There are two common views among people who wanted to stay in the EU that I think are mistaken. One is that David Cameron made a foolish and unforgivable mistake in promising the referendum. The other is that the result was obtained by a campaign of lies.
My contentions are that Cameron was forced to promise a referendum by the very democratic pressure that produced the vote to Leave, and that the referendum was about as fair as the rough and tumble of democracy usually is.
And Rentoul is quite right, I think, to state that with the rise of UKIP, never-ending power grabs from an increasingly tone-deaf EU and the systematic crises (euro, migration) facing the union, a referendum was ultimately coming, one way or another, regardless of whatever David Cameron did:
Cameron knew that if he didn’t promise a referendum, his party would become even harder to manage and it would lose votes to Ukip. As it turned out, he had a choice between cutting his throat and slitting his wrist: he could lose the election in 2015 and be thrown out of office or he could lose the referendum a year later and be thrown out of office. Being a politician – that is to say, human – he chose to maximise his chance of winning in 2015 and hoped that winning in 2016 would take care of itself.
Rentoul accurately notes that euroscepticism is hardly a new phenomenon in Britain. While we may not have been asked our opinion on the matter since the 1975 referendum, there has always been a significant chunk of the population opposed to our EU membership, even before mass immigration from eastern Europe or the euro crisis were factors:
It may be objected that polls did not find that the EU was a priority for voters, and that support for leaving became significant only after the 2008 banking crisis. But there has been a majority in the British public for leaving or for reducing the EU’s powers since 1996, according to the British Election Study (page 6), and immigration has been named as one of the three most important issues facing Britain since 2001, according to Ipsos MORI.
But even more encouraging (from a Brexiteer’s perspective) is Rentoul’s refusal to fall back on lazy Remainer self-delusions that the Leave campaign had a monopoly on lies and misinformation, and that it was this uniquely one-sided dishonesty which somehow tricked a gullible population and swung the referendum:
The second complaint by many Remainers is that the people voted to Leave on the basis of disinformation. There is an implication that journalists failed in their duty to fact-check the post-truth politics – a criticism that must sound familiar in America.
But I don’t think the argument holds up. One of the surprising things about the referendum was that we didn’t hear that much about Eurosceptic press barons dominating the debate. This may be because they didn’t. The media landscape in Britain has been utterly transformed by the internet – as I know well, working for the first national newspaper to go online-only.
If you look at the readership of British newspapers, print and online, not only does The Independent have more readers than The Sun – not many people know that – but the total readerships of newspapers advocating Leave and Remain were about the same (of the 13 weekday newspapers, the Mail, Telegraph, Express, Star and Sun advocated Leave, with 95m monthly readers; the Guardian, Mirror, Independent, Standard, Times, Daily Recordand Scotsman advocated Remain, with 97m monthly readers; the Metro had no position). There are other new news sources online, Buzzfeed and other rivals of The Independent that I won’t mention, but overall I think the media was fairly evenly balanced.
As Rentoul points out, the Evil Murdoch Press doesn’t have quite the vice-like grip over the minds of the British people as many a Corbynite (or even a New Labour centrist) likes to believe. People consume their news from a variety of sources, and exist in social media bubbles of all kinds – pro-EU as much as eurosceptic.
All the same, there were claims made in the campaign that were – I prefer not to call them lies – not absolutely evidence-based. The most prominent was the claim by the Leave campaign that the UK sends £350m a week to the EU. We don’t. It’s about half that. The Leave people justified it by saying it would be £350m if we didn’t have the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1985. Their argument is that politicians will be tempted to negotiate the rebate away in future – Tony Blair, for example, allowed it to be diluted when new countries joined the EU in 2004.
Most journalists reported that it wasn’t true. The trouble is that saying, “It’s not £350m a week it’s £180m a week,” didn’t really help the Remainers. It drove them mad because the Leavers kept on using the £350m, and the Remainers kept saying it wasn’t true, drawing attention to it, and reminding voters that we send a sum of money too big to be understood to the EU every week.
Besides, the Remain campaign was putting out leaflets claiming that for every pound we put into the EU we got £10 back. I wouldn’t describe that as absolutely evidence-based either.
Many of us – this blog included – campaigned long and hard and angrily about Vote Leave’s disingenuous “£350 million for the NHS” pledge, pointing out that it was false and that it served as a greater propaganda tool for the Remain campaign with which to attack Brexiteers than as an argument for leaving the EU. But Rentoul is quite right – the true figure of c. £180 million is just as impactful, and quantitative scaremongering claims by the Remain campaign were no less manipulative and deceitful.
This blog has been busy handing out awards for grotesque Brexit catastrophisation with some relish, so it is only fair to acknowledge times when those from the political Left exceed the low expectations which have too often been set by politicians and the media class. Rentoul’s overall assessment is quite right – the EU referendum campaign was cacophonous and messy, but it was in no way tilted in favour of the underdog, insurgent Leave campaign, and would never have succeeded if it had not ignited already-latest anti-EU feelings among entire swathes of the British people.
So credit where credit is due: John Rentoul is one of vanishingly few prominent left-wing commentators to broadly accept the result of the EU referendum with no ifs, buts or asterisks. If only other left-wing politicians and commentators found it within themselves to do the same, their political movement might not now be facing unprecedented unpopularity and rejection by the British people.
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Fiscal incontinence, a bizarre grammar school obsession and a new crackdown on civil liberties – forgive me for not cheering along as Theresa May’s Conservative In Name Only Party assembles, victorious, in Birmingham
Theresa May would never have been this blog’s choice to be Britain’s new prime minister, but I have tried to maintain a spirit of cautious optimism in the months since the EU referendum toppled David Cameron and upended our national politics.
And there have been some genuinely positive signs along the way. For one, healthy national pride and patriotism – dead and buried for so long, with New Labour the principal executioner – is starting to make a comeback, no longer automatically scorned by all of Britain’s leading politicians.
Indeed, the Telegraph reports that Theresa May made patriotism one of the lynchpins of her keynote speech to Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham today:
The establishment must stop sneering at the patriotism of ordinary Britons, Theresa May will say today.
During her keynote speech to the Conservative conference, the Prime Minister will proclaim that the Tories are now the party of working class people.
In a bid to attract millions of disaffected Labour voters across the country, she will add that concerns about immigration have for too long been dismissed as “distasteful” and “parochial”.
She will attack the condescending views of politicians and establishment figures who are “bewildered” by the fact that more than 17 million people voted for Britain to leave the European Union.
[..] “Just listen to the way a lot of politicians and commentators talk about the public,” Mrs May will say. “They find their patriotism distasteful, their concerns about immigration parochial, their views about crime illiberal, their attachment to their job security inconvenient. They find the fact that more than seventeen million people voted to leave the European Union simply bewildering.”
This is good. While sneering, elitist anti-democrats like Matthew Parris may suffer convulsions any time somebody outside Zone 2 or with an income of less than £100,000 dares to utter a political opinion, great (and deserved) political rewards potentially await a major political party which stops treating working and middle class patriotism like an infectious disease.
And there was more to admire in today’s keynote speech, not least the fact that Theresa May delivered it from behind a lectern while reading from a printed transcript rather than adopting the tiresome Gordon Brown / David Cameron habit of prancing around the stage while reciting from memory, like an over-eager Shakespearean actor or a Silicon Valley executive delivering a TED talk.
But unfortunately, in that same speech Theresa May also declared “I want to set our party and our country on the path towards the new centre ground of British politics”. In other words, gifted a blank canvas and meaningful opposition only from the ranks of Conservative backbenchers, Britain’s new prime minister is going to play it safe and stubbornly occupy the same tedious middle ground marked out by David Cameron and George Osborne, only a couple of steps further to the left.
But the worst part of Theresa May’s keynote conference speech came when she declared:
“A change has got to come. It’s time to remember the good that government can do. Time for a new approach that says while government does not have all the answers, government can and should be a force for good; that the state exists to provide what individual people, communities and markets cannot; and that we should employ the power of government for the good of the people.”
Excuse me, but no. What is this Miliband-esque, woolly Fabian nonsense?
Opinions differ as to what ails modern Britain, but almost nobody remotely serious would suggest with a straight face that we currently suffer because the state is not yet involved enough in our daily lives, or that it is not performing activities which the market could reasonably undertake. Nobody apart from our new prime minister, that is.
With a new Conservative prime minister singing hymns of praise to an activist state constantly meddling in the lives of its dependent citizenry, we may as well be back in the 1970s. At least David Cameron used to talk about the Big Society (even if he never made it a reality), and suggested that there might be a whole world out there beyond the suffocating reach of the public sector. If we take Theresa May at her word, she seems to believe the opposite – that we should expect to rely on the state in all matters of life, and that markets are terminally “dysfunctional”, requiring constant state intervention.
I’m sorry, but this is unforgivably leftist fluff coming from a supposedly Conservative prime minister. One appreciates that Theresa May has come to office at an exceedingly difficult time, with Britain’s EU secession by far the most ambitious enterprise which this country has attempted in decades. But that is absolutely no excuse for kicking ideology and founding principle to the kerb and engaging in what can only be described as flagrant socialist cross-dressing.
Furthermore, Theresa May’s sloppy wet kiss to Big Government presupposes that until now we have somehow been living in a Hayekian, libertarian nirvana, where the government stayed out of our lives, the successful didn’t have to fork over half of their income in taxes and everybody was left to sink or swim according to their merits. This was hardly the case. The terrible “austerity” inflicted by David Cameron and George Osborne was in reality nothing more than the meekest, politest attempt to stem the constant increases in public spending. Six years on and the deficit remains, the national debt is larger and interest on Britain’s sovereign debt rivals our annual Defence budget.
In other words, Theresa May’s speech made it seem as though working British people had up to now been left to starve in some awful libertarian dystopia, when in fact we remain prisoners of the welfare state/public sector prison created decades ago and put on steroids by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
And yet the parties of the Left uniformly fail to realise just how lucky they have it with Theresa May in charge of the country. A Britain led by David Davis, Liam Fox or Jacob Rees-Mogg would quite possibly offer a taste of real austerity for those parts of the country which have grown fat suckling on the taxpayer teat, but with Theresa May they don’t have to worry about any of that. For the prime minister is every bit as much of a champion of the state as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband ever were.
Theresa May’s speech to Conservative Party conference was supposed to showcase her philosophy. And it did.
It showcased a nightmarish new Conservative ideology that cloaks drastic social illiberalism in the language of inclusive economics, panders to one section of the working class in order to marginalise another, and brands anyone who dares to disagree as unpatriotic and sneering.
And it takes the vote to leave the European Union as a justification for extreme, inward-looking and divisive policies, completely disregarding the 16 million people who voted to remain, not to mention all the decent leave voters, who voted for change, not for for xenophobia.
The delicious irony of a weepy leftist complaining about being disregarded and demonised when such flagrant hostility is the default left-wing attitude towards anybody with remotely conservative opinions is almost too much to bear, but it gets better:
However, the truly frightening aspect of this speech was its divisiveness, its aggression towards anyone who doesn’t fit into the prime minister’s definition of ‘ordinary’.
This includes anyone not born in Britain, despite May’s claim to want ‘a country where it doesn’t matter where you were born.’
It comprises most of the 48 per cent of people who voted to remain in Europe — May seems to have forgotten she was one of them — and all those who envision a more progressive approach to crime, immigration, human rights, healthcare or education.
Here is a prime minister who did everything but daub herself in red paint and sing the Internationale right on the stage of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, and still it isn’t enough for the leftists because the Big Mean Scary Lady apparently used “non-inclusive” language. Truly there is no winning with these people.
In fact, the hysterical reaction from the Left only shows how far Labour’s metro-left ruling class have diverged from their party base and from traditional left-wing thought. Theresa May promises German style corporate governance, more wealth redistribution and the state as an overbearing, omnipresent parent – all of which which would have delighted 1980s socialists – yet the modern metro-left pitches a hissy fit because Theresa May didn’t sing paeans of praise to unlimited immigration or bow down before the altar of corrosive identity politics.
