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What Is The Point Of Theresa May?

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Right now, Britain needs a leader, not a placeholder – Theresa May needs to step up and set some ambitious national goals, or else be swept aside to make room for a real conservative leader

David Mellor doesn’t know what Theresa May stands for. And as Christopher Hope writes in the Telegraph, Mellor has good reason to be confused:

Theresa May is proving as Prime Minister that she is no Margaret Thatcher, a former Thatcherite minister has said, because she is not “seizing the initiative”.

David Mellor, who served under Baroness Thatcher for three years, said “the description of Theresa May as the new Margaret Thatcher is as wide of the mark as it could possibly be”.

Mr Mellor urged Mrs May to call a general election next year and win a larger House of Commons majority. The Tories have a consistently strong polling lead over Labour.

Mr Mellor was a minister in Lady Thatcher’s last government in four departments from 1987 to her resignation in November 1990.

He said Mrs May had shown herself “infirm of purpose”, most recently over the Christmas strikes at post offices, Southern Rail and Heathrow airport, where action will take place later this week.

He told Sky News’ Murnaghan: “When I was a minister for four years she treated me with even more disrespect than my mother did, but Margaret Thatcher knew what she wanted do and did it.

“I don’t think Theresa May knows what she wants to do. Her advisers appear to be the ones that create the headlines. I think she is sitting there and she is infirm of purpose, and she needs to seize the initiative.

“The main initiative she needs to seize is to have an election and get herself a mandate.”

This blog has never joined the calls for an early general election, not least because the laudable idea of having fixed term parliaments is rather undermined if we suspend the rule on the first occasion it becomes politically inconvenient. But if triggering a general election is what it takes to force Theresa May to really think about what kind of prime minister she wants to be (and hopefully give the British people a clue as well) then maybe we should just get on with it. Because right now Britain is idling in neutral at a time when we should be setting a firm course and all striving to pull in the same direction.

The underlying problem is that having succeeded to the office of prime minister unexpectedly in the most turbulent of times (in the wake of David Cameron’s resignation and Andrea Leadsom’s surprise departure from the following Conservative Party leadership contest), Theresa May evidently took office without ever having clearly thought about what it is that she wanted to achieve through her leadership of Britain (the recent Sunday Times interview is heavy on temperament and almost completely lacking in vision).

And it shows. Mellor cites Theresa May’s supposed “infirmity of purpose” when it comes to things like tackling the strikes on Southern Rail, but those are side issues. More troubling than May’s failure to get tough with striking railway workers is the fact that she used her first party conference speech as prime minister to declare war not on Labour and the vested interests of the Left, but on the libertarian Right.

What’s worrying is that Theresa May’s government has passed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, dynamite for privacy and civil liberties, and is still toying with the idea of enforcing section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act and Part 2 of the Leveson Report, further curtailing freedom of the press. It is not just that we do not know enough about Theresa May’s agenda for Britain – what little we do no should give small government conservatives everywhere cause for concern.

Contrast this to the last great transformative Conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who had four years behind her as Leader of the Opposition in which to solidify her worldview and flesh it out with policy (notably from the Stepping Stones Report and Centre for Policy Studies think tank) before taking office. By the time Thatcher entered 10 Downing Street in May 1979, she had not only diagnosed Britain’s ailments but formed a fairly clear idea of how she intended to tackle them, even though the road ahead was inevitably marked by missteps and challenges.

Theresa May appears to have no such plan. If she has a burning ambition to change Britain from an X type of country to a Y type of country then she is keeping her cards very close to her chest, for there is no evidence of such a goal. All we have is her reputation of flinty-eyed authoritarianism and aversion to publicity, earned during six years at the Home Office, a grammar school fetish and some woolly words about focusing her government’s attention on helping the JAMs (people who are Just About Managing).

The danger, therefore, is that with Brexit on her plate, a populist rebellion afoot in the country and challenges abroad, Theresa May’s government will become so preoccupied with fighting fires and engaging in daily damage control that the big picture vision never emerges at all. Mellor is right to say that most of the useful tidbits of information about the government’s intentions have come not from the prime minister but from public spats between rival cabinet members. And who can be surprised that such turf wars are underway when there is no clear drumbeat emanating from Number 10?

