Vote Leave’s Stupidity Echoes On, Threatening To Undermine Brexit

Thousands Of People Take Part In The March For Europe

The flimsy, amateurish lies told by Vote Leave are coming back to bite, and threaten to undermine and unnecessarily complicate Brexit

Two weeks after the astonishing vote for Brexit in the EU referendum, and the sheer amateur stupidity of the official Vote Leave campaign is still causing problems, exactly as this blog and others predicted that it would.

The Guardian reports:

In a separate development, Anthony Eskander, a criminal barrister at Church Court Chambers in London, has posted an opinion arguing that politicians supporting the Vote Leave campaign might have opened themselves up to legal action for alleged misrepresentations over claims that quitting the EU would allow an extra £350m to be spent on the NHS.

It claims politicians might have committed offences of misconduct in public office by promoting the £350m claim. The figure has been called “potentially misleading” by the independent UK Statistics Authority, for failing to take into account the UK’s rebate from the EU. Vote Leave denied during the referendum campaign that it was misleading the public.

We’ve heard this charge that politicians’ claims should be vetted by some kind of Ministry of Truth levelled by lots of people, including an audience member on last night’s Question Time. But this is the first time I have seen it translated into legalese, and even if nothing comes of it (as is likely) it further chips away at the legitimacy of the Brexit vote, further dividing the country and encouraging pro-EU supporters to dig in and calcify their positions rather than accepting the country’s verdict and coming together to make the best of Brexit.

Now, of course if they were not hung up on the false £350 million claim they would have found something else to moan about. Many prominent Remainers (and those in the general public) have shown themselves to be exceedingly sore losers in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, seizing on the slightest fault, misstep or constitutional ambiguity to claim that democracy should be suspended and the result of the referendum overturned.

But still, there was no need for the supposed grown-ups in charge of Vote Leave to make it quite so easy for them. There was no need to persist in publicly airing a patently false and comprehensively debunked (by activists on both sides including thinking Brexiteers, incidentally) claim about how much money the UK stood to save from leaving the EU.

The true figure – closer to £160 million once the UK rebate and EU disbursements back to Britain are taken into account – is still a lot of money, and would have looked just as effective plastered on the side of a bus. But no, the Boris/Gove/Cummings triumvirate decreed that £350 was the magic number, and far too many prominent Brexiteers squandered their credibility by repeating it in some form or another over the course of the campaign.

It is now becoming crystal clear that rather than accepting the result of the EU referendum, many disappointed Remainers are determined to wage a guerilla campaign of attrition against Brexit, a last-ditch rearguard effort to prevent the UK from leaving the European Union. They will use the claims of prominent Brexiteers against them (while sweeping their own dubious claims and falsehoods under the carpet, naturally), explore legal loopholes, use delaying tactics and throw every procedural obstacle they can find across our path out of the EU.

None of this is remotely surprising. All of it could have been predicted – and was predicted by this blog. But still the shining ones at Vote Leave persisted with their strategy, handing the pro-EU crowd more ammunition with every new over-hyped soundbite.

That’s why it is good that both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are now no longer in the running for the Conservative Party leadership, however dubious the choice before us now is. Remainers (and their celebrity chums) talk about the unravelling of Johnson, Gove and Farage as being akin to the captain abandoning ship after steering his vessel onto the rocks. But the Brexit vote was achieved in spite, not because of, the campaigning of Vote Leave. The fact that some of their leading lights have now been snuffed out is cause for satisfaction, not concern, because it increases the chances of a mature adult taking the reins and negotiating Brexit like a grown-up.

I don’t want somebody who stubbornly persisted in broadcasting a patently, risibly false claim – like a petulant child caught in an obvious lie – to represent Britain in the coming difficult secession negotiations with the EU. I don’t want anybody leading this country whose antics during the referendum and in its immediate aftermath make Brexit any more complicated than it needs to be.

And regrettably, that rules out many of the people most closely connected with the official Leave campaign.

 

Brexit - EU - European Union Flag - Missing Star - Britain - UK

Top Image: Spiked

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

Advertisements

An Anti-Immigration Brexit Campaign Is Doomed To Failure

Michael Gove - EU Referendum - Vote Leave - Immigration

Ben Kelly of Conservatives for Liberty and The Sceptic Isle has an excellent new piece explaining why a Leave campaign focused on immigration is both depressingly regressive and doomed to failure.

