People Don’t Want Theresa May To Emote, They Just Want Her To Lead

Theresa May - Grenfell Tower fire - London Fire Brigade

Not the “Princess Diana Effect”

Sadly, Brendan O’Neill has jumped on the Theresa May apologist bandwagon, mocking the prime minister’s critics for supposedly demanding that she “perform” for us, wearing her emotions on her sleeve as she weeps with the survivors and bereaved relatives of the Grenfell Tower fire victims.

Apparently by criticising the prime minister’s slow, tone-deaf response to the tragedy and its aftermath we are behaving like a baying mob seeking emotional catharsis rather than concerned citizens with legitimate fears about the quality of leadership that Theresa May is providing. But this is to misunderstand the nature of the public anger directed at the prime minister, and assumes that the hard left socialist agitators who shout the loudest are somehow representative of all of May’s critics. They are not.

O’Neill writes:

Do people want Theresa May to weep in public? Allow herself to be pelted with rotten fruit? Make herself available for cries of “murderer” even though it’s ridiculous for her to be accused of murder? What if it isn’t in her nature to show her feelings to strangers — should she still do it? For the good of the nation? I’m finding this climate of emotional retribution quite ugly, I must say. The public’s urgent questions and anger over Grenfell are being channelled by some into a narrow, cartoonish anti-Toryism designed to hurt May and help Labour. To refight the General Election on the ruins of this building strikes me as a far more callous thing than May’s inability to emote for the cameras.

Ross Clark jumps to the same baseless and rather condescending conclusion (those silly plebs want to see emotion, but we enlightened people are above such base considerations as whether or not the prime minister can act like a real leader in public) over at the Spectator:

If she still hasn’t got the message, it is this:  you are expected, Mrs May, to go and blub before the cameras. You are expected to hug, to hold and say that you share everyone’s pain, that you will not rest until you can make sure that tragedies like this will never, ever be allowed to happen again. That you might have been working behind the scenes since Wednesday on an appropriate regulatory response to follow the disaster counts for nothing at all; it is just tears, please.

The idea that Theresa May is some kind of heartless creature who has not been affected by the Grenfell disaster is absurd. I have never met her, but it is quite clear from the look in her face that she is she is as shocked by the whole thing as we all are, one or two psychopaths aside. It is just that she has a very English facet of character which, until a couple of generations ago, was seen as an asset: she has an aversion to showing emotion in public.  

As a public figure in modern Britain, however, this will no longer do. What used to be called a stiff upper lip is now seen as fault, if not a disability which requires treatment. The new rules of emotional correctness demand not just that you care but that you can cry with the people.

This is asinine. I don’t think that any sane critic of Theresa May wants the prime minister to “weep in public” or “blub before the cameras”. That’s not what this is about. The problem is not Theresa May’s failure to behave like the most unhinged of Princess Diana mourners and rend her garments in front of the television cameras. The problem is her complete and utter failure to lead, at least according to any modern definition of leadership in the age of television and social media.

Would Theresa May have been subjected to angry, painful and politically awkward scenes had she gone to meet the survivors and volunteer disaster relief workers in public, the day following the fire? Of course. But as a leader, you suck it up. Even if the people heckle, you show up and let the victims of Britain’s worst fire since the Second World War know that their plight and their concerns are receiving the direct and personal attention of the head of government.

It isn’t that a prime ministerial visit would make much of a tangible difference to the relief efforts. But the visual would have been very powerful, and that counts for a lot when it comes to public sentiment. I wrote the other day of examples of politicians in America mucking in and helping with disaster recovery efforts as a means of showing solidarity and giving the appearance of engagement. Neglecting to do so, and then only relenting a day later and agreeing to meet the affected people in tightly controlled circumstances, away from the television cameras, is a failure of leadership plain and simple.

That’s why Theresa May has to go. Either she doesn’t realise that her behaviour has consistently fallen short of the standards expected of a 21st century leader, or she does realise but is incapable of improving her performance. And unfortunately, Brendan O’Neill has conflated his justified distaste with the way that left-wing agitators from Jeremy Corbyn on downwards have sought to exploit the tragedy for political gain with the erroneous idea that Theresa May’s lacklustre response to the crisis (and leadership in general) should therefore be immune from criticism. It shouldn’t.

Is there a cartoonish anti-Tory sentiment out there? Absolutely. I have been writing about it and criticising the left’s reduction of conservatives to two-dimensional cartoon villains more or less constantly since I started this blog in 2012. And are many of the hysterical accusations being hurled at Theresa May completely outlandish and hysterical? Yes, of course they are. But Theresa May has also opened herself to vociferous and fully justified criticism thanks entirely to her astonishing failure to lead or carry out the basic entry-level requirements of a modern head of government.

This is not the same as demanding that Theresa May “performs” or emotes for us, or leads us in some kind of cathartic national therapy session. This is about demanding that the prime minister either steps up and acts like a leader, or quits the field so that somebody else can do the job.

As a country we are drifting at the present time, and Theresa May bears the overwhelming share of responsibility for this fact. Acknowledging this fact and holding the prime minister to account for her repeated abdication of leadership does not mean validating the separate, cynical attacks of the hard left.

On the contrary, it is our duty to demand strong and effective leadership, and to refuse to settle for Theresa May’s pitiful approximation of the same.

 

Theresa May - Downing Street

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General Election 2017: Tory Apocalypse / Brexit Salvation Reax

Theresa May - Lord Buckethead

A self-inflicted catastrophe for small-C conservatives with one – potentially enormous – silver lining

Who knew that Theresa May was quite so staggeringly incompetent? I mean, we all knew that she wasn’t a real conservative, at least in the best Thatcherite traditions of the party. That much was made clear from successive party conference speeches and her idiotic manifesto’s all-out assault on the libertarian or free market wing of the party.

