The Importance Of Conservative Principles, By Nicky Morgan

Nicky Morgan - conservative principles

Teach us, O great one

It’s good to see that Nicky Morgan has discovered the importance of fundamental driving principles to an effective government.

Writing in Conservative Home, Morgan graces us with this pearl of wisdom:

Values and principles matter. It isn’t enough to have great policies. People want to know what our motives are and they are looking for authenticity in their politicians. We need people to be clear that we are talking about aspiration, social mobility, mental health, education, housing, animal welfare and lots of other areas, not because a focus group told us to do so but because they matter to us, personally, and we aren’t prepared to put up with the status quo.  Last week has also deepened my understanding of why principles matter, and why it is worth defending them however difficult things get.  And that some people, despite saying they like MPs with principles, actually only like those with principles that they agree with.

It’s amazing how politicians can sometimes say all the right things yet so conspicuously fail to let their actions reflect their words. Ask any random Conservative activist what strand of conservatism Nicky Morgan represents, or what a Morganite government might look like or differ from Theresa May’s, and besides a difference of tone on Brexit you would draw blank faces nearly every time.

It is all well and good pontificating on the need for “authenticity”, but it doesn’t count for much when one served unremarkably in the thoroughly un-ideological Cabinet of David Cameron, or when one’s sole reputation for political steadfastness springs from a newly discovered fetish for our unwritten constitution, spurred by the electorate’s rejection of the pro-EU consensus and a burning desire for the pro-EU House of Commons to have the last word.

Morgan’s last point, whining about people demanding MPs with principles but then disliking MPs whose principles they disagree with, is particularly asinine. Many people do indeed respect MPs with strong and unapologetic convictions, but this does not have to translate into respect for their particular policies or moral code.

This blog has long supported Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that the present centrist, managerialist consensus is conspicuously failing Britain in this period of political discontinuity, and because having the two viable parties of government both camped out in the same narrow centre ground is a recipe for political disengagement and fringe extremism.

But in no way is this an endorsement of Jeremy Corbyn’s economic or foreign policies, his closeness to Palestinian or Irish terrorist groups or endorsement of authoritarian leftist regimes which drive their countries into the ground. In other words, it is possible to respect the presence of principle while deploring individual policies, and Nicky Morgan should not be surprised that having finally taken something resembling a stand for something resembling a principle, she is now receiving a degree of political blowback. Unfortunately, that much comes with the territory.

And so long as MPs like Nicky Morgan continue to equate democratically legitimate calls for the deselection of MPs with other more concerning actions like online trolling or threats of violence, it is very hard to conclude other than that the entire exercise is really just a cynical ploy to grasp the mantle of victimhood and avoid accountability to the people.

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CCHQ Should Not Automatically Protect Tory MPs From Deselection

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A seat in the House of Commons is not a job for life. And just as the Parliamentary Labour Party should not be encumbered with MPs increasingly at odds with their local constituency parties, so Tory MPs should not be immune from deselection if they repeatedly ignore the priorities and concerns of grassroots Conservative Party members

Try as I might, I simply cannot get myself worked up about the government’s “shock” defeat over the amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill. While the legislative drama seems to have Hard Brexiteers up in arms and Remainers parading their newfound (and one suspects rather less than genuine) love and respect for Parliamentary sovereignty, I don’t see that these machinations will have any real bearing on the eventual outcome.

So Parliament gets to have a “meaningful” vote on the terms of the UK-EU agreement? Fine, so be it – though I have always held that the people, not Parliament, should be sovereign, and that no government should be able to divest itself of fundamentally important powers or seek to repatriate such powers without an explicit and specific mandate from the people. Of course, if we had a written constitution then such things would likely be enshrined automatically rather than be up for furious debate as new issues and obstacles are encountered along the road. But then if we had a written constitution we likely would never have ceded so much sovereignty to the European Union in the first place and would not now be in this position, making it all a rather moot point.

