Why Theresa May Needs To Go Now

Theresa May - Tory Leadership -resignation

Every day that Theresa May remains in office is another day that the Conservative Party is idling in neutral, failing to retool and re-energise itself to take on Jeremy Corbyn’s marauding socialists

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Evening Standard, explains quite comprehensively why there is only downside and no upside to keeping Theresa May in 10 Downing Street a moment longer than it will take the Conservatives to organise a leadership contest to replace her.

Montgomerie writes:

Tory MPs, returning in a shell-shocked daze to Westminster for this week’s low-fat, low-content Queen’s Speech, must quickly recognise that Theresa May is as finished as Mrs Clinton. Every day she remains in charge is a wasted day. Every day the country inches closer to an election for which Jeremy Corbyn will have added more activists to his impressive turnout machine. Equally, the Conservatives will have one less day to rebuild their own offering and operation.

Mrs May’s flat-footed response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy was not just further proof she’s not that good at politics. It was another moment of not rising to the occasion as a leader with vision would do. The horrific burning alive of largely poor and marginalised people was — like 2008’s crash — another reminder of unjustifiable vulnerabilities at the bottom of society and inadequate responsibility from those at the top.

Yes. This blog has noted the number of commentators who leapt to the prime minister’s defence in terms of her out-of-step public response to the horrific Grenfell Tower fire last week. A significant minority seem to have convinced themselves that the prime minister’s excessive reserve terror at the thought of interaction with the public is somehow an admirable thing, the epitome of British stoicism, rather than further dismal evidence of Theresa May’s inability to lead.

These claims dismiss critics of Theresa May as reactionaries who just want to see the prime minister emote for the cameras and hug a few of the survivors, but this dismissive attitude completely misses the point. I don’t think anybody in Britain had any great desire to see the prime minister weeping with the Grenfell Tower victims on the evening news bulletins. They did, however, expect her to show up, even if it was politically awkward, just as American political leaders show solidarity with disaster victims in the United States and French political leaders in the aftermath of terror atrocities in France. This is not an unreasonable, irrational demand. It is Leadership 101, and Theresa May has been failing the test in manifold ways since well before the general election.

Montgomerie continues:

The most fitting memorial to those who perished [in the Grenfell Tower fire] is not to comfort the bereaved as all half-decent societies would. The best way of honouring the dead would be to deliver the scale of house-building that Conservative PMs such as Churchill and Macmillan championed but which an ideologically rigid Thatcherite dogma has since discouraged. For good measure, a government building more homes in the South would also significantly expand infrastructure in the North. The everyday so-called current government spending still needs trimming but leaving the next generation with inadequate roads, railways and broadband is just as irresponsible as leaving them up to their necks in debt.

I’d put believing that Elvis Presley is still alive on equal par with the claim that Mrs May could launch this agenda or something similar. Despite the words she uttered in Downing Street after first becoming PM she has done nothing of consequence for communities suffering most from the multigeddon of globalisation, open borders, automation and the collapse of the working-class family.

Rather than overhauling a threadbare party machine that helped lose a 20 per cent opinion poll lead, she has reappointed her Tory chairman. Those thinking the days of treating her Cabinet with disdain are over should look at her careless loss of two of the Brexit department’s four key ministers last weekend, a week before today’s starting gun for talks.

Also true. While this blog has focused on the need for conservatives to start transmitting a positive, optimistic message and defence of their worldview if they want to stand a chance of competing with the parties of the Left for the youth vote, good messaging alone is not enough. And while acts of pandering and voter bribery – such as matching Labour’s pledge for free university tuition – are rightfully unacceptable to conservatives, it should not be impossible for the Tories to recognise that their current housing policy (or lack thereof) is a punch in the gut to any young person not fortunate enough to inherit from their parents or be helped onto the housing ladder by them. Planning laws need to be urgently reviewed and liberalised. The Left wants to build council houses for all, so that everybody is dependent on the state for one more thing. Conservatives should counter with a bold proposal to expand the supply of private housing for rent and purchase.

Montgomerie is also right to criticise the party machine. CCHQ has presided over the near-total gutting of the party in recent years, from the winding up of the terminally dysfunctional Conservative Future youth movement to the neutering of the constituency associations and the megalomaniacal insistence of central control over candidate selection so as to ensure the continuance of the current system of patronage and nepotism which gave us such wonderful “rising stars” as Ben Gummer. Theresa May is not responsible for the party machine that she inherited when she became prime minister last year, but neither has she shown the slightest interest in revamping the party and opening it up to outside talent. The necessary change will not come so long as she remains leader.

Montgomerie’s conclusion is also strong:

A new PM and a contest necessary to establish who it should be will not be good for the nation’s immediate peace of mind or for business sentiment, but there are no easy options from where we are. What Britain does have is a two- to three-month window before September’s German elections. After that, Brexit negotiations will be fast and furious.

The Tories need a contest thorough enough to identify a team as much as a leader, and an agenda for social renewal as much as for Brexit. With both established, there is a real chance of stopping the momentum building behind Jeremy Corbyn — and it must be stopped. His views on tax, state power and defence would enfeeble this country.

We must not underestimate Corbyn. Voters who yearn for change may well roll the dice if forced to choose between Corbyn and “the same old Tories”. If, after all, people can convince themselves that the moon landings were staged, they may even believe Corbyn is equipped for Britain’s highest office.

There is never a good time to instigate a divisive, ugly leadership election campaign between general elections, but far better that Conservatives bite the bullet now than wait until a year into Brexit negotiations before swapping out the leader of the country. It’s bad enough to have to consider changing horses at the water’s edge of Brexit negotiations; changing horses mid-stream would only undermine the British negotiating position further.

And as Tim Montgomerie rightly says, a leadership contest is needed to identify not just a leader but also a team and a set of values – not just relating to Brexit – around which the party can coalesce and campaign. The 2017 general election campaign was a miserable affair in which Tories – led from the top by Theresa May – refused to make a bold, positive affirmation of free markets or other traditional conservative standards, instead portraying “austerity” and limits on the state as a necessary evil rather than as a potentially good thing in and of themselves.

The Tories were tricked into fighting on Labour’s turf (arguing about inequality) when they should instead have proudly made the case that conservative policies expand the pie for all while Jeremy Corbyn’s focus on equality of outcome promises only more equal slices of a rapidly diminishing national pie. Conservatives essentially went to fight in this general election only to discover that their leader had broken their best ideological weapon in advance of the battle. No wonder they lost ground against Jeremy Corbyn’s uplifting (if loopy and fiscally nonsensical) vision for Britain.

And then there is the elusive, undefinable sense of momentum. Whatever momentum Theresa May had when she took over from David Cameron, she has now squandered it all. Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is on the march. Through her inept leadership and hopelessly prosecuted general election campaign, Theresa May literally gave 1970s style socialism a foothold back in our national politics, and raised the real risk that Corbyn could enter 10 Downing Street as prime minister if her shaky minority government were to fall. Prior to the election her aura of strength and stability was severely knocked by the multiple terror attacks on British soil, some of which exposed failings for which she was directly accountable as Home Secretary.

And now the Grenfell Tower disaster response has revealed the prime minister to be a shrunken, fearful and traumatised figure, clinging on day by day while colleagues openly worry about her mental state of mind. Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan between them have assumed the role of national Consoler-in-Chief, while Theresa May skulks in Downing Street and only meets with the survivors and bereaved relatives under duress. This might be partly excusable if she had organised a first-class disaster response plan a la Gordon Brown, but she didn’t. Instead there were days of chaos and confusion before Whitehall finally took over the response from Kensington & Chelsea council.

Rightly or wrongly – and the vast majority of criticism directed at Theresa may has been fully justified – the impression is of a prime minister in over her head, unable to regain her political footing and behaving in an entirely reactive way rather than giving the country the proactive leadership that it needs. There is no coming back from such a self-inflicted calamity. There is no PR job that can be done to repair the damage. And if Theresa May is hanging on in some desperate bid to burnish her legacy with a smattering of minor accomplishments before her inevitable removal then she is not only deluding herself but also putting herself before the Conservative Party, and party before the country.

So let’s bring on the contest. Let 48 Tory MPs submit their letters to the 1922 Committee and formally trigger a leadership challenge, forcing the prime minister’s resignation. There is no reason for us to continue to “bear those ills we have / Than fly to others that we know not of”. The undiscover’d country could hardly be any worse.

 

Theresa May - Downing Street

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British Conservatives And The Youth Vote, Ctd.

YouGov vote by age chart - general election 2017

Through their arrogance and sheer incompetence, the Tories have turned an entire generation away from conservative politics. But the solution is not to go marching off to the socialist Left

It doesn’t have to be like this.

It doesn’t have to be the case that people under 30 years of age vote so overwhelmingly for the parties of the Left, predominantly the Labour Party, while the Conservatives manage to sweep up barely a fifth of the youth vote.

The Tories have shot themselves in the foot by failing to court the youth vote or even speak to their concerns, the result of unbridled arrogance and sheer political incompetence. But the situation is not irreversible, if the right action is taken quickly. Unfortunately, the Tories – hopeless keepers of the conservative flame – look set to learn all of the wrong lessons.

I discussed this on my election night live blog and then again in this separate piece, but since that time several other commentators have jumped into the fray with their own takes, and it’s worth seeing what they have to say.

Former cabinet minister (sacked by Theresa May in her Weakness Reshuffle) and Harlow MP Robert Halfon won a lot of plaudits before the election for being one of few Tories to understand the need to reach out once more to the aspirational working class, and again after the election for criticising the Tories’ lack of vision going into the campaign.

