The EU Snubs Britain At Its Own Risk

Friendship and cooperation

No, Theresa May was not mortally humiliated at the current EU summit underway in Brussels. Somehow, probably after a few nights in intensive care and some trauma therapy, the prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will bounce back from being denied the opportunity to make idle small talk for a few minutes with the likes of Federica Mogherini.

Let’s be serious. Were there non-stop footage of every political leader to ever attend an EU summit, we could undoubtedly find instances where each one of them stood alone with nobody to talk to for a short while, even the sainted Angela Merkel. Keep watching the video beyond the first twenty seconds and you actually see May engaged in several conversations with other European leaders. This is a complete non-story.

But seizing on the footage of Theresa May looking momentarily awkward, however, helps to reinforce a narrative that Remainers (and their friends in the media) are desperate to encourage – that of pathetic, little old Britain being banished to the margins of the world having voted to isolate ourselves “from Europe”.

This is an idiotic and superficial analysis, and it speaks volumes about the people pushing the theory that they seem to take delight in what they see as the humiliation of their own prime minister (who, let’s not forget, represents all of us). If Brexiteers have been too harsh in impugning the patriotism of Remainers, as is sometimes claimed, then now is the time for Remainers to finally take their patriotism out for a spin. They claim that our prime minister has just been insulted on the world stage – therefore they should be encouraging a collective national outrage rather than trying to score smug political points.

Remainers claimed throughout the referendum campaign that the EU is a bastion of rationality, of grown up countries cooperating sensibly with one another. Well, what is grown up and sensible about deliberately ostracising one head of government just because the member state she represents is exercising its right to leave (not that any such ostracisation took place)? What is enlightened and admirable about such childish behaviour? And why is this snarling, punitive and insecure little club something of which we would want any further part?

Iain Martin goes further in a piece for Reaction:

It’s a funny video, although not in the way May’s opponents might think.‎ Funny meaning odd, curious, in that your response to it is probably shaped by your existing view of May and Brexit.

For Leavers – and quite a few Remainers who accept the reality that Brexit will happen and no amount of shenanigans by Blair, Mandelson and Clegg (what a dream team!) will stop it ‎- a British Prime Minister being treated in a rude fashion will only encourage Brits to say “if that’s your attitude then please get stuffed” to the EU.

In that gathering I see a room that‎ is overwhelmingly male – a sausage party of smugness. May is too polite or diffident to charge up to them and start “handbagging” and beating up the boys Thatcher-style, so she hovers. Millions of people, most people, who lack liberal elite social confidence will know the feeling from school or parties ever since. It induces sympathy.

We’re not talking to you, you smell, we don’t like you, is the message. Oh, and ‎the UK is not invited to dinner.

The response all this provokes – in me, anyway – is incredulity at the continuing stupidity of the EU’s leaders in their determination to rough up Britain in a manner that amounts to self-harm. Yes, we voted to leave the EU, which is our right and had been coming for ages, ‎but we cannot leave Europe. That would be a geographic, culinary, cultural, commercial impossibility, thank goodness. That means we are going to have to get along, and find new ways of co-operating and co-existing. Punishing Britain and being rude to Theresa May is simply a waste of time and energy, when the world is changing this fast.

I would caution Iain Martin against going down the identity politics route, trying to drum up additional sympathy for Theresa May by portraying her as a lone female in a room of arrogant and threatening men. I see no evidence that gender has anything to do with this non-story. Martin (I assume) is not a fan of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, and he should avoid resorting to their tactic of playing the oppression card when engaging in argument.

But that minor quibble aside, Martin is quite right. Many people will indeed empathise with the awkwardness of walking into the middle of a room of people who generally already know each other quite well and who are already engrossed in conversation. Throw in the fact that the television cameras were rolling and May becomes quite a sympathetic character. So if Remainers’ best argument is now “see how they treat you when you scorn them and try to leave the club” then I think it will largely backfire.

If anything, the history of recent British diplomacy has been one of excessive fawning and deference, punching well beneath our weight considering our status as Europe’s second biggest economy, one of only two nuclear powers and possessing the continent’s most deployable and skilled armed forces, not to mention the popularity and dominance of our culture. Martin also picks up on this point:

Britain has the leading listening, intelligence and security capability in Europe, at a time when the place is under assault from jihadist maniacs and the Russians are out to discredit democracy and create mischief in elections in Germany and France. Even in its depleted state, Britain is a leading player in Nato, which is dedicated to the defence of Western Europe. On the cyberwarfare front in particular that defence is now an urgent priority.

The UK also provides in the City of London ‎the capital of the eurozone, which makes the giant debt machine go round. The British economy is growing and we buy a lot of cars and much else from Europe.

What will it take to wake up the countries of the EU? Their post-1989 experiment is in a terrible state, with the euro and open borders proving to be a disaster. They need a bit of humility and a rethink.

I don’t normally go for “we buy lots of cars from them!” style arguments, but it is not wrong, and everything else that Martin says is persuasive.

If anything, the trouble is that our goodwill and cooperation is too easily taken for granted by our partners. We tend to enforce EU laws and directives while other countries skirt, bend or flout them. We generally honour our obligations with little fuss. And so we should, when that behaviour is equally reciprocated. But right now that reciprocity is missing.

The fact that Britain will be a supplicant during the secession negotiations is currently emboldening the leaders of some otherwise quite unremarkable and forgettable countries to “play the big man” and swagger around, lecturing or threatening Britain safe under the wing of Brussels. They would be advised to realise that at some point Brexit will be complete, and that future goodwill and cooperation from Britain – which many of them need – should not be taken for granted if things become too heated or punitive during the exit negotiations.

Martin notes that the shift is already starting to happen:

Away from Brussels the smart Poles have realised that Britain will remain a partner, and are talking of the UK being the key country in the defence and security space in Europe. The Germans too, seem to be waking up to the need for a different way of thinking about these questions. The conversation at a dinner I was at recently with German policymakers and business people was one of the most interesting, open and illuminating things I’ve heard all year.

But Brussels blunders on, playing its usual games, thinking it clever to humiliate the naughty British. Carry on like this and they really can get stuffed.

It is altogether time for less EU-style holding hands beneath a rainbow (which is all fake, anyway) and more good old fashioned self-interest and realpolitik. Immediately following Brexit we witnessed a number of gestures of solidarity and support from true allies outside the EU while our supposed partners and allies within dealt in condescending language and veiled threats. That alone tells us that membership of the European Union has forced us to pour time and effort into nurturing partnerships which were never natural or terribly fruitful while having to ignore closer and more natural alliances beyond the artificial construct of the EU.

But if the EU and its member states are behaving irrationally and emotionally it is only because they remain in thrall to a beguiling, powerful but unachievable vision of continental political union by stealth from which Britain thankfully escaped. Sensing an existential threat to the group delusion, other countries may naturally wish to lash out at Britain, to make us “pay the price” (and there will be a price – serious Brexiteers have never shied away from that fact).

But while this may explain intransigent or punitive behaviour from the European Union, it will not excuse such antics for much longer. The time for childish temper tantrums and playground insults is over. Voters in Britain and across Europe did not elect their politicians with a mandate to create unnecessary drama just because one country chose to reject a rusting mid-century vision of political union and peaceably extricate itself from that union. And unnecessary drama they must absolutely not create.

A deal must be done and the deal will be done. Hopefully it will be a deal based on common sense, achieving the goal of extricating us from the political union we voted to leave while taking a transitory and measured approach (through continued EEA participation) to avoid any cliff-edges or avoidable economic disruption.

But whatever kind of deal emerges, it will not be influenced by video footage of Theresa May standing alone at an EU summit, no matter how much the images may warm the hearts of strangely-motivated Remainers.



