British Conservatives And The Youth Vote, Ctd.

YouGov vote by age chart - general election 2017

Through their arrogance and sheer incompetence, the Tories have turned an entire generation away from conservative politics. But the solution is not to go marching off to the socialist Left

It doesn’t have to be like this.

It doesn’t have to be the case that people under 30 years of age vote so overwhelmingly for the parties of the Left, predominantly the Labour Party, while the Conservatives manage to sweep up barely a fifth of the youth vote.

The Tories have shot themselves in the foot by failing to court the youth vote or even speak to their concerns, the result of unbridled arrogance and sheer political incompetence. But the situation is not irreversible, if the right action is taken quickly. Unfortunately, the Tories – hopeless keepers of the conservative flame – look set to learn all of the wrong lessons.

I discussed this on my election night live blog and then again in this separate piece, but since that time several other commentators have jumped into the fray with their own takes, and it’s worth seeing what they have to say.

Former cabinet minister (sacked by Theresa May in her Weakness Reshuffle) and Harlow MP Robert Halfon won a lot of plaudits before the election for being one of few Tories to understand the need to reach out once more to the aspirational working class, and again after the election for criticising the Tories’ lack of vision going into the campaign.

From the Guardian:

Robert Halfon, who lost his frontbench role as minister for skills on Tuesday, said the Conservative party was “on death row” and had failed to offer a positive vision to voters.

The Harlow MP was scathing about the election campaign in which the prime minister lost her Commons majority, saying the Tories did not have a message to rival Labour’s promise to stand up “for the many not the few”.

Writing in the Sun, he said: “The Conservative party is on death row. Unless we reform our values, our membership offering and our party infrastructure, we face defeat at the next election – and potentially years of opposition.

“If we don’t change it wouldn’t matter if we had Alexander the Great or the Archangel Gabriel as leader. We face the wilderness.”

In an attack aimed at the Tory hierarchy – and campaign guru Sir Lynton Crosby – Halfon said: “Our election campaign portrayed us as a party devoid of values. ‘Strong and stable’ is hardly a battle cry. I cannