What Conservative Government? – Part 8, Theresa May Is Wrong To Embrace Socialism In Defence Of The Nation State

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By openly declaring war on the libertarian wing of the Conservative Party, Theresa May reveals that she cannot tell the difference between defending the nation state (good) and shoehorning the state into every aspect of citizens’ lives (bad)

Why does British politics suffer from the scourge of unambitious, technocratic centrism which does more than anything else to drive voter apathy and disengagement?

Largely because of the enthusiastic and approving reception that such acts of ideological cross-dressing as we saw from Theresa May at Conservative Party Conference yesterday receive from Tory-friendly Westminster journalists who seem to care far more about whether the Conservative Party gains and keeps power than what they actually do with that power while in office.

From Matt Chorley’s Times Red Box morning briefing email today:

Theresa May used her impressive speech closing the Tory party conference yesterday to make a direct appeal to the Labour voters which Ed Miliband used to think he could count on.

Perhaps she just forgot but it was quite something from someone who had been in the cabinet for six years to suddenly declare herself the agent of change. (She used the word 29 times).

The PM promised to go after rogue bosses, tax dodgers, rigged markets and powerful companies giving people a bad deal. “I’m putting you on warning. This can’t go on any more.”

She boasted that the Tories were now the party of workers, the NHS and public servants, claims which would have had Labour HQ spluttering on their lattes. The call for state intervention where government can “do good” will have brought some Tory traditionalists up short too.

The high-wire act was all the more impressive because it also had Ukip fuming about her stealing all of their ideas too. Much of the language might have been to the left but the policy, including grammar schools and tackling immigration, was lifted from the right. May ranged across the political spectrum. Because she can.

While Times columnist Philip Collins notes:

This is a clearer endorsement of state activity than David Cameron would ever make. Throughout the speech there are paeans to the power of government to make the world better which makes for a paradox. “The elite” politicians have featured early on as the problem yet here, ten minutes later, they turn up as the solution.

Typically, political journalist types are impressed with – and subsequently choose to focus on – what they see as clever political manoeuvring rather than matters of substance. They are interested in the game of politics, not its higher purpose.

So never mind that Theresa May’s rhetoric and wholehearted embrace of the state effectively puts the final nails in the coffin of Thatcherism, the ideology which saved this country from previous national decline – instead we are to fawn over the new prime minister for spotting a wide open political goal in the absence of an effective Labour opposition and deciding to shoot left instead of right.

And “semi-socialist Tory” Tim Stanley immediately proceeds to do so:

May understands what Corbyn understands, that people want to be a part of something. Oh the capitalist gifts of a Starbucks mug and a cheap flight to Ibiza are nice, but what about identity? Community? The most appealing parts of Labour’s programme reach back into folk memories of Attlee and the world of unionised factories.

[..] But her sympathies do lie with a Britain that is more suburban or rural than metropolitan, more ancient than contemporary. What is wrong with this? Often I’ve heard Remainers – who will be as irrelevant in a few years’ time as Corn Law advocates or the NUM – saying that Britain risks becoming smaller in outlook. Good! There have been too many wars. Too much hypercapitalism. Too little of the local, of the familiar, of building the kinds of bonds that you get when people know each other and take responsibility for each other. Far too little Christian socialism – which, in the British context, was always more Christian than socialist.

How utterly depressing. It is entirely possible to promote that sense of community and belonging for which people yearn by doing a better job promoting British values and the cultural integration of thousands if not millions of people who have made their homes here yet have no intention of regarding themselves as “British”. Wouldn’t this be a good place to start, rather than responding to the Brexit vote by co-opting Labour’s collectivism and elevation of the state?

As my Conservatives for Liberty colleague Chris Manby laments in his new blog:

Mrs May wants the Tories to be the party of “ordinary working-class people”. That is an admirable ambition, one best delivered through a strong economy.

Libertarians hate poverty too. But we know it is not government that creates economic growth, jobs, and prosperity. It is the actions of millions of individuals living in a free society under the rule of law. Want to eliminate poverty? Free up markets, cut taxes and enforce the damned rule of law.

We’ve been down this road before. The social-democratic consensus of the postwar years left British industry stagnant; British democracy under siege from militant trade unionism; and the British economy a high inflation, high unemployment laughing stock. It took Margaret Thatcher’s hard-fought revolution in the 1980s to restore national confidence. That revolution was left half finished.

The government already does far too much. We pay nearly half our income in taxes. Britain’s tax code is so long and complicated it rewards big business who can afford to pay shrewd accountants and lawyers. Planning restrictions and cheap money drive up the cost of housing and penalise saving. State investment in renewables drives up energy bills. Government borrowing is still out of control.

The problem with staking out the “centre ground” of politics is that you allow your opponent to control the terms of debate. There can be no compromise between good ideas and bad ones. The last female Tory Prime Minister grasped this point. I fear that Mrs May does not.

While Allister Heath warns:

Thirty years [after Thatcher and Reagan] free-market ideas are in retreat. The drift began well before the financial crisis, and was at first camouflaged by the ongoing march of globalisation, technology and consumerism. New Labour increased spending and intervention; likewise George W Bush, who also subsidised sub-prime mortgages; central bankers injected moral hazard into everything; and David Cameron introduced new workers’ rights, property levies and environmental rules. He increased far more taxes than he cut and bashed bankers. Sir John Major’s government was the last to make, if falteringly, the case for markets, competition and choice; and Michael Howard was the last Tory leader to advocate capitalism.

It is in this context that Theresa May’s speech needs to be understood. It was as emphatic a repudiation of the Thatcher-Reagan economic world-view as it was possible to get without actually naming them: time and again, she said that government was the solution, not the problem. She took explicit aim at small-state libertarians: the subtext was that collectivist, paternalistic Christian Democrats, not individualistic classical liberals, are back in charge of the party. She believes in a large, powerful, aggressively interventionist state that can, she feels, regenerate the country and protect ordinary workers. It will have helped Lord Heseltine get over Brexit; ironically, her vision of conservatism is very continental.

And makes an important and welcome rebuttal to Theresa May’s declaration of war on the libertarian wing of her party:

Yet the speech went further than toughening language or extension of policies. Cameron’s Big Society was based on the correct notion that society is separate from the state; May blurs those concepts. Classical liberals and libertarians believe in voluntary action; they believe in the family and communities, in charities and helping those who cannot help themselves. It is a basic error to confuse their philosophy with atomism or extreme selfishness.

Peter Oborne, though, sees Theresa May’s speech in an altogether more positive light:

Here is another, crucial difference between Mrs May and her predecessor. David Cameron was, in essence, a liberal prime minister. Mrs May marks a reversion to traditional conservatism.

She intends her premiership to challenge the liberal internationalism of Cameron and Blair. They assumed that nation states — including Britain — count for less and less in the modern world.

They accepted the liberal dogma that nations are essentially powerless against huge international corporations, mass immigration, the relentless advance of communications, and untrammelled free movement of international capital — the cumulative process often known as globalisation.

But now Mrs May has rejected this consensus, and in doing so she is attempting to define what it means to be British. Her speech amounted to a passionate statement that she believed in the nation state, and she spelt out her reason: that it has a fundamental role in supporting the weak and vulnerable.

I’m not unsympathetic to a lot of what Oborne says. This blog has been banging on about the need to defend the nation state as the primary guarantor of our fundamental rights and freedoms for years now, and I’ll take no lectures in that regard. But supporting the nation state and acknowledging the negative effects of globalisation does not inherently require adopting more left-wing, interventionist policies. Supporting the nation state should not mean advocating for its involvement in every aspect of our lives, especially when small government conservative policies have been proven time and again to be a much better generator of wealth and better for working people.

Furthermore, a full-throated embrace of capitalism needn’t be at odds with the politics of community and national identity. Just look at the United States, that exemplar of capitalism, where small government is celebrated (in theory if not always in practice) yet there is open pride in the flag, the national anthem, the military and shared national holidays and traditions which transcend ethnic or religious lines.

Americans embrace capitalism and have an inherent cultural distrust of an overbearing centralised state, yet they also stand and pledge allegiance to the flag at school, stand for the national anthem before even school sports events and celebrate Independence Day together whether they are white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh or atheist. And one of the reasons that the American national identity is strong is because the state does not insert itself into every aspect of life, meaning that there is then more respect and appreciation for the state where it is visible.

What a devastating pity that Theresa May seems (from her hugely concerning conference speech) unable or unwilling to reconcile support for markets and capitalism with support for community and identity. She is turning British politics into a zero sum game, forcing conservatives to choose which core principle – economic freedom or a strong and cohesive sense of nationhood – they wish to preserve. And many voices in the conservative-friendly media seem more than willing to enable the prime minister in her destructive, short-termist scheming.

No good can come of forcing conservatives (or the wider country) into making the arbitrary and entirely unnecessary choice between a strong nation state and freedom from the state in our personal lives – and Theresa May is making a grave mistake by interpreting the Brexit vote as a call for bigger government.

 

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Top Image: Carl Court / Getty Images, International Business Times

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More Commentators Embrace The Norway Option As Part Of A Staged Brexit Plan

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At long last the penny has started to drop among serious influencers that a Brexit to the so-called “Norway Option” as an interim staging position is the only safe, stable and plausible Brexit plan on offer – regardless of whatever Vote Leave may say

Maybe it was Vote Leave’s alarming pivot back to immigration with the rollout of their Australian style points-based scheme, or maybe it was just the slow accumulation of tactical and strategic idiocy bordering on political self-harm.

But regardless of what it was that finally caused Vote Leave to hit rock bottom in the eyes of the commentariat, we should all be eternally grateful – because finally, serious and influential minds with serious bully pulpits are starting to look past the Boris clown show and talk openly about the Norway Option being the only sane Brexit plan capable of delivering a safe, stable process of withdrawal from the European Union.

First, last week, Allister Heath came over to the light side of the Force:

The core assumption of the anti-Brexit economists is that leaving would erect damaging barriers to trade; the pro-Brexit side must take on and demolish these arguments. The good news is that it’s quite easy to do so. The Leave campaign’s long-term aim is to break away completely from the EU. But there is no doubt that, were we to vote Leave on June 23, the UK would seek to adopt, as an interim solution, a Norwegian-style relationship with the EU which ensures that we remain in the single market, giving us plenty of time to work out new arrangements with the rest of the world.

That is both the only realistic way we would quit the EU – the only model, that, plausibly, MPs would support as a cross-party compromise deal – and the best possible way for us to do it. The Norwegians would welcome us with open arms, as their own influence would be enhanced, and other EU nations would seek to join us. Such a deal would eliminate most of the costs of leaving, while delivering a hefty dose of benefits as a down payment.

As part of the European Free Trade Association, we would remain in the single market, complete with its Four Freedoms, while withdrawing from agricultural and fisheries policies, justice and home affairs and the customs union. The City wouldn’t lose access and virtually all of the anti-Brexit scare stories would be neutralised, which is presumably why that option was mysteriously absent from the Treasury’s ludicrous analysis of the short-term impact of Brexit.

And now, Heath’s Telegraph colleague and International Business Editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has weighed in with a forceful case for the Norway Option as the only sensible plan for extricating Britain from European political union within the constraints set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty:

The Leave campaign must choose. It cannot safeguard access to the EU single market and offer a plausible arrangement for the British economy, unless it capitulates on the free movement of EU citizens.

One or other must give. If Brexiteers wish to win over the cautious middle of British politics, they must make a better case that our trade is safe. This means accepting the Norwegian option of the European Economic Area (EEA) – a ‘soft exit’ – as a half-way house until the new order is established.

It means accepting the four freedoms of goods, services, capital, and labour that go with the EU single market. It means swallowing EU rules, and much of the EU Acquis, and it means paying into the EU budget.

We can quibble over the wording “much of the EU acquis”, as analysis puts it closer to reasonable-sounding 28 percent, but otherwise this is spot on. The article actually explicitly mentions Flexcit and the work of Dr. Richard North, as well as the recent welcome interventions from the Adam Smith Institute courtesy of ASI fellow Roland Smith. In fact, the Telegraph is becoming quite the incubator of serious liberal Brexit thinking of late.

In his latest Telegraph column, Allister Heath goes further and points out that the onus is in fact now on Remainers to explain what the European Union will look like in twenty years’ time given the various crises besetting it (and the EU’s instinctive ratchet towards ever more centralisation), and how voting to Remain could possibly be considered the “safe” option:

The EU was always intended by its founders to be a process – a mechanism by which formerly independent European countries gradually bind themselves together into an ever-closer union. Crises were seen as useful flashpoints that would trigger a further push to integration, and its central institutions were deliberately designed to seek and accrue power.

When I was growing up in France, it was made consistently clear that the EU was a political project that used economics as a tool of state-building; the single market was created because all countries have a free internal market, not because the EU’s founding fathers believed in international free trade. We used to be taught all of this openly and explicitly at school: the EU was the obvious, rational future, the only way war could be avoided and the best way to protect our social models from the ravages of “Anglo-Saxon” markets.

There are therefore two possibilities if we vote to stay: eventual abrupt disintegration, or further EU integration. If the latter, how many more powers will we give up when the next treaty comes along, and how much “progress” will be made in critical areas like a European army, tax harmonisation, and the centralisation of justice and home affairs? Why haven’t voters been told ahead of June 23?

The biggest, costliest and most immediate change after a Remain vote would be psychological. Forget about all the caveats: an In victory would be hailed as proof that Britain has finally ceased fighting its supposed European destiny. Our bluff would have been called in the most spectacular of fashions: after decades of dragging our feet, of being ungrateful Europeans, of extracting concessions, rebates and opt-outs, of trying to stand up for our interests, we would finally have hoisted the white flag. The idea that we would hold another referendum on the next treaty would simply be laughed out of town. Voting to Remain would thus be a geopolitical disaster for the UK, a historic failure.

Comfortable, middle-class voters who are considering sticking with the devil they believe they know need to think again. Voting to remain is a far greater leap into the unknown than voting to leave. It’s self-evidently normal to be independent and prosperous: just look at America, Australia, Canada or Singapore. But there are no known examples of a previously independent democracy being subsumed into a dysfunctional, economically troubled technocracy and doing well as a result. As mad gambles go, it is hard to think of anything worse.

And in a final coup, Toby Young has blessed the Norway Option on Twitter:

To which one can only say: Alleluia. Good. It’s about time.

Hopefully we are now witnessing the beginnings of a slowly building stampede away from the car crash of an official Leave campaign masterminded by Dominic Cummings and toward something better. Hopefully this is the result of serious people with pro-Brexit sympathies starting to realise that surely there must be something better than Vote Leave’s sixth-form level campaign about voting leave to Save Our NHS, doing some research of their own and finding that the solution was there all along in the form of the Norway Option.

There certainly now exists a wealth of independent research and writing advocating for the Norway Option as an interim staging post on the journey out of the European Union, and for the general principles enshrined in Flexcit. The tireless indie bloggers of The Leave Alliance can surely claim some much-deserved credit for this turn of events.

But will the eureka moments experienced by Allister Heath, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and Toby Young be enough to make a material difference to the trajectory of the campaign? It’s a tall order – unless they do really represent just the beginning of a much larger landslide of Brexit-sympathising commentariat opinion away from the clown show.

A few columns are a good start, but they are nothing compared to the incessant Vote Leave campaign commercials now playing on YouTube, exhorting British voters to leave the European Union so that well-known NHS fanatics like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove can build a brand new, state-of-the-art NHS hospital on every street corner with the money that we supposedly save.

While we should be encouraged by this positive development and seek to exploit these endorsements, it does feel rather like establishment Brexiteers, in freefall and with the ground rushing up to meet them, have finally remembered to pull their parachute cord a mere hundred feet from the surface.

Action at this late stage is unlikely to significantly slow our descent, and our slim hopes of survival rest either in having our fall arrested by the branches of a major anti-establishment backlash, or by landing in the soft, distasteful swamp of stronger than expected anti-immigration sentiment.

Victory for the Leave camp is not yet impossible – all the more reason to keep fighting – but having waited so late to even begin to publicly embrace any kind of Brexit plan, neither is our fate squarely in our own hands.

 

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The National Security Implications Of Failing To Support The Steel Industry

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With so many other glaring weaknesses in Britain’s national security infrastructure, does the loss of domestic steel production really matter?

While everybody rends their garments about the threatened closure of Tata plants and other steelworks around the country, many commentators – from both ends of the political spectrum – are touching on the national security implications of failing to support our steel industry.

Arguing in favour of government intervention to support the British steel industry, the Daily Mirror quotes Labour MP Dan Jarvis:

The steel sector crisis rocking Britain could put our national security at risk, a top Labour MP has warned.

In a boost for the Daily Mirror’s Save Our Steel campaign, Dan Jarvis will tell the annual State of the North conference of the dangers of closing major plants.

“It undermines our freedom and our influence if we become overly reliant on other countries for essential resources that we will need in the future,” he will say.

“Deciding whether we preserve some of the best coke ovens and the largest blast furnaces in our country has implications for our national security as well as our future prosperity.”

While from the other side, Allister Heath writes in the Telegraph:

Then there are the strategic and military dimensions. There may one day be another major war, or a large emerging nation could go rogue. But we cannot run Britain on a war footing. The Government should engage in contingency planning: it could stockpile steel, or even set up a couple of mothballed plants. None of this is any justification for nationalising unviable businesses.

But how much of a hammer blow to Britain’s independent warmaking (or defensive) capability would the closure of our remaining steel plants actually be?

The argument in favour of retaining significant steelmaking capacity is that we might need it in case of urgent re-armament or replenishment of lost military hardware. But the lead time for the construction of a Type 45 destroyer is 3 years – compared to one year for the groundbreaking HMS Dreadnought in 1906 and thirteen months for the famous HMS Belfast in 1938. While the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible was built in seven years during the 1970s, HMS Queen Elizabeth – first of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers – will have been in production and trials for eleven years before finally becoming operationally ready in 2020.

If we found ourselves facing a dire security or military threat requiring additional naval ships, besides directing our ire at David Cameron – who has presided over a shameful degradation of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet – Britain would have little choice but to attempt to buy the requisite ships from a foreign navy (who may or may not be willing to sell to us). The lead time for commissioning a modern advanced warship is now so long that most conflagrations would be over by the time new ships were completed. And all the time they were under construction, the shipyards – and steelworks, and any other supporting industry – building them would be vulnerable to sabotage from within and aerial attack from without.