Of course, Theresa May is by no means the first politician to reach 10 Downing Street without a plan for what to do in government. Gordon Brown famously spent so long plotting his own ascension and the downfall of Tony Blair that he cut a uniquely uninspired and uninspiring figure among world leaders, at least until the global financial crisis breathed some fire into his belly (even if his “solution” was hiking the top income tax rate up to an immoral 50 percent).

There are times when a bland and uninspiring individual, a technocrat, is the right leader for the moment – primarily when times are good and the key imperative is not to rock the boat. This scenario does not describe Britain in 2016. Brexit may be foremost of our challenges, but there are others, too. And from Theresa May’s cautious and unambitious start in office, it is difficult to see how she – and we – are to best confront them.

 

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The Jeremy Corbyn-Fearing Elite Has No Right To Impose An Ideological Test On Britain’s Potential Leaders

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Labour’s rebellious centrists and their media allies are not merely refuting Jeremy Corbyn’s quaintly antiquated socialist ideas – they are seeking to suppress the expression of these ideas by mainstream politicians altogether, and to establish a strict ideological test for elected office based on the existing narrow centrist political consensus. But that is no way to kill off bad ideas.

If political history through the ages teaches us anything, it is that suppressing an idea or airily declaring any political belief to be haram, off limits, out of bounds for discussion, is a surefire way to kindle support for that idea and imbue it with an often-undeserved air of nobility.

Bad political and social ideas – communism, eugenics, holocaust denial, social justice – are only defeated when they are debated, subjected to the full rigour of public scrutiny, and ultimately found wanting. Suggesting that something is so inherently offensive that its demerits cannot even be discussed in public makes martyrs out of a banned idea’s adherents and pushes it underground to fester and grow out of sight of society – until, of course, it bursts forth in dangerous new ways.

I stress this obvious point because  we see the same forces of ideological suppression (and the fightback against it) playing out before us now, in the form of the Labour leadership coup against Jeremy Corbyn. And if we are not much more careful in our response to Corbyn’s leadership and almost inevitable victory in the second leadership election, we will succeed only in making a martyr out of Corbyn, dignifying his more antiquated beliefs or distasteful associations and perpetuating the problem rather than tackling it at source.

“But Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable!” thunders the media and assorted Labour Party figures (I would say big beasts, but there seem to be none of those left). They say this as though people’s political views are fixed and immovable, as though the political centre of gravity has never shifted before when moments of crisis and opportunistic change-makers combine, and as though the Overton window of British politics cannot be moved. They say this by way of suggesting that Britain’s voters essentially form an ideology-free, centrist blob, and that it is the job of politicians to bend, flatter and shapeshift as best they can in order to appeal to this blob without ever challenging them.

If that is their view of politics – and their every action and statement regarding the Labour leadership turmoil suggests that it is – then this is truly depressing. It tells us that too many of our political elites have given up on any notion of true leadership, of having a vision to improve the country they love and then exhorting others to achieve that goal, and that they instead see the British population as troublesome noisemakers to be placated and soothed with the “right” policy mix as determine by polls and focus groups.

It is, in fact, the very opposite of Margaret Thatcher’s ideal of political leadership, as laid out a decade before she even took office:

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.

[..]

No great party can survive except on the basis of firm beliefs about what it wants to do. It is not enough to have reluctant support. We want people’s enthusiasm as well.

The dangers of consensus… This phrase should be setting off alarm bells today, because in the establishment’s horror and revulsion at Jeremy Corbyn and his quaintly old fashioned socialist views, the prevailing ideological consensus is revealed – that narrow band of political opinion within whose boundaries all “mainstream” politicians are expected to remain.

On issue after issue, we are told by outraged columnists and troublemaking centrist Labour MPs that Jeremy Corbyn’s political positions are not simply wrong or misguided, but that they are unacceptable, beyond the pale, immediately disqualifying the holder from even seeking future elected office. The net effect of this manufactured outrage is to effectively declare support for old-fashioned socialist principles to be a career-ending form of political thoughtcrime. Question the purpose of NATO in 2016, or the Trident nuclear deterrent, and it is akin to pulling the pin on a grenade and holding it under your chin – the commentariat will blow your head off before the electorate even get the chance to pass their own judgement.