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The Daily Toast: Iain Martin’s Brexit Ultimatum To Tory Ministers

Conservative Eurosceptics - Brexit - David Cameron

Politicians with the integrity to openly declare their stance on the biggest political issue of our generation should be the rule, not the exception

Like most people in Britain, Iain Martin has had enough of equivocating politicians – specifically Conservative cabinet ministers – refusing to take a public position on Britain’s EU membership, and maintaining the fiction that David Cameron’s cosmetic “renegotiation” can have any possible impact on their decision.

Martin goes so far as to call Conservative ministers “a bunch of careerist scaredy cats”, writing in CapX:

Britain’s looming vote on the EU is not – or should not be – politics as normal. It is a historic moment, in which the UK will decide to take one of two quite different paths. Party management and careers matter, of course, but sometimes there are choices that should be about something more than the mere game of politics. The EU referendum is one such event.

This is absolutely correct. Whatever one’s views on the European Union and Brexit, surely all of us can agree that this debate is infinitely more important than the minor tweaks to education, healthcare and fiscal policy which separate the various political parties.

Having established the importance of the coming referendum, Iain Martin issues the following challenge:

Ministers, it is make your mind up time. Although David Cameron’s renegotiation with the EU for new membership terms could have been the real deal, it is clear that it will deliver very little. It is In or Out, probably as soon as this summer. For that reason, ministers need to do something that is highly unfashionable and considered downright deranged in the British Establishment: decide what you believe – enthusiastically for In, reluctantly for In, or Out because you think it is best for your country – and get ready to fight for it at public meetings across the land. Don’t be scared. You are grown men and women. You might even be surprised how much voters like politicians saying what they believe rather than what is convenient for their careers.

This argument is – I know – a stretch, considering how careerist politics has become. But for anyone playing a leading role in the affairs of a nation to base such a vital decision purely on career progression or fear of friends is not only wrong, it’s pathetic. And in ten years time, none of it, all the hedging and game-playing, will matter a jot. By then David Cameron will be having a snooze after lunch in rural Oxfordshire. Osborne will be running the World Bank or a hedge fund. The decision on the EU, on the other hand, now that will have mattered a lot.

The current failure of Conservative ministers and other senior politicians to break cover and nail their colours to the mast only contributes to the (depressingly accurate) perception of contemporary politicians as principle-free careerists squabbling over the right to sit in technocratic management of our public services, rather than principled statesmen grappling with weighty political issues.

In our current political climate, where the Conservative Party runs away from small government principles in pursuit of the centre ground and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is criticised for actually being left-wing, it is clear that the vast majority of politicians prefer the former to the latter.

Power is pursued for its own sake, even if it means the centrist coalition of supporters cobbled together to deliver victory make it impossible to do anything remotely radical, transformational or different once in office. Thus, despite the overwrought rhetoric from both sides, neither Labour nor the Conservatives  propose a single policy which would move Britain away from its current centrist landscape.

Politicians who came of age in this age of the Tyranny of Centrism find it inordinately difficult to express a strong, sincerely held political opinion because all of their training and professional experience teaches them that pragmatic caution and a reflexive fear of fixed beliefs are the surest route to success.

Whether it’s the NHS, tax reform, constitutional reform or Britain’s relationship with Europe, MPs are strongly predisposed to fiddling around the edges themselves, while accusing others of partisan recklessness. Thus change is only ever incremental, and nearly always in the direction of More Government – the path of least resistance for any elected official.

Unfortunately, too many within the public and the media are willing to excuse this state of affairs, urging us to put ourselves in the politicians’ shoes rather than demanding sincerity and principle from our elected officials. It is therefore particularly pleasing to see Iain Martin losing patience with the status quo and demanding that those who seek to run the country actually declare the direction in which they would lead us.

The Tyranny of Centrism can only continue so long as we tolerate and enable it by rewarding glib superficiality and punishing strong displays of principle from our politicians. And on an issue as important as Britain’s future relationship with the EU, this is no time for fence-sitters, careerists or cowards.

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What Does The Conservative Party Stand For In The Era Of Jeremy Corbyn?

David Cameron - What Do The Conservatives Tories Stand For In The Age Of Jeremy Corbyn

With Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party consumed by infighting and discredited with the public, David Cameron’s Conservative government could do almost anything it desires. So why is it treading water?