In other words, the days when we could melt down iron railings and salvage bits of scrap material to aid the war effort or rush produce a battleship in eleven months are over (to the limited extent that they existed at all). In any future major war, Britain will effectively go to war with the hardware it has available at the time, with little prospect of rapid re-armament – which is why we should all be concerned about this supposedly Conservative government’s failure to prioritise defence spending.

And it’s not just steel. Britain has almost no domestic supply of the rare earth minerals which are needed to manufacture the computer components which go into everything from vehicles, weapons and medical equipment. Sure, the government could keep stockpiles – though our government is too woefully inept to do so. But where does it end? When so many goods are the product of a disaggregated global supply chain, what do you insist is produced locally?

These are not easy questions to answer. But in answering them, policymakers have an obligation to delve deeper than the very two-dimensional “steelwork closures will mean that Britain is no longer a military power” level of debate we are getting so far. And they have an obligation – not that they are likely to fulfil it – to be honest with the public about the trade-offs which guide such decisions.

As it happens, this blog would like to see more critical national security infrastructure brought back under British control – energy independence for a start, and a strengthened military with a Royal Navy befitting a powerful island trading nation. But so far, I have yet to be convinced by anyone that the loss of domestic steel production weakens us as a country any more than the many other inevitable global interdependencies which undergird our ability to make war – never mind the Conservative government’s reckless vandalism of the armed forces, which was utterly avoidable.

And so I put this out there to those with strong opinions backed up by detailed knowledge: from a national security standpoint, with so many other glaring (and often recently self-inflicted) weaknesses in our national security infrastructure, does the potential loss of our remaining domestic steel production capacity really matter?

 

Postscript:

This is not to say there should not be some type of government intervention to delay the steelworks closures or mitigate their effects. Surely one of the lessons learned from Thatcherism is that no matter how essential industrial and economic realignment may be for long-term success, simply expecting people (particularly a coddled British population used to being helped by the government) to brush themselves off and start lucrative new careers after being made redundant is callous and wildly overoptimistic. The word “Tory” is still utterly toxic in some communities, over thirty years later, and we must avoid making it even worse.

People have no right to demand that the state (i.e. their taxpaying neighbours) permanently subsidise the loss-making industry which gives them employment, but we should provide those affected with transitional support through re-training and educational grants to equip workers with more lucrative skills. Failing to do so, either out of bumbling incompetence (David Cameron and Sajid Javid) or rigid ideology will only create more negative consequences of social deprivation and regional dereliction, which is morally wrong as well as more expensive in the long term.

This piece in Conservative Home explains the consequences of failing to provide such transitional support, and the advantages of doing so.

 

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Cameron The Weakling

David Cameron thinks that publicly exaggerating and flaunting Britain’s supposed weakness and vulnerability will make people vote to stay in the European Union, while having no impact on perceptions of his own leadership

We have already been treated to the spectacle of our wobbly-lipped Foreign Secretary insinuating that he is so inept at managing our foreign relations and defending Britain’s interests that we would likely be “punished” by our European friends if we voted to leave the EU.

And now it is David Cameron’s turn to make an ostentatious public spectacle of just how weak and insignificant he believes we are as a country, and how hopelessly unable to defend the British interest he is.

From Michael Deacon’s sketch in the Telegraph:

Francois Hollande, the President of France, respects the British people. He respects their democratic right to choose how they wish to be governed. He would never wish to put pressure on them. And if, when the referendum comes, they decide that the UK should leave the EU, he will respect their decision.

But, he added casually, there would of course be… “consequences”.

He said the word many times. “Consequences.” There would be “consequences” relating to trade, “consequences” relating to immigration. “Consequences?” Oh, he was “unable to deny” there would be “consequences”.

Was it true, asked a journalist, that if the UK left the EU, France would abandon the deal that helps stop migrants crossing illegally from Calais to Britain?

Monsieur Hollande looked at the journalist equably. Well, he replied. Naturally there would be “consequences”.

All of this took place while our prime minister stood limply next to the French president at his podium, as though French special forces had kidnapped Samantha and the kids and were holding them at gunpoint in the background.

At what point does the dirge-like, pessimistic drivel offered up by the Remain campaign and spouted ceaselessly by loyal government ministers stop making the public question whether Brexit is safe, and start making them question why the hell we pay these people if not to aggressively defend our own national interest?

Not to get all Land of Hope and Glory here, but Britain is still a reasonably big deal in the world. A major economic power, the premier European military power and one of a handful of countries in the world with real expeditionary capabilities, and a cultural reach probably second only to the United States. Most British people know this, and do not buy into the miserablist, declinist view of Britain peddled by so many in the Remain camp.