It is as though it is no longer enough for the party we personally support to reflect our own views and priorities – we now expect opposing parties to reflect them too. This is a politically stultifying and increasingly ludicrous state of affairs. As a small-c conservative I believe strongly in maintaining our nuclear deterrent, a strong military, the NATO alliance, low taxes and small government. But I don’t for a moment expect the leader of the Labour Party to hold these exact positions, too. And while it would be calamitous were Jeremy Corbyn to become prime minister by some dark miracle and actually enact all of his policies, I trust in the wisdom of the British people to see through his policies and reject Corbynism at the ballot box.

And that’s the difference, I suppose, between this blog and the political and media establishment. I trust the people to look at the political parties and refuse to vote for a party campaigning on a manifesto which is so clearly damaging to our economy and national interests. The establishment do not trust the people, because they do not respect the people. They have no faith that the British people will make rational decisions when presented with a range of political alternatives – therefore they see it as their job to artificially limit our choice beforehand, taking certain options off the table by declaring them “unacceptable” and suppressing their very discussion by mainstream politicians.

(Most of the establishment, horrified by the result of the EU referendum, will see Britain’s vote for Brexit as vindication of their paternalistic approach toward the masses. They are not shy in their opinion that the stupid British electorate were “tricked” into voting for Brexit against their own interests, and will now be strengthened in their resolve to ensure that any future big decisions are settled quietly and a consensus forged between the main parties, well away from the voters).

This arrogant, paternalistic approach by the establishment is poisoning our politics. And it is why this blog has consistently supported Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, despite my obvious and profound political differences with him. I support Corbyn not out of some Machiavellian desire to destroy the Labour Party or otherwise make mischief, but because Corbyn gives voice to certain ideas and policies which, while they might not be popular with the country as a whole, are passionately held by many people and deserve to have a public hearing – if only so that we can expose and discredit them again.

Toppling Jeremy Corbyn and replacing him with the kind of bland, telegenic, youthful centrist which the Parliamentary Party so clearly wants (for we all know that Owen Smith’s pathetic leadership campaign is doomed) would mean that all those who favour Corbyn’s left-wing ideas no longer have a voice or a stake in our national politics. This is both unfair to his supporters and harmful to our own national discourse, because the superiority of conservative principles and policies cannot be proven beyond doubt when we are forbidden from even discussing their socialist antonyms.

This is why the Labour Party must now split into a woolly, bland centrist party virtually indistinguishable from Theresa May’s government and a zealous, socialist populist party led by Corbyn – assuming that Labour MPs remain so selfish and career-minded that they are unwilling to allow Jeremy Corbyn to flame out on his own at the 2020 general election.

At present, it seems as though Labour’s centrist MPs are in no mood to do any such thing. They simultaneously want to regain power in 2020, yet none of their remaining “big beasts” think that they have a good enough chance of doing so that they were willing to put their precious careers on the line by standing for the leadership. As Pete North lucidly explains, that is why the pathetic Owen Smith is on the ballot rather than somebody of real substance and gravitas. They will not strike out on their own and form a new centrist party, and nor will they accept Corbyn’s leadership, even for a few years (a mere drop in the ocean in terms of the Labour Party’s long history).

So what is the answer? More stalemate, apparently. If Jeremy Corbyn wins a second Labour leadership election in the space of a year, he will have the undisputed right to lead his party. But Labour’s centrist MPs will not accept his legitimacy, and will continue fighting one another like ferrets in a sack, doing all they can to force Corbyn prematurely from office.

This is stupid. Jeremy Corbyn has earned the right to lead his party, and to take Labour into the 2020 general election on the basis of his markedly left-wing policies. All Labour centrists have to do is wait for Corbyn fever to break against the walls of a sceptical British electorate at the next general election and they can install one of their own as the next leader with little opposition from a chastened and defeated left wing. The only thing stopping them following this approach is personal greed and a selfish regard for their own careers above those of the party and the country’s political discourse. Don’t listen to all that sanctimonious, faux-sentimental drivel about how the country “can’t afford four more years of the Evil Tor-ees” – it is more the case that their inflated career expectations cannot afford four more years in the political wilderness rather than climbing up the greasy pole.