Kelly’s warning is in response to Michael Gove’s latest contribution to the Vote Leave campaign, as reported today by ITV:

Michael Gove has warned the UK faces a migration “free for all” unless it leaves the EU, as the Leave camp moved to exploit an admission from the Government that EU free movement of labour rules make it harder to curb immigration.

The Justice Secretary insisted potential new members of the EU posed a “direct and serious threat” to public services such as the NHS, and social harmony.

He said five countries “due to join the European Union” – Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey – which he warned would mean Britain’s public services would not be left in a “strong position”.

Writing from the perspective of The Leave Alliance (an independent grassroots movement for Brexit supported by this blog) which advocates exiting the EU’s political union and using EFTA/EEA membership to maintain access to the single market, Kelly writes:

A recent ComRes poll that asked the question “what is the most important issue in your decision on the EU Referendum?” was illuminating. 47% said the economy was the most important factor, with immigration trailing on 24%. So the belief that it doesn’t matter that the Leave campaign loses the economic argument because they can win on immigration is bunkum.

First and foremost, people will vote according the economic risk. That is why we propose an EEA based solution; it de-risks Brexit, secures the economy and gives us a soft landing. That is stage one of the secession process, a safe platform to build on. This is the key to winning the referendum and thereby restoring democracy and self-governance in the United Kingdom. In any case, it will likely be the only offer on the table for Article 50 negotiations and is the likely government course of action.

Although the EFTA/EEA solution puts on hold changes to freedom of movement it crucially protects our Single Market participation and thereby neutralises the economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit. In the long term we can make the case for reforms to freedom of movement, but pending such reform there is plenty of scope for improving the management of our borders with a coordinated set of policies designed to address push/pull factors. We would also gain the option of activating the “emergency brake” provision in the EEA Agreement as a temporary safeguard measure against exceedingly high net migration numbers.

Many who unrealistically seek a clean break Brexit and want everything at once will see this position as sub-optimal, but the alternative – pulling out of the EU’s freedom of movement provisions – would lose us access to the Single Market.  Without continued access to the Single Market, we cannot win the referendum because we lose the economic argument.

Those who insist on ending freedom of movement and imposing strict new immigration controls on Day 1 are letting their own “perfect scenario” be the enemy of the good. The type of Brexit necessary to deliver what Vote Leave are promising inevitably means losing access to the single market, membership of which is contingent on adopting free movement of people. This creates a degree of economic uncertainty which is gleefully seized upon by the Remain campaign and makes it virtually impossible for Leave to win the referendum.

By contrast, exiting to an EFTA/EEA holding pattern allows Britain to extricate herself from political union with the EU while maintaining the stability in the economic sphere which is necessary to reassure the 47% of voters for whom this will be the deciding factor. Further changes to immigration policy can then follow according to the democratic will of the British people, subject to various economic and political constraints.

It should be pointed out, too, that the accession of the next group of EU candidate countries – Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey – could be more than a decade away from joining, and in Turkey’s case this may well not happen at all. This gives plenty of time for Britain to secure freedom from political union, and then flex our independent policy levers to address push and pull factors as Kelly advocates.

Kelly concludes:

Stepping back into the EEA means leaving political and judicial union safely.  From that position of security and strength a world of opportunity opens up. Over time we can take advantage of regaining control over a vast swathes of policy making and review the statute books. Gradually we can move towards a more bespoke “British model” of relations with the EU and form a coalition to push for necessary reforms.

Disastrously, this is seemingly unacceptable to a number of inflexible and uncompromising Eurosceptics who reject freedom of movement and the Single Market and are therefore actively adding to the perceived uncertainty of Brexit. Regressive Euroscepticism, which is unwilling to compromise and refuses to acknowledge that freedom of movement actually has many great positives, is a disease that will lead only to abject failure.

We need an optimistic message and a positive, liberal vision. The ability to move freely across Europe is hugely beneficial in so many ways and a great many Britons enjoy those benefits and will fear losing their rights.  EEA immigration has been good for this country in many clear and measurable ways, economically and socially, and this absolutely has to be said.

An independent Britain must be a positive, diverse and liberal country with an open economy; this is the key to our cultural and social dynamism and how we can make a great success of Brexit. Leave cannot possibly win with a regressive vision that contradicts this. An anti-immigration campaign arguing for the abolition of freedom of movement and the loss of Single Market access is guaranteed to lose, and the failure will be richly deserved.