Of far more interest to me is the fact that talk of deselection of MPs has bubbled up again. We saw this last year as Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters sought to cement their control of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and for democratic reasons I supported the idea of mandatory reselection in principle. And now there are new calls to deselect sitting MPs, this time from Conservative politicians and activists angry at what they see as the Tory rebels’ deliberate undermining of the prime minister and the country’s negotiating position with the EU:

On this occasion I do not share the Tory Brexiteer outrage, but their case is every bit as compelling as was that of the Corbynite leftists who wanted to rid their party of centrist MPs who do not reflect the values and priorities of their local associations. While I personally find it hard to work myself into a spittle-flecked fury at the antics of Dominic Grieve or Heidi Allen, if it is the case that these MPs represent Leave-voting constituencies and a majority of local party activists find their voting record objectionable then I see no reason why they should be protected and continually re-imposed on an unwilling local party organisation.

Of course, CCHQ and the Tory Party machinery vehemently disagrees. Reflexively opposed to any notion that grassroots activists or local constituency associations should have any input as to the direction, policies or running of the party, CCHQ sees individual conservatives as little more than indentured servants campaign material distributors at election time, to be put to work when necessary and then roundly ignored the rest of the cycle.

Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s intellectual bloodbank-in-exile, makes it perfectly clear that the present Conservative leadership remains determined to run the party (if not the entire country) as their personal private fiefdom, and that local constituency associations should shut up and do as they are told, whether they like the candidate or MP chosen for them or not. Timothy unapologetically and shamelessly spelled out as much on Twitter today:

This is an open admission that Theresa May, the prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, saw fit to interfere in local constituency business and keep an unwanted MP foisted on an unwilling local party.

But what the hell business should it be of the prime minister who gets to stand as a Conservative candidate in a local constituency? This is everything that is wrong with the current Tory party – overcentralised and overbearing, with CCHQ pig-headedly declaring that it knows best while confidently marching us all to ruin. Given the litany of gaffes, unforced errors, scandals and bad judgements which have emanated from Theresa May’s cabinet, I would sooner entrust a panel of ten individuals randomly selected from the phone book to choose good Tory candidates than I would have Theresa May make the judgement call.

Of course, there is a counter-argument to all this, as a reader pointed out on Twitter:

We certainly don’t want a situation where conscientious, independent-minded MPs are peremptorily driven from office or from their political party because they fail to toe the hardest of hard lines demanded by their activists. We have recently witnessed just such a phenomenon lead the Republican Party to ruin (at best Pyrrhic victory) in America, where a succession of primary challenges and forced retirements saw an influx of ideologically uncompromising Tea Party politicians into Congress, hard-liners who thwarted any attempt at sane governance in the second term of Barack Obama, rendered the Republican congressional caucus unmanageable and ineffective and set the stage for Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP.

In actual fact we need both of these opposing forces – greater responsiveness to grassroots opinion and a cool, dispassionate process to adjudicate in the event of rogue or underperforming MPs – to be in balance. We need a far greater measure of accountability of MPs to their local party associations, and a more meritocratic system of selection (preferably primaries) which draws more people into the political process and prevents the mediocre-but-well-connected from leveraging their connection to CCHQ to be shortlisted or ultimately foisted on a constituency.

But we also need to build safeguards into the system so that the bar for triggering deselection is high but achievable – the recourseshould only become available at the time of a general election or by-election, so that MPs are judged on the body of their work and their voting record throughout a Parliament and not on the basis of any one single contentious vote.

Ultimately, the resurgent argument about deselection of MPs reminds us that Brexit is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for meaningful democratic renewal in Britain. Brexit was never going to be a cure-all no matter what some cynical Brexiteers may have implied, and we must all now recognise this fact. Achieving Brexit only to return power to the hands of the same MPs who negligently frittered it away in the first place, and who think so little of the people who campaign to put them in office that they seek to be made immune from their judgement, will not solve anything.

To this extent, the worries of Hard Brexiteers that the EFTA/EEA route may be used as cover by some Remainers in order to thwart Brexit entirely are quite valid. When there are so few penalties or recourses available to voters when politicians betray their own supporters, the trust required to sustain a well-functioning democracy is inevitably corroded.

But the real tragedy is that when we should be discussing how to respond to the period of disruption and discontinuity facing Britain, developing bold new mutually-reinforcing policies to tackle 21st century challenges, instead the Conservative Party is bickering about process and thwarting any attempts to clear out the intellectual deadwood and bring in some new ideas and personalities. Constitutional and electoral reform is important and eventually necessary, but there are pressing issues facing Britain which cannot be put on the back burner while we argue about the rules of play. Unfortunately, we seem less interested in these big debates and more interested in arguing about process stories.

When the Conservative Party fails to stand for anything – and Lord knows that under the rootless leadership of Theresa May, the Tories stand for little more than surviving the day at hand – it has plenty of time to devote to juvenile, internecine spats like the one playing out over the EU Withdrawal Bill rebels.

This is highly entertaining for the political media and a gift for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, but very bad indeed for everyone else.

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Arrogant MPs Want To Turn Political Debate Into Their Own Safe Space

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Being heckled and pilloried by obnoxious online trolls is a regrettable part of the job description for any 21st century MP. But the right answer is to ignore the idiots and move on, not to impose draconian codes of conduct or prison sentences for insulting speech

When Britain is in the midst of debating great issues of war and peace, it is frankly astounding that much of the media seems more concerned with the hurt feelings of Labour MPs threatened with deselection by angry constituents than the consequences of British military action in Syria.

In the aftermath of the Syria vote in parliament, I saw one newspaper headline in particular that represented such an unhinged piece of self-aggrandising hyperbole that it made me do a double-take:

Jeremy Corbyn has made us targets for jihadists - shadow cabinet - Syria vote - ISIS.jpg

Apparently, by failing to assume direct control of the hearts and minds of every single one of his supporters – and physically preventing them from blowing off steam in the aftermath of the Syria air strikes vote in Parliament – Jeremy Corbyn is personally responsible for endangering the lives of those MPs who voted with the government for military action:

Jeremy Corbyn has made his MPs targets for home-grown jihadists in the wake of the vote to back Syrian air strikes, a shadow cabinet minister has warned.

The accusation that MPs are being left open to revenge attacks came as a backbencher made a formal complaint to Labour’s chief whip over Mr Corbyn’s “despicable and deliberate” threats over the Syria vote which he said will lead to “personal violence” against MPs.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, which saw 66 MPs defy Mr Corbyn to back David Cameron’s plans for military action, Labour Unity, a hard-left organisation linked to the party leader, released a “traitor list” of backbenchers who should be targeted for de-selection.

Mr Corbyn and his allies have been directly accused of “aiding and abetting” the intimidation of Labour MPs by leaking the names of MPs preparing to back the Government in recent days.

This is not a joke. A member of the Labour Party shadow cabinet – a fully grown adult with an important constitutional role to play in our democracy – serious believes that by expressing his scepticism about air strikes on Syria, Jeremy Corbyn has made dissenting MPs vulnerable to terrorist attack. They believed it strongly enough – or hated Corbyn enough – to give these quotes to a national newspaper.

First of all, Jeremy Corbyn needs to identify who this self-aggrandising crybaby is, and kick them so hard out of his shadow cabinet that they end up back in local government debating bin collections and street lighting. Such brazen disrespect of the leader is absolutely intolerable in a serious political party.

Jeremy Corbyn, of course, tolerates self-important asides from whiny, self-entitled members of his own shadow cabinet every single day, which suggests that he has the patience of a saint, whatever his many other flaws. But no leader should expect to be confronted with daily leaks and insubordination of this kind from their own shadow cabinet, particularly scurrilous juvenile fantasies that he is somehow endangering the lives of his colleagues simply by disagreeing with them.

This blog agrees with almost none of Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist platform, but this open defiance of the leader has to stop if the Labour Party ever hope to be taken seriously as a cohesive force in British politics. Right now, the only hope for the Labour centrists is that Corbyn proves himself to be so unelectable in the London mayoral, local and devolved assembly elections that real momentum builds for him to be replaced.

By constantly snarking and running to their media sources in the media every time Corbyn’s leadership style hurts their pwecious wittle feewings, Corbyn will be able to point to all of this insubordination later on, when he is on the ropes, and say that he is failing not due to a popular rejection of his policies but thanks to disloyalty from his own shadow cabinet. This is the last thing that the centrists should want, but in typical myopic fashion they are totally incapable of looking more than one step ahead.

Syria Vote - Trolling - Online Abuse - MPs

But it’s not just the fifth column within Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet who are at fault. An increasing number of MPs from all parties (but particularly Labour) are speaking out, claiming that robust and sometimes distasteful criticism of their political views and voting records is somehow tantamount to “bullying”.

This has now reached the point where even expressing the view that your MP is doing a bad job and should be deselected as their party’s candidate at the next general election is also being described as “bullying” by some self-entitled and wobbly-lipped MPs.

The BBC reports:

Ann Coffey, who has represented Stockport since 1992 was told: “Get behind the leader or kindly go.”

In response, she said she will “await the assassins to come out of the shadows”.

Assassins? What Ann Coffey is referring to is the great fear now stalking the Parliamentary Labour Party – deselection.

While the Metro reports on the party establishment’s hurt response:

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham, who voted against air strikes, called on Mr Corbyn to show ‘no tolerance’ of abusive behaviour within the party and said a code of conduct was needed for members’ use of social media.

He was particularly disappointed with the treatment colleague Ann Coffey had received after voting for the strikes.

‘She has served Stockport, her constituents and our party for many years with distinction, and people need to have a look at themselves before they go around throwing threats at people like that,’ he told BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire Show.

Whether Ann Coffey has served her constituents and her party well or not is beside the point – it is not for Andy Burnham, a fellow MP, to decide on behalf of Coffey’s constituents whether or not she should continue to be their Labour Party candidate, nor to shield her from public criticism.

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This is a ludicrous state of affairs. MPs are grown adults, serious people who should be capable of participating in the rough and tumble of democratic debate without needing some higher authority to step in and moderate the debate to spare their delicate sensitivities.

Spiked’s Tom Slater agrees, writing:

Let’s get a few things straight. First of all, if you’re over 16 – let alone a prominent politician – you’ve got no right to claim you’re being bullied. Bullying is what happens in the playground. And most kids put up with far worse than a few nasty emails. It’s pathetic. Secondly, being called a ‘baby killer’ isn’t nice, but it’s not abuse or intimidation. It’s political critique – asinine, sixth-formerish, idiotic political critique, but it’s political critique nonetheless. And as for those who have claimed to have received death threats, they’re just not credible. Neil Coyle MP contacted the police, all because someone tweeted three knife emojis to him. Jesus wept.

[..] This is bad news for politics. The war on trolling, we were told, was all about protecting poor, vulnerable people from being hounded out of the public square. Now, 40-plus politicians are using the same language to protect themselves from criticism. In these strange political times, we need more conflict, more argument and, yes, more abuse-hurling. Politicians crying foul when someone disagrees with them – that’s what the ‘kinder, gentler’ politics looks like.

It is bad enough that our universities – supposedly places of intellectual rigour and ‘no holds barred’ debate – are turning into soft cornered safe spaces where delicate snowflake students insist on being protected from ever having to encounter a dissenting or provocative opinion. But apparently the disease has not been contained and has spilled over the borders of academia into the very heart of our democracy, the political sphere.

This is exceedingly dangerous. Angry, safe space-dwelling students are proving themselves more than capable of stifling debate, changing whole curricula and agitating for decent staff to be fired, despite having almost no formal power in the university hierarchy system. How much more damage, then, can elected MPs do to our already-weakened free speech rights when they are the ones setting the political agenda and making the laws that we must follow?

Enough is enough. Being told that one has blood on one’s hands because of a vote for military action may be jarring, unsettling and nasty. But MPs should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, and engage with those constituents who engage with them respectfully, whilst either ignoring or belittling those who are rude or aggressive.

In fact, Labour MP Stella Creasy herself – usually leading the charge to criminalise Twitter abuse – inadvertently demonstrated how best to handle mean Twitter insults in the aftermath of the Syria vote when she responded to a member of the public who swore at her and called her a witch:

Syria Vote - Trolling - Online Abuse - MPs - Stella Creasy - Twitter - 2

Highlight the idiocy, publicly smack it down and move on. Or simply ignore the haters altogether. That’s all an MP has to do.

This should be the model which all MPs follow, all the time. Engage with the genuine constituents, especially when they are legitimately angry. Ignore those who are gratuitously mean, insulting or belligerent. But only report to the police those who make serious and credible threats of physical harm.

This is how anyone who has ever worked in a private sector customer service job would handle their interactions with the public every single day. Ask any London bus driver if they call the police every time they are demeaned, insulted or “bullied” while at work, and they would laugh in your face. When you work in a tough job like that, you grow a thick skin.

We should expect no less maturity (in the face of occasional public immaturity) from our elected representatives in Parliament.

Margaret Thatcher - Internet Trolling

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