One way or another, the establishment seems determined not to give the quaintly antiquated socialism of Jeremy Corbyn the opportunity to fail on its own. Labour’s centrist MPs do so because they are hungry to pursue what they see as the quickest route back to power (and some fear losing their seats in a 2020 anti-Corbyn landslide), and the rest of the political and media establishment do so because they are alarmed by Corbyn’s views on NATO, Trident and other issues, and do not trust the British people to likewise see the flaws in these ideas and reject them.

Of course, the sad irony is that by going to such extreme lengths to prevent Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist ideas being tested in a general election, the establishment is doing more than anyone else – more even than Corbyn himself – to harden support for those failed ideas, ensuring that they live on even longer past their “sell by” date.

Furthermore, the idea of centrist MPs enforcing what is essentially a de facto ideological test for any politician seeking high national office is grossly offensive to our democracy, revealing the establishment’s contempt for the people in all its hateful glory. We the people are more than capable of determining which political ideas are good, bad, offensive, dangerous or otherwise, and we have no need for a sanctimonious elite to pre-screen our choices for us.

The only things necessary to defeat Corbynism are Jeremy Corbyn himself and the British electorate. It’s sad that Labour MPs and the political / media establishment are simultaneously too selfish and too distrustful of the British people to realise this obvious truth.

 

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Top Image: Huffington Post, Jack Taylor/Getty Images

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This Weak Conservative Government Refuses To Get Tough With The Unions

Southern Rail Isnt Working

When even staunch New Labour grandee and columnist John McTernan thinks the Tories are behaving like a weaker version of the Labour Party, British conservatism is in real trouble

As the RMT union’s strike on Southern Rail enters its third consecutive day, inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of commuters while a dithering Tory-lite government watches on, wringing its hands, former New Labour political adviser John McTernan uses his Telegraph column to tear into the Conservative Party.

McTernan writes:

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?

Where indeed. This blog has wondered the same thing, as the Tories in government behaved like centralising statists, presided over an unprecedented weakening of our national defence, dithered over the housing crisisfailed to get to grips with the nation’s finances, alienated principled conservatives, and as the leader of a supposedly eurosceptic party did all he could to cheat his way to victory for the Remain camp in the EU referendum. Where are the core Tory values?

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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Andrea Leadsom vs Theresa May – An Impossible Choice, On Which The Fate Of The Conservative Party Rests

Stepping Stones Report - Goals and Risks - Brexit - EU Referendum

At this difficult time we can take inspiration from our recent history and our last successful effort at national renewal

So it’s Theresa May versus Andrea Leadsom – the final two candidates in the Conservative Party leadership race whose names will now go forward to the wider Tory Party membership in September.

I’m delighted that the Conservatives will soon have given Britain her first two female prime ministers, I really am. When it comes to equality of opportunity the Tories deliver, while Labour bang on endlessly and fruitlessly about equality of outcome, peddle in tawdry identity politics and choose one white male after another to lead them onwards.

But does the successor to Ted Heath Mark II David Cameron really have to be one of these two women? When she entered 10 Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher already had the “Stepping Stones” report in her pocket and on her mind. By contrast, Andrea Leadsom brandishes an overhyped yet still rather thin CV, while Theresa May has your entire internet browsing history and the paranoia to use it against you.

And so, when deciding who to support in this battle to be the next British prime minister I find myself faced with an impossible choice – one may as well flip a coin.

This blog will inevitably write more about the Conservative Party leadership race in the coming days and weeks as I try to make a decision – right now I see pitifully few upsides to either candidacy, and great risk behind either option.

But for now I content myself with re-reading the seminal “Stepping Stones Report” authored by the late John Hoskyns, that masterful diagnosis of everything which ailed Britain in the late 1970s when the state socialist cure had almost succeeded in killing the British patient.

This report – and the solutions contained within it – quite literally saved this country when Margaret Thatcher, who had studied it, came to power in 1979. Without Stepping Stones, Britain would quite likely be a colder, more populous but equally poor and dysfunctional version of Greece. I say this to underline the amazing good which the Conservative Party can do when under the right leadership, and the thread by which such hopes often hang (Margaret Thatcher was considered a rank outsider when she first declared her candidacy for the Tory leadership in 1975).