From the Guardian:

Robert Halfon, who lost his frontbench role as minister for skills on Tuesday, said the Conservative party was “on death row” and had failed to offer a positive vision to voters.

The Harlow MP was scathing about the election campaign in which the prime minister lost her Commons majority, saying the Tories did not have a message to rival Labour’s promise to stand up “for the many not the few”.

Writing in the Sun, he said: “The Conservative party is on death row. Unless we reform our values, our membership offering and our party infrastructure, we face defeat at the next election – and potentially years of opposition.

“If we don’t change it wouldn’t matter if we had Alexander the Great or the Archangel Gabriel as leader. We face the wilderness.”

In an attack aimed at the Tory hierarchy – and campaign guru Sir Lynton Crosby – Halfon said: “Our election campaign portrayed us as a party devoid of values. ‘Strong and stable’ is hardly a battle cry. I cannot remember a time in the campaign when the Conservatives attempted to explain what we are really about: the party of the ladder, of aspiration and of opportunity.

“We let ourselves be perceived primarily as the party of ‘austerity’, failing entirely to campaign on our record of a strong economy or strong employment.

“Virtually nothing was said on the NHS or schools or the caring professions that work within them. Instead we created fear among pensioners, and threatened to take away school meals, handing a gift to our opponents. Is it any wonder that the Conservatives did not get a majority?”

Yes and no. Halfon is absolutely right to criticise the Tory campaign for its lack of a positive vision of any kind, let alone a coherent, recognisably conservative vision. But the specific targets of Halfon’s ire are all wrong. To follow his advice, the Tories should have engaged in a race with the Labour Party to shower praise and money on an unreformed NHS, wittered on endlessly about public services and exacerbated Britain’s corrosive culture of universal benefits, where everyone becomes accustomed to receiving handouts from the state regardless of their wealth or individual circumstances (see free school meals, the winter fuel allowance, child benefit and so on).

At least the Cameron/Osborne government, ideologically woolly as it was, made a token strike against universal benefits culture with their child benefit cap. Robert Halfon now sees support for giving benefits to people who don’t need them as the price of political survival. If this is true then there may as well not be a Conservative Party at all, because the Labour socialists will have won the war.

Here’s Nicholas Mazzei, writing in Conservative Home:

“Yeah I did; he was gonna write off my student loan. Come on!”

These were the words of a 25-year-old voter who text me early this morning, who had always voted Conservative and, up until the campaign began 5 weeks ago, was anti-Corbyn.

If you want to understand why the youth vote surged for Corbyn, I want you to read that line and look at the offer the Conservatives have made to the youth of Britain from our own manifesto. From this 25-year old’s own words, “the Conservatives have done nothing to reach out to those under-35”.

Now while most us would agree that the promises of wiping out debts and free university education by Labour were dangerous, unaffordable policies, we need to remember that the youth of the UK have been lumped with endless debts, rising costs in homes and education, and lower potential of earnings.

Much like in the US election, where voters turned out for Trump’s pro-employment message, youth voters in the UK turned out for a party which actually addressed their concerns.

Again, the problem is accurately diagnosed. The suite of Conservative Party policies, such as they were, did very little to even acknowledge the concerns of young people in a cosmetic way, let alone meaningfully address them. The Tories had no plan to encourage the building of sufficient houses to tackle the housing crisis because the status quo works just fine for their older core vote, thankyouverymuch. They remain obstinately committed to the most stubbornly self-harming form of Brexit possible, for absolutely no good reason, when most young people are sceptical of Brexit altogether.

And as icing on the cake, Theresa May and her lacklustre team preached a parsimonious message of fiscal restraint as a regrettable necessity – willingly accepting Labour’s framing of the economic debate! – rather than even attempting to sing the virtues of freedom, liberty and a smaller state dedicated to helping people in real need rather than parcelling out insufficient morsels of assistance to everybody regardless of need.

Theresa May’s team seemingly forgot that people don’t become more conservative as they get older automatically or without some prompting, and that if the Tories continually screw somebody over through their formative years, young adulthood and early middle age then they won’t magically become Tory voters when they get their first grey hair. People become more conservative as they get older because historically, sensible government policy has allowed them to become greater and greater stakeholders in society, largely through property and equity ownership. Cut off millions of young people from this ladder to prosperity and security, and the conveyor belt which gradually moves people from political Left to Right as they age will come grinding to a halt. We see this in the YouGov poll. where the Tories now only overtake Labour among those aged over 50.

But while Mazzei effectively diagnoses the problem, his solutions also seem to involve lurching to the Left:

The UK has the highest average tuition fees in the world, second only to the USA (which is at around £5300 a year compared to £6,000 in the UK). We cannot lump all this debt on to young people. Education in general needs more investment and should be protected at all costs.

No. Why should somebody without a university degree subsidise the education (and future higher earning potential) of somebody who wants a free degree? While tuition fees at some American schools are horrendously expensive and poor value for money, UK fees are much cheaper, to the extent that they still often do not even cover the full cost of tuition. They are by no means outrageous, and those unwilling to make the investment in themselves are under no obligation to attend university. If anything, the presence of tuition fees clamps down on the number of pointless degrees in non-subjects being taken by students. Lower or remove tuition fees and we will likely see an explosion in gender studies and other pointless social justice-related pseudo-courses.

The unnamed government minister who spoke scathingly to the Telegraph about the Tory election campaign hits closer to the truth:

The Conservative Party has become “too shallow” and needs a “re-invigoration of political thought” that can draw young people to the party, a minister has said.

The MP warned that the Tory election campaign had relied on “poxy little slogans” to attract the youth vote and failed to counter Jeremy Corbyn’s offer of “free money” in the form of state-funded university tuition and other hand-outs.

The minister told The Telegraph: “You’ve got to persuade a new generation of people of what’s what. We never even tried, so Corbyn just came in and basically bribed people to vote for him with other people’s money that doesn’t even exist.”

[..] The minister said: “It’s all about political education and argument. The problem with the whole campaign is that it was about politics and politicians. “Everything is too shallow. Politicians have all got their experience but they lose if they forget to re-educate a new generation. You’ve got to persuade a new generation of people of what’s what.

“This is about political persuasion and think tanks and all that stuff.”

Another MP said the party had failed to properly engage younger votes on social media, where many users were instead targeted with videos attacking Mr Corbyn.

“Frankly the party has done very, very little to engage with young people,” he said. “We have made no real effort to garner support, even on social media, which is where everybody gets their news and views these days.

Yes, a thousand times yes. The case for conservatism has to keep being made for each new generation. The very presence of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party should have been a huge wake-up call to the Tories that defunct, failed ideologies do not simply slink away to die once they are exposed and defeated.

Margaret Thatcher’s government may have rescued Britain from 1970s decline, but this was before the living memory of half the electorate. Two generations have come since the Winter of Discontent, with many in the millennial generation probably unable to even explain what it was, or how the failed socialist post-war consensus brought Britain to the brink of irreversible decline.

Thus we now have a generation of young people who take relative material abundance, peace and security for granted rather than appreciating that capitalism is the source of our prosperity, not a drain on it. A pampered generation who simply don’t realise that British and Western values need to be cherished and defended (as the Second World War and Cold War taught older generations).

Ross Clark makes the same point in The Spectator:

The under 35s have never been exposed to the negative images of socialism that were familiar to older generations. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, to my age group socialism was inescapably associated with the failures of the Soviet bloc: it conjured images of queuing half a day for a cabbage, putting your name down on a long waiting list for the prize of a choking, belching Trabant – and of getting shot if you tried to escape. To my generation, capitalism was synonymous with freedom. But I am not sure that holds for a generation who see only large, tax-dodging corporations and bankers who wrecked the economy yet carried on skimming off vast bonuses.

Neither, when reading of Jeremy Corbyn’s renationalisation plans, do the under-35s have memories of nationalised industries in Britain in the 1970s. They don’t recall the three day week, the Winter of Discontent, dirty, late trains, or realise that the chaos on Southern Railway was once symptomatic of labour relations in huge swaths of nationalised industry. All they see are over-priced trains run by private companies which have ruthlessly exploited the private monopolies which they were granted in this, the most botched of the privatisations.

The Corbynite Left (and even Labour centrists) have been incredibly adept at presenting what are really regulatory failures or corrupt crony corporatism as failures of capitalism itself, which – as shown by the willingness of young people to vote for politicians like Bernie Sanders, Jean-Luc Melenchon and Jeremy Corbyn – has led many young people to demand that we throw the baby out with the bathwater. They sit and angrily Tweet about the evils of capitalism using handheld computing devices that only capitalism made possible, and nobody in British conservative politics seemingly has the balls to point out the absurdity to them.

The anonymous government minister is absolutely right to point out that Conservatives have an existential duty to “persuade a new generation of people of what’s what”, that showering public services with endless money and taking back state control of industry would have already happened if repeated lessons from history did not show that this approach simply never works.

The minister is right too when he says “this is about political persuasion and think tanks and all that stuff”. Yes it is. But you won’t reach young people with think tanks and white papers, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that the toxic Tory brand will not persuade them of the merits of conservatism either. That’s why we need strong new independent grassroots organisations to emerge, to promote the idea of freedom, self-sufficiency and a smaller, better-targeted state as an inherently good thing in and of itself, rather than a regretful response to recession.