What does the Conservative Party stand for in the era of Jeremy Corbyn?

What do the Tories stand for when they are barely opposed in Parliament, and consequently have virtual carte blanche to do anything they please?

The answer, apparently, is not much of anything. And it’s good to see that more people on the Right are finally starting to get impatient with the lack of conservative conviction flowing from Number 10 Downing Street.

Janet Daley gets straight to the point in her latest Telegraph column, asking what is the point of the Tories if they refuse to radically shrink the size of the state:

It is fairly clear what use the Tories have decided to make of the current lack of opposition. They will become not just the accepted party of government but the only political party that anybody would ever need. Instead of putting forward a specific, identifiable view of what government should be and how it should relate to the people, which they can offer up for debate, they will occupy all the ground, cover all the bases, be everywhere on the political spectrum at once. They will incorporate centre-Left and centre-Right, and make economic intervention live alongside the free market. They will even, as Mr Osborne did in his Autumn Statement, filch the language of enforced equality (“social justice”).

In short, if Labour is not fit to carry on a debate, then the Tories will scrap the idea of debate altogether. They will be all things to all men: the all-purpose, all-embracing, totally inclusive permanent party of government. This new single-party monopoly will incorporate every popular measure, however inconsistent or contradictory, into its amorphous programme. By the time Labour is ready to engage in election-winning argument, there will be nothing to argue about.

Instead of being emboldened by the lack of serious opposition and seeing it as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do necessary radical things, the Tories have decided to play it for short-term political advantage. The real problems will not be addressed. They will just be fudged – and bought off with fistfuls of money.

The depressing truth is that the Tories in government have made a decision to solidify their grip on power by effectively ceasing to be a small-C conservative party at all, instead rebranding themselves as the only sane choice when the alternative is the Corbyn/McDonnell socialist double act.

This worrying lack of ideological commitment has been reinforced over and over, whether it’s the Autumn Statement that sounded more like a Gordon Brown-style moneybomb than a fiscally conservative blueprint for government, or David Cameron’s triumphal party conference speech – which even the Independent thought was shockingly centrist.

But not everybody sees it like this. Iain Martin, writing in CapX, sees opportunity in the fact that the Conservatives now essentially govern unopposed:

Corbyn’s leadership does gift the British Conservatives an historic opportunity. Not one of those “they might they win the next general election” opportunities, but the chance to capitalise on Labour’s existential crisis and create a broad-based coalition of interests that dominates the coming decades and turns the UK into an even more dynamic, market-based, technologically advanced, prosperous society.

No. The government can either lead Britain kicking and screaming towards a more dynamic, free and market-based future, or it can create a broad-based coalition of special interests, each with their own collection of whiny, selfish demands and veto rights over national policy. But it cannot do both.

Radical policies of the kind needed to cure Britain’s productivity gap and vastly improve our competitiveness are not borne out of consensual, hand-holding workshops where all of the public service unions and taxpayer funded charities lounge around together brainstorming new ways to extort taxpayer money. Nor are bold policies borne out of the ingratiating desire to please everybody all the time, and never come face to face with a critical newspaper headline.

The radical conservative/libertarian policies that this country needs in order to roll back the state – and empower the people to shape their own destiny rather than remaining vassals of the state or passive consumers of public services – will not be divined by drawing a line half way between the David Cameron and Ed Miliband election manifestos of 2015 and splitting the difference.

When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 she knew that there could be no appeasement with the dismal establishment belief that the best Britain could then hope for was a smoother, more orderly century of national decline than we witnessed during the Winter of Discontent. She knew that Britain needed harsh medicine if things were to be turned around and the patient saved. That didn’t mean that Thatcher rode to battle against every pillar of the post-war consensus simultaneously – nationalised companies and the NHS remained even after her premiership – but it did mean that she was not terrified of being seen as an ideological, even polarising figure. She stood for something.