David Cameron has clearly made a calculation that talking about the catastrophic consequences of Brexit on the United Kingdom will scare up a significant number of votes and thus undermine the Leave campaigns. Never mind that it makes him look like a liar for having previously suggested that he might recommend Brexit if he was not successful in securing his pitiful package of “reforms”. And never mind the galling spectacle of a British prime minister actively and passionately running down his own country for electoral advantage.

Allister Heath picks up on this same theme in the Telegraph:

But the Government and many of its anti-Brexit allies have gone too far: instead of carefully stoking the public’s understandable fear of change, and planting doubt in its mind, they have decided to wildly exaggerate the downsides of leaving. The hit to the economy could be greater than that from the Great Recession, we are told by some hysterical economists, and even that best-selling children’s books would no longer be written because, apparently, no non-British authors or illustrators would be allowed into the UK if we were not part of the EU.

These and many other of the similarly extreme claims that have been made in recent days are laughably implausible, even to nervous, swing voters; fear is only effective as a political strategy if it is credible. Even worse for the Government, it has also allowed a toxic narrative to set in: the idea that it would be powerless to stand up for Britain’s interests and look after our economy in the event of a Leave vote.

It’s all rather pathetic and defeatist. It would be too hard and time-consuming to conclude alternative trade deals, we are warned, and we apparently don’t have the requisite skills in the Foreign Office; there is nothing anybody could do to stop our companies, consumers and tourists being bullied and victimised by vindictive foreign governments; and we would be bulldozed by the angry bureaucrats of Brussels wherever we turn. Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, has claimed that British expats living in Europe would risk “becoming illegal immigrants overnight”, even though their status would in fact be protected under the Vienna Convention of 1969.

Project White Flag, as we should learn to call it, boils down to one long stream of nauseating, miserable, declinist negativity. Alarm bells ought to be going off in Downing Street: politicians don’t win elections or referenda by pretending to be weak and powerless, and by claiming to be at the mercy of foreign governments.

As this blog has repeatedly stated, the Remain campaign need to make up their minds. Is the EU a soft and friendly club of countries getting together to braid each other’s hair and co-operate on a range of mutually beneficial issues, or is it a snarling, angry organisation which threatens to rough us up if we attempt to leave? Are we in a happy marriage with the EU, or an abusive relationship?

And we British citizens also need to make up our minds about something. We need to decide why we should continue to tolerate having in office a prime minister, foreign secretary and other elected officials who hold our country in lower estimation than many of their own citizens, and who – by their own admission – have stated that they would be unable to aggressively defend our national interest in the event of Brexit.

Because we are rapidly reaching the point where the public may start to question the point of keeping a pampered man and his family installed in Number 10 Downing Street at all,  when all he does is openly boast about his inability to influence other nations and stand up for Britain.

 

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Cameron’s EU Deal: An Establishment Stitch-up, But The Fight Goes On

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What cause for hope?

I have refrained thus far from commenting on the outcome of David Cameron’s pitiful re-upholstering of the status quo when it comes to our membership of the European Union.

Suffice it to say – for now – that it does not feel tremendously good to live in a country where the prime minister is actively engaged in manoeuvres to hoodwink, short-change and circumvent the people he is supposed to represent.

Oh, of course Tony Blair or Gordon Brown would have done the same thing, fudging the debate, spinning non-existent concessions into giant victories and generally taking us for fools. But history gave David Cameron the torch of liberty to stub out, and so most of my anger remains directed at the man who prances around falsely calling himself a conservative.

But more than any one single betrayal, what is most disheartening for Brexiteers is the constant drip-drip of defections, compromises and unfriendly fire coming from within the supposedly eurosceptic segment of the Westminster elite. I never thought for a moment that David Cameron was anything other than a fully paid-up europhile and an eager servant of Brussels; his treachery stings my sense of honour and democratic sensibilities, but it was in no way surprising. I had factored the government and the media unfairly tilting the scales from the start – their antics do not wound.

What does hurt are the smaller, incessant letdowns inflicted on our side since David Cameron won his unexpected majority last May and offered the referendum through gritted teeth. What hurts are all of the members of the Conservative eurosceptic aristocracy – people like Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, some (though not all) of whom I once respected – whose professed commitment to British sovereignty and self-determination has mysteriously gone AWOL now that eurosceptic words must be matched with deeds.

What hurts are the other high-profile eurosceptics – including some, like Nigel Farage, without whose courage and tenacity we would not be having this referendum in the first place – who it turns out had barely given a thought to how Brexit might actually happen, how it should best take place and what a post-Brexit Britain might look like in one, two, five, ten and twenty years’ time. And what hurts is when these unexpectedly ignorant people spread false platitudes and easily-debunked talking points among their large online followings.