The goalposts keep moving and the ratchet keeps tightening and dragging us leftward. But ordinarily one might at least reasonably expect a Conservative prime minister to act as an anchor and a drag on that influence. Theresa May, though, seems eager to beat the centrist, metro-left in a full-on sprint to the left.
Look: I get that Theresa May is not a socialist herself. But the mere fact that she is comfortable using the same woolly, often meaningless language of Ed Miliband should be a real cause for concern among libertarian-leaning conservatives because it shows that she is far more interested in hoovering up centrist Labour voters than making a bold, compelling case for small government, conservative policies. It is undoubtedly the correct approach if one wants to pursue the path of least resistance, but to tack to the authoritarian centre at a time when the Labour opposition has all but disintegrated is an almost criminal waste of an opportunity to radically reshape Britain – not just through Brexit, but in terms of the relationship between government and citizen.
I know I can be a bit of a bore when it comes to analysing political speeches, but it is also depressing to see Theresa May adopt the short sentence / no complex paragraph style also favoured by Ed Miliband.
Put aside for a the obscenity of a Conservative prime minister neglecting to talk about the importance of a flexible labour market to a dynamic economy in favour of trying to outdo Labour in promising counterproductive employment rights, and focus instead on the speechwriting style.
This is the same choppy, disjointed, machine-assembled soundbite speech favoured by Gordon Brown and honed to dismal perfection by Ed Miliband, as this blog explained some time ago:
Behold the short, stunted phrases, written with the news editor’s cropping software in mind while the poor listener’s brain isn’t given a second thought. This is nothing more than a word cloud, a jumble of phrases and platitudes deemed by a focus group to be pleasing or reassuring and then awkwardly bolted together by a computer and beamed onto a teleprompter.
Britain is about to embark on the most complex national endeavour that we have attempted in decades. In seceding from the European Union and deciding to forge our way once more as an independent country, the people of Britain are serving as a case study to the world in how best to maintain and strengthen democracy and accountability in the age of globalisation. Is it really so much to ask that we have a prime minister capable and willing to speak in complete paragraphs rather than ten-word soundbites?
Is it honestly unreasonable to expect that the first major set-piece speech of Theresa May’s premiership should make reference to history, to human endeavour, to our national destiny, rather than simply be a laundry list of bribes to the British people, promising them newer, better public services and an easier life?
This is Milibandism all over again. And while Theresa May is more traditionalist authoritarian than Fabian socialist, alarm bells should be sounding that she intends to govern using the same tired New Labour playbook. May’s conference speech reveals a depressingly small conception of what it means to be the prime minister of the United Kingdom, casting Theresa May as a mere Comptroller of Public Services or a puffed-up cruise ship director rather than a consequential world leader.
Nonetheless, Conservatives seem to be streaming away from Birmingham in a very cheerful mood – some almost outrageously so:
Best & most important speech from a Tory PM in memory. She's yet to deliver but TM gets that libertarian individualism is THE Tory weakness.
Yes, libertarian individualism is indeed “THE Tory weakness” if one is trying to appeal to people who love socialism and a big, activist state. Which is why a healthy, virile Conservative Party should either seek to make such people see the error of their ways or else quit pandering to them entirely.
But this is clearly not Theresa May’s approach. She has a different strategy. And what has it wrought thus far?
After three months of reflection over the summer, the Tories are absolutely nowhere when it comes to tackling Brexit, but every indication we have seen suggests that they are toying with the unnecessary self-harm option which would see Britain forsake the single market in a couple of years at the time of EU secession, well before any comprehensive replacement could possibly be negotiated.
We were supposed to be wowed by a so-called “Great Repeal Bill” to undo the 1972 European Communities Act, until five seconds of reflection revealed this grand piece of posturing to be nothing more than a statement of the bleeding obvious – if Brexit is to happen at all, the primacy of EU law and courts must be brought to an end at the moment of departure.
Flagship proposals to build new grammar schools only scratch the surface of problems with British education, but jubilant Tories seem to be treating this policy as the alpha and omega of their plans to create a more educated and skilled workforce when in fact so much more needs to be done to make the British education system the best in the world.
The last Chancellor of the Exchequer was bad enough, with his limp deficit reduction targets, obsession with white elephant infrastructure projects and shameful Brexit scaremongering. But his replacement, Philip Hammond, has taken what little authority the Tories retained on fiscal responsibility and thrown it out the window. Now Conservatives are mocked by John McDonnell of all people – John McDonnell! – for failing to grapple with the public finances, and the national debt will have increased every year after a decade of Tory rule.
So I’m sorry, but I can’t get excited about this revamped Conservative In Name Only government. While Theresa May is off to a bright start in terms of tone and temperament, what we have seen so far in terms of policy suggests a shift even further to the economic left than Cameron/Osborne, balanced out by a rise in authoritarianism and government meddling in every aspect of private life.
And for what? To beat Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party by a slightly greater landslide in 2020 than is already expected?
Maybe I’m alone in this, but I would rather Theresa May’s government struggle to a 30 seat majority in 2020 based on a really radical, small government manifesto in the model of Thatcher – and then actually go about reshaping the country based on that clear vision – rather than win a 100 seat majority by dressing up in the abandoned clothing of Ed Miliband.
There are dangers in consensus; it could be an attempt to satisfy people holding no particular views about anything. It seems more important to have a philosophy and policy which because they are good appeal to sufficient people to secure a majority.
Theresa May clearly disagrees, and there is a very low limit to the respect that this blog can give to a leader who thinks in such unambitious, tactical terms.
Finding himself prematurely out of power and seeing no value in life as a mere backbench MP, David Cameron brings the curtain down on a bland, centrist, disappointing and entirely forgettable political career
Having successfully completed Tony Blair’s fourth term of office and having a premature end called to his fifth, David Cameron today announced his decision to flounce out of parliament – despite having earlier promised to stay on as an MP after his fall from power.
With modern politics, with the circumstances of my resignation, it isn’t really possible to be a proper backbench MP as a former prime minister. I think everything you do will become a big distraction and a big diversion from what the Government needs to do for our country.
And I support Theresa May, I think she’s got off to a great start, I think she can be a strong prime minister for our country and I don’t want to be that distraction – I want Witney to have a new MP who can play a full part in parliamentary and political life without being a distraction.
[..] I hope I’ll continue to contribute in terms of public service and of course contribute to this country that I love so much.”
[..] I spoke to Theresa May and she was very understanding about this decision. I support her, I support what she’s doing, she’s got off to a cracking start. Obviously I’m going to have my own views about different issues – people would know that. And that’s really the point: as a former prime minister it is very difficult, I think, to sit as a backbencher and not be an enormous distraction and diversion from what the Government is doing. I don’t want to be that distraction; I want Witney to have an MP that can play a full role in parliamentary and political life in a way I think I would find very difficult if not impossible.”
I find this explanation…unconvincing. If the capsuled history of David Cameron’s premiership and leadership of the Conservative Party has taught us anything about Cameron the man, it is that he has absolutely no core political convictions which he is not more than willing to toss overboard for the sake of political expediency and his relentless desire to engage in centrist triangulation.
Fiscal conservatism? As long as he and George Osborne were able to find some statistical or rhetorical device to falsely claim that they were “paying down Britain’s debts”, Cameron was more than happy to continue spending hand over fist, driving Britain’s national debt ever-upward while exhibiting enormous timidity in reversing many of Gordon Brown’s most draconian tax increases.
Strong national defence? It took his successor, Theresa May, to drive through the parliamentary vote on the renewal of Trident, while under David Cameron’s watch Britain temporarily waived goodbye to our aircraft carrier capability (a true diminution in the eyes of the world) as well as the ability to effectively patrol our own coastline and airspace without the help of allies.
A smaller state? The much-vaunted “Big Society” was dead on arrival in 10 Downing Street back in the spring of 2010, and whatever rearranging of deckchairs the coalition government engaged in, nothing was done to tackle the biggest budget black holes – pensions and the NHS. Under David Cameron, the government preferred to virtue-signal their progressive credentials by spending borrowed money on international aid than get to grips with departmental spending.
So given this singularly unimpressive track record, the idea of David Cameron suddenly discovering an ideological backbone and beliefs strong enough to resign over is frankly ludicrous.
In fact, what really happened is quite obvious. Cast from power unexpectedly and with unexpected speed, Cameron lied when he said that he intended to stay on and complete his term as MP for Witney. To have said otherwise and admitted his intention to resign would have appeared churlish, and more than anything Cameron wanted to cultivate the image of himself as an easy-going happy warrior, ready to relinquish the trappings of office without regret and re-assume a more humble role as a backbencher.
This announcement came as quickly as it possibly could without making Cameron look completely dishonest and reprehensible. At least when Gordon Brown resigned as an MP he had managed four years as a backbencher – albeit four years in which he collected a hefty MP salary while being virtually invisible in Westminster. David Cameron’s brittle ego wouldn’t even permit him to last a year on the backbenches. His top flight political career having been brought to an unexpected end, Cameron saw no reason to stick around as a mere constituency MP.
To politicians like David Cameron, the role of constituency MP is merely a springboard to ministerial power. When the possibility of prize cabinet jobs or the keys to Number 10 Downing Street are no longer an option, wasting time on select committees or dealing with constituents’ issues appears a supreme waste of time – time which could be better spent cashing in on fame and carefully tended relationships while they are still relatively fresh and can bear the most fruit.
On June 27, David Cameron issued this statement: “I will continue with my duties as the MP for Witney. It is an enormous privilege to serve the people of West Oxfordshire.”
So enormous that he could only bear it for a few more weeks, apparently. He’s off, leaving the Commons and triggering a by-election in Witney: some lucky Tory will soon inherit one of the safest and prettiest seats in the country.
What does this tell us about Mr Cameron? Nothing terribly positive, to be honest. Let’s remember, he fought the EU referendum campaign promising not to quit if he lost, then quit when he lost — but only having clung to office as long as possible and having banned the Civil Service from doing any preparatory work for Brexit, thus making it harder for his successor to actually get on with the job.
In between breaking his promise not to resign as PM and breaking his promise not to resign as an MP, the only significant official work he undertook was drawing up an honours list handing an OBE to his wife’s stylist and a knighthood to his press officer.
Not exactly the most dignified departure from office, is it? And certainly not one that’s easy to reconcile with many, many statements from Mr Cameron about the sense of duty he owed to his nation, the selfless service he felt obliged to render.
And Kirkup’s unsparing conclusion:
And this is why flouncing out of Parliament in this way is so telling: it speaks to something fundamental about Mr Cameron’s character and his approach to politics: a lack of seriousness, the absence of real commitment. Yes, he wanted the job and yes he put the hours in, to the cost of his family.
But he would never die in a ditch for his political beliefs, never shed blood and move mountains to hammer home his arguments. It was always enough to get by, to do just enough to get the top grade and do better than the rest.
Sadly, that describes Cameron perfectly – far more obsessed with optics than reality, and forever in search of the path of least resistance, even when that path ran direct through traditionally left-wing territory.
Ultimately, David Cameron was a weak and instantly forgettable prime minister because he was a centrist triangulator and a technocrat at heart. As prime minister he had no real interest in reforming Britain in his own image, imposing his own worldview or being a statesman. Rather, he was content to campaign and govern as a mere Comptroller of Public Services, the living, breathing symbol of the diminution of our national politics.
All we need now is for George Osborne to follow his chum David Cameron into political retirement and we may finally be able to turn the page on this most boring and depressing chapter in Conservative history.
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We are in the middle of a five-day rail strike on Southern Rail. Commuters are being massively disrupted. And this is just the latest stage in a dispute in which the Luddite RMT union has made it clear that it is fully committed to fighting against the future.
What about the Government? Where are they in this dispute. It is a crystallisation if all their key themes: investment, modernisation, innovation and productivity. But they are silent.