But her years plugging away in the Home Office and quietly manoeuvring herself into the most powerful job in the country belied the fact that as prime minister, Theresa May would be revealed as little more than a puppet manipulated by her two closest aides (also both cuckoos in the conservative nest) with almost zero reliable judgment of her own.

Through her sheer campaigning ineptitude and inability to articulate a positive conservative vision (remember how this blog kept banging on about the need for one of those?), Theresa May has allowed Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of 1970’s style socialism to regain a foothold in British politics, and for this unforgivable high crime alone she needs to be sent to political Siberia with no undue delay.

But as I made clear in my election night live-blog, Jeremy Corbyn also deserves enormous credit for improving Labour’s electoral position and enthusing so many people with socialist politics. Sure, in one sense it is easy to sway people with the promise of endless free stuff, always paid for by someone else. But as I noted a couple of weeks ago, it is still necessary to overcome voter scepticism that the promised Utopian land of plenty can actually be achieved.

Jeremy Corbyn successfully made the pitch to lots of people – or at least got them to temporarily suspend their disbelief. And he did so in the context of a still-centrist Parliamentary Labour Party which hates his guts and has been trying to undermine him since before his leadership even began, not to mention a hostile television news media which only fell into something approaching balance when election campaign rules took effect, and a pro-Tory print media which pulled out all the stops to get Theresa May over the finish line. That is no small feat.

The other major factor was the youth vote. While we still don’t actually know how many young people voted or quite to what extent they broke for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, it seems clear that the promise of free university tuition – and let’s face it, just an ounce of empathy for a generation coming of age at a time when the prospect of home ownership is more distant and potential career paths more disjointed and precarious – won the support of millions of young people.

Apparently when it comes to closing time at nightclubs, young people are spontaneously breaking into the sung refrain “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!“. The naive chant of mostly low-information voters who wear their political views more as a trendy fashion statement than a considered position? Sure. But also a demographic which Theresa May and her campaign team, in their infinite wisdom, did absolutely nothing to court.

I blogged about this in the heat of the moment on election night, and then split out my thoughts into a separate piece here. And it seems clear to me that British conservatives (I use a small C deliberately) simply cannot go on writing off the youth vote and ceding it to the parties of the Left. We have been doing so for far too long, at our peril, and now that a charismatic conviction politician (in the unlikely form of Jeremy Corbyn) has come along who can actually speak to this demographic we are totally defenceless.

And then there’s Brexit.

The one silver lining of this confused election result is that Theresa May’s stubborn insistence that “Brexit means Brexit” – by which she means that Brexit means abandoning the EEA, denying the existence of non-tariff barriers to trade, demanding a bespoke comprehensive free trade agreement within two years and threatening to walk away with no deal if the EU failed to acquiesce – may now be moderated by more sensible voices which lean toward the once-maligned “Norway Option”.

The DUP, on whose support the Conservatives must now rely to command a majority in the House of Commons and remain in government, are against a hard Brexit, as are many Tory Remainers and many small-C conservative Brexiteers across the country. While the Tory Brexit Taliban (a wonderful phrase concocted by Pete North) will kick up an almighty fuss if they sense any dilution of their maximalist approach to Brexit, suddenly it has become a lot harder to see the pathway toward that goal. Good.

Aside from these thoughts, I am still digesting the surprising election result and the potential ramifications of a new political reality with many moving parts. But below are some of the hot takes and more considered reactions which have resonated most with me in the hours since the fateful exit poll was released.

Author and blogger Paul Goldsmith rips into the Tories’ awful manifesto, the incompetence of their leadership and their small-minded, fear-based campaign:

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Theresa May’s manifesto was almost like saying ‘come on, I dare you to vote for us’. The idea that people who had worked all their lives and paid taxes and national insurance to build up a nest-egg to pass onto their children and grandchildren should run down that nest-egg to the last £100,000 to pay for care they thought was part of their social contract with the state in return for those taxes and that insurance? A return to a grammar school system that might look superficially advantageous to poorer children but with no clarity on how it wouldn’t once again abandon 75% of the population to the mental slavery of under-education? A free vote on fox hunting? A determination to insist that the ‘will of the people’ had been clearly expressed for the hardest of Brexits including withdrawal from the Single Market and customs union and immigration controls that include the preposterous 100,000 a year immigration cap?

Let’s add that to the person delivering this, it turned out, far more madcap scheme. Theresa May came across as arrogant, complacent, prickly when challenged, and downright mendacious when insisting ‘nothing had changed’ during her unprecedented manifesto u-turn on social care. Then there was the refusal to engage in TV debates. I wonder if any leader will do THAT again. Her refusal to properly involve her Cabinet in creating that manifesto left them hung out to dry when defending it, as they were reduced to constant ‘dead cat’ strategies of shouting ‘IRA’, ‘MARXIST’ and ‘TERRORIST SYMPATHIZER’ at Jeremy Corbyn, because they had so little positive to say.

Then look at what she was up against. Every night I would watch the news with Mrs G. We are not, and never will be ‘Corbynistas’, but by g-d did he look good compared to the Prime Minister. Mrs G often said it herself “every night he seems like the only person in this election who really believes what he is saying.”

This last point is particularly valid. Don’t underestimate the attraction of a political leader who (regardless of the rightness or wrongness of their policies) actually sincerely believes what they are saying, and has the courage to defend those beliefs.

When Theresa May first called this general election, I wrote a piece pondering whether Jeremy Corbyn’s likely defeat would spell the end for conviction politics altogether. How wrong I was. If anything, the Tory implosion and Corbyn’s solid showing (and the enthusiasm he has generated among many young people) have reminded us that having strong principles and the willingness to defend them can actually be attractive to voters. If only the conviction politician in this case had been on the Right rather than the Left.