The New Statesman’s political editor George Eaton is also devastatingly accurate with his take on Vote Leave’s pivot back to immigration:

Britain’s high immigration rate is undeniably of concern to many voters. The boast that EU withdrawal would exempt the UK from free movement (though Norway and Switzerland show it may not) is perhaps the best card the Brexiters have to play. But it may not deliver victory. The Remain campaign speaks of a “plateau” beyond which Leave cannot advance. There are millions of people whose priority is reducing immigration – just not enough for the outers to win. The issue is to them what the NHS was to Ed Miliband’s Labour – a strategic comfort blanket.

[..] The more the Brexiters play the migration card, the greater the risk that they animate their core voters while alienating others. It was for this reason that Vote Leave resolved to run an optimistic campaign, non-centred on immigration. Gove’s rhetorical escalation shows that they are struggling to abide by this vow.

In raising the salience of immigration, Leave is playing to its strengths. Until it is able to neutralise its weaknesses, that will remain a displacement activity.

Continuing to place this uncompromising immigration message front and centre in the Leave campaign is the quickest and surest way to a 45-55 defeat on June 23. The only ones not to realise this seem to be the official Leave campaign, who are more interested in covering their blushes and resetting the agenda after having their flimsy economic case taken apart last week by a gleeful Remain campaign.

Any campaign aimed at motivating core supporters at the expense of alienating swing voters (by preventing the adoption of a plan which would ease their economic concerns) is not helpful at this stage. Persisting with exactly the same unfocused, populist message which helped to secure the referendum will not also help to win it, and telling the UKIP contingent exactly what they want to hear rather than challenging them to think more strategically and longer-term could well be looked back on as the single biggest failure of the campaign.

 

European Union - United Kingdom - Britain - Flags

Top Image: Independent

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

British Conservatives Must Show The Courage Of Their Convictions

Bring Back British Rail

 

David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle dominated the news over the past week – at least, until it was totally overshadowed by world events in Gaza and Ukraine. But the punditry and speculation about who is up and who is down, who succeeded in clawing their way into Cameron’s inner circle and who was excommunicated to the fringes, generally lacked a certain something. Call it relevance.

Beware of anyone offering a neatly packaged, coherent analysis of David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle so early in its aftermath. There’s a lot of ready made narratives out there – Ken Clarke’s departure heralding the death of the big beasts, the timely promotion of women to the cabinet, the opportunistic promotion of women to the cabinet, the misogynist promotion of women to the cabinet, the triumph of social conservatives, the social conservative purge and the elevation of arch-eurosceptics, to name just a few. The only thing uniting these narratives is that they are quite contradictory, and that they are already out of date.

If you insist on looking for a consistent theme in the Cabinet reshuffle in place of the dull reality (a series of largely independent political calculations by a cautious government), it is not the glaring fact that this was a political reshuffle – paging Captain Obvious – but that it was such a defensive political reshuffle in the run-up to the general election.

With less than a year left of the current coalition government, there was really no point in having a reshuffle at all, from a policy perspective. Little real governing will be done with the coalition partners both manoeuvring to define themselves against each other and take credit for past accomplishments, meaning the only real work left to be done is the cementing and locking down of reforms that have already been made. For all intents and purposes, we are now entering a lame duck session of Parliament.

Given this fact, the most sensible thing for David Cameron to have done – both to achieve the goals of cementing existing government policies and publicly standing behind them – would have been to not have a Cabinet reshuffle at all. But resoluteness and steadfastness was not on David Cameron’s list of priorities. In far too many cases, the personnel changes suggested an apology for successful conservative policy and right-wing thinking in general.

The plain truth is that the conservative agenda – enacted properly and with consideration – works. Privatisation works, welfare reform works (as Fraser Nelson forcefully argued last week), conservative education reform works. Though we should rightly acknowledge and mitigate the negative side effects of weaning people off government aid – and be blunt that these are often counted in terms of human suffering – conservatives should stand unapologetically behind their record, and the ideology which underpins it.

But just when the Conservative Party should be standing up for its beliefs and accomplishments, the coalition government seems more eager to run away from them, to excuse them in the context of “tough decisions to pull the country out of recession”, or to reveal their fear by preventing the proper scrutiny of opposing ideas.

Take the Commons vote to allow the Office for Budgetary Responsibility to audit and pass judgement on Labour Party budget proposals. A confident Tory party that stood behind its accusations of thoughtless left-wing spendthriftery would welcome the harsh spotlight of a non-partisan body like the OBR being shone on official Opposition proposals, but instead the Conservatives made it known (with dubious reasoning) that they were against the proposal.