Our only hope is that the majority of Britons have not yet fully tuned in to the debate. While we in the bubble and the Twittersphere feel every ebb and flow of online sentiment, there are many, many more who have not been paying attention and whose first main newsflash of the year will have consisted of David Cameron receiving an all-round roasting for failing to stand his ground in his negotiations with the EU. This may yet work in our favour.

This leads me to perhaps the most simultaneously cathartic and infuriating article yet written about David Cameron’s underwhelming “new deal” with the EU, by Allister Heath in the Telegraph.

Heath begins well enough:

It is at times like these that even people of a conservative disposition begin to rage against our establishment. We are all used to stitch-ups from the political class, but the closing of ranks around the European question is breathtaking in its scope and scale.

In five months’ time, we will be asked to make a historic decision about who governs us, and how; the outcome could be of far greater importance than most general elections. The Prime Minister’s renegotiation has failed to nudge the dial by even one millimetre, and it’s likely that at least 40 per cent of the public, more than voted Tory in May, will end up backing Brexit. It’s therefore still conceivable, just, that a majority will vote to leave, sending shockwaves around the world. And yet these people – millions and millions of them, and by all accounts a majority of Tory voters – have been almost completely abandoned by an establishment which now refuses to represent their views.

How can that be right? And how can it be good for our political institutions for such a large proportion of the electorate to feel ignored or even despised by those supposedly elected to represent them?

Indeed. It is bitterly ironic that at a time when Britain’s left wing finally have in Jeremy Corbyn a leader who (regardless of his electoral viability) makes them excited to get out of bed in the morning, conservatives are landed with an arrogant centrist who believes in nothing and quite probably laughs at their expense every time he disappoints them by tacking further to the supposed middle. And this betrayal is evident nowhere more so than on the subject of Europe, where the Tory leadership only rediscovered their respect for eurosceptics when the rise of UKIP in 2014/2015 raised the prospect of mass defections.

It was not good when a near-unanimous political consensus refused to talk about immigration and reflect the genuine concerns and fears of the British people – and this craven refusal to have an honest discussion with the British people led in no small part to the rise of UKIP. Nobody really says it, but it is not good when there is a cross-party consensus in favour of preserving the NHS in aspic rather than asking anew how best to deliver healthcare in the twenty-first century. That kind of lazy self-satisfaction leads us to crow about the fact that Britain is the best place in the world to die, while failing to question why we are not the best country if you actually want to recover from illness or injury. And it is not good when a stultifying political consensus conspires to keep Britain inside the European Union at any expense.

Heath goes on to make the not unreasonable point that the British establishment’s relative pragmatism might in fact handle Brexit rather well, ensuring that Britain remained open and tolerant where a similar seismic event taking place in (say) France could have far worse ramifications:

The establishment is wrong about the EU, but it’s not wrong about everything. Its interests and beliefs, by and large, are pro-globalisation, supportive of property rights and of the rule of law; its power and determination has helped ensure that we have stuck with these broad principles regardless of who has been in power. By the standards even of much of the developed world, it is astonishingly uncorrupt. Its instincts are far superior to those of many other ruling elites: the French equivalent, for example, is far more detached from reality, immeasurably more statist and doesn’t really grasp market economics.

If Britain were to vote to leave the EU, our establishment would make sure that we remained an island of economic liberalism, at least relatively speaking, and a safe haven for capital and talent; by contrast, France would embrace hard-Left economics and protectionism were it to leave.

Brexit is thus far less risky than its opponents would have us believe. We would remain fully engaged in trade and the international economy, even if treaties would change. Our elite’s power, its ability to absorb political change and its adaptability would ensure that it soon turned a Leave vote to its advantage, just as it always makes the most of all periods of intense change.

Again, no real argument here. Self-serving as all elites are by definition, the British establishment is far less insular than many others.

But here is where Heath loses (and infuriates) me. Having condemned the arrogant behaviour of David Cameron and his rootless Conservative Party, and railed against the establishment stitch-up currently in progress, Heath concludes:

As soon as we were to vote Leave, the establishment would go into overdrive to regain control of the changed reality. A new deal with the EU would be cobbled together; we would be given some sort of associate membership, a much looser relationship that allowed the EU to pretend to the outside world that it wasn’t disintegrating. The electorate would buy it in a second referendum: having showed who is really in charge, its anger would have been satiated. The EU would have no choice: its negotiating position is far weaker than we generally realise.

In the same way that the House of Lords is still full of barons, even though most of the aristocrats have left, or that the Church of England remains our established church, despite having become largely irrelevant, our relationship with the EU would have changed radically yet everything would still look the same when it came to trade or travel. Some hardcore Eurosceptics would be angry, but it would be a very British compromise. If we vote to leave, against the wishes of the establishment, we can surely count on it to pick up the pieces and help make the new order work.