As I wrote the other day:

For reasons of branding and basic administrative competence, any future small-C conservative movement hoping to gain traction with young people must be distinct from the Conservative Party, free of that residual toxicity and free to criticise the Tory party in government and in opposition when it proposes policies which either betray core values or threaten the interests of young people. A British CPAC and Young Brits for Liberty-style organisation could nurture talent of its own, outside the corrupting, nepotistic influence of the Conservative Party hierarchy, and would greatly increase their collective clout by helping or withholding support from future Tory election campaigns and individual candidacies based on policy, not party loyalty.

It is only through outside groups like this that the image of conservatism stands a chance of being rehabilitated among young people. It is only through a British version of CPAC or YAF that young conservative or agnostic students at university stand a chance against being steamrollered by the fashionable left-wing identity politics which are almost de rigeur for social acceptance and advancement.

[..] We need a strong external repository for conservative principle, capable of engaging with young people who have been continually taught that leftist progressivism = forward-thinking “compassion” while liberty, independence and self-sufficiency from government are evidence of greed and moral failure.

We particularly need to work closely with conservative organisations in the United States, which face a similar uphill struggle in overcoming a historic disinterest in the youth vote but which are now starting to have some success, generated in part by their opposition to the illiberal Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics sweeping American university campuses, with its disregard for freedom of speech and toxic obsession with the politics of victimhood.

We should be sharing best practice back and forth with American conservative organisations as to how to build strong redoubts for conservatism in overwhelmingly leftist places, so that conservatism isn’t washed away altogether. Frankly, British conservatism is in such a parlous state that we need their help. And then, once things have stabilised, we can look to reclaim some of the ground we have lost among young voters.

Skot Covert, Co-Chairman of the College Republican National Committee in the United States, offered this advice for a young conservative revival in the United States:

Due to an extended absence on the right’s part, winning the youth vote won’t be easy and it certainly won’t happen overnight.  However, when the GOP communicates our policy positions in culturally relevant terms in the right mediums, we see progress.  This means understanding how and where young voters communicate and having a discussion on the issues most important to them.

I believe it’s also critical to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to winning young voters.  My generation is diverse and vibrant.  We thrive on uniqueness and self-definition and instinctively reject the notion that we should “go with the flow”.  Crafting an effective youth outreach strategy must be developed around this understanding.

This is certainly true. People crave authenticity in a politician – somebody willing to speak extemporaneously and answer straight questions honestly without first running them through a focus group or a Comms Team. Young people especially, it seems, like an optimistic, forward-looking message rather than lashings of grim tidings delivered by a malfunctioning, cautious android like Theresa May. Who knew? That’s why young people preferred socialist firebrand Bernie Sanders to calculating, establishment Hillary Clinton. That’s why Americans elected Donald Trump as their next president.

But there is no reason why these qualities of openness and relatability cannot be vested in a politician who doesn’t hail from the hard left or the populist pseudo-right. There is no reason why a liberty-minded Conservative MP could not similarly enthuse young people with a message of individual liberty, economic freedom and the advantages (rather than the costs) of restraining the state.

Anoosh Chakelian explains in the New Statesman just how Jeremy Corbyn and Corbyn-supporting outside groups used this quality of authenticity to their advantage:

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign focused heavily on young people – a key manifesto pledge being to scrap tuition fees. His campaign style – rallies across the country, and fewer stage-managed speeches and press conferences than Theresa May – also appealed more to this demographic.

In addition, Labour had viral news on its side. As BuzzFeed reported, pro-Corbyn articles by “alt-left” sites were shared on an enormous scale on social media. I hear that nearly 25 per cent of UK Facebook users watched a Momentum video on the website in the penultimate week of campaigning. This is a particularly effective way of reaching young people, and inspiring them to vote – something the Tories weren’t as good at.

But who in the current Conservative Party hierarchy is remotely equipped for this task? Boris Johnson is probably the most charismatic of the senior Tories, but even he could never pack a large 2000-seat theatre for a political rally the way that Jeremy Corbyn can. And of course Boris Johnson is something of a charlatan, with sky-high negative ratings and absolutely no fixed political compass.

The cold hard truth is that the Tories don’t have anybody who can match Jeremy Corbyn for charisma right now – and how depressing that is. The best we can hope for is to give some of the better backbenchers (I keep banging on about Kwasi Kwarteng and James Cleverly) some ministerial experience to groom them for a few years down the road, but rather than looking to the future, Theresa May seems to have decided to keep her cabinet stuffed full of bland non-entities with her latest reshuffle. In her infinite wisdom.

That’s why we cannot rely on the Conservative Party to save conservatism from itself. The Tory party is corrupt, inbred, nepotistic, dysfunctional and ideologically bankrupt. Right now they are seriously considering skipping after Jeremy Corbyn on a fun political jaunt even further to the hard Left. Yes, somehow the Tories squandered the opportunity to use Corbyn’s rise to move the Overton Window of British politics further to the right, and instead are doing all they can to help him shift it to the left. These people are incompetent clowns who cannot be trusted to walk with scissors, let alone safeguard the ideology and worldview which we depend on to keep us prosperous and free.