(It should be noted that in the United States, the equivalent Congressional Budget Office scrutinises draft legislation submitted by both Republicans and Democrats, which further helps to cement its reputation as a non-partisan body).

Look also at the question of railway renationalisation. Pushing an even greater proportion of the British economy into the dead hands of the state is generally a terrible idea, but reflexive Tory opposition to what Ed Miliband and Labour are proposing is counterproductive. Firstly, it glosses over some of the legitimate flaws in the way that the rail privatisation was carried out, and the way in which the privatised railway system is structured. Ignoring legitimate criticism is never the path to good future governance. But secondly, it suggests a lack of confidence in the Tories’ own ideology. If the private sector is so darn efficient and dynamic, what worry should private firms have if the bloated, inefficient state tries to bid for their train franchises, when surely they would lose every single time?

And in the most high profile case of conservative reshuffle apologetics, Michael Gove – one of the few Conservative ministers to successfully enact genuinely bold conservative reforms – was moved away from the Department of Education and demoted to the position of Chief Whip (those arguing that it was not a demotion should compare the salaries of the two roles).

Alarmingly, much of the reaction to Gove’s departure suggested that he was moved on not because his reforms had failed, but because he hadn’t flattered people with enough platitudes while successfully enacting them. The truth about Mr Gove can be discerned by parsing the reaction of Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. The Telegraph reports Hobby’s view:

“Michael Gove had a radical and sincere vision for transforming education but he often failed to bring the profession with him.

“His diagnosis was frequently astute but his prescriptions were hard to swallow. It is now time to rebuild trust and confidence between government and teachers so that improvements can endure.”

Translated, this means that Gove’s ideas and reforms were quite sound, but he rubbed too many powerful special interests up the wrong way in the course of implementing them. With his removal by Cameron, good policymaking was subordinated to public sector union ego-stroking.

The unions clearly felt that Michael Gove did not respect them – time and time again, in interview after interview with cheerful teachers, this was the constant refrain. After the dust settles, perhaps people will start asking when the pride of the teachers unions and the egos of individual teachers became more important than implementing the best possible education policy for Britain’s children.

At the recent Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty, organised by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, former Australian prime minister John Howard made an important observation. Reflecting on his three successive election victories, Howard said: “The worst way to try to win office is to pretend you’re not too different from your opponents.”

If David Cameron and the Conservative Party are to succeed in their audacious goal of winning an outright majority in the 2015 general election, the path to victory does not lie in pretending to be Ed Miliband’s mollycoddling Labour Party with a small added dose of fiscal realism. If people want a fiscally irresponsible government pledging obsequious servitude to the public sector unions and buying into their pretence of representing the public interest, they will vote for the real thing, not a pale imitation. The Conservative Party must stand behind their limited successful reforms, and promise to double down if they are re-elected to government in 2015.

With the general election less than ten months away, this is no time for small government conservatives to falter.

How Can We Teach British Values In School If We Are Afraid To Assert Them Ourselves?

British Values Twitter 3

Just what are British Values?

Well, apparently the concept is sufficiently fuzzy in the minds of some people that we all now need to take time to argue amongst ourselves and reach a common consensus while one of the biggest and most worrying educational scandals in recent years plays out unobserved.

In response to the ongoing scandal of Birmingham schools being compromised by activist governors to deliver covert Islamic religious teaching, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, made the slightly awkward if well-meant assertion that in future, all primary and secondary schools will be required to “promote British values”.

The Guardian reports:

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has seized on a finding byOfsted that a “culture of fear and intimidation” existed in someBirmingham schools by announcing that the government will require all 20,000 primary and secondary schools to “promote British values”.

These values will include the primacy of British civil and criminal law, religious tolerance and opposition to gender segregation. Gove also suggested girls wearing the burqa would struggle to find their voice and must not feel silenced in the classroom.

In what is being described by ministers as a decisive shift away from moral relativism in the classroom, the education secretary took action after a landmark series of reports by the schools inspectorate into 21 Birmingham secular schools found an atmosphere of intimidation, a narrow, faith-based ideology, manipulation of staff appointments and inappropriate use of school funds.

Unfortunately, the predominant response thus far has not been one of outrage that such a thing could happen to compromise children’s education in the UK’s second city; instead, we have seen race to come up with the funniest self-deprecating anti-British putdown as expressed by the #BritishValues hashtag now trending on Twitter.