Having displayed such seemingly strong eurosceptic credentials throughout the piece, why does Heath then pivot to making a plug for “associate membership” to be formally agreed in a second referendum? Why reintroduce these two half-baked ideas from the past into the present discourse? Have we not comprehensively proven that associate membership of the EU is a misleading scam?

Where Allister Heath is absolutely correct, though, is when he describes the way in which senior figures from the establishment are “closing ranks” on the question of Europe, and when he highlights the sheer duplicity of those politicians who built comfortable little careers on the back of their professed euroscepticism only to embrace party conformity when it matters most.

I don’t see it ending well. And I think that David Cameron and the Conservative Party could come to regret the betrayal of their more eurosceptic party base even more than Nick Clegg must have regretted his famous pledge not to raise university tuition fees.

What David Cameron & co fail to realise is that the reason people “bang on” about Europe is because it is absolutely central now to our governance and what’s left of our democracy. An awful lot rides on the outcome of this EU referendum, and will have potentially profound consequences for how Britain and the world trade and co-operate in future. If we find this subject fascinating, it does not make us cranks and obsessives, as we are often sneeringly dismissed – rather, it makes us informed and conscientious citizens.

Pete North concurs:

If by now you don’t have a quietly burning loathing of the media, the political class and the polite society that rules the roost then you’re just not paying attention. If the fact that every corrupt corporate, every subsidy sucker, rent-seeker and grant chaser is now shilling for Brussels doesn’t offend you, then nothing will. Quite simply you are happy to be taken for a fool and used as a cash cow. So too are you content to be managed like cattle rather than considered as a sentient, participating citizen with hopes, dreams and ambitions.

If by now you are not seeing through the veneer of corporate and state propaganda like a pair of x-ray glasses from They Live then there is absolutely no hope for you at all. If by now you think the EU is a democracy and it responds to the wishes of the people of Europe then you’re on another planet. If you think these MEPs and policy wonks are in it for anybody but themselves, feathering their own nests, stroking their own egos and building their own delusional little empires, then you are quite, quite mad.

Conservative eurosceptics have a long memory, and will not soon forget this betrayal by David Cameron. Assuming that the combined forces of David Cameron’s bully pulpit, extensive Brussels funding of the Remain camp and the failure of Brexit supporters (thus far) to read and assimilate the only Brexit plan which stands up to rigorous scrutiny, Cameron remains on course to triumph in the referendum. But spurned local Conservative associations and individual party members will extract a heavy price.

Tory activists may either defect en masse to a reconstituted UKIP or simply stay home on polling day. And who could blame them, considering the way in which they have been treated by David Cameron? Not only could the Conservative Party end up splitting amid partisan rancour (caused by europhile Tory ministers and MPs being given license to campaign freely while those supporting Brexit are sorely constrained), a diminished Tory party could see a left-wing coalition of Labour and assorted socialist chums slip past them and back into power.

But right now, it still feels as though a piece of the puzzle is missing. Cameron’s “deal” appears far too weak, and my mind cannot help but speculate that there will be some long-ago decided but as-yet unannounced additional rabbit pulled from the hat to sweeten the deal, assuming that David Cameron is able to win unanimous support at the coming EU summit later this month.

The Brexit Door is of the same view:

So the deal has been announced and the press and other media outlets have had their first run at the news. It hasn’t been the overwhelmingly positive response that maybe Mr Tusk and Mr Cameron had been looking for.

That leads me to believe that there must be a rabbit somewhere, waiting to be pulled from the hat. Because it’s either that, or Cameron is going to ride roughshod over the Electoral Commission’s advice about the shape and timing of the process for both designation and the campaign itself and go for June 23. His primary motive would be to give the Leave campaign as little time as possible from designation to vote – because he knows that the fight for the ‘Leave’ designation is incredibly important and has been so far taking up a lot of our energies.

One thing is becoming clear to me – the pathway to victory in this referendum is terrifyingly narrow. And it will be won or lost depending on whether Brexiteers can leverage the fact that nearly everybody in the British political establishment has come out in support of staying in the European Union.

Yes, having a proper plan and strategy for Brexit is important. Flexcit is important. But with nearly every authoritative voice in Britain about to begin earnestly intoning the many benefits of Brussels, our most potent weapon may be the British people’s strong sense of fair play, and their likely discomfort at seeing the Leave campaign being outspent, outmanoeuvred, outgunned and shouted down. We have been weak and ineffectual enough thus far – so we may as well ham it up for the cameras and work to build the narrative that this referendum is in fact The Establishment vs The People.

We must turn our current weakness – and it is a great weakness indeed – into our strength. That is the only prospect for victory that I can see right now. That is the only light at the end of the tunnel.

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