What do David Cameron and George Osborne stand for, besides keeping the Conservative Party in power and (hopefully) executing a smooth transition from Dave to George by 2020? What kind of Britain do they want to preserve, protect or change? It is almost impossible to tell, because the key decisions – as with the Autumn Statement – are always so depressingly tactical and reactive, not strategic. I was not yet born when Margaret Thatcher became prime minister, but I could describe in some detail her evolving political philosophy and accomplishments in government. By contrast, David Cameron came to power when my political engagement was very high indeed, and yet I would struggle to fill two paragraphs outlining Cameron’s ideology or aims for this country.

Even the few hints of a long-term strategy from the Conservatives – making us more secure, or paying down the national debt – only serve to highlight how far the government is falling short of these goals. The surveillance state continues to expand while the root causes of the extremist Islamist threat are barely discussed, much less tackled; the Chancellor burbles on about fixing the roof while the sun is shining, and yet the deficit is far from eliminated and the national debt continues to increase every single day.

David Cameron - Centrist

But it does not have to be this way. The Conservative Party leadership may be depressingly void of ambition and tainted with the first blush of scandal, but there are green shoots of a future conservative renaissance visible within the party.

Last week I attended a Westminster lobby event held by Conservatives for Liberty, the right-libertarian campaign group for whom I am proud to write. During the course of the evening, we were addressed by five Conservative MPs, each of whom was able to make a far more convincing case for individual liberty in ten minutes than David Cameron has made for the entirety of his premiership.

Chris Philp described himself as a “proud Thatcherite” and dared to make reference to both “The Road To Serfdom” by Hayek and “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill.

Lucy Allan, the antithesis of a career politician, said “my view is that a real conservative is definitely a libertarian”, and proceeded to speak out against mass surveillance and the rise of authoritarianism in the name of national security.

The irrepressible James Cleverly warned against paternalistic government and the excesses of the public health lobby, saying “I don’t want to live in a world where personal choice is codified. We have a word for that, and that word is fascism”.

John Redwood made a point that the Treasury sorely needs to hear, lamenting that too many MPs “forget they are there to represent taxpayers as well as beneficiaries of state largesse” and describing the state’s overbearing presence in all aspects of life as “a wooden public monopoly that guarantees maximum inconvenience and maximum cost”.

And David Nuttal vowed that he would continue to work tirelessly “to stop the relentless march of the nanny state” and the “massive industry” which supports it.

Of these excellent speakers, Chris Philp, James Cleverly and Lucy Allan (if she stays in politics beyond 2020) are all potential leadership material for the future, particularly in a world where the official opposition is virtually non-existent and the country is crying out for a new, clear sense of direction. Any one of these rising stars have the inspiration and charisma to one day lead the party in a new, more transformational direction.

With the Parliamentary Labour Party seemingly intent on self-administering a near mortal wound with their relentless sniping and bitter briefing against Jeremy Corbyn, a bold new Conservative leader committed to the principles of liberty and a small state (the antithesis of George Osborne, who doesn’t even pay lip service to these ideals) could re-shape the Right and promote a better, more inspiring form of conservatism than the current “Blairism when there’s no money left” status quo.

The fact that David Cameron and George Osborne are watching the slow implosion of the Labour Party and conjuring up plans to woo Ed Miliband voters – rather than capitalise on this once-in-a-century opportunity to execute a real conservative agenda unopposed – reveals their worrying lack of confidence in core conservative principles and values. If the Prime Minister and Chancellor really believed in reducing the tax burden, reforming welfare, building up our armed forces, shrinking the state, promoting localism and devolving decision-making to the lowest level possible (with the individual as the default option), they could do so. They could be building a new, conservative Britain right here, right now. Virtually unopposed.

But Cameron and Osborne are doing no such thing. They simper and equivocate, and talk about fixing the roof and paying down the debt while doing no such thing, and still they attract endless negative headlines for inflicting an austerity which exists primarily in the minds of permanently outraged Guardian readers.