At this time I am drawn to this passage in particular:

We must know what a Tory government will have to achieve, before thinking about the way in which it must win office, because simply “winning a majority” on the wrong terms may not give it the authority it needs for success.

In normal times a majority is enough. The task of government is to steer a basically healthy socio-economic system past hazards which are primarily external, while ensuring that the system’s fabric is maintained and making improvements to it here and there.

But once the system itself starts to show signs of fatigue, instability, disintegration, then we start to talk of discontinuity. In discontinuity, solutions can only be found by breaking constraints which we had assumed were unbreakable. It is not enough to settle for policies which cannot save us, on the grounds that they are the only ones which are politically possible or administratively convenient.

It is safe to say that the Conservative government of David Cameron and George Osborne has been in office but not really in power since being re-elected with a tiny outright majority in 2015. And aside from their creepy manifesto pledge about having “a plan for every stage of your life” it has been almost impossible to discern what the Tories actually stand for, besides staying in power.

Winning a majority has not been enough because the majority was won on the wrong terms – by a prime minister who often pitched himself to the left of Tony Blair in the tawdry hunt for centrist votes. And these are far from ordinary times. As this blog recently pointed out, quoting Lincoln, the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.

Theresa May is an accomplished technocrat, but also a fierce and implacable authoritarian. Even her more restrained actions – such as denying the former London mayor Boris Johnson the power to use his expensively purchased second hand German water cannon for crowd control – smack more of political chicanery rather than any shred of liberal principle.

On civil liberties, May is utterly monstrous. But more to the point, Theresa May came down on the wrong side of the most fundamental, existential question to face this country since the end of the Second World War.Worse, she supported the Remain campaign with a calculated half-heartedness, refusing to boldly commit and make the public case for her position. What kind of leadership is this?

Andrea Leadsom is no better. She has publicly and irresponsibly spoken about triggering Article 50 almost immediately, well before any initial scoping discussions have even had the opportunity to commence and well before the British government has had the proper chance to decide how best to implement Brexit, and seems intent on taking us out of the EEA as we secede from the European Union. Her haste is not evidence of super-virtuous commitment to democracy or an uncommon respect for the will of the people, but is the conclusion reached by what seems to be a rather glib and uncurious mind.

But whether you are less repulsed by the flinty-eyed authoritarianism of Theresa May or the oversimplifying, CV-padding antics of Andrea Leadsom, it seems reasonable to say that neither of the two remaining candidates have anything approaching a latter-day Stepping Stones report waiting in their pockets for immediate unveiling as soon as the Queen has invited one of them to become prime minister. And that is what we need most of all right now.

Theresa May’s authoritarian streak, contempt for civil liberties and belief in wielding the coercive power of the state is incredibly objectionable to this blog – yet as by far the more experienced candidate, May is best placed to negotiate good secession terms for Britain with the EU (assuming that she doesn’t double-cross us and effectively condemn Britian to “associate membership” on the margins).

Andrea Leadsom has precious little track record in government or politics in general, and has distinguished herself by saying some downright irresponsible things about Brexit. As a result, she could potentially overshadow the democratic dividend of Brexit through unnecessary self-inflicted economic wounds (e.g. by taking Britain out of the EEA). Yet she is superficially more Thatcher-like (I won’t say Thatcherite), and has the potential, however small, to grow into a far more radical Conservative leader than the soul-sappingly ideology-free Theresa May could ever be.

Choose May and you risk turning Britain into a dystopian police state while rewarding yet another ideology-free, politics-by-numbers technocrat, the kind of person whose unambitious, managerial approach to the great issues of the day turns millions of people off politics altogether.

Choose Leadsom and you risk a tumultuous and highly suboptimal form of Brexit while taking an enormous leap of faith that an untested neophyte will successfully get to grips with one of the steepest learning curves in the world, and that they will be advised well in the process.

Who can choose between these two flawed options with any degree of certainty?