Daniel Hannan, writing for the Washington Examiner, reaches for some low-hanging fruit about how young people voted for Free Stuff:

It’s true that the Conservative campaign could have been better, but that is true of every campaign in history. The prime minister, Theresa May, was criticized for calling an unnecessary election and then refusing to participate in the televised debates. But that doesn’t come close to explaining how Labour rose from 30 to 40 percent support during the campaign.

No, I’m afraid we’re down to the simplest and most depressing explanation. Quite a few voters will support any party that seems to be offering them free stuff.

Labour’s manifesto was a ridiculous list of public handouts. More money was promised for healthcare, schools, the police, public sector pay rises, pensions and free university tuition. All the extra cash was vaguely supposed to come from “big business” and “the rich.” In the event, an awful lot of people liked the sound of goodies that someone else would pay for.

The Labour vote came disproportionately from people under the age of 25, who turned out in unprecedented numbers, confounding every opinion poll. Few of voters of that generation know about the IRA bombing campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, which far surpassed today’s Islamist terror in its scale. They do not remember the Cold War. They do not even recall, except in the vaguest sense, the last Labour government which, in 2010, left Britain with a deficit higher than Greece’s.

On polling day, a Labour activist tweeted a photograph of students queuing outside a polling station. It was, she said, a sign of the political upheaval that was taking place. But my immediate thought was: “If your guy implements the socialism he wants, we’ll all have to get used to queuing.”

He’s right. The case for free markets and fiscal conservatism has to be made anew in every generation. Many of the young people who helped power Jeremy Corbyn to victory are at best dimly aware of the extent to which post-war consensus, socialist policies doomed Britain to slow and steady decline up to 1979. They didn’t experience the Winter of Discontent themselves, just as I didn’t.

But if nobody makes the case for the kind of policies which rescued Britain from near-terminal decline and which are at the root of the historic prosperity and plenty which we now enjoy, then they will take this stability and prosperity for granted, assuming that it is the baseline, the default setting. They will wrongly assume that things can only be improved by overturning conservative policies and attacking the free market, when in fact conservative economic policies and free markets underpin nearly every good thing in their lives, from the clothes they wear, the variety of food in the grocery stores where they shop to the smartphones in their hand from which they glibly re-tweet “For the many, not the few”.

Here’s Margot James, Conservative MP for Stourbridge, making a similar point in Conservative Home:

Apart from a level of debt which is unsustainable over the long term, the economy is now in good shape.  We have brought sanity to the public finances, as we promised we would. Consequently, the economy has not been to the fore when people have been deciding how to vote.  Labour have been able to latch on to this relative economic security by peddling a message that the state should provide more at every turn.

The election descended into a profligate binge over how much taxpayers’ money Labour proposed to give away: keeping the triple lock for pension increases, maintaining winter fuel payments for older people as a universal benefit, thousands more police officers (regardless whether or not they are needed, given the changing nature of crime), more money for schools, health, and social care…all this was added to the billions needed for the nationalisation of the railways and the Royal Mail. And finally, the game-changer: an end to tuition fees for higher education.

The moment I heard Labour’s policy of free university education I knew young people would turn out to vote in unprecedented numbers.  This was a policy that would deliver votes in the same way that the sale of council houses did for us during the 1980s.

At a radio hustings I took part in, we were asked what we would do for young people.  Labour was all about handouts: free higher education with no regard for how universities were to be funded, the reintroduction of housing benefit for 20 olds and an equal minimum wage.  I was a lone voice calling for improving opportunities for young people to gain skills, start businesses, and access better jobs brought about by encouraging investment.

Paul Goldsmith picked up on this point, too:

Many right-wing commentators have pointed out that all Jeremy Corbyn was doing was bribing people with other peoples’ money. One said that the election could be summed up in six words: ‘young people vote for free stuff’. Yes, there is an argument for both. But this is why it was incumbent upon Theresa May and the few people she takes advice from to present an optimistic picture of the benefits of the free market, or maybe stepped back, considered that if you keep on cutting spending per pupil in education the country will pay the price for generations, and changed course in a way that stays true to the now normal Conservative consensus that instead of spending a load of money to manage demand, money should go towards increasing productivity and supply, and demand will take care of itself.

But no. Instead we got the cowardice of fear. Fear of proper debate, fear of the demands of those on the Eurosceptic right who  will not stand for a single penny going to the EU and who insist with no justification that the world will simply dance to our tune, and fear of antagonising those who fund her party. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn offered the audacity of hope, a hope that economic theory might be turned on its head, a hope that people who would be milked for money would turn it over quietly, but more importantly a hope that no-one in this rich country will live in desperation anymore.

It is astonishing, the degree to which the Conservative Party fought the election and generally structured its messaging according to the terms of the socialist Left. Restraining the growth of the state has continually been portrayed as a regrettable necessity rather than a good thing in itself. And that’s when certain ex-advisers who shall not be named (cough, Nick Timothy) were not busy advocating an even more activist role for the state altogether.

When you start speaking in the other side’s tone of voice, using their turns of phrase and echoing their agenda (Theresa May’s first act as PM was to stand on the steps of 10 Downing Street and talk about how government could help the “Just About Managing” rather than getting out of the way and lowering their tax burden) then you legitimise their arguments. If you concede that it is the job of an activist, paternalist state to help everybody by shovelling benefits in their direction and artificially limiting their choices, why would anybody vote for the Tories when Labour promise to do the job so much more enthusiastically?