If Britain is not a transformed country in 2020 – with a smaller state, more dynamic private sector and greater presence on the world stage – there will be absolutely nobody to blame other than the party holding the keys to government. The party with the word “conservative” in their name. The Tories will have been in power for ten years and have nearly nothing to show for it, save some weak protestations about having fixed Labour’s prior mismanagement of the economy.

That’s not the kind of party I want to be associated with. That’s not the party I campaigned to elect in 2010, back when it seemed possible that a new Conservative administration might aspire to being something more than a moderate improvement on Gordon Brown.

The Conservatives have a choice. Presented with the golden opportunity of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, the Tories can seize the chance to transform themselves into the party of Allan, Philp or Cleverly. Or they can continue to be the equivocating, triangulating party of Cameron and Osborne.

Yes, of course there’s no point having bold new conservative ideas unless you can stay in power to make those ideas a reality, as the Cameron/Osborne apologists would no doubt respond. But neither is there any point winning and holding power unless you actually have ideas worth implementing.

The Conservatives have the power. And thanks to the Labour Party, they are under no immediate threat of losing that power, no matter what they do in office. So where are the big ideas?

George Osborne - Chancellor of the Exchequer - Budget

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What Do The Tories Stand For?



Iain Martin poses an excellent question to restive Conservative ministers and backbenchers currently jostling for position in a 2015 conservative leadership election that may very well never transpire – what would they do for the country if they actually got the job?

A very pertinent question. Watching the unseemly attempts of cabinet member after cabinet member manoeuvre for advantage and brief against perceived rivals provokes unpleasant flashbacks to the time when Gordon Brown finally had his way and muscled Tony Blair out of Number 10 Downing Street, only to become prime minister and realise that he had just fulfilled the extent of his ambition.

With more than a year to go until what will undoubtedly be a closely-fought election campaign, now is really not an appropriate time for self-interested ministers to be promoting their personal prospects at the expense of stable governance. And if they absolutely must indulge in such counterproductive, selfish shenanigans, they could at least give the public some semblance of a reason to believe that they offer a better alternative to David Cameron.

As Iain Martin points out, none of the would-be plotters have yet risen to this challenge:

Some people are positioning ahead of a potential vacancy and talking seriously in private about who the next Tory leader will be. So far it has all been very heavy on personalities and score-settling.

What we hear less of is ideas. What do those who want to succeed Cameron, if he loses, want to do with or for the country? This is, I know, a hopelessly naive question, although I never tire of asking it during a leadership race.

We already have a coalition government that stands for next to nothing. Blaming Labour for the country’s economic predicament and the state of the public finances may be correct, but it doesn’t amount to a platform for governing. And with little more than a year left in the lifetime of this parliament, we can expect precious little more in terms of radical or effective new policies. This mean that the electorate has to make up their minds based on what we can see today. So what is there?

Michael Gove’s education reforms spring to mind as something both tangible and in line with conservative principles, but aside from that, what else can the Tories point to? The period from 2010, when the United Kingdom finally escaped the Gordon Brown terror, has been characterised by retrenchment and burden-sharing and sacrifice-making and painful compromise at every turn. There has been almost nothing positive. Whether it is fiscal policy, defence policy, welfare reform (though credit to Iain Duncan Smith for at least trying), privacy or constitutional reform, it has been an exercise in damage limitation on all fronts.

If the conservatives were (heaven forfend) to elect Boris Johnson as their new leader, or Theresa May, or George Osborne or anyone else, what would they do differently? Why go through the trauma of ditching Cameron and choosing someone else who may be identical, or worse?

Iain Martin proposes a good set of questions, well worth asking, that could help distinguish one candidate from another and maybe tease out some real talent or independent thinking amidst a sea of caution and homogeneity. Making the valid point that voters will not warm to a new leader who only attained his or her position by virtue of being ‘next in line’, he issues the following challenge:

Eventually, the rest of us in the audience – taxpayers, the people who live here, Tories and non-Tories alike – might like to hear what applicants to be Conservative leader and trainee prime minister have in mind, other than stopping each other.

Here are his ten questions:

1) How can the country be more productive?