 

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Top Image: ‘Stepping Stones’ Report

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What Conservative Government? – Part 3, Tim Montgomerie Edition

David Cameron - Margaret Thatcher - Coke Zero Conservatism

You, sir, are no Margaret Thatcher

Tim Montgomerie has finally had enough. He is embarking down the lonely path of exile trodden by many of us who remain deeply proud to call ourselves conservatives (with a small C), but who feel absolutely no connection, affinity or devotion to the ideologically shapeshifting, centrist machine led by David Cameron. And he is resigning his membership of the Conservative Party.

Montie signs off with this warning in the Times:

The PM will no doubt treat with disdain my resignation like the departure of tens of thousands of once-loyal grassroots members who have already walked away. But one day an opposition party will get its act together or a wholly new party will emerge. At that point there’ll be a realisation that the Tories’ 40-odd per cent in current opinion polls was a mile wide but an inch deep; reflecting disappointment at alternatives rather than allegiance.

And at some point Britain will notice that the Conservatives didn’t fix the roof when the sun was shining. That we will head into the next economic downturn with the public finances still in precarious shape, with vital airport runways unbuilt and banks too-big-to-fail as big as ever. And if Mr Cameron gets his way we’ll still be powerless to control immigration from an economically turbulent, declining EU, of which we will be an impotent member.

But why desert the Tory party now that they finally hold a majority administration for the first time since 1997?

Tim’s reasons are exactly what you would expect – the abysmally centrist, soul-deadeningly unambitious agenda which has been set by David Cameron and George Osborne since 2010, and which this blog has been constantly condemning since I began writing back in 2012.

The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility, and yet the national debt has nearly doubled under George Osborne’s watch, while he struts and crows about his meagre attempts to reduce the annual budget deficit.

The Conservatives – at their best – lift people up out of disadvantaged circumstances and help them to realise their own innate potential, rather than trapping them in a life sentence of government dependency and subsistence. But David Cameron’s government has been half-hearted on housing, on infrastructure, on welfare – kicking the can down the road, and pandering to their wealthy, older, property-owning base at every turn.

The Conservatives are meant to be the party of a strong national defence, but under David Cameron the military has been pared back to the bone, with many essential capabilities (like maritime patrol aircraft) eliminated entirely just when they are needed most, and our aircraft carriers – crucial to maintaining Britain’s status as a world power with expeditionary military capabilities – decommissioned, with their replacement not due to come online until 2018.

The Conservatives are meant to be the party of national sovereignty and of patriotism, and yet in David Cameron we have a prime minister who only glibly and unconvincingly talked the eurosceptic talk, and who is currently perpetrating a fraud on the British people with his cosmetic and entirely irrelevant “renegotiation”.

And one might add (though Tim Montgomerie did not mention this in his resignation letter) that the Conservatives traditionally stood for individual liberty, and the right of the people to go about their lives unmolested and undisturbed by government. But David Cameron’s government – with its creepy “plan for every stage of your life” – is determined that the state involve itself in as much as possible, and has cynically exploited national security concerns to roll back civil liberties and undermine privacy.

But enough of me – I’ll let Montie speak for himself:

Could David Cameron be much more different [than Thatcher]? He promised to bring down immigration but despite Theresa May’s hollow rhetoric, it’s rising. And that defining mission to eliminate the deficit? The Treasury is still borrowing £75 billion a year — a burden on the next generation that would once have shocked and shamed us, and still should. The national debt is up by more than 50 per cent, but this hasn’t seen our armed forces rebuilt. They’ve been cut to the bone.

What about fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with Brussels that the PM pledged, promised and vowed to deliver? The 69 per cent who think he got a bad deal are right. The newspapers that called the deal a “joke”, “conjuring trick” and “delusion” weren’t exaggerating. But it took the Fourth Estate rather than Tory MPs to point out the emperor’s naked state. With a few honourable exceptions Conservative parliamentarians were silent when Mr Cameron, pretending to have changed anything that matters, stood at the same dispatch box at which Mrs Thatcher vowed to fight European integration.

This criticism is spot-on. It has been particularly galling in recent weeks to see just how few current Tory MPs – particularly of the newer intakes – have continued to voice the principled euroscepticism which they were only too happy to display while flaunting their wares to their local constituency party selection committees.

The EU referendum is not just another political issue to be legitimately haggled over by MPs who broadly share the same outlook. This isn’t an arcane policy debate or a minor difference of opinion over fiscal policy – it is absolutely fundamental to how Britain will be governed for the next decades and beyond, and the fact that so many Conservative MPs choose loyalty to their chameleon-in-chief over their constituents and their country is profoundly depressing.