Sam Bowman, of the Adam Smith Institute, is not in a forgiving mood:

The Tories did so badly in part because they did not give people a reason to vote for them; in part because they doubled down on a hard Brexit strategy; in part because they neglected and even attacked their own base. For many years they and almost everybody else have totally failed to make a broad-brush case for free markets, with the honourable exception of a few think tanks and newspaper columnists. With that in mind, why is it surprising that someone who despises markets is so popular? How good the moderate and coherent Osborne brand of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism now looks.

[..] The Tories did not offer anything to voters or to their own supporters. A free market manifesto could have energised Tory campaigners and candidates who would have had a reason to go to bat for May when she stumbled. It could have included policies that would have been popular with voters, like stamp duty and inheritance tax cuts, or ways of unlocking more infrastructure investment, that could have been sold on the doorstep as a reason to vote for them if you didn’t like them on Brexit. Fox hunting doesn’t count.

[..] Virtually no time at all was spent on the economy. What a colossal mistake. Many people’s incomes are the same in real terms as they were ten years ago, which is unprecedented. It was insane to ignore this and not to offer policies that might have boosted investment (chronically low in Britain by international standards) and people’s wages. All we got was a crude parody of continental European industrial policy, which in practice meant hectoring firms about worker representation on their boards and baseless claims about price gouging. What good is a polling lead on the economy for a right-wing party if you’re only interested in talking about business to attack it?

The Conservatives could have had a powerful and, to their base, exciting election platform. More homes, more investment, and better infrastructure could all have been delivered through smart, density-focused planning reforms, by restoring capital allowances in the corporation tax and cutting the part of business rates that falls on property investment, and by allowing local government to finance new infrastructure from private investment.

These ideas are free market to the core but are about fixing the problems that ordinary people have. Standing for free market conservatism does not mean having to be a dogmatic ideologue — something May and her team never understood.

Over on Facebook, Brendan O’Neill – who does himself no favours with his strident insistence that his is the only One True Brexit – does make some good points, first about the nature of the current Labour Party:

As more election number-crunching is carried out, it’s becoming clear that the Tories and Labour now play entirely different roles to the ones they played just 20 or 30 years ago.

The first thing that’s becoming clear is that people have overstated the extent to which Labour won over Leave voters. According to Lord Ashcroft’s exhaustive national survey, 60 per cent of Leavers voted for the Tories and only 25 per cent voted for Labour. John Curtice, the BBC’s key number-cruncher, reports that the biggest swings to the Tories were in Leave areas, while it was in “seats which voted Remain last year [that] Labour pulled off some of its best performances”. This means the Tories had huge swings in very poor areas like Boston and Skegness and working-class areas like Bolsover — which are Leave areas — while Labour made enormous gains in Hampstead, Kensington and Canterbury, which are Remain areas and / or well-off areas. The Tories made inroads with the poor, Labour made gains among the posh. This is fascinating.

More number-crunching is needed, but two things are becoming clear. 1) The idea that the Brexit issue or the Brexit divide has gone away is a fantasy. It merely takes a different form now, with Leave largely orientating around the Tories and Remain around Labour. Ashcroft says 68 per cent of Tory voters are Leavers and 64 per cent of Labour voters are Remainers. That is extraordinary. It’s the divide of our time, and we shouldn’t deny that. And 2) Labour, even led by Corbyn, is not a party of the working class. In fact it is becoming something else. It is morphing, or at least might morph, into being a party of the middle class that wants to *keep in check* working-class anger with institutions like the EU. Let that sink in. And let’s see what happens next.

And:

Okay, the wild Labour celebrations are getting weird now. Labour didn’t win. Even against grey, dull, U-turning May — the worst Tory leader of my lifetime, by far — it didn’t win. It is testament to Labour’s low ambitions that it is getting so excited about this. This is clearly a party that never expects to be in government again and must therefore welcome upward blips and handfuls of gains as the best it can get, proof it still has a pulse.

I also agree with O’Neill on the excessive celebration of the youth vote, as though their participation in the democratic process is somehow more valuable than that of older voters:

The message we’ve been bombarded with since Brexit and the Corbyn surge is that when the old vote, everything goes to shit, and the sooner these selfish, nostalgic bastards die, the better; but when the young vote, it’s all milk and honey and roses and light, and the sooner this fresh, caring generation takes over society, the better. The old are demonised, the young sacralised, giving rise to what must surely be one of the nastiest divides in our society right now. I can’t get behind the enthusiasm for the youth vote, I’m afraid, because much of it seems to me to be driven by a culture-war sense of entitlement against the apparently unfeeling, uneducated elderly. The culture war has come to the ballot box.

Now of course we should celebrate when a normally apathetic demographic group actually turns out to vote, but there is a worrying narrative building of young people, furious at having had their “futures taken away” by the selfish Leave votes of older people, finally striking back by supporting Jeremy Corbyn.

As well as being false, this is highly offensive. As though old people – many of whom sacrificed and laboured to give their EU-supporting kids the best possible chances in life – were not thinking about their children’s futures when they voted for Brexit, and as though young people – literally members of generation Me Me Me, consumerists who struggled to frame the EU referendum debate in terms other than what it meant for them and their own travel opportunities, love lives, mobile roaming charges etc. – were high-mindedly voting for the good of society and the future of our democracy. I have no time for this sanctimonious, false narrative, and it is good to see O’Neill also forcefully pushing back.

Turning to Brexit, here’s Pete North, angrily rebutting those who continue to fatuously declare that “the people” voted only for their specific, idiotic brand of Brexit:

As to the assertion that remaining in the single market is not leaving the EU, this is a zombie argument used by liars. The single market as it stands now is a collaborative venture between the EU and Efta states – and Norway etc only adopt about one in five EU rules by way of a system of co-determination – laws which we will likely have to adopt even if we left the single market – but without any means of disputing council decisions. Not least since many of them are rooted in global conventions.