When presented with the opportunity to express outrage that local school curricula could be so easily hijacked by fundamentalist members of any faith and ‘turned’ to start promoting beliefs very far from the British values of democracy, equality, non-discrimination and obedience to the law, a majority seem more interested in having an introspective discussion about what modern British values really are (at best), or suggesting through Twitter witticisms that any concern is tantamount to xenophobic intolerance  (more common).

The Huffington Post has collated a selection of what it considers to be “the best” responses, which take an almost uniformly dim view of British culture and history:

British Values Twitter 4

(It should be acknowledged that there have also been some very sensible and thoughtful contributions from others, such as the pianist Stephen Hough).

The hashtag activist comedians and earnest scolds of Twitter currently attempting to look cool by running Britain down on social media are actually revealing a few ingrained British traits of their own – excessive self deprecation and an almost craven desire not to offend or appear controversial – which easily become insidious and harmful when taken to extremes.

There is a gnawing anxiety behind some of the mocking #BritishValues tweets. “Isn’t patriotism so old fashioned?”, they scream. “Let’s list all the bad things that Britain has done so that no-one thinks we’re being boastful”. It may come across as cool, trendy liberalism but look closer and you see that some of it is actually rooted in fear.

Somewhere along the way the idea of expressing pride in Britain, and in British exceptionalism, became interchangeable in the minds of many people with that altogether darker and more insidious disease of racism. To express the former is, in the eyes of many, to come uncomfortably close to embracing the latter. And as a result, people instinctively turn away from patriotism, and instinctively oppose suggestions such as teaching British values at school, mistaking it for something else (and, incidentally, leaving a vacuum that the far right is only too happy to exploit).

And yet there is a serious issue at stake here, with the integrity of children’s education in question. Even the Guardian’s John Harris felt the need to weigh in to the ongoing argument about the fundamentalist Muslim influence in Birmingham schools, reminding his readers that state-subsidised religious indoctrination or interference with the curriculum is wrong whatever the source, and that this is no time for those on the left to bury their heads in the sand:

At the risk of reopening old wounds on the liberal left, for all the noise from those on the right of culture and politics, it is no good crying “witch hunt” and averting your eyes from this stuff. It should have no place in any state school, and most of it is an offence to any halfway liberal principles.

But Harris still felt the need to couch his tortured article in the wider context of a state education system which is failing and falling into disarray under the hated Tory government – the harsh unexpectedness of his gentle reminder that it’s not okay to look the other way and pretend to ignore the fundamentalist corrupting of education for fear of seeming racist or intolerant having to be soothed with a good old swipe at the real enemy, those on the political right.

Efforts to stamp out casual and institutional racism in Britain, while incomplete, have come a long way, even since the 1980s and 1990s. A large part of eradicating the scourge of casual racism has been (quite rightly) to mock it, deride racist thoughts and speech as backward and out of place, and doing everything possible to make racism distinctly uncool. The campaign to eradicate racism from football is a prime example of how successful Britain has been, especially when compared with continental and eastern Europe.

But while there is unquestionably still much work to be done, we must also begin to ask ourselves if one of the side effects has been a growing inability for people to express deeply felt but harmless national pride and patriotism in any but the safest, media-approved settings (such as the 2012 London Olympic Games).

If our generation’s instinctive response when they see criticism levelled at a person or group within a religious or ethnic minority is not to check the veracity and demand action if it is found to be true, but either to flinch and avert their eyes out of shock and unwillingness to believe or to become so embarrassed that their only coping mechanism is to resort to self-deprecating humour on social media, perhaps this is the price that our country has to pay in order to purge itself of the ingrained, widespread, casual racism that was common and socially acceptable for so long. Perhaps.

But being this way makes it much harder for us to deal with the problems facing Britain today, where the pernicious influence of fundamentalists (of all religions) on the young and the lack of assimilation of some cultures into wider British society are real issues that are being only half-heartedly tackled because of the paralysing fear of saying the ‘wrong thing’ or giving the wrong impression.

When asked why it was that Americans are so much more openly patriotic than Brits, the late Christopher Hitchens attributed it to the fact that overt displays of patriotism and love of country in the United States are borne out of the fact that as a nation of immigrants, Americans have no real shared history going back more than a couple of centuries. Therefore, simple acts such as reciting the pledge of allegiance every morning in schools and singing the national anthem before sporting events have, over time, helped to forge that unity within diversity.