We need outside groups to pick up the burden so shamefully dropped by Theresa May and her dysfunctional party. Student organisations, business organisations, bloggers, the works. The Tory Party as it currently stands will never persuade any more young people to vote Conservative. We need outside organisations with legitimacy and untainted reputations to make the positive case for conservative, pro-market values, and then pressure the Tories to hold the line rather than fight every battle on Labour’s terms.

I repeat: do not look to the Conservative Party to successfully engineer an improvement in the youth vote. The Tories are not going to make things any easier for themselves when it comes to youth outreach, and given the level of competence exhibited by CCHQ they have the potential to make things a whole lot worse.

We few young small-C conservatives need to pick up the slack ourselves.

 

Jeremy Corbyn - youth vote - t shirt

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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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General Election 2017: Conservatives Cannot Give Up On The Youth Vote

Jeremy Corbyn - Youth vote

British conservatives can no longer afford to cede the youth vote to the parties of the Left without putting up a fight for their hearts and minds

One thing seems absolutely crystal clear to me: the Conservative Party can no longer allow itself to glibly write off almost the entire youth vote and cede youth politics to the various parties of the left.

In some ways, Jeremy Corbyn seems like a most implausible politician to court the youth vote – an old, grey haired career politician with absolutely zero interest in doing anything fashionable, sartorially or politically. But my god, he is an authentic conviction politician. And if your average voter hates overgroomed, telegenic bland politico-bots then young people clearly hate them even more. Canned soundbites don’t work on social media-savvy young people, if they work on anyone. And yet the Conservatives went into battle – largely thanks to the “genius” Lynton Crosby – with an arsenal made up almost exclusively of glib, canned soundbites in place of anything remotely authentic.

Not that authenticity alone is enough. Right wing politics are clearly hugely toxic to many young people, who would sooner die than consider voting Conservative, let alone admitting any conservative leanings to their social circle. The Tories are too closely associated with grey, uninspiring “austerity”, even though austerity is largely a myth. The Tory brand, fair or unfair, is still toxic to many people. And the parties of the left have perfectly tapped into the consumerist politics of Me Me Me by promising to firehose endless sums of money into the gaping, insatiable mouth of Britain’s public services.

It seems painfully apparent to me that we need a prominent, national vessel for the development and promotion conservative policies (and personalities) separate from the Conservative Party, which simply can no longer be trusted to make the case for its own worldview. I wrote ages ago, back in 2015, that we need a British CPAC – a well funded and media savvy conservative campaign group which exists outside the dusty, dysfunctional Tories.

CPAC is the Conservative Political Action Conference in the United States, and while it has had its share of controversies it serves an important role in nurturing small-C conservative talent, seeding new ideas and generally providing an opportunity for advancement and self-promotion outside the structures of the Republican Party. It also plays a role in youth outreach, as do other organisations like Ron Paul’s Young Americans for Liberty.

The seeds of such a movement already exist – there is the excellent Conservatives for Liberty group, for which I am proud to have written numerous times. But for all the good work they do, they remain associated directly with the Tory brand and are too easily sidelined when a rabid anti-Thatcherite like Theresa May seizes control of the party and tries to drag it to the statist centre-left. Meanwhile, other think tanks which sometimes do good work (and sometimes not so good) – the Adam Smith Institute, the IEA, the Centre for Policy Studies – are very much of the political elite and by the political elite. They have neither the makings of a mass movement, nor the inclination to become one – and quite rightly, for this is not their speciality.

Worse still, the Conservative Party’s own efforts to build a youth wing tend to attract the kind of tweed-wearing teens and twenty-somethings who only further the perception of the party as being for posh, wealthy and generally insufferable types. Conservative Future, their most recent attempt, seemed to operate like a kind of pyramid scheme with promises of future candidacies dangled in front of naive young activists, and was rife with a bullying culture which led to the group’s closure.

No. For reasons of branding and basic administrative competence, any future small-C conservative movement hoping to gain traction with young people must be distinct from the Conservative Party, free of that residual toxicity and free to criticise the Tory party in government and in opposition when it proposes policies which either betray core values or threaten the interests of young people. A British CPAC and Young Brits for Liberty-style organisation could nurture talent of its own, outside the corrupting, nepotistic influence of the Conservative Party hierarchy, and would greatly increase their collective clout by helping or withholding support from future Tory election campaigns and individual candidacies based on policy, not party loyalty.

It is only through outside groups like this that the image of conservatism stands a chance of being rehabilitated among young people. It is only through a British version of CPAC or YAF that young conservative or agnostic students at university stand a chance against being steamrollered by the fashionable left-wing identity politics which are almost de rigeur for social acceptance and advancement.