I won’t go into the gory details because I will revisit these issues in the near future. The point of this post is simply to say that leavers do not get to call the shots on how we depart. They were given that opportunity over a year ago and declined the opportunity. It is therefore up to all of us to debate. Democracy is a continuum and though the decision to leave may well be sacrosanct the mode of departure still hangs in the balance and there is everything to play for.

You probably already know my views on this. There is no economic gain or utility in terms of sovereignty from leaving the single market. The main objective and the the single most important one is that we end political union with the EU and an off the shelf treaty is the fastest and safest path to that outcome. The rest can be sorted out later and revisited by way of EEA review.

There is no scenario where we don’t have to make compromises and fetishising sovereignty for its own sake is pointless since absolute sovereignty no longer exists unless you’re a regulatory superpower like China or the USA. Diverging from the existing regime brings us no efficiencies and comes at the cost of European trade. That was a tough pill to swallow for me being a long standing critic of EU regulation – but that is the reality of it nonetheless.

[..] In that regard do not let anyone tell you the debate is settled or let them interpret the result of the election for you. The question of how we leave has always been open ended and there is every reason to get involved. Plenty of people want to close down the debate by telling lies. The usual suspects. I’m not standing for it and this ain’t over til it’s over. The fight over Britain’s destiny did not end in June last year. The referendum was only the beginning and hardline leavers do not own this debate.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker can’t believe our good fortune in having inadvertently steered a course between two dangerous options (Corbynite socialism and Mayite Brexit illiteracy) with the electorate’s inconclusive verdict:

After a very short night, I was woken before 8am on Friday by a call from my son Nick, 5,000 miles away in India, who had been following the drama 8,000 feet up in the Himalayan foothills. “This is yet another amazing tribute,” he said, “to the unconscious political genius of the British people. They have somehow managed to steer between the Scylla of Corbyn’s suicidal economic illiteracy and the Charybdis of Mrs May’s hard Brexit.”

“She will only be able to govern with the support of 10 Northern Irish MPs who insist that we must keep a ‘frictionless border’ with Ireland and the 13 Scottish Tories who, with Ruth Davidson, are equally insistent that we must somehow remain free to trade in the single market. That is brilliant for the Union, because both Northern Ireland and Scotland are crucial to her survival.

“With all the other parties also somehow committed to staying in the European market, plus many of the less reckless Tories, that means that it will be extremely difficult for her to press on with her hard-Brexit, ‘walk away without a deal’ line. “I am now more optimistic about Britain’s future”, Nick concluded, “than I have been for a long time.” Many of my readers, I know, will be shocked, if not surprised, to hear that I agree with him.

Booker’s son is not wrong – and this is what makes the election result so bittersweet from my own perspective. Anything that moderates the nature of Brexit and injects some light rather than heat into the debate is clearly a good thing. But Theresa May has led the Conservative Party to a very bad place, perilously close to defeat, and there is no guarantee that either she or her replacement will learn the correct lessons.

The danger is that the Tories, rather than rediscovering their ideological backbone and making the case for free markets and a less activist state to the people, instead now join Labour in a full-on race to the political left, which would be devastating for conservatism as a whole as well as being a competition which the Right can simply never win. Must the price for Brexit be the shifting of the Overton window ten degrees back toward the Corbynite Left? It looks increasingly as though this may be the case.

Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman looks at the mechanics of the Conservative Party’s current predicament:

Better by far, say the wise old owls, to hang on.  An arrangement with the DUP would give the new Government a majority, they say.  There is no prospect of a no confidence vote succeeding.  And May can find shelter behind our old friend, the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.  Maybe she should see the Brexit talks through, some muse, and then depart with the thanks of a grateful nation.

Perhaps the old birds are right.  But this site is nagged by the uncomfortable feeling that they may be failing to see the wood for the trees.  May won the biggest Tory share of the vote since Margaret Thatcher, but the landslide she anticipated did not take place.  Voters seem to have mulled her refusal to level with them over social care, her reluctance to debate, her lack of ease with campaigning and engagement – and, having weighed her in the balance, found her wanting.  It is not certain that she has the flexibility and adaptability to share power with her Cabinet and Party and Parliament, as she must now do to survive.

It is all very well to take refuge behind fixed terms plus hope in the DUP.  David Cameron had a majority, and his government was crippled by rebellions.  May was at mercy of the Commons even before the election: remember the Budget and national insurance?  Conservative MPs may not yet have grasped that we face the possibility of five years of a Do Nothing Government – with all that this implies for the proper management of the country’s finances.  On paper, such an administration may be able to stagger on – at the mercy of tide and chance, with a Party leader vulnerable at any moment to a leadership challenge via letters to Graham Brady.  But in practice?

No, Theresa May needs to go now. None of the pieces I have read since that exit poll came out have convinced me otherwise, well argued though some of them are. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter that none of the likely options to replace her are any better (and Pete North forcefully explains why this is the case). The key is that the contenders could hardly be any worse, either in their zeal for a particularly destructive form of Brexit with almost no real thinking behind it, or in their dubious commitment to free markets and restraining the size of the state. And recall, May’s successor will be equally constrained in their Brexit approach by parliamentary arithmetic, so there is no need to keep May around for fear of a more hardline approach to Brexit.

Theresa May needs to go because she single-handedly destroyed her own authority, not just within her party or the country at large, but on the world stage too. These are momentous times, and with the metro-Left political elites of most countries currently scoffing at Britain for supposedly relegating ourselves from the ranks of serious countries by voting for Brexit, we need a strong, charismatic leader who is capable of going toe to toe with Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump. Not a weak supplicant caretaker PM whose permission to continue representing us is extended only one day or one week at a time.