But what has always been true of America is now increasingly becoming true of Britain. Immigration into Britain may bring profound economic and cultural benefits, but with each successive year of high net immigration and a lack of assimilation in some quarters, that degree of shared common history is diluted a bit more. And that’s absolutely fine, if other measures are in place to balance it out – like reciting a pledge, offering comprehensive British history as a mandatory subject at schools, or, shock horror, teaching children “British values”.

At the moment, though, these countermeasures are lacking. It should come as little surprise then that certain groups within society do not feel as much desire or pressure to integrate as they rightly should, and that when the door is left wide open in places like Birmingham to influence schools to teach children according to certain subcultural norms, some people will seize the opportunity with both hands.

Unfortunately, in the age of hashtag #Britain, not only does it surprise us when this happens, the thought of condemning or intervening in these events embarrasses us so acutely that we are barely able to have a national conversation without descending to xenophobic conspiracy theorising on one side or accusations of scaremongering on the other, topped off with a sprinkling of nervously self-deprecating Twitter jokes.

As John Harris noted in his article, by this point “inflammatory language and alarmism” have now done their work and made it harder to get to the bottom of what has really been going on in Birmingham’s schools. But there is an equally powerful countervailing force working in the other direction, suggesting that any concern is an unwarranted attack on a minority and misrepresenting any calls for the assertion and teaching of British values as xenophobic, Islamophobic and a direct attack on the principle of multiculturalism. It is not.

If we carry on in this way, we will never succeed in building and maintaining the unified, diverse and tolerant Britain that we all say we want.

 

If you enjoyed reading this article, please take a second to LIKE or SHARE it on social media using the buttons below. Help to spread the word and continue the debate.

The Conservatives After Cameron

Apparently running the Home Office is no longer the political kiss of death that it once was. ConservativeHome highlights an interesting and worrying trend in the sentiments of the party base – a strong, and growing, preference for Theresa May to be the next Conservative Party leader after David Cameron:

Last month, the Home Secretary squeaked it, displacing Boris Johnson from the top of the poll by 22.7 per cent to 22.6 per cent – in other words, there was one vote in it out of some 800 responses.

This month, she does so again, by 23 per cent to 22 per cent – or, if you prefer, by a margin of three votes.  Michael Gove’s rating is down from 17 per cent to 14 per cent; William Hague’s is up from 10 per cent to the same total, 14 per cent.

What’s striking about this month’s result is that the gap between May and Boris is more or less unchanged – but the survey got roughly 200 more replies.

Looking back over the record of previous Home Secretaries, I was recently arguing with a friend about whether the office of Home Secretary tends to naturally attract the authoritarians and those casually dismissive of civil liberties from within their parties, or whether working in the Home Office makes a person that way, and that even an ardent libertarian would come out of the Home Office singing the praises of indefinite detention without charge, bulk data collection and citizenship revocation without criminal conviction. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? In the case of Theresa May, an uninspiring record prior to government has only been tarnished further since 2010.

The only thing more worrying about this preference for Theresa May is that her chief threat is the implausible Boris Johnson. The Mayor of London’s ability to say what he actually thinks, bypassing the usual politician’s filter, is admirable and refreshing in a high profile political figure. But he has a tendency toward the ridiculous, harms London’s competitiveness by his intransigence on the expansion of Heathrow airport, and is weak on free speech issues. His shortcomings exceed his no-nonsense attitude and his love of Latin.

By contrast, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove – perhaps the torchbearer for the more libertarian, small government / maximum personal liberty wing of the Tory party – languishes in third place, tied with William Hague.

Two very different visions for government.
Two very different visions for government.

The bright side, as Benedict Brogan points out in his Morning Briefing, is that Theresa May’s popularity with the party base is not matched by equal enthusiasm in the parliamentary party. Since the leadership election rules in the Conservative party give MPs the job of whittling down the field to the final two candidates who stand before the entire party membership, it is possible that May could fall at the first hurdle, perhaps opening the way for someone who does not quite so closely adhere to the authoritarian mould of New Labour.

Talk of the next Conservative leader may be very premature – Cameron could well win a second term in 2015, either to govern as a majority Tory administration (which would be a real test of his principles – no longer would he have the fallback excuse of placating LibDem coalition partners) or in another coalition. And of course the 2015 general election and upcoming European elections this year will change the electoral landscape further still. But it is disconcerting to note that as we stand, after reviewing the performance of all the Conservative ministers in government and comparing their rhetoric to their actions, a substantial part of the Tory base believes that Theresa May represents the best way forward.