Well not quite. What we have actually seen is the resignation of the then rail minister Claire Perry, who said: “I am often ashamed to be the Rail Minister.” And so she should have been – just for her pathetic capitulation to the RMT. This, of course, is just what you would have expected from a Miliband government; but this is a Tory government, with a majority.
There is a famous scene in The West Wing episode about President Bartlet appointing a member of the Supreme Court. He meets Justice Joseph Crouch, whose retirement creates the vacancy, and is angrily addressed by Crouch: “I wanted to retire five years ago. Five years. But I waited for a Democrat. Instead I got you.” The Southern Rail dispute is just like that. Commuters in the Home Counties could be forgiven for thinking: “I waited 23 years for a majority Tory government. Instead I got you.” Where are the core Tory values? Where is the support for management’s right to manage?
This is utterly stunning criticism – shocking not only because it is self-evidently true (the Conservatives in government are a shadow of their glorious best under Margaret Thatcher) but because they are now so bad at governing in a conservative fashion that it has fallen to a former New Labour apparatchik to set them straight.
Why on earth has it fallen to a Labour Party grandee to inveigh against the more militant trades union? Where is the useless europhile Greg Clark, supposedly Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy during this whole dispute? Where is Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary? Have they all taken lessons from their new boss in the art of disappearing and avoiding the media during scandals affecting their ministerial briefs?
This criticism is particularly damning:
Where are the core Tory values? Where is the support for management’s right to manage?
A Thatcherite government would have stood boldly on the side of consumers over producers, and thus would have been unafraid to plant its flag squarely in the same corner as Southern Rail’s unfortunate commuters. And unlike the Cameron approach to industrial disputes (seemingly applying maximum pressure on businesses to capitulate to union demands, as seen with the London Tube strikes) a Thatcherite government would have recognised the offensive absurdity of the union demands and unashamedly sided against them.
Needless to say, we do not have a Thatcherite government – despite all of the ingredients being in place for another properly ideological right wing government to flourish. The left-wing opposition is hopelessly divided. The Conservatives are under new leadership for the first time in a decade. Boundary review looks set to help the Tories by correcting decades-old biases in favour of Labour, potentially gifting the Tories tens of additional seats. All of these factors stand ready and waiting to be exploited by a radical Conservative government which understands that it has a duty to do more than hold power for the sake of it.
And yet at every turn, the Tories triangulate and tack to the centre. They did so under coalition government (when they had a modicum of an excuse) and they continue to do so now, when they have none. Right now, there is effectively no opposition. A conservative government right now could make a fair stab at privatising pensions and the NHS, and still not be forced out of office so long as the Corbynite and centrist wings of the Labour Party continue their childish tussle for power. The political landscape is ripe for a radical conservative reduction and reshaping of the state, yet there is almost zero evidence that Theresa May’s government intends to attempt any such bold enterprise.
And for what? Will being a centrist clone of New Labour win the Tories any new fans? Of course not. The swivel-eyed Left have long ago convinced themselves that all Tories are “evil” and “vermin”, no matter what they actually do in government.
We shall win no new fans by trying to adopt the cuddly persona of a young Tony Blair. We will never be liked. Therefore we should focus on being effective, without giving a second thought to winning over the admiration and votes of people who have been raised since birth to despise us. That’s what Margaret Thatcher taught us. And that is the lesson which we seem determined to cast aside in our feverish pursuit of the focus group’s favour.
John McTernan’s quote from The West Wing is very apt. Many conservatives have indeed been waiting for years – since Margaret Thatcher was forced from office, in fact – for another strong Tory leader; somebody committed to conservative, small government principles and willing to fight for them.
Conservatives waited thirteen long years of New Labour government only to get David Cameron. We then endured six years of Cameronism before being presented with the authoritarian Theresa May, foisted on the party in the confused wake of the EU referendum. And whatever electoral success Theresa May enjoys, she may well end up being every bit as much of an ideological disappointment as her predecessor.
But maybe this criticism is premature. Maybe the autumn Conservative Party conference will give birth to a conservative policy platform actually worth voting for. And to be fair to the new prime minister, even Margaret Thatcher bottled her first confrontation with the National Union of Mineworkers, staging a tactical retreat before coming back to finish the job in 1984-85.
But right now, British conservatives are in the ludicrous and humiliating position of being upbraided by a Labour Party grandee – someone from the party of Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith, for heaven’s sake – for being insufficiently dedicated to conservative principles.
And when it falls to Tony Blair’s right hand man to tell the Tories how to get tough with the unions, something is clearly rotten with the state of British conservatism.
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Many commentators are speaking of this post-referendum, new government period as one which is fraught with danger. This is a great pity, and reflects the establishment’s gnawing fear of change and lack of confidence in Britain.
At the same time we have to stick to our view of ourselves as global players. There is a widespread perception in the rest of the world that we have just dealt ourselves out of the game, and gone back to being the small island off the continental shelf of Europe we were before our glory days. That perception must not be allowed to stand.
This means that our approach has to be one of resolute maintenance of Britain both as a country which wants to have a close and positive relationship with the rest of Europe and the EU, and also as an open, tolerant and internationalist country, with a determination to go on contributing to the solution of the world’s problems. These are not just platitudes. Only if we can achieve that will it be possible to say to all those young people horrified by the result of the vote that they are not condemned to live in a narrow, isolated society driven by a combination of nostalgia for an imagined past and xenophobia. That is their concern, I am convinced, rather than a more specific concern about whether or not we are part of the EU institutions. At least some of those who campaigned to leave the EU are firmly in this open, internationalist camp. We have to encourage them to stay there, and to make it happen, not just talk about it.
This is critical. There is a perception – partly in the world, but frankly more commonly held by the British elite – that we have “dealt ourselves out of the game”, as Sir John Holmes says. And many people do indeed seem to think that we will now go back to being a “small island” before our “glory days”.
This is jarringly, sickeningly false. Britain’s “glory days” did not begin in 1973 when we acceded to the European Economic Community. This country shaped the entire world for centuries before the EU was even a twinkle in Jean Monnet’s eye. The fact that people – some of them in positions of great influence – sincerely think that Britain’s global success somehow began when we joined the EEC, when we were in fact at our weakest and most run down as a nation, is utterly ludicrous. But it does speak to the remarkable effectiveness of EU mythology and propaganda.
Holmes is quite right. Very few of the young people weeping into television cameras about having their futures “ripped away” by Brexit actually understand the first thing about the European Union, what it is, how it operates and what it intends to become. They are wedded to the idea of being outward looking and internationalist, which itself is a commendable thing. As victorious Brexiteers it is our job to now show them that this is what many of us were fighting for, too. We must show the doubters within the British electorate that our quarrel was with the failed, sclerotic and deeply antidemocratic institutions of Brussels, not the idea of friendly cooperation between neighbouring countries.
It is therefore vitally important that Theresa May’s new government projects the proper image of optimism and potential, rather than some kind of war government battening down the hatches to ride out a dreadful storm. Will there be immense difficulties? Of course. But we already have the sore loser Remainer contingent determined to catastrophise Brexit and seize on any morsel of bad news as proof that they were right (rather than working positively together to achieve the settled will of the British people to leave the EU). We can afford no additional negativity from government.
The greatest threat to Britain now is not some fictional retaliation from a spiteful, scorned European Union, but rather the danger from within – the lack of self confidence shown by government and citizen alike that we possess the strengths and attributes required to succeed and function like every other single advanced country on earth outside of the European Union.
As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, at a time when his country faced a genuinely grave threat (rather than the bright opportunity of Brexit now presented to Britain):
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Theresa May, Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson will not bring down this country. Only we the British people have the potential to do that. We, with our nameless, unreasoning and unjustified terror in the face of newfound freedom.
May is a stickler for detail and doubtless will be alarmed by the absence of a coherent plan for Brexit in Whitehall. If preparation is a prerequisite for successful Brexit, the omens are poor. The official leave campaign, focused on victory and avoiding internal division, drew up only the flimsiest plan for what Brexit would look like, pointing vaguely at the exit door, but with little idea of what lay the other side. Foreign Office diplomats were instructed to draw up no contingency plans whatsoever, supposedly for fear they might leak.
The appointment of David Davis as Minister for Brexit, and Liam Fox as trade secretary suggests May is willing to go for a hard Brexit, where the UK does not remain in the single market – as the new chancellor, Philip Hammond, has also said – and removes itself quickly from the EU. But the civil service may feel the Davis blueprint recently published on Conservative Home is optimistic. In essence he argues article 50 should be triggered by the end of the year and predicts the UK could sign bilateral trade deals with a set of markets larger than the single market within 12 to 24 months.
[..] Detailed options on Brexit were previously discussed little, due to the foreshortening of the Tory leadership election. On the Labour side, a coherent policy on Europe that combines its pro-European instincts with its voters’ dislike of free movement has yet to emerge.
The discussion has instead been confined to thinktanks, bloggers, the House of Lords and Oliver Letwin’s hastily assembled Cabinet Office Brexit unit.
Yes, we bloggers did have a thing or two to say about the optimal Brexit plan. At the time, getting the message out there was next to impossible as the media preferred to hang on every word (and false warning or promise) made by the vapid “leaders” of the Remain and Leave campaigns. At least people are now beginning to take note.
The Guardian then starts to use language which could almost be lifted directly from the pages of one of the Leave Alliance bloggers:
A soft Brexit means a relatively slow negotiation designed to retain as close as possible a relationship with the rest of the EU. Access to the EU’s single market, with as few tariffs as possible, is the goal.
The off-the-shelf model is Norway’s complex European Economic Area agreement, but probably only as long as the EU agrees that Norway’s limited flexibility on free movement can be extended. This has been described as “EEA-minus”.
Rune-readers reckon this model might be the instinctive preference of both May and her Whitehall civil servants. It minimises disruption, calms business and could be sold as a staging post while Whitehall starts a bigger process of disentanglement.
Well, well, well. “Off-the shelf”. “Staging post”. Finally, the messages pushed by the Leave Alliance are being picked up even by the Guardian (with no attribution, of course).
Here, too, we see evidence of the Guardian skimming Leave Alliance output:
Some say that there are little-noticed flexibilities in the free movement in the Norway free trade agreement, such as article 112 that allows EEA states to “take unilateral action to restrict freedom of movement in the event of serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”. Some Brexiters have claimed this gives an EEA member state the right to restrict the freedom of EU citizens to come to the UK through a form of emergency brake.
All this complexity may well lead the cautious May and her new “minister for Brexit David Davis” back to the Norway option as the best starting point.
It took two seconds for voters to mark a cross alongside leave on the ballot paper. It is increasingly apparent it might take two decades to work through the full consequences.
Precisely so. It has taken the Guardian awhile to get there, but they seem finally to have arrived. Brexit will indeed be a process, and a long and complex one at that. Forty years of political integration and the handing over of whole core competencies to the EU cannot possibly be unpicked in a couple of years. And as the Guardian belatedly comes to acknowledge, this leads consistently back to an interim staging option where single market access is preserved as we seek to scope out our optimal longer-term solution.
The dedicated bloggers and citizen journalists of The Leave Alliance came to this same conclusion many months, even years ago. It is a pity that the Guardian could not offer any attribution for their eureka moment.
Brexit is an idea, an intellectual vision for Britain, a 10- or 20-year journey to reshape our economy and society, reinvigorate our democracy and reinvent ourselves as truly global, high-wage, high value-added trading superhub. It matters little who begins to deliver this, as long as our withdrawal from the EU is executed in the best possible way: the referendum was about changing our destiny, not about making any specific pro‑Brexit individual our next prime minister.
We were voting for an idea, not a gang; this was a referendum, not an election. Ideas both predate and outlive individuals, and Euroscepticism is no different: the mark of true ideological victory is when erstwhile opponents implement a policy that they used to oppose and hire their former enemies to assist them in the task. Capitalism triumphs when ex-socialists privatise industries, deregulate and cut taxes; Euroscepticism truly wins when an ex‑Remainer takes us out of the EU.
[..] It also doesn’t matter that our new Prime Minister is not especially ideological; in fact, in the present circumstances this may well help her. A radical, disruptive, previously unthinkable belief structure – to quit the EU – has been chosen for her and imposed upon her. It’s an immense, awe-inspiring task; what we now need is managerial ability. Lady Thatcher had to find her mission; May has been handed hers.
More and more people are coming to think of Brexit in these terms, which is encouraging. Allister Heath was one of the first journalists to advocate the interim EFTA/EEA “Norway Option” approach championed by The Leave Alliance, just prior to the EU referendum. It is good to see Heath continuing to talk of Brexit in terms of a complex process which demands the best of Britain’s managerial talent to accomplish.
Heath also takes heart from Theresa May’s first address as prime minister:
She has started superbly, delivering a powerful, uplifting speech targeted at that category of hard-working, aspirational, lowish-income working people who are “just managing”.She is framing her non-Brexit vision as “unionist”, as in the Conservative and Unionist party; to her, it means that we are all united as citizens and that our economy must work for everybody.
These principles – opportunity for all, a colour-blind society, meritocracy, no discrimination, improving state schools – are profoundly Tory. They have little to do with “modernisation” or “centrism”; they are at the heart of what all successful Tories have always believed in. The devil, of course, is in their implementation: it can be through harnessing conservative and free-market principles, or via Left-wing means. We should hope and expect that it will be the former.
Heath interprets May’s speech almost exactly as I did last night, seeing it as a statement of our shared national destiny and recognition of our duty toward one another, while also praising May’s smart, laser-like focus on the people in the squeezed middle who are “just managing”.
Heath also shares this blog’s concern about which route Theresa May’s government will take to get to this promised land – whether it is through bold conservative means (as Thatcher did) or through leftist redistribution. It looks like both us us will be keeping Theresa May under close observation on this point.
Heath is clear about what he would like to see from May in the economic sphere:
She must also add to her remarks last night by telling us more about her vision for the economy. This must come from her, not her new Chancellor. Her leitmotif needs to be about empowering the poor by unleashing enterprise, not hobbling the rich; this will require more housebuilding, the re‑creation of an ownership society, far better schooling and adult education, led hopefully by private sector involvement, and a deregulatory and supply-side revolution to encourage investment and the creation of even more small businesses.
That would be pure Thatcherism 2.0 and much as I would love to see it all come to pass, on the balance of available evidence I just don’t think that Theresa May will be that good on economic policy. During her incredibly brief leadership campaign, May was sounding positively Miliband-esque on capitalism and redistribution. This certainly will not be a case of a radical conservative being held back by the doubting “wets” in her own cabinet.
But if everything on Allister Heath’s wish list does come to pass, this blog will certainly be celebrating.
14 July – 10:00
That jocular, back-slapping PMQs was nothing to be proud of
Finally, someone says what this blog was thinking yesterday as David Cameron took his swansong in parliament.
The political career of David Cameron ended, like they all do, in failure. He led Britain out of the EU without wanting to, and he had to quit as a result. Under such circumstances, some people might have expected his last appearance in the House of Commons to be a painful, even embarrassing affair. Others might have expected him not to show up at all and leave it to his successor.
Yet here was being hailed and praised, the Commons all full of jokes and chuckles. Even Jeremy Corbyn tried to be jolly with a humiliatingly bad attempted joke about Strictly Come Dancing. Only Angus Robertson of the SNP seemed interested in doing to job his voters sent him to Westminster to do, and his reward was disapproving tuts and groans from the rest of the House.
[..] Because “the House uniting to pay tribute” is actually everything that’s wrong with politics, everything that makes people hate their rulers and makes them vote to kick them as hard as possible, or not vote at all because they’re all the same, a cosy club of smug so-and-sos who look after their own and sod the rest of us.
Many people are angry at David Cameron. Many people are sad that he is leaving. Others are indifferent, jubilant, victorious, dismayed, optimistic, depressed. The job of politics and politicians is to reflect and, as far as possible, reconcile such a spectrum of opinion. Yet on days like this, the House sounds one bland self-regarding note of praise, not many divergent tones.
I’m inclined to agree with this view – on reflection. Initially my instincts were also that it was a nice, rather touching affair, and I bristled when Angus Robertson made his serious political intervention. I was wrong.
What better time than to begin debating the legacy of a prime minister as he takes his leave of PMQs? This should have been an occasion for David Cameron to robustly defend his record in office, cheered on by his supporters and called harshly to account by his detractors on both sides of the house. And yet what we had was a rather nauseating, saccharine, Hollywood-style tribute where the errors and controversies were momentarily airbrushed away.
And why? Because, as James Kirkup points out, David Cameron is “one of us” (us being the political class). And too often, those in positions of the greatest power and authority in Britain barely receive verbal censure for their errors and missteps, let alone more serious sanction. On balance, this blog considers David Cameron to have been a very bland and unexciting leader, a letdown to serious conservatives but the Devil incarnate to deranged leftists. But that’s no reason not to have the debate one last time, while Cameron is still there to defend himself.
I’m not saying Mr Cameron should go out in sackcloth and ashes, but politics shouldn’t be a cosy club. It should be a fight, a contest of ideas and arguments and policies. David Cameron fought many such battles and won a good many of them, even if he lost the last one on Europe. His last day in the Commons should have rehearsed and aired those arguments, MPs criticising and praising him as they saw fit and as voters would want, with Mr Cameron giving a full account of himself. If he and his fellow MPs really wanted to do their duty today, they should have made sure he went out fighting.
Funny. Enraged by David Cameron’s despicable behaviour in the EU referendum (again, something which was brushed under the carpet in his triumphant, valedictory PMQs, this blog was all in favour of the sackcloth and ashes approach.
Predicting Cameron’s downfall as he lied, threatened and cheated his way to failure in the EU referendum, I wrote:
That’s why the prime minister’s days are numbered. At present he takes false courage from the fact that his normally sworn enemies in the Labour Party and on the generic Left are holding their fire in their shared desperation to keep Britain in the EU. But on June 24, Cameron will quickly realise that a good half of his own Conservative Party, together with everyone else in the country, will be straining at the leash to eject him from office, strip him of the bully pulpit he has so abused, and send him marching barefoot back to Witney in sackcloth and ashes.
Well, I was half right. The Conservative Party did indeed move quickly, dispassionately and ruthlessly to replace David Cameron once he announced his intention to resign. Unfortunately, he was sent on his way with a lot more praise ringing in his ears than his recent conduct deserved.
The House of Commons can either be a place for the people or an elite, self-serving club which looks after its own before even considering its duty to represent the full range of opinion across our United Kingdom. Yesterday, it never looked more like the latter.
This passage was particularly good, politically speaking:
If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.
If you’re one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly.
I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.
We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws, we’ll listen not to the mighty but to you. When it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you. When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few. We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.
That’s aspirational conservatism at its best, right there. Unfortunately it was preceded with some rather excessive (but expected) praise of her not-very-conservative predecessor and an unnecessary foray into identity politics, but on the whole this was well done by Theresa May and her speechwriter(s).
The powerful repetition of “not the powerful / mighty / wealthy, but you” is particularly effective, underscoring the Tories’ claim to what is often (wrongly) considered exclusively Labour or left-wing territory.
The undercurrent of everything currently happening in British politics – the EU referendum, the self-destruction of the Labour Party, everything – is the chasm between the priorities of political class and the needs of the increasingly squeezed working and lower middle classes. Any politician who does not now make incredibly earnest-looking efforts to appear as though they understand and atone for past failures in helping the squeezed middle is asking for existential-level trouble, and Theresa May is quite right to plant the Conservative Party square on their side.
(Of course, the devil will be in the details – Thatcher helped the working classes with Right to Buy and a crackdown on industrial strife whereas May seems to have more left-wing redistributionist policies in mind, stealing straight from the Miliband playbook).
This section on the unity of our United Kingdom is worth marking, too:
Because not everybody knows this, but the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party, and that word ‘unionist’ is very important to me.
It means we believe in the Union: the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it means something else that is just as important; it means we believe in a union not just between the nations of the United Kingdom but between all of our citizens, every one of us, whoever we are and wherever we’re from.
I’ve been chewing this section over, uncertain what to think of it. Other commentators seem to have responded well to it, warming to this novel rebranding of what it means to be a unionist. The cynic in me worries that it is more empty platitude than statement of intent – or worse, a very clear statement of intent that her government will seek to fortify its place in the political centre ground through a raft of targeted financial giveaways to this voter group.
But let us be optimistic at the start of a new administration. Let’s assume that our new prime minister is exhorting us to once again think of ourselves as one nation, a cohesive whole, rather than a jostling coalition of warring special interest groups and competitive victimhoods. Let’s dare to hope that we are now led by a prime minister who will use the challenges of Brexit – something which she did not want but has vowed to deliver nonetheless – to inspire us all to play our part as engaged citizens with a common destiny rather than avaricious, selfish consumers.
And then this peroration:
We are living through an important moment in our country’s history. Following the referendum, we face a time of great national change.
And I know because we’re Great Britain, that we will rise to the challenge. As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world, and we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.
May’s speech teetered between asking what we can do for our country and hinting about what our country might do for us (well, for some of us anyway). Perhaps that is as good as we will get in this day and age. It is certainly an improvement on other politicians who have sought to ingratiate themselves with us by promising only what they will make the government do for us. Theresa May does at least seem to suggest that it is “we” who must rise to the challenge, not just “others” or the government.
Right now, that’s about all we can say with any certainty. If we take Theresa May at the best interpretation of her words today, then this could be a fruitful premiership. This blog’s approach, as stated before, will be to trust but verify.
13 July – 14:30
Farewell, David Cameron
And so, at the end of today’s session of Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron bowed out with these final words to the House:
“You can achieve a lot of things in politics. You can get a lot of things done. And that, in the end – the public service, the national interest – that is what it’s all about. Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it. After all, as I once said: ‘I was the future once’.”
Woolly, vague platitudes with a superficially appealing thin veneer of optimism – Cameron took his leave from top flight politics in exactly the same way that he practised it.
Of course one wishes Cameron well. To serve in government is to dedicate a portion of one’s life to public service, and while this blog became increasingly strident in its criticism of Cameron as his premiership went on, he bore his responsibilities with grace and (usually) good humour.
In fact, one of the most endearing things about David Cameron is the sense that he is not loathe to give up power in the way that, say, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown so obviously were. Cameron the pragmatist clearly wanted to stay in order to continue implementing his agenda (or treading water, in this blog’s view), but when after the EU referendum result and Andrea Leadsom dropping out of the Tory leadership race it became clear that his departure was to be suddenly accelerated, Cameron prepared to make way for Theresa May with high spirits and (judging by his unintentionally-recorded singing) a clear conscience.
That being said, one cannot look back on David Cameron’s six years as prime minister and come to any other conclusion that this has been a lost half-decade, a dispiriting period of time where the Tories were in office but hardly in power. Whether it is the utter failure of George Osborne to get to grips with the budget deficit (let alone the national debt), the housing crisis, the indecisiveness over airport expansion, civil liberties, national defence, sovereignty, foreign policy, the reflexive pro-Europeanism and much else, this government has been nothing but a letdown, made all the worse by the knowledge that once Labour finally sort themselves out and regain power they will drag the country even further to the left after Cameron failed to move it even slightly to the right.
And sadly, Cameron’s replacement shows no signs of tacking away from this centrist course. As my Conservatives for Liberty colleague Paul Nizinskyj puts it:
Then there is the depressing reality that, on economics, Theresa May is essentially Ed Miliband in kitten heels. It is the sincere hope of this organisation that she picks an economic liberal as her Chancellor because she is simply economically illiterate. The fact she has, with a straight face, proposed curbs on chief executive pay would be hilarious if it wasn’t so terrifying. This is a woman, who in being called out by Jacob Rees-Mogg on her attempt to push through the European Arrest Warrant without a vote in 2014, has shown she has no respect for due process. She does not understand property or individual liberty and she does not care.
Our conclusion? Theresa May is not only an authoritarian with no respect for civil and economic liberty, she is not only most definitely not a libertarian, she is in no way even a conservative.
Ouch. But Nizinskyj is not wrong. Civil libertarians, small-c conservatives and conservatarians (like this blog) will have our work cut out for us in scrutinising Theresa May’s government, doing our best to keep it honest and resisting its most illiberal tendencies.
But even then, if I had to give a prediction for the success of Theresa May’s new administration, I would be pessimistic. I hope to be proven wrong. But as things stand, and based on everything that Theresa May has said and done in her political career – not least the various centrist noises she made at the launch of her own Tory leadership campaign – we are looking at another lost term of office.
Why? Because this blog believes in the politics of persuasion, while centrists like Theresa May and the Labour rebels believe in the politics of pandering. This blog believes that the point of an election campaign is to educate, preach, cajole and convince people that one’s own ideology and policy solutions are the best choice for an individual and for the country as a whole, while the centrists believe that people’s views are fixed and immovable, and that the point of an election campaign is to bend, flatter and shapeshift until you have tricked the voter into believing either that you have his best interests at heart, or at least that the other side intends to do them harm.
So far I have seen nothing to give cause for hope that Theresa May will be any different to David Cameron in this regard – both take the dismal latter rather than the inspiring former view of politics, unlike Margaret Thatcher, their radical conservative predecessor who actually dared to convince voters rather than simply flatter them.
Margaret Thatcher, when faced with a terminally dysfunctional Labour Party, saw an opportunity to boldly remake Britain in a Conservative image, and in so doing she saved the country. David Cameron and Theresa May, when gifted the same golden scenario, see an opportunity to tack to the centre and cement themselves in power forever by being as blandly inoffensive as possible.
I dearly hope to be wrong. This blog would like nothing more than for Britain’s second woman prime minister to be another trailblazer, a new Margaret Thatcher to David Cameron’s rather lame Ted Heath tribute act.
But as things stand, there are precious few grounds for hope.
13 July – 12:00
The hypocrisy of Owen Smith
So it is official. With the launch of Owen Smith‘s campaign for the Labour leadership, Tweedle Dee has officially joined Tweedle Dum. Two complete nonentities with almost zero high level experience between the two of them (within politics or without) are to be the dual stalking horses for the pitiful higher profile centrist Labour MPs who dare not make a stand of their own.
Owen Smith, the former shadow work and pensions secretary, will launch a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership on Wednesday.
Smith said Corbyn was a good man and been proved right about many things including strongly opposing austerity, but was “not a leader who can lead us into an election and win for Labour”.
He added: “Working people cannot afford to have a day like today when the Tories are popping champagne corks and celebrating their coronation and the prospect of a Labour government feels so distant.”
[..] Supporters of Smith, MP for Pontypridd , argue he is a better choice than Eagle because he was not in parliament for the Iraq war and has pitched himself on the soft left of the party. However, Eagle’s backers believe she is a strong choice to oppose Corbyn after performing well in PMQs against the prime minister. Many on her team also argue it is time Labour had a female leader.
What strikes one most is the hypocrisy of Owen Smith’s charge against Jeremy Corbyn that as leader, he failed to immediate conjure up a comprehensive alternative policy platform. Just a few years ago, under the uninspiring, failed leadership of Ed Miliband, the Labour Party was largely silent on new policy while their interminable policy review was completed.
But of course in reality, Labour’s policy vacuum has nothing to do with why Owen Smith launched his own, self-aggrandising leadership bid. It is just a convenient excuse. Smith seem to think that his time in the trenches as Shadow Welsh Minister and Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary give him such an overwhelming leg up over Angela Eagle, whose eleven whole months as Minister for Pensions and Ageing Society clearly make her a viable prime ministerial candidate.
Good luck to both of them. They’ll need it.
13 July – 11:50
The root of Labour’s unpopularity
Pete North muses on the unpopularity of the Labour Party in a very persuasive piece, the conclusion of which is worth quoting at length:
Social policy makers look at the charts of income distribution and see a wealthier population, but I would venture that social mobility has stalled, people feel trapped by their circumstances and there are masses of bureaucratic and financial obstacles in the way of getting even a basic foothold. The English dream of a house, a car and a family was once a birthright. Now if you have a crappy semi in Wiltshire and a car less than five years old, you might as well be Alan Sugar by the estimations of most young people.
With so many things now beyond the reach of young people without making unacceptable compromises, they are resigned to live a pointless life with no stake in anything, working in service jobs, grazing according to their short term whims and no real direction. And we’re supposed to vote for more of the same?
These are the reasons why Labour has absolutely nothing to say to working class people. Or anyone with a pulse for that matter. They are far too obsessed with their own internal feuds and bombing Syrians for no reason. The Labour leadership cares more about Palestinians than Yorkshirefolk.
It is not interested in removing these bureaucratic constraints because they are major sources of revenue for their public sector empires. They are not interested in creating more freedoms for people. They like telling us how to live and controlling what we do.
This is why I am instinctively a conservative. I believe it is the job of government to remove obstacles, not create them. If you want an aspirational society then you have to give people a helping hand and second chances. If even the basics are out of reach then you simply don’t have a society. You have cohabitation. Miserable cohabitation. We’re left to rot, filling in forms, working tedious jobs to pay exorbitant rents, unfair taxes and a mountain of public debt.
If you look at the list of gripes above and they are very much hangovers from the Blair era. The era of massively inflated public sector, nannying interventions, ever more CCTV, unnecessarily outsourced public services and a mortgage system completely warped by Labour’s debt binge. And what has Labour got to say for itself now? Nothing. Even now, the Blairite wing of Labour is conspiring to reassert control over the party when they are the ones who made Labour unelectable.
And why would Labour have a clue what it’s like to struggle to find a path in life? When you have Jo Cox’s and Chuka Umunnas and Corbyns, none of whom ever had to lift a finger, it’s little wonder they are out of step with just about everyone in the country. With a head full of fair trade and sustainable development bilge, their world is not our world.
In our world a penny on petrol matters. A bus lane fine means cancelling a school trip, speeding points mean crippling insurance, a CCJ costs the chance of a job anywhere in the banking and insurance world, and a hike in business rates closes down the local shops we rely on. Bailiffs make us frightened to answer the door. Council tax means the poor never get a holiday. Court costs means we can never address injustice. Education costs mean we can never change careers. Public transport costs eat into our disposable income. That is Labour’s legacy. That is why Labour deserves to die.
Though there are obvious worthy exceptional individuals, one simply does not get the sense that the current Labour Party gets excited about the same problems and injustices as the ordinary British people – particularly now, when the party’s centrist MPs are more concerned about deposing their leader and restoring their sorely missed influence running the show.
Not that the Corbyn leadership is in any way saintly or immune from criticism. When North says that the Labour leadership “cares more about Palestinians than Yorkshirefolk” he hits on a worrying grain of truth.
But what comes through most clearly is the yawning disconnect between Labour’s recent legacy in government (continually expanding the public sector, making more people dependent on government and exerting more coercive control over peoples’ lives) and in opposition (agitating for more of the same), and the priorities of the people.
The time has come for a split in the Labour Party so that the cerebral, theoretical leftists can go one way, the party which actually defends the interests of the working classes can go another, and the parasitical political class can (ideally) fall down the gap in between the two.
13 July – 00:20
Jeremy Corbyn taunts centrist Labour MPs with a subtle repudiation of Neil Kinnock’s 1985 party conference speech denouncing Militant Tendency
After avoiding a party stitch-up to prevent him from automatically going forward into the Labour leadership ballot, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have been taking something of a victory lap.
The Labour NEC’s decision prompted the valedictory video shown above, hosted on the official Jeremy Corbyn YouTube channel and promoted on the Labour leader’s social media accounts.
In the video, Corbyn concludes his remarks:
Our party is determined that the next government will meet the needs of all of the people of this country. That will invest in health, in housing, in education, in jobs, in infrastructure.
The next government will be a Labour government – a Labour government – committed to ending the injustice and inequality that exists in Britain today.
My emphasis in bold.
I highlight this phrase because I do not believe it was accidental. In fact, I believe it was a direct and very deliberate reference to former party leader Neil Kinnock’s 1985 speech to the Labour Party conference, in which Kinnock (in a bid to make his party more electable) denounced the far-left Liverpool city council and the Militant tendency wing of the party.
I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.
By co-opting Kinnock’s turn of phrase, Corbyn is defiantly stamping his own authority on the Labour Party. Corbyn is making clear that he is the Labour Party now, for all intents and purposes, and that the party of Kinnock, Smith, Blair, Brown and Miliband has passed away.
Anybody entertaining any lingering wistful belief that Jeremy Corbyn will “do the right thing” and slink away “for the good of the party”, letting the centrists resume their rule without a fight, should now abandon all hope.
This is Jeremy Corbyn’s party now. And he is here to stay.
Neil Kinnock’s 1985 party conference speech – highlight:
12 July – 23:31
The Economist weeps for centrist Labour MPs
Showing their traditional concern for the interests of people who are not part of the political, cultural or economic elite, The Economist is busy rending its garments in despair for the poor centrist Labour MPs whose party, hijacked by evil ordinary people with their despicable left-wing views, has apparently “deserted them”:
The coming months will be ugly. They may culminate in centrist MPs abandoning a party that has abandoned them, and at a time when Britain needs a strong, united opposition. Still, the confrontation is welcome. Labour has long been an awkward coalition of anticapitalists and social democrats, undermining and frustrating each other. With the Tories drifting rightward and the centre ground looking sparse, Britain could use a centre-left party capable of holding the government to account and, as Brexit negotiations begin, pressing it to keep the country as open and dynamic as possible. Whether by defeating Mr Corbyn or splintering off, Labour’s moderates now have a chance to create such a force.
It takes a peculiar arrogance to openly fret more about the welfare of centrist Labour MPs, members of the privileged political class, than the ordinary people who make up the rank and file Labour Party. And yet this is exactly what the Economist does when it speaks about how Jeremy Corbyn’s party has “abandoned” the centrists, as though we should somehow feel sorry for a group of people whose collective vision and charisma inspires almost zero love and devotion among their own party membership. Focusing on the MPs rather than the party members (let alone the British people) is a complete inversion of what politics is supposed to be about – serving the people.
And yet the Economist’s conclusion is quite right – a split is looking more and more likely, and more logical. Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate from the party membership is overwhelming – and will be even more so if revalidated in the coming leadership election. Labour MPs claim a “mandate” from the people who elected them, which sounds nice and grand but is actually meaningless. Many people vote for their Labour MP as the “least worst” option, or for tactical reasons. Only true believers join a political party – the positive mandate they bestow on their choice for leader is much stronger and frankly counts for more.
Sometimes, a bit of instability is good. And in this case, the fallout from the EU referendum is seeing the cobwebs blown away from many of the dusty relics in British politics, including the Labour Party’s fraught coalition of working class supporters, socialist true believers and the professional political class who just happened to toss a coin and pick Team Red as the vehicle for their rise to power and prominence. Now the internal contradictions of that coalition are being exposed, which is a good thing, even if it means short term discord.
Ultimately, the impasse has to be broken. Ordinary people who are committed enough to the Labour Party to pay their dues and walk around with a membership card in their wallets want Corbyn. The professional politicians who front Labour in Parliament do not. The MPs can therefore either come around to Corbyn’s way of thinking, make their peace and accept a period in the wilderness while the Corbynites try doing things their way for a change, or else leave the Labour Party and try to found a new party of the centre-left.
There is honour to be found in all of these options. But if Corbyn prevails in this second Labour leadership election, there will be no more honour in centrist Labour MPs carping from the sidelines.