Perception matters, and right now Theresa May is correctly perceived as a loser with no authority. Better to make the change now, even if it means enduring five more years of aggrieved leftists who don’t understand how our system of government works (or make any effort to change it) moaning about another unelected Tory prime minister. Better to make the switch now rather than changing horses midstream in the middle of Brexit negotiations. And while whoever replaces Theresa May will probably be just as, uh, problematic from a conservative viewpoint, we should compensate by using the turmoil to finally promote some of the more Thatcherite, liberty-minded backbenchers – the likes of James Cleverly or Kwasi Kwarteng – to cabinet positions so that next time around we have a better talent pool to fish in.

The only problem is that by the time of the next general election, the Tories will have been in government (mostly in coalition / confidence and supply agreement, but also alone) for the past seven-plus years. The window for making radical changes to the way the country operates, tantalisingly opened after the Great Recession but stymied by David Cameron’s failure to win an outright majority against Gordon Brown, will have fully closed again. How many political parties or administrations can you think of which suddenly burst to life with original ideas and bold new policies 7+ years after first coming to power? Surely none. Anything radical must happen at the beginning, before the impetus wears off, steady state sets in and the people ultimately tire of the party of government and demand a change.

Regrettably, the Tories have wasted their years of potential firstly in coalition with the LibDems, then alone after the 2015 victory and now in some still-to-be-decided arrangement with the DUP, and accomplished very little save holding the EU referendum which gave us Brexit and presiding over a reduction (but not eradication) of the budget deficit. It is now quite possible that we must soon suffer through some form of left-wing government – perhaps a progressive alliance of the childlike Left, though who can now put it past Jeremy Corbyn to secure a majority of his own if May’s government falls? – before the Tories can then return once again to fix or limit the damage.

And yet in mitigation of this depressing fact, there is now a fighting chance that the new parliamentary arithmetic will see Brexit taking a more sensible, palatable and less destructive form, which is what this blog wanted all along.

Politics giveth and politics taketh away.

 

These are my current thoughts on the fluid post-election situation, together with some reactions from other people which have resonated with me since election night. I have quite a busy few days coming up so the blog may go a little bit quiet for the next week with only an occasional sporadic update, but normal service should be resumed by next weekend.

Stay tuned to the Twitter feed @SamHooper for more short-form ranting in the interim.

 

Theresa May - Downing Street speech

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George Orwell’s “1984” Will Receive A Public Reading In London – But Have We Forgotten The Message?

Senate House London - 3

On June 6, hundreds of people will gather at London’s Senate House as a parade of actors, politicians and other notables read George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” in its entirety. But how many of us actually understand Orwell’s message?

Besides a few posts on Twitter, I haven’t written anything about the heinous Manchester terrorist attack. What more is there to say? The locations change, as do the names and backgrounds of the victims, but the rote mourning processes, the denialism and the furious virtue-signalling always remains the same. Why jump into that toxic mêlée all over again?

But I did watch the BBC general election leaders’ debate on television earlier this week, when naturally the subject of terrorism and Britain’s proper response came up, and I was depressed as ever by the paucity of the “discussion” that took place.

Brendan O’Neill picked up on the section of the debate which also caught my attention, writing in Spiked:

Consider BBC TV’s General Election debate this week, which brought together leading figures from the main parties to talk about the problems facing Britain. There was an extraordinary moment during the debate. A member of the audience asked a question about security post-Manchester and the leaders talked about the need for better policing and intelligence and also for rethinking British foreign policy. It is possible, said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson, that our meddling overseas has exacerbated the terror problem.

Then UKIP leader Paul Nuttall chimed in, and he said this: ‘Politicians need to have the courage to name [the problem]: it’s Islamist extremism.’ The reaction was swift and pretty scary. Nuttall was jeered at by the other panellists. ‘NO!’, one said. ‘Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul’, interjected Lib Dem leader Tim Farron. Nuttall has gone ‘straight for Muslims’, said a furious Robertson. Green leader Caroline Lucas said Nuttall was being ‘completely outrageous’ with this suggestion that ‘the violence in Manchester was somehow representative of Islam’.

Nuttall tried to explain himself. ‘Islamism, Islamism, Islamism’, he said over the din that his comments provoked. His point was that he had not said the word ‘Islam’. He hadn’t even used the phrase Islamic terrorism; he had said Islamist extremism. But his protests went unheard. The other leaders and some in the audience continued to shout over him and drown him out; to accuse him of being outrageous and prejudiced for using the phrase ‘Islamist extremism’.

This is an almost Orwellian level of linguistic denialism. For ‘Islamist’ is a perfectly legitimate and apt word for the terrorism that is impacting on cities in Western Europe. The Oxford dictionary’s definition of ‘Islamist’ is an ‘advocate or supporter of Islamic militancy or fundamentalism’. Is this not the right name for those in Paris, Brussels, Nice, Manchester and elsewhere who have carried out extreme acts of violence in the name of the Islamic State or radical Islamist ideology? To boo and demonise Nuttall for using the word ‘Islamist’ to describe those who blow themselves up in the name of ISIS is as nuts as it would be to boo and demonise someone for saying Oswald Moseley was a fascist: these are simply the correct words.

The response proved Nuttall’s point, which was that few politicians have the nerve even to say the word ‘Islamist’, even though it’s a political term in the actual dictionary. This live-TV pummelling of Nuttall for saying ‘Islamist’ really confirmed what the accusation of Islamophobia is all about today: it isn’t about protecting Muslims from genuine prejudice or abuse but rather has become a means for suppressing difficult political and moral questions about our society, its values and the divisions that exist either between communities or within them. That someone can be called ‘outrageous’ and anti-Muslim for using the phrase ‘Islamist extremism’ shows how deep and worrying our instinct to silence discussion about terrorism has become.

There isn’t much I would add to Brendan O’Neill’s warning, except for this: on 6 June, there will be a live public  reading of the entirety of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, given at London’s Senate House. There has of course been a significant spike in interest in reading 1984, driven predominantly by people who believe that Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump herald the end to what was apparently a Utopian liberal era, and the start of an unprecedentedly authoritarian dystopian future.

The new converts to George Orwell seem to believe either that the architects of these particular geopolitical events used 1984 as some kind of How To guide, or that they themselves might find some clues within the novel to aid their survival during the coming apocalypse.

But here’s the thing. I’ll wager all the money in my pocket that many of the people who show up to this public reading of 1984, or who watch the live stream, will be the same people who never really had much to say about civil liberties violations in the War on Terror (at least when Democratic presidents and Labour prime ministers were in charge), or about the extra-judicial killing of American citizens by drone strike under Barack Obama.

I’ll wager that many of them will have said nothing when their fellow citizens have been tried and imprisoned for singing songs, writing offensive signs, asking impertinent or stupid questions, posting “offensive” tweets or expressing conservative religious views in the town square.

But I’ll also wager that a fair number of them will have reported posts that they found “offensive” on social media in an attempt to get the offending statements removed and the posters banned. I’ll wager that many of the younger student types will have called for The Sun and The Daily Mail to be banned from their university campuses, and for their Students Unions to stop playing certain songs with “problematic” lyrics. I’ll wager that they were the first to demand that boxer Tyson Fury be banned from boxing for holding the wrong views on family values, and to call for attention-seeking ex-LBC radio host/troll Katie Hopkins to lose her job last week.

And I’ll wager that a good number of these 1984 listeners, fearless young defenders of society against creeping authoritarianism that they are, will have cheered along when Tim Farron, Angus Robertson, Caroline Lucas and the rest of the lefty nodding head brigade ripped into Paul Nuttall for the high crime of correctly identifying the deadly ideology which killed 22 young people at an Ariana Grande concert, maiming 116 more.

I’m sure their hearts just swelled with pride and warm affirmation as their left-wing political heroes put that nasty, evil brute Paul Nuttall in his place and shouted down his vile, dangerous hate speech. I bet they sincerely believed that doing so was a great victory for Hope over Hate, that this was how society should best respond to terror attacks. By furiously avoiding looking at the source, assigning the blame to unidentifiable random “evil”, singing some John Lennon and angrily vilifying anybody who dared to react in a different way (such as by looking to identify and name the real problem so that it might be tackled and reduced).

And hearts aglow with courage and moral righteousness, many of these same people will assemble at the foot of London’s Senate House on June 6 and fortify themselves by listening to George Orwell’s stern literary warning about the dangers of groupthink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak and censorship, utterly oblivious to the fact that they are actively serving as advance guard to the Ministry of Truth.

 

George Orwell - 1984 - Thought Criminal - Almeida Theatre

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Quote For The Day

Brendan O’Neill, writing on Facebook:

With trustafarian Corbynistas on one side and media Blairites on the other, Labour is now entirely the property of people who do not labour, and have never laboured, and will never labour, and whose only experience of labour is when they keep an eye on the stupid bloke from Barking who probably voted Brexit as he fixes their boiler, to make sure he doesn’t steal anything.

An insult made devastating because it is so undeniably true.

This is not to say that there are not still (potentially) many good people within the Labour Party – people who perhaps voted Remain but who do not see Brexiteers as unthinking, subhuman trolls with racist tendencies, people who want to bend markets to do more of the state’s bidding but who have fundamentally made their peace with capitalism.

In fact, Brendan O’Neill was at pains to say that the Labour Party is now the “property” of the elites, not that the entire composition is rotten – just the Corbynite and centrist factions together with their sycophantic allies. Meanwhile, the decent people of moderate left-wing persuasion are utterly out of power and deep in the political wilderness right now. The direction of the party is firmly out of their hands.

Instead, with one hand on the reins of power we have the die-hard Corbynistas with their coherent but deeply unpopular worldview, and on the other we have the angry, bitter centrists, furious at having been forced from power since 2015 and eager to snatch back control so that they can pick up right where they left off, ratcheting up the size of the state, bowing down to public sector interests and eagerly fellating the NHS-Industrial Complex.

Both groups are led (if not wholly constituted) by elites – on the Corbyn side, the kind of “trustafarians” who will never have to worry if far-left policies tank the economy and render millions permanently unemployed, and on the centrist side, London-dwelling political and media types locked in an unhealthy symbiotic parasitic relationship and utterly beholden to the previous pro-EU status quo.

Where are the Labour MPs who rise up through the trades union, who might have some tangential claim to represent the interests of ordinary workers? Where are the Labour parliamentary candidates with actual firsthand knowledge of working in modern day call centres, warehouses and retail environments? Where is the great body of Labour MPs and candidates who represent the 52% of British voters who voted for Brexit in a non-partisan referendum? As a solid caucus within the Parliamentary Labour Party, they simply do not exist.

The Labour Party is not run for their benefit and so does not require their input.

 

Ed Miliband Labour One Nation

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On Article 50 Day

United Kingdom Britain EU Secession - Article 50 Letter - Downing Street - Theresa May - Donald Tusk - European Union

A genuine opportunity for democratic renewal – if we can keep it

Many believed – either through arrogance or hopelessness – that this day would never come.

Article 50 Day: the day that the British government triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and formally signalled to the European Union our decision to secede from that dysfunctional, anachronistic and profoundly anti-democratic political union, conceived more than a century ago and constructed in a post-war age now almost completely alien to us.