Look at the people who might be considered contenders to take over from Theresa May when she is rightly consigned to the dustbin of conservative political history. Do you see the youth vote ever breaking in significant numbers for Philip Hammond or Michael Fallon? David Davis or Michael Gove? Maybe Boris Johnson might win a few, but he is widely hated by starry-eyed young Europhiles for supposedly “taking away their future”.

No, the future Conservative leader who stands even a chance of fighting the parties of the left for the youth vote must come up from outside the existing party structure, if they are to emerge at all. They must articulate a message of conservatism as being pro-freedom, pro-opportunity, pro-dynamism. Some compromises must be made, with the party finally addressing issues which screw the younger generation and force them into the waiting arms of the Labour Party – a serious housebuilding programme (not council houses, but houses for private sale and rent) for example. The end of universal benefits being lavished upon rich, self-entitled pensioners who don’t need them.

The Tories need a leader who can make self-sufficiency and freedom seem cool rather than callous, admirable rather than shameful, particularly to younger voters. I don’t see anybody on the Conservative front bench who stands a chance of doing that. Maybe James Cleverly or Kwasi Kwarteng from the backbenches, if they were to step up and gain some ministerial experience? Priti Patel?

Regardless, one thing is clear: the Tories can no longer be relied upon to keep the torch of conservatism lit by themselves. Theresa May half extinguished it with her statist left-wing manifesto, half stolen from the Labour Party, and her inept campaigning and toxicity among young people provided the final coup-de-grace.

We need a strong external repository for conservative principle, capable of engaging with young people who have been continually taught that leftist progressivism = forward-thinking “compassion” while liberty, independence and self-sufficiency from government are evidence of greed and moral failure.

Theresa May’s Conservative Party shamefully surrendered the youth vote without so much as trying to win them over. The broader British conservative movement must learn from this dismal failure and ensure that it is never repeated.

 

Rand Paul - CPAC

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The SpAdocracy And Theresa May’s Flawed Manifesto Plans For Social Care

The Thick Of It

Social care funding and other important policy questions are too important to be decided solely by a couple of Bright Young Things and Special Advisers ensconced in Downing Street

The problem with Theresa May’s disastrous, miscalculated decision to shoehorn dramatic changes to the funding of social care into the Conservative (In Name Only) manifesto – and then perform a humiliating U-turn live on TV – is that it was cooked up by a couple of her closest, most trusted advisers and then foisted on the Conservative Party and the country with zero wider consultation.

The Guardian lifts the veil on the dysfunctional Court of Theresa May:

The manifesto for Mayism was stitched together on an upper floor of Conservative campaign headquarters over the past few weeks by a tight-knit team of the prime minister’s most trusted advisers.

While May has been out on the road giving stump speeches nearly every day, her policy team has been holed up in Matthew Parker Street in Westminster composing a document intended to redefine Conservatism, drawing a line under the elitism of the Cameron era and the individualism of Thatcher.

The document is pitched as representing May’s firmly held world view, but it also has the fingerprints of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, her two co-chiefs of staff, all over it.

The pair, who reigned supreme over May’s Home Office, have been the subject of complaints from MPs that they act like deputy prime ministers instead of Downing Street aides. Now the election campaign has started, they run the show at CCHQ with a tight grip.

Who needs cabinet ministers, think tanks, non-profit organisations, lobbyists, the general public or anybody else in the political ecosystem when you have two loyal SpAds ready and willing to deconstruct and rebuild core functions of the state quietly, in the shadows?

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MPs have complained privately over the past 10 months about the centralised nature of Downing Street, with May, Timothy and Hill sucking policy decisions away from Whitehall departments and other ministers. It comes as no surprise to them that May’s campaign focuses on her personal leadership qualities to the exclusion of other senior figures in the party, with the case for that focus bolstered by the prime minister’s strong poll ratings.

Cabinet ministers say they are not being sidelined, although the reality looks somewhat different. Of 15 campaign events for the press held by the Tories so far, all but one have been fronted by May herself, speaking of “strong and stable leadership” and the need for a mandate to carry through Brexit at every opportunity.

A few – including Boris Johnson, Michael Fallon, Amber Rudd and David Davis – have been used for some media interviews, but they are mainly kept away at constituency visits. By Wednesday, senior cabinet ministers such as Philip Hammond, Johnson and Rudd had seen the manifesto and approved its contents.

But its composition was very much a matter for May’s inner circle.

It is quite frightening to realise just how quickly harebrained, incomplete and otherwise controversial policies can find themselves shoehorned into a party manifesto (and then swiftly become law) if they are adopted and pushed by a well-connected member of the SpAd-ocracy.

In fact, prior to calling the general election the Conservatives had planned to hold at least a basic level of consultation on reforming social care, but some bright spark apparently decided that it would be far simpler to ram the changes through by including half-baked ideas as firm manifesto pledges, as the Telegraph reports:

Politicians who will deliver the Conservatives’ new care policy if they win re-election were left in the dark about their manifesto commitments, it can be revealed.

Senior Government sources have told The Sunday Telegraph they were left “completely surprised” by the wide-ranging package of reforms announced this week.

A series of social care policies were due to be put out to consultation this summer, including some of those adopted by the party in its manifesto.

However the changes would have been followed by months of consideration with less political risk if they were dropped or altered after industry feedback.

As I type, Theresa May is scrambling to defend her social care policy and her broader judgment in a television interview with Andrew Neil (the closest that the prime minister will condescend to participating in a debate) and frankly failing miserably, all of which could have been avoided if her core team behaved less arrogantly and if British political parties sought to formulate and enact legislation in a more open, inclusive way.

When President Barack Obama sought to overhaul the American healthcare system early in his first term, he didn’t slap a fully worked-out, prescriptive solution for single-payer healthcare on the table and demand that everybody get behind the main principles “or else”. While American conservatives rightly point out that the extensive consultation exercise was partly cosmetic and not nearly as welcoming of right wing input as it was portrayed, the fact remains that when American political leaders wanted to change something which impacted millions of people and a significant share of the US economy, there was a consultation (or at least the pretence of a consultation) before the first draft was issued. Sure, congressmen were expected to vote on the final bill having had only a few hours to read it, if they could even be bothered, but this was after every aspect of healthcare reform had been discussed in excruciating detail in committees, public town halls and in smoke-filled rooms with the special interests who (rightly or wrongly) have the power to make or break reforms.

This style of policymaking seems to be anathema to the British system. When David Cameron won re-election in 2015 based in no small part on the promise to hold an EU referendum, he cooked up his own list of demands for the European Union and marched off  to Brussels to negotiate them (and we all know how well that worked out). Cameron and his team presumed to know – without engaging in any special consultation, public or otherwise – exactly what changes the British people wanted to see in our relationship with the EU, without once bothering to actually ask our opinion. The only thing more laughable than David Cameron deciding on our behalf what issues to raise with Brussels was the fact that they still sent him away empty-handed and humiliated. This arrogant, presumptuous approach to government was, and nearly always will be, a recipe for failure.

Few people would disagree that the way we fund social care needs to be tweaked at the very least, if not wholesale reformed. But doing so is an enormously complex process, involving the intersecting demands and interests of numerous groups and political principles. There are the interests of homeowners, taxpayers, council and private care providers, current and future care recipients, all of which will be in competition with one another and must be balanced to maintain a functional system.

But whatever one’s view on the ideal model solution, the manifesto pledge as it stands – together with recent panicked talk of a potential “cap” on care payments, made after four days of relentlessly negative headlines – seems politically naive at best. It is a blunt policy solution, a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and the kind of half-baked idea that would have been kept firmly away from the media had there been any serious ministerial input to the drafting of the Tory manifesto.

Now, there is nothing wrong in principle with having a core team of advisers and ideological kindred spirits aiding a new prime minister as she seeks to put her stamp on the party and the country. Margaret Thatcher did just that when she came to power in 1979, bearing the ideas of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies. As Leader of the Opposition she had read the famous “Stepping Stones” report which diagnosed Britain’s ailments and proposed radical solutions to lift Britain out of near-terminal economic decline.

But the emergency circumstances in which Thatcher pushed through her reforms were far different to today’s more benign environment. When the country faces existential threat, as we did in the late 1970s, some justification can be made for strong and decisive leadership which doesn’t wait around seeking to hand-hold and achieve consensus before acting. And while some people with a flair for the dramatic might claim that Brexit represents a similar crisis, Brexit and the rise of populism is far more a crisis of political legitimacy than economic survival – and political legitimacy is undermined, not improved, by ramming through ill-considered reforms to the social care system.

Ultimately, the cause of good policymaking is never well served when a couple of “Bright Young Thing” Special Advisers – often with wide but shallow portfolios, and no democratic mandate of their own – decide to rewrite government policy and plan to reshape our national institutions on the back of a napkin. I’m sure that Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Theresa May’s collective brain trust, are extraordinarily bright and capable people – on paper, at least. But the accumulation of evidence increasingly suggests that they lack street smarts, let alone a decent political radar, which is rather strange given their respective biographies. Ted Sorensen they are not.

Hopefully Theresa May will learn from this debacle. She intends to lead the country – never mind the Conservative Party – in a direction that many people have reservations about, some of them quite justified. To succeed in office, she will need to draw on the best that the entire conservative movement has to offer, including those wings of the party that she continues to vilify (cough, libertarians).

And for somebody like Theresa May, a self-confessed pragmatist with no overarching vision for government of her own, that means widening the circle and taking some more advice before tearing up the social contract, crashing out of the single market without a transitional arrangement or implementing Ed Miliband’s 2015 Labour manifesto by the back door.

 

Theresa May - Conservative Party - General Election 2017 - Forward Together

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