May is the figurehead for what is the most powerful authoritarian faction in today’s political firmament. She keeps alive the bland, technocratic, Third Way politics that began under New Labour, but she combines it with a vaguely socially conservative outlook. In this way, her authoritarian tendencies are constantly dressed up as mere managerial competence. She’s not undermining liberties, really; she’s just ‘getting on with it’ – she’s ‘getting the job done’. To May, the freedoms of the individual fall under the same category as, say, paper shortages, or lazy secretaries: obstacles to efficient management; administrative hurdles to be overcome.
Consider the action she’s taken on drugs. In 2014, against all advice, she banned Khat – a mild stimulant, popular with Somalis and comparable in harm to coffee. But that wasn’t enough. She then introduced the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which came into force in April 2016. The bill effectively prohibits the possession and use of any psychoactive substance – except those on a pre-approved government list. The intention was to crack down on so-called ‘legal highs’ – but the real effect the bill will have is to turn on its head the age-old principle that actions should be legal until made illegal – under May, it seems, actions are illegal until they’re made legal. An important principle of civil society is, to May’s mind, a managerial nuisance: this principle stopped her from ‘getting the job done’, and therefore it had to go.
[..] Most worrying of all is her broad-brush, cavalier attitude to what she calls ‘extremism’. For all her talking up of the extremist threat to the British way of life, May has done more harm to British liberties than any sad-act neo-Nazi or wacky hate-preacher ever could. In her speech at the Metropolitan Police conference on counterterrorism this year, she boasted of how she had deprived certain British nationals of their citizenship because she deemed them not ‘conducive to the public good’; she boasted of how her Internet Referral Unit has, since 2010, quietly removed over 90,000 pieces of extremism-related material from the web; and, most ominous of all, she boasted of how the new statutory requirements of the Prevent scheme will require ‘local authorities, the police, prisons, probation services, schools, colleges, and, yes, universities’, to monitor people’s behaviour for signs of extremism. More recently, she suggested that Ofcom be given unprecedented powers to strike down any TV programme it deems to include ‘extremist content’. This represents, effectively, the transformation of a vast swathe of the public-service workforce into a spying network – all cloaked in the bland, unassuming language of ‘effectiveness’. Again, it’s no big deal; May’s just getting the job done.
This blog agrees wholeheartedly, sharing all of these concerns. And in any other situation than the truly unique circumstances in which we now find ourselves, having voted to leave the EU and standing on the cusp of freedom from ever-closer European political union, this litany of faults would be more than enough reason to bar Theresa May from ever entering 10 Downing Street as prime minister.
The fact that Theresa May was the best of an underwhelming final two options for the Conservative Party leadership, with even that choice ultimately taken away when Andrea Leadsom dropped out of the race, means that while our new prime minister in waiting is likely best equipped to negotiate Brexit (assuming that she uses her talents for good and does not renege on “Brexit means Brexit”), we must be ever vigilant of her domestic policy. And stand ready to forcefully oppose it where necessary.
12 July – 20:28
Labour NEC confirms that Jeremy Corbyn will be on the Labour leadership contest ballot paper without needing to seek fresh nominations
Common sense and the rule of law have prevailed, and the Labour NEC has ruled 18-14 in a secret ballot that incumbent leader Jeremy Corbyn will not need the fresh nominations of 20 per cent of the Parliamentary Labour Party to go forward into the contest.
Jeremy Corbyn was jubilant after the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) decided his name should automatically appear on the ballot paper in the leadership contest triggered by Angela Eagle.
In a crunch meeting at Labour’s Westminster headquarters that began at 2pm on Tuesday and continued into the evening, NEC members, including Corbyn himself, voted 18-14 in a secret ballot that he was not subject to the rule that forces candidates to show they have the backing of 20% of the party’s MPs and MEPs.
However, in a separate decision taken after Corbyn had left the room, the NEC ruled that only those who have been members for more than six months will be allowed to vote – while new supporters will be given two days to sign up as registered supporters to vote in the race, but only if they are willing to pay £25 – far higher than the £3 fee many Corbyn-backers paid in the contest last year.
Labour’s membership has shot up to more than 500,000, according to party sources, as both Corbyn’s supporters and those who want to replace him recruit new supporters to their cause. But the introduction of the six-month cut-off point is likely to infuriate members who have joined in recent weeks with the hope of influencing the vote, and will not now be able to do so without paying an additional £25.
Good. Like Jeremy Corbyn or loathe him, the blatant misinterpretation and violation of the party rules which would have been required in order to keep the incumbent leader off the ballot paper would have made a mockery of the Labour Party’s own internal processes, as well as violated any sense of duty owed by the party to its own members.
Of course, not everybody is pleased with this outcome:
19.45, 12 July, 2016. The precise moment the Labour Party died.
Unfortunately there could be no other outcome. Labour MPs have set themselves implacably against the leader overwhelmingly supported by the party base. Corbyn’s leadership has a strong and recent mandate. “Ah, but Labour MPs have a mandate from their voters”, I hear you cry. Yes, they do, albeit of a very ethereal sort. But if that is the case, and the wishes of paid-up party members are to be overruled and subverted at will whenever MPs arbitrarily invoke their “mandate” from the voters, then what’s the point of having a party membership at all? And who exactly do those MPs think will knock on doors and deliver leaflets for them come the next general election?
No, this was the right result. And if it precipitates short term chaos, then so be it – it is the kind of chaos which sometimes needs to happen, the coming to a head of a tension between Labour’s natural base and its political class which has been left to fester unresolved for far too long.
If the Labour centrists wish to be rid of Corbyn, it is for them to come up with a pitch to party members that is so fresh, compelling and powerful that it sweeps aside their preference for and loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn. They do not get to unilaterally assert their will and subvert the party rules to get their own way. They must win fair and square. If the centre-left case is so compelling then let it be made loud and clear. So far it has not been – even Corbyn’s challenger, Angela Eagle, refuses to name a single area of policy where she disagrees with Corbyn. Is this because she doesn’t disagree with her leader on policy, or is it because she knows that expressing her own sincerely held centrist views would condemn her to defeat?
Labour Party members deserve to know. The time has come for the Labour centrists to put up or shut up.
12 July – 17:05
Tweedle Dee joins Tweedle Dum
Now Owen Smith, that other hugely respected big-name heavyweight, is throwing his hat in the ring to be Labour leader.
The former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary has gathered enough support from his fellow MPs to join Angela Eagle in challenging Jeremy Corbyn.
He and Ms Eagle have held talks in recent days over one of them becoming a so-called ‘unity candidate’ to take on the under-fire leader.
But they failed to reach an agreement and Ms Eagle announced her own leadership challenge this morning.
A senior Labour source said Mr Smith will announce his candidacy this week, and could even do it after tomorrow’s meeting of the party’s ruling national executive committee.
Speaking last week, Mr Smith said he was “ready to do anything I can to save and serve the party”.
Assuming that Corbyn is not hobbled by the Labour NEC’s blatantly antidemocratic plotting to keep him off the ballot paper, the incumbent Labour leader can look forward to another thumping victory as Angela Eagle and Owen Smith divide the anti Corbyn vote between themselves while centrist Labour’s only viable centrist heavyweights continue to cower and bide their time.
12 July – 16:38
Will the Labour NEC press the self destruct button?
There are early unconfirmed reports that the Labour National Executive Committee is to decide whether or not Jeremy Corbyn requires nominations to go into the coming Labour leadership contest (he doesn’t – see previous update) by secret ballot.
There is only one reason the NEC would resort to such a move – they intend to subvert the democratic processes of their own party in order to keep Jeremy Corbyn’s name off the ballot paper, but don’t want to face accountability for their cowardly decision.
Labour’s snivelling, self-entitled centrist MPs lack the courage to face Jeremy Corbyn in a fair and open leadership contest, knowing that the party membership no longer has any time for their dreary, self-interested policies. And so rather than engaging in any form of introspection, thinking about why they are so deeply unpopular, instead they seek to remove the obstacle which stands in the way of their path back to power and influence within the Labour Party.
This is utterly despicable.
The Labour Party certainly faces a dilemma, with the bulk of the Parliamentary Labour Party utterly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The proper release valve in such a situation is deselection. Centrist Labour MPs are implacably opposed to a party leader who is overwhelmingly popular with the membership. It therefore follows quite logically that such Labour MPs need to be deselected by their constituency associations and replaced with parliamentary candidates who actually support the leader and share his political outlook.
We should be much less squeamish about MP deselections, and stop fetishising Parliament as the place where the Serious People sit and must be heeded and respected at all times. In this case, much of the Parliamentary Labour Party is an obnoxious, self-serving little private members’ club, grubbily pursuing their own interests rather than those of party members. It is no good for the public to complain about self-serving, failed politicians and then get squeamish about one of the best tools available to remove such politicians from power and influence. The CLPs should be actively pursuing the option of deselecting their current MPs where those MPs defy the local party’s wishes on a matter so fundamental as the leadership of the party.
Without the release valve of deselections, we will remain trapped in this impasse, with Jeremy Corbyn rightly clinging to the leadership based on his mandate from party members and Labour MPs determined to ignore and undermine his authority.
The centrist Labour MPs have lost control of their own party. Labour now belongs to the Corbynites. The centrists have the choice of accepting their turn on the back seat until they can command widespread support from the membership again or leaving to form a new party of the centre-left. Both of these would be honourable choices. But what is not honourable is their current tactic of whining and undermining their current leader while shamefully lacking the courage to put up a candidate to stand against Corbyn in a free and fair fight.
This blog is quite clear: it is not for Jeremy Corbyn to move an inch further. Here is a leader who has already accommodated more difference of opinion, taken more abuse and dealt with more open disloyalty than any other Labour Party leader in history. If Labour’s rebellious centrist MPs cannot now make their peace with this shift in power, the door is wide open and they are free to leave.
Very few of them will be sincerely missed.
12 July – 15:00
The Labour NEC to rule on whether Jeremy Corbyn needs to seek nominations or will automatically be put forward to the ballot as incumbent Labour leader
A. The leader and deputy leader shall be elected separately in accordance with rule C below, unless rule E below applies.
i. In the case of a vacancy for leader or deputy leader, each nomination must be supported by 12.5 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void
ii. Where there is no vacancy, nominations may be sought by potential challengers each year prior to the annual session of party conference. In this case any nomination must be supported by 20 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.
My emphasis in bold.
Let’s speak plainly: anything other than a clear endorsement by the Labour NEC of Jeremy Corbyn’s right to participate in the coming Labour leadership contest without needing to seek new nominations will be a flagrant disregard for the rules and a blatant attempt to subvert the party’s own internal democracy in order to impose the will of Labour MPs on party members.
The clause itself could not be more specific, with two separate subclauses detailing the procedures which should take place when there is a vacancy for leader and when there is not. With Jeremy Corbyn still very much in charge, it is clear that the party should follow subclause B-2 which states that “nominations may be sought by potential challengers”, and that those challengers are subject to the 20 per cent of the PLP threshold requirement.
Nominations may be sought by challengers, not by the incumbent.
Apparently the treacherous MPs of the Parliamentary Labour Party claim to have solid legal guidance that in face Jeremy Corbyn does need to seek nominations. I would love to see this guidance just to behold the verbal contortions and cognitive dissonance involved in writing a piece of legal advice which so blatantly contravenes the Labour Party’s own clearly expressed goals.
And why? Because scores of self-entitled, spoiled centrist Labour MPs think that they have a divine right to rule the Labour Party and that anybody else should just shut up and let them get on with it. The real left-wingers are welcome to stay as long as they sit in the back and impart a nice sentimental hue to whatever the centrists are up to, but by no means are they to attempt to exert any influence of their own. That right is reserved for the centrists, even when they are hated and held in contempt by their own party membership. That is the noxious arrogance currently roiling the Labour Party as they seek to unseat their left-wing leader.
I know it’s unfashionable in Westminster, but the Rule of Law is actually quite an important thing. Just as Acts of Parliament are not to be lightly disregarded when they become inconvenient to the government of the day, so a political party should not go tearing up its own rule book just to rid itself of somebody whose approach they dislike.