Of the many pictures which may come to represent “Brexit Day” in historical memory, the two images which struck me are the photograph of Theresa May signing the Article 50 notification letter in Downing Street last night, and the television footage of the British official (Ambassador Sir Tim Barrow) in Brussels, striding into the European Council building to deliver the note to president Donald Tusk.

Why? Because these images more than any other represent the astonishing triumph of democracy over the near-unanimous will of the political establishment.

Theresa May signing Article 50 Letter - Downing Street - Brexit - EU

Sir Tim Barrow - Article 50 letter - Brexit- European Union - Britain

Theresa May did not want to sign the Article 50 letter. During the referendum she campaigned, albeit half-heartedly and often nearly invisibly, for Britain to remain in the European Union before accepting the inevitable and promising to implement Brexit as she manoeuvred for the Tory leadership.

And the British civil service, foreign office and diplomatic corps, represented here by Tim Barrow, our Permanent Representative to the EU, certainly did not want to deliver the letter, so accustomed are they to thinking and operating only within the narrow tramlines of those competencies not surrendered to Brussels..

The generations of politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats who currently run Britain were raised on a narrative of national decline and inevitable dependence on the Brussels political union as the only means of amplifying our fading voice in world affairs. Their formative years were spent during the Winter of Discontent and marked by one post-war national humiliation after another. The tremendous post-1970s (Thatcherite) revival has failed to disabuse them of the utterly false, poisonous notion that Britain is a small and insignificant country, no longer capable of governing herself in the manner of other independent countries such as Canada or Australia, let alone as the fifth largest economy and major cultural, commercial, diplomatic and military power that we truly are.

By huge margins, these people were deeply wedded to Britain’s inevitable future as a European Union member state, and consider Brexit a huge mistake bordering on a tragic act of national self-harm. And yet Theresa May signed the letter, Tim Barrow delivered it, Article 50 was duly triggered and the process of Britain’s secession from the European Union was put into motion.

Why is this something to be celebrated? Because at a time when there is every reason for cynicism and doubt, it shows that at a fundamental level, the British people are indeed still in charge of their own destiny.

Theresa May did not want to sign the letter and Tim Barrow did not want to deliver it, but they did so because they retain a sufficient fear of (if not respect for) the public that they dared not abuse their power by overriding the results of a public referendum. Note that there is no such reticence about subverting democracy in the diminished union we are now leaving – unfavourable referendum results in member states (relating to EU treaties or the ill-fated constitution) have consistently been treated as unfortunate but minor setbacks and then sidestepped by the Brussels machinery, its leaders safe in the knowledge that they are so insulated from democratic accountability that they will suffer no consequences for their actions.

In Britain, however, there remained just enough fear of the people for our leaders to be forced to do the right thing, against their will. That’s not to say that they will get Brexit right, not by a long stretch – right up until Referendum Day, many Brexiteers were too busy hating the EU to identify the future relationship they wanted to have with it, while bitter Remainers did much to poison public and media opinion against the kind of transitional EEA deal which would have caused the least economic disruption. But given a mandate to take Britain out of the European Union our leaders are now doing so, however clumsily and against their will. This is as it should be.

Brendan O’Neill also gets it:

What we’re witnessing in Britain today, with Theresa May triggering Article 50, is something radical: the political class is going against its own judgement under the duress of the demos. The polite, peaceful duress of the demos, it should be pointed out.

We know that 73 per cent of MPs want to stay in the EU. We know many in the House of Lords are horrified by Brexit and were keen to hold it up. We know 70 per cent of business leaders wanted Britain to remain, and that some of them launched costly legal battles to try to stymie the Brexit momentum. And yet in the end, all of them, every one, has had to roll over and give in to the masses: to the builders, nurses, teachers, mums, old blokes, unemployed people and others who effectively said to the political class: ‘You’re wrong. We should leave’. To the people surprised that such a state of affairs can exist, that the political set can be made to do something it doesn’t want to by the mass of society, including even uneducated people: what did you think democracy meant? This is what it means.

Yes, this is what democracy means. To do anything else – to override or subvert the referendum decision for Brexit – would mean the triumph of technocracy  and well-meaning dictatorship over democracy.

We tend to forget, because it has not been this way within living memory for many citizens, but in a democracy the leaders are supposed to fear and respect the people and their judgment, not the other way around. As government relentlessly expanded and the bureaucratic state encroached ever more on our lives, we have unfortunately come to fear the government far more than government leaders fear the public – but not so with Brexit. Government ministers know that to defy the Brexit vote and seek to remain in the EU against the wishes of the people would visit such anarchy and destruction upon the country that they daren’t seriously even consider it (save inconsequential politicians such as Tim Farron). And so no matter how much they dislike it, today they implement our instructions.

Of course, Brexit is just one issue. In many other arenas of public life, officials have absolutely no qualms about defying public opinion and treating voters as polling units to be managed or placated rather than autonomous, thinking and engaged citizens to be feared and respected. We must take care not to merely repatriate powers from Brussels back into the arms of a power-hungry, over-centralised Westminster government that will fail to act in the interest of the UK’s diverse home nations and regions, and which carelessly surrendered its own powers to Brussels without democratic consent in the first place. Now, more than ever, we must hold our politicians and civil servants to account.

Brexit is the start of an opportunity for real democratic and constitutional reform, not an outcome in itself. Secession from the European Union makes the rejuvenation of our democracy possible, but by no means inevitable.

When queried by a stranger as to the outcome of the constitutional convention he was leaving, American founding father Benjamin Franklin famously replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it”.

Today, as Theresa May’s government (for all its many flaws) triggers Article 50 and serves notice on the European Union, we seek to reclaim our national self-determination and renew our democracy – if we can keep it. If we can rise to the occasion and collectively seize the great opportunity which now stands before us.

 

Theresa May signing Article 50 Letter - Downing Street - Brexit - EU

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