast human bureaucracy reaches breaking point – whether that is manifested in industrial action, hospital death scandals or longer waiting lists – we will look for anyone to blame and attack for the fact that these problems have gone unaddressed. Anyone other than ourselves.

The Economist reaches the same conclusion in a very welcome “plague on all their houses” review of the context behind the first junior doctors’ strike:

[..] there is a more serious way in which the public is to blame for the sickness of the health service. The electorate that notionally adores “our NHS” and propels a saccharine song by health workers to the top of the Christmas charts shows remarkably little willingness to pay more in tax towards what remains a relatively cheap system. Without extra money and facing ever wider and wrinklier patients, the NHS must tighten its belt by £30 billion ($43 billion), or about one-fifth, by 2020. It is in this context that Mr Hunt is trying to expand services to evenings and weekends. Pity the well meaning health secretary, pity the hardworking doctors—and blame the sentimental but hypocritical British public.

The famous maxim says that people get the politicians and leaders that they deserve. Well, the same can be said for healthcare, too. We refuse to look difficult truths in the eye, preferring to ignore them in the risible hope that a healthcare system built in 1948 can still be fit for purpose in 2016, if only we pump a bit more money into it. And a bit more. And a bit more again.

We deserve the NHS we currently have, with its air of permanent crisis, in all its faded glory. It is the sum total of all our misplaced pride, boastfulness, smugness, ignorance, fear of change, intellectual laziness and lack of vision.

We have become self-entitled public service consumers rather than thinking citizens, demanding easy answers and instant results from our elected leaders, while rewarding all of the wrong behaviours when it comes to healthcare policymaking.

We have become the kind of intellectually dull society that will happily produce a cheesy Christmas hymn to the NHS and then propel it to Number 1 in the charts, but prefers to sit and vegetate in front of Britain’s Strictly Come Bake-off On Ice rather than question whether the organisation we were just singing about is fundamentally fit for purpose.

On this rare occasion, the Economist’s editorial line is quite correct. When it comes to the failings and shortcomings of the NHS, the government, the health secretary of the day and individual NHS staff are comparatively blameless.

It is we, the British people, who are most at fault for singing worshipful hymns of praise to a healthcare system we will neither properly fund, nor meaningfully reform.

NHS Choir - Harriet Nerva - 2

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The Daily Toast: Iain Martin’s Brexit Ultimatum To Tory Ministers

Conservative Eurosceptics - Brexit - David Cameron

Politicians with the integrity to openly declare their stance on the biggest political issue of our generation should be the rule, not the exception

Like most people in Britain, Iain Martin has had enough of equivocating politicians – specifically Conservative cabinet ministers – refusing to take a public position on Britain’s EU membership, and maintaining the fiction that David Cameron’s cosmetic “renegotiation” can have any possible impact on their decision.

Martin goes so far as to call Conservative ministers “a bunch of careerist scaredy cats”, writing in CapX:

Britain’s looming vote on the EU is not – or should not be – politics as normal. It is a historic moment, in which the UK will decide to take one of two quite different paths. Party management and careers matter, of course, but sometimes there are choices that should be about something more than the mere game of politics. The EU referendum is one such event.

This is absolutely correct. Whatever one’s views on the European Union and Brexit, surely all of us can agree that this debate is infinitely more important than the minor tweaks to education, healthcare and fiscal policy which separate the various political parties.

Having established the importance of the coming referendum, Iain Martin issues the following challenge:

Ministers, it is make your mind up time. Although David Cameron’s renegotiation with the EU for new membership terms could have been the real deal, it is clear that it will deliver very little. It is In or Out, probably as soon as this summer. For that reason, ministers need to do something that is highly unfashionable and considered downright deranged in the British Establishment: decide what you believe – enthusiastically for In, reluctantly for In, or Out because you think it is best for your country – and get ready to fight for it at public meetings across the land. Don’t be scared. You are grown men and women. You might even be surprised how much voters like politicians saying what they believe rather than what is convenient for their careers.

This argument is – I know – a stretch, considering how careerist politics has become. But for anyone playing a leading role in the affairs of a nation to base such a vital decision purely on career progression or fear of friends is not only wrong, it’s pathetic. And in ten years time, none of it, all the hedging and game-playing, will matter a jot. By then David Cameron will be having a snooze after lunch in rural Oxfordshire. Osborne will be running the World Bank or a hedge fund. The decision on the EU, on the other hand, now that will have mattered a lot.

The current failure of Conservative ministers and other senior politicians to break cover and nail their colours to the mast only contributes to the (depressingly accurate) perception of contemporary politicians as principle-free careerists squabbling over the right to sit in technocratic management of our public services, rather than principled statesmen grappling with weighty political issues.

In our current political climate, where the Conservative Party runs away from small government principles in pursuit of the centre ground and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is criticised for actually being left-wing, it is clear that the vast majority of politicians prefer the former to the latter.

Power is pursued for its own sake, even if it means the centrist coalition of supporters cobbled together to deliver victory make it impossible to do anything remotely radical, transformational or different once in office. Thus, despite the overwrought rhetoric from both sides, neither Labour nor the Conservatives  propose a single policy which would move Britain away from its current centrist landscape.

Politicians who came of age in this age of the Tyranny of Centrism find it inordinately difficult to express a strong, sincerely held political opinion because all of their training and professional experience teaches them that pragmatic caution and a reflexive fear of fixed beliefs are the surest route to success.

Whether it’s the NHS, tax reform, constitutional reform or Britain’s relationship with Europe, MPs are strongly predisposed to fiddling around the edges themselves, while accusing others of partisan recklessness. Thus change is only ever incremental, and nearly always in the direction of More Government – the path of least resistance for any elected official.

Unfortunately, too many within the public and the media are willing to excuse this state of affairs, urging us to put ourselves in the politicians’ shoes rather than demanding sincerity and principle from our elected officials. It is therefore particularly pleasing to see Iain Martin losing patience with the status quo and demanding that those who seek to run the country actually declare the direction in which they would lead us.

The Tyranny of Centrism can only continue so long as we tolerate and enable it by rewarding glib superficiality and punishing strong displays of principle from our politicians. And on an issue as important as Britain’s future relationship with the EU, this is no time for fence-sitters, careerists or cowards.

EU Renegotiation - Brexit - European Union

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