Montie goes on to warn that the Conservative Party will not have the fortune of a weak and divided opposition forever – and that the narrow window for effecting real radical conservative reform is being missed:

For the moment Mr Cameron can get away with all of this. Labour moderates are no nearer getting rid of their extremist leader than when he was elected. It will probably take a generation before northern England and Scotland trust the Lib Dems again. And Ukip, although resilient at double figures in most opinion polls, is too Trump-ian to mount a credible challenge for power.

Faced with a weak, divided opposition in the 1980s Mrs Thatcher moved the country forward. She seized the opportunity to deliver tough reforms that a more effective opposition might have stopped. Today, David Cameron and George Osborne are doing little that Blairites or Cleggites could object to. I recently asked Peter Mandelson what separated his politics from that of Mr Osborne. He joked that the top rate of income tax was too high. At least I think he was joking.

This is also true. And Tim Montgomerie rightly acknowledges that there may well be short-term electoral dividends to be won with a doggedly centrist approach. But only if winning elections is all you care about. If you actually want to do something useful and positive with the power you wield, then the Cameron/Osborne approach is nothing short of a disaster.

As I have written many times before on this blog, the unhinged, virtue-signalling British Left are determined to see the current Conservative government as some kind of ideologically extreme, Thatcher-on-steroids, evil and inhumane government, despite the fact that in reality the government is profoundly centrist. Ed Miliband first started allowing this narrative to take hold as he sought to buy breathing space for his party back in 2010, but six years on and the Labour Party are now in the midst of being devoured by the ‘Tory Scum’-roaring beast that they unleashed.

And since anything that conservatives of any stripe now do will automatically and reflexively be painted by the Left as malevolent and evil, there is absolutely no point in trying to curry favour with the centre-left by copying New Labour policy on taxes, wage controls or anything else. Since the hysterical Nazi comparisons are going to come flying at us come what may, we should at least be using this time of limited and disorganised opposition to boldly enact a radical conservative agenda, much as Thatcher did in the mid 1980s. But this is not happening, and Montie’s resignation suggests that he has given up hope of a change in strategy, even after Cameron goes and is (likely) replaced by Osborne.

And who can blame him? I saw the writing on the wall when I moved back from Chicago in 2011, as it became clear that Cameron’s ideological caution was not a function of being in coalition with the LibDems, but was actually his true, authentic self. And so I never rejoined the Conservative Party back then. But if I had, I too would be cutting up my membership card in solidarity with Montgomerie.

I’m currently reading an excellent book – “Thatcher’s Trial”, by Kwasi Kwarteng, the Conservative MP for Spelthorne. The book focuses on the early days of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, specifically the period from March to September 1981 when she had to negotiate a difficult Budget and ultimately reassert her authority with a bold Cabinet reshuffle.

I’m only half way through Kwarteng’s book, but the portrait he paints is a true profile in courage – somebody with firm and unyielding principles, a strong ideological compass, a righteous hatred for consensus politics and the ability to impose her will on her party and her country. In short, Kwarteng is describing everything that David Cameron, Thatcher’s successor, is not.

Back when Jeremy Corbyn was on the cusp of being elected leader of the Labour Party, this blog asked:

If David Cameron’s Conservative Party was voted out of office today, what will future historians and political commentators say about this government fifty years from now? What will be the Cameron / Osborne legacy? What edifices of stone, statute and policy will remain standing as testament to their time in office? Try to picture it clearly.

Are you happy with what you see?

I genuinely don’t know what legacy David Cameron thinks he is building through the course of his rootless premiership. But it is not a legacy with which I wish to be associated in any way.

It has been lonely these past few years, being a conservative without a party at a time when political opponents assume we must be thrilled with David Cameron’s every slick and insincere pronouncement. But at least we now have Tim Montgomerie to keep us company in our solitude.

Now, the first order of business for the inaugural meeting of Conservatives in Exile: how do we get our party back, and save it (and the country) from Cameronism?

 

Britain's PM Cameron arrives to pose for a family photo during an EU leaders summit in Brussels

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