If the centrists are right that theirs is the better philosophy and the only wing of the party which stands a chance of seeing Labour returned to power, let them make their case to the membership and have one of their own win the party leadership the old fashioned way.
They gain zero legitimacy by cheating their way back into power, and if they think that they would be able to enjoy their reasserted rule of the party in such a scenario, having legitimised all kinds of toxic briefing and plotting against the leadership, they will be in for a cruel awakening.
If the NEC votes for a decision requiring Jeremy Corbyn to seek the nominations of his treacherous MPs when the party rule book clearly states that he is not required to do so, effectively barring the overwhelming favourite from taking part in the leadership election, the Labour Party will tear itself apart at the seams.
And it will be squarely the fault of the centrists.
12 July – 14:05
In making sure that Theresa May actually implements Brexit, the mantra should be “trust but verify”
Whether Mrs May means what she says, only time will tell. The crucial test is invoking Article 50. Basically, there are two options. We either play it long – not going until after the French and German elections, putting in the papers late next year.
Politically, that’s almost certainly unacceptable. Therefore, we need to play it short. We can avoid the certain disaster that that would bring by leveraging an early notification against an agreement by the EU to extend the negotiation period – say to five years – as the first order of business.
What then happens is, to a very great extent, up to the larger “leaver” community. If we sit back and relax, or continue promoting unrealistic leave options, then the “remains” will make the running. We’ll be left out in the cold.
Basically, the smart money is on EEA-plus, but we have to make it clear that this is only an interim option, and start pushing for recognition that there is an end game, beyond the EEA option.
We also have to settle the freedom of movement issue, and I am now confident that this can be secured within the framework of the EEA Agreement. But this is going to take considerable negotiation skills, and strong organisation.
For the rest, we have to play the hands we have been dealt. We have no option but to take May at her word – but also keep up the agitation to make absolutely sure that she keeps to it.
I like the idea of using the early invocation of Article 50 as a bargaining chip in exchange for an extension of the original mandated 2 year negotiation period. As the Leave Alliance bloggers never tire of pointing out, unpicking 40 years of incessant, deepening political integration will take time, and even an “off the shelf” interim solution like the EFTA/EEA approach could benefit from breathing room – especially while the British government re-arms itself with scarce competencies in trade negotiation and diplomacy.
North also seems to acknowledge the new reality that the invocation of Article 50 cannot be delayed for long. No matter how misguided the “Article 50 Now!” campaign may be – it is akin to deciding that you have had enough of hospital while undergoing surgery under local anaesthesia, and hopping up off the hospital bed before the surgeon is allowed to finish his work – delaying beyond the end of 2016 no longer seem politically feasible.
And the conclusion, though far from ideal, is absolutely correct – we do indeed now have to take Theresa May at her word when she says that “Brexit means Brexit”, and that she does not seek to misuse any of the interim stages out of the EU as a final resting place for Britain.
12 July – 12:50
An obsessive focus on social order while freedom goes out the window
Janan Ganesh cannot resist a dig at the fact that every prominent Leave-supporting politician has now fallen by the wayside, leaving it for stealthy Remain supporter Theresa May to sneak through and claim the crown:
In the Bizarro World of British politics, a country that voted to leave the EU will now be led by someone who wanted to stay. No prominent Leaver has survived more than a week or two of serious examination. Given their sanguine certainty about the consequences of exit, it is magnanimous of them to let others govern the beatific Shangri-La that is surely around the corner.
Mrs May is the most seasoned new prime minister since Jim Callaghan in 1976, and somehow a mystery at the same time. Colleagues know as much about her as a Londoner might know about a neighbour. All we can do is assemble clues — and for a liberal voter, or just a pragmatist who thinks a country with 5 per cent unemployment has no screaming need to discard its open economic model, the clues are disconcerting.
Although Mrs May began her career in finance, she has never had a business-facing job in politics. Before her eight-year immersion in the home affairs brief, which can make a curtain-twitcher of any libertine, she held portfolios for transport, culture, the environment, work and pensions, the family, education and women, as well as the Tory chair. This amounts to a tour of nearly every function of state except oversight of the economy.
The gap in her experience is neither her fault nor proof that she has been conditioned to view the anarchic workings of enterprise as menaces to be contained by paternalist government. But then the clues do not end there. It is some feat to say things about migrants that make nativist Tories feel queasy. Mrs May has done it twice in nine months, in a party conference speech last autumn and more recently in her hesitation to guarantee the status of EU nationals already in Britain.
She is not a reactionary. Nobody who sensed the perceived nastiness of her party as early as 2002, as she did, and challenged the police as often as she has, could be. But if Tory history pits the spirit of freedom against the claims of social order, the one periodically dominating the other before giving way, she might herald the latter’s resurgence.
This blog shares that concern (and indeed was warning about it long before Janan Ganesh turned his gaze on Theresa May). People often think of the Conservative Party as a coalition of two sides – the more free market Thatcherites for whom Stepping Stones is a Bible, and the traditionalist social conservatives who make up the Law & Order wing. The belief was that the Tories would then oscillate between these two imperatives according to their leader.
But Cameron broke this myth apart by occupying a third ground. David Cameron cared about gaining and holding power by pledging “modernisation”. Sometimes that modernisation required a more laissez-faire approach and sometimes it involved the Tories being as snarlingly authoritarian as they ever were – the tone of the Cameron government would change as the situation demanded.
Say what you will about Theresa May, but she is no moderniser. And given the fact that she has had hands-on experience in nearly every government department save those which directly touched the economy, it is hard to see how our next prime minister will not act and think as though government should take an active, outsized role in nearly everything – Cameron’s “plan for every stage of your life” made flesh.
On the balance of available evidence, it seems that the Tory Party pendulum is swinging well and truly back towards the authoritarian tendency. Expect to see this reflected in Theresa May’s cabinet choices when she picks her government in the coming days.
And then prepare for an onslaught on your freedoms and civil liberties the likes of which many of us have not seen in our lifetimes.
The vote to leave the European Union was the catalyst for the biggest political change in this country for seventy years. The magnitude of it really cannot be overstated and it is slowly beginning to sink in. No one, not even those who voted for it, can say they haven’t had a moment of feeling overawed. Anyone who has been shocked by the immediate fallout has shown a great deal of naivety; for Britain and Europe, this is huge. The changes that Brexit will bring about will not be felt just in the initial year or so, it will be a chain reaction lasting for decades.
[..] There is not a single part of government policy that the EU does not touch in some way; from trade to fishing, agriculture, energy, environment, transport and telecommunications policy. We are bound by the EU’s position in international organisations and international conferences, meaning we have been gradually losing control of foreign policy too. This has been a contributing factor to our muddled and reluctant presence on the world stage and the starving of personnel and funds from our Foreign Office.
The subordination of our institutions of government has meant that everyone from the Minister, to the MP right down to the councillor is restricted and working within parameters that are not conducive to new ideas and innovation. Leaving the EU has the potential to reinvigorate British democracy and bring about major reforms in the way we are governed. The reformation of British politics will demand dynamic personalities, world class talent and fresh thinking.
Brexit is going to be a difficult and complex process and it will take a long time. There are serious risks too. We need to manage our transition sensibly and protect our economy by adopting a transitional arrangement in our negotiations. However, we will soon be in a position to begin repatriating vast policy making powers and begin a comprehensive review of the statute books. Let us not be daunted or allow a fundamentally positive development to be shrouded in pessimism.
This is the biggest political project since the Second World War. We have before us a monumental task; the rebuilding of British governance and the construction of a new Britain. This is something we should be tremendously excited about.
Kelly also comprehensively debunks the popular notion among disappointed Remainers that the British people voted for Brexit motivated primarily by xenophobia or intolerance of immigration:
They have convinced themselves that Leave voters didn’t know what they were voting for and that we are leaving in a pique of anti-immigration rage. The evidence thus far challenges their theory; according to Lord Ashcroft’s poll 49% of Leavers said their main reason for voting was to ensure that decisions about Britain were made in Britain. Similarly, a ComRes polls found that the ability of Britain to make its own laws was cited by Leave voters as the most important issue when deciding which way to vote (53%). This gets to the heart of the matter. The Leave vote was motivated by the desire for Britain to be a self-governing country. This is a fundamental principle; it cannot be disproved and it cannot be overruled by experts. People’s understanding of what this means will have varied from the basic to the sophisticated but it is an inherently valid reason.
Kelly is absolutely right. The EU’s tentacles reach into nearly every aspect of our government, and disentangling ourselves will take time. Those who suggest otherwise are guilty, at best, of extremely simplistic thinking. And this is why we must ultimately be glad that Theresa May rather than Andrea Leadsom has prevailed in the Conservative Party leadership contest.
Throughout the EU referendum campaign and following the result, Leadsom – despite her promise in other areas – has shown a worrying glibness and superficiality in her thinking on how to achieve Brexit. While she did not sink to the “repeal the European Communities Act” idiocy of some other prominent eurosceptics, neither did Leadsom give any indication that she really grasped the complexity of what lies ahead.
Theresa May, for her many faults – and this blog has not been shy about highlighting them over the years – does seem to get it. She gives the impression of understanding the complexity, and of the need for a transitional, staged approach to Brexit. This gives the interim EFTA/EEA (Norway Option) route out of the EU’s political union the greatest chance of success as the UK’s “departure lounge” on the journey to full political autonomy.
But as Pete North points out (see previous update), the failure of the eurosceptic aristocracy – Farage, Hannan etc. – to articulate a clear positive vision of what Britain outside the EU should look like means that the establishment have now well and truly seized control of Brexit, and regained their footing regarding political events in general.
This means that while the promise and opportunity spoken of by Ben Kelly still undoubtedly exists for the taking, we must work twice as hard to actually realise those benefits.
11 July – 23:54
Rod Liddle channels the incomprehension of disappointed Remainers
Some time ago, a very generous reader compared me to a “low rent Rod Liddle”. On reflection I realised that this may have been meant as an insult rather than a compliment about the good value provided by this blog, but I was happy enough with the comparison that I added it to my About page (together with Owen Jones’ petulant and false accusation that I am a “patently dishonest man” for suggesting that he believes the things that he writes in his own Guardian column).
In this video, the original and best Rod Liddle channels the twisted thought processes of many of the most common types of Remainers-in-denial as to why there should be a second EU referendum.
Highlights from Liddle’s Glenn Gould-like skit:
“It’s just hate! It’s a vote for hate. Just hatred. And hate isn’t democratic. And that means the vote isn’t democratic. And so when they have the vote again, people who hate aren’t allowed to vote.”
Annabelle Snowflake – Carer, Camden
“The thing is, the thing that they’ve done is that they’ve betrayed the kids. And you can’t betray the kids. That’s why we need a second referendum and I would say nobody, y’know nobody, man, nobody over the age of forty should be voting in that. They betrayed the kids and it’s the kids who are going to inherit this Earth of ours, y’know?”
Binky Allbran – Pop Musician
“The misapprehension I think people have is about these so-called “numbers”, 52 and 48. They are not themselves real or intrinsic or tangible. Numbers are simply symbols, you see, that we give to quantities of things. They are not themselves quantities. And so there is no one-to-one relationship between the number and the quantity. It is all up here in our minds, and so it could be the case that while some may argue that 52 is a greater quantity than 48, at a deeper structure it may be that 48 is a greater quantity than 52.”
Professor BJ Trout – Philosopher, Oxford
“The important thing, perhaps, perhaps the most important thing is that the referendum must be respected. The views of those people who voted to leave, they must be respected. But almost as important, perhaps more important, is that they should also be ignored. So, respected – and ignored.”
Sir Michael Hetherington Volestrangler – Former Politician, Westminster
Brilliant. One hears endless variations on all of these themes repeated ad nauseam by weepy Remainers who sincerely believed that they were Captain Planet in a giant real-life game of Good versus Evil. Hopefully some of them come to look back on their conduct (and open contempt for democracy) with a degree of embarrassment as it becomes evidence that Brexit has not ushered in the apocalypse or a new Era of Hate after all.
11 July – 22:52
Pete North on UKIP’s failure
Pete North sees Theresa May’s coronation as Tory leader and the next prime minister as a direct consequence of the failure of UKIP, Nigel Farage and the eurosceptic aristocracy to bother planning for Brexit:
Today highlights what a monumental failure Farage is. Today the eurosceptic movement was routed and does not have a seat at the table in the Brexit proceedings. At best we may see Leadsom or Gove in a junior role as a courtesy – but more as an act of party unity. But these will be ceremonial roles only.
And is this because of an establishment stitch up by the Tory machine? Kind of but not really. You see, had the eurosceptic movement campaigned with a plan and a set of specific demands, they could have called the shots post-referendum. Having failed to do so it has failed to capitalise on the referendum win in order to take us the rest of the way. Now the process of leaving the EU is to be decided entirely by the establishment along with the domestic agenda.
All the likes of Ukip and the Tory right have been able to muster is some fantastically naive proposals on what Brexit might achieve and some or other nonsense about an Australian points based immigration system. Not at any point have they put the work in to demonstrate that any of it is even possible and now it is down to the technocrats and the lawyers to decide what Theresa May means when she says “Brexit means Brexit”.
[..] The problem has always been the lack of a plan of any kind. If you are going to overthrow the orthodoxy then you need to be sure that you are the ones with the ideas otherwise people will go with what they know in the ideas vacuum that follows. That is why there is no place for Farage, Gove and Johnson et al. They are men of no substance with nothing to add to the process.
It is hard to disagree with this narrative. When the history of this EU referendum and the years leading up to it are written, people will marvel at the fact that those politicians and leaders who built their entire reputations on being tub-thumping, Brussels-bashing eurosceptics completely and utterly neglected to decide what their preferred vision for Britain looked like, let alone articulate it to the people.
This is an astonishing failure of vision. And as Pete says, it has allowed the establishment (in the form of Theresa May, a Remainer, and the centrist Tory team she will doubtless now assemble around her) to take the both the credit for and the initiative from what the people achieved with their bold decision to leave the EU. What we now get will be a Very Establishment Brexit – better than a Remain vote, to be sure, but far from the more far-reaching renewal of our politics and democracy which we could have seen if only the standard-bearers for our movement had spent less time preening on YouTube and more time doing the serious intellectual legwork of working out what an independent Britain actually looks like.
Finally beginning her campaign after weeks of speculation that she would take on Corbyn amid a revolt against him by Labour MPs, Eagle said the party needed to move beyond the factionalism and divisions of the current era.
“I’m not a Blairite, I’m not a Brownite and I’m not a Corbynista. I am my own woman – a strong Labour woman,” she said, to cheers from supporters. “I’m not here for a Labour party that just takes part. I’m here to win.”
The long-planned launch experienced a hiccup when it coincided with Andrea Leadsom’s hastily arranged announcement that she was pulling out of the Tory leadership race. As well as rendering parts of Eagle’s speech immediately out of date, it brought a deeply awkward moment as she sought questions first from the BBC and then ITV’s political editor, Robert Peston, only to find they were not there.
The former shadow business secretary, who was among dozens of Labour frontbenchers to quit in the past few weeks, said Corbyn had made a useful contribution to new ideas in the party, but should step down.
The pomposity of a bland nonentity such as Angela Eagle presuming to assess Jeremy Corbyn’s decades-long contribution to the Labour Party really is something to behold – it can be best likened to a beered up England fan holding forth on the strengths and shortcomings of Raheem Sterling in terms of raw analytic value.
But Angela Eagle is quite right in stating that she is not a Blairite, Brownite or Corbynista. In fact, she is blissfully free from any terms which denote believing in a fixed or coherent ideology. Eagle thinks that this is a great selling point – and of course it is, to those grasping centrists desperate to worm their way back into power and unconcerned about what values and principles have to be traded away to get there. But to everyone else it represents everything that is rotten with a Parliamentary Labour Party which was determined to undermine their left-wing leader from Day One, and who are now using the post-EU referendum chaos as the ideal smokescreen as they go about their dirty work.
In hilarious and heartening news, Angela Eagle could be about to face deselection by her own constituency party (CLP). The Liverpool Echo reports:
As Angela Eagle launches her bid for leadership of the Labour party the Wallasey MP may also face deselection by her own local members.
The Wallasey constituency Labour Party (CLP) had urged the MP, and former Shadow Business Secretary, to support Jeremy Corbyn last month when plans for a vote of no confidence were first revealed.
Ms Eagle later emerged as one of the frontrunners to challenge the Labour leader after the party’s MPs overwhelmingly backed the no confidence motion in him. Shortly after a petition was launched calling on Ms Eagle to resign, and has now collected more than 14,000 signatures .
But now Ms Eagle also faces a vote of no confidence, with an enlarged local party membership which has seen its numbers swelled since the prospect of a challenge against Corbyn first emerged.
Since June 24 vice chair of Wallasey CLP Paul Davies said they had seen their membership grow by 367 members to total more than 1,200.
Tonight (Monday July 11) the CLP’s executive is due to meet to prepare a meeting of the full membership, scheduled for July 22.
This would certainly be a fitting end to an overambitious and comically mistimed attempted leadership coup.
11 July – 21:55
The trials and tribulations of Theresa May
In an uncharacteristically generous profile of Britain’s prime minister to be (Prime Minister Elect hardly seems an appropriate term), the Guardian looks back over Theresa May’s career.
Hers was a comfortable middle-class upbringing – two years of private school, then a local grammar and Oxford – and she enjoys a famously strong marriage to Philip, a banker she met at a Tory student disco.
But life hasn’t always been easy. Her father was killed in a car crash shortly after she graduated, and her mother, who had multiple sclerosis, died the year after. Then came the bitter discovery that the Mays could not have children. She watched as, one by one, her male Oxford contemporaries bagged seats before her and, despite being promoted dizzyingly fast when she finally reached Westminster in 1997, was never quite part of any leader’s inner circle.
My emphasis in bold.
How awful, that the smooth path from Oxford to a safe Conservative seat took slightly longer for May to tread than her male contemporaries. That’s the discrimination against women which we most urgently need to fight in 2016.
But of course as far as the Guardian is concerned, this is exactly the type of oppression which upsets them the most. Utterly divorced from the travails of ordinary people or anybody in the working class, the “injustice” of a female member of the cosseted Westminster elite taking a few years to reach high ministerial office is indeed a tragedy.
In her brief speech to the nation today (later repeated in an email to Conservative Party supporters), May spoke of the need for “a strong, new, and positive vision for the future of our country. A vision of a country that works not for the privileged few but works for every one of us.”
Never has the Guardian spoken and worked more forcefully for the privileged few and less for the struggling everyday Britons whose interests they claim to champion. Something they might like to reflect on as they continue to agitate against Brexit and support the centrist coup against Jeremy Corbyn.
11 July – 17:40
Theresa May addresses the nation
“Brexit means Brexit, and we are going to make a success of it” says Theresa May as she addresses the Conservative Party and the nation. It is good to hear this reassurance once again, though for Brexiteers our attitude must be one of “trust and verify”.
Also good to hear May speak about “forging a new role for Britain” and “giving people more control over their lives” – the latter rather uncharacteristic given her authoritarian tendencies, but certainly welcome if it is sincerely meant. It is encouraging to hear May speak about Brexit as an opportunity rather than a calamity or a threat, despite her Remain position in the EU referendum. And certainly Theresa May is one of the few heavyweight Conservatives who might be ready to begin forging that new role for Britain from Day 1.
Very disappointing, though, that the BBC felt the need to report on May’s “characteristic leopard skin shoes” as she concluded her remarks. Seriously, who cares? And why is a supposedly progressive and politically correct organisation like the BBC obsessing over details of fashion on this most momentous of political days, when a man would never be judged on such a metric? Hardly a proud moment for feminism, unlike the Conservative Party’s elevation of its second woman leader.
Sadly this comment from the BBC’s reporter Carol Walker is emblematic of the poor quality of coverage and analysis from the Westminster political lobby throughout the EU referendum campaign and its aftermath.
11 July – 16:45
Initial reaction to today’s developments
There are once again rumblings about the possibility of an early general election.
Hilariously, some of these calls come from the Labour Party, who given their betrayal of their core supporter base in the EU referendum and fratricidal coup against their popular party leader would surely be obliterated in any immediate poll and reduced to an angry, SNP-sized rump party in Parliament, whether led to the polls by an embattled Jeremy Corbyn or the bland and utterly pointless Angela Eagle.
But regardless, an early general election is a bad idea – not least because it would make a mockery of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act which set the standard length between general elections to five years. Fixed terms are, in the blog’s view, a good thing (albeit only when coupled with further constitutional reform which currently shows no sign of taking place). And it would be hypocritical and opportunistic in the extreme for the UK to adopt a “fixed terms when it suits us, snap general elections when we feel like it” constitutional muddle.
Of course there may be a public clamour for an early election nonetheless. Expect to see lots of aggrieved social media status updates bemoaning the fact that there has been a change in prime minister with no accompanying general election. These complaints will be made almost entirely by people who were too fat and indolent to stop watching The Great British Horses Strictly Come Dancing On Ice for five minutes in order to understand how their own democracy and constitution work. “We want reform and a general election!” they may now scream. Join the club. Where were you for all those wilderness years when constitutional reform was “boring” and “not relevant to the struggles of everyday people”?
And from a purely practical standpoint, now is not the time to hold another general election. Given the divisions within the country, such a referendum would inevitably partly play out as a re-run of the EU referendum, with the allied parties of the Left no doubt coming together in some sickeningly sanctimonious , holier-than-thou bloc to override the expressed will of the people for Britain to leave the EU. The worst case (but unlikely given the current state of the Labour Party) scenario would be that a pro-EU government is then returned to Westminster. What then? Which instruction should the government follow – the instruction of 23 June to leave the EU, or the instruction of a general election which was fought by one side on a platform of overruling that decision? No. Such a rash decision would beckon utter chaos.
What is needed now is strong, stable government to deliver the expressed will of the people and negotiate the best possible secession terms for Britain from the European Union. In this blog’s view, this should in the first instance involve a move to an interim EFTA/EEA solution maintaining our single market access while we work to steadily unpick forty years of political integration with Brussels. Of course this must not become the final destination, and it will be important for us to maintain the pressure on the government not to rest on its laurels and settle for a permanent place parked on the outskirts of the EU. But this is the approach which satisfies the concerns of the people for Britain to no longer be part of a supranational political union (with “Britain making its own laws again” shown by opinion polls to be more important to Leave voters than immigration or the economy) while maintaining economic stability in the meantime.
This blog has numerous misgivings about Theresa May. In fact, May is about the last person this blog would have wanted to be the successor to David Cameron, given the fact that she offers a continuation of muddled Cameron centrism mixed with her own signature dash of flinty-eyed authoritarianism. We must all be on guard to defend our civil liberties now that May is moving from the Home Office to 10 Downing Street.
But given the dismal eventual choice between Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May, it had to be May. Leadsom lacked the experience, temperament and fortitude to step into the role at the most testing time in British politics since 1945. This may one day change, and nobody would be happier if Andrea Leadsom one day becomes a Thatcher figure for the 21st century. Be she is not there yet, and we do not have the luxury of letting a green and inexperienced candidate learn on the job.
Brexit is the most important thing on our national plate, and will be for some years to come. We must not fumble the ball.
11 July – 16:20
Theresa May will be Prime Minister by Wednesday
Another momentous day in British politics, with the honourable but out of her depth Andrea Leadsom withdrawing her candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative Party, leaving Theresa May the unopposed candidate. Graham Brady of the 1922 Committee then confirmed that May will be certified as the official winner of the contest, and that the succession timetable would be dramatically accelerated.
David Cameron then announced outside Downing Street that he will chair his final cabinet tomorrow (Tuesday) and take his final Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday before going to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to the Queen.