2) How can we maximise the advantages of globalisation without having to concrete over the whole of southern England to accommodate the millions more who want to be here?

3) Are our banks still too big and how do we get more competition to aid consumers and business?

4) Why is the tax system such a mess of conflicting incentives?

5) Is EU membership really compatible with being a self-governing nation state?

6) Is it even possible to be truly self-governing any longer in the age of the EU, big tech and giant corporates that operate across continents?

7) The Blair/Gove education reforms are up and running – how might they be built on?

8) What is the UK’s foreign policy?

9) What are the threats and how will we defend ourselves?

10) Can the UK be remade to give all its constituent parts, especially England, greater autonomy while still holding together the Union?

While it is absolutely right to challenge those seeking to be David Cameron’s successor to answer these questions, in reality it would be good for all politicians and party leaders to have a stab at addressing them, because these ten questions really form the basis of how we currently see ourselves as a country, and where we want to go from here.

Take the first question on productivity. This could lead to an interesting debate along any number of lines, including trade union reform, European Union membership status, working conditions for interns and apprentices, and more. Already we would see a divide between the mainstream Conservative party MPs who remain deeply eurosceptical, and the more Europhile fringe. Similarly, a contrast would be drawn between the mainstream anti-union position and those such as Robert Halfon MP who have been trying to reintroduce a trade union heritage to the party.

The tax system question is also one that urgently requires answering, not just to help search for the ideal future Tory leader but because the current tax code is such a mess. Some are quite keen to continue incentivising certain ‘good’ behaviours such as marriage through the tax code while others (one dares to hope) might argue for a radical stripping down and simplification of the system. While none of the potential candidates are likely to come out in support of a genuinely interesting idea such as a flat tax, we might see ideas about eliminating the myriad of tax credits in order to lower rates for everyone gain some traction.

Martin’s list is not perfect, and some of the questions are more philosophical than immediately useful. The brace of questions on the EU, for example, are the type of topic that one could imagine being debated at length over canapes at Davos or Bilderberg, but which are of no help in distinguishing future Tory leadership candidates. EU membership is clearly increasingly incompatible with being a self-governing nation state, and will remain that way for as long as the Treaty of Rome’s ‘ever closer union’ call continues to be advanced with no democratic mandate from the European people. And no Tory leader is ever likely to publicly surrender British policymaking to the forces of the EU, multinational business or big tech, no matter what compromises may take place in secret.

The questions on foreign policy and preparing to meet future threats are of extreme importance. While Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continued slide back toward authoritarian despotism is not about to herald a new age of big set-piece land wars in Europe, it will at least hopefully remind UK policymakers that the next unknown threat to the UK will by definition come from out of the blue. Having been chastened by that reminder, Tory leadership candidates might have some refreshing opinions on the size, strength and scope of our armed forces, perhaps with a view toward undoing some of the recent damage done.

The final question on remaking the UK to allow greater (and ideally equal) autonomy for all constituent nations of the United Kingdom, and the need to clearly set out those powers that belong at Westminster, those that belong with the home nations and those that should be devolved to local level is perhaps the most important of all. This blog has long advocated for answering this question by holding a UK constitutional convention to decide these matters once and for all. While this is an extremely unlikely prospect, it would be interesting to know the potential candidates’ thoughts on these matters.

But of course we will hear no opinions on any of these matters, because there are no Tory leadership candidates. And there are no Tory leadership candidates because there is no Tory leadership election on the cards.

The bottom line is this – there are a lot of important questions about the current state of our country and how best to move forward. Iain Martin has done a good service by listing some of these, and any politician who can disengage from the daily grind of politicking and governance for long enough to answer them would be making a valuable contribution to the debate.

But those Conservative ministers and prominent backbenchers inclined to look past the 2015 general election to burnish their leadership prospects while refusing to engage in real debate on the issues are just being opportunistic and cowardly, and do not deserve the air time or our attention.

Those who want to replace David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party ought to try believing in and standing for something themselves – something other than their own selfish career advancement – before the jostling for position and knife-sharpening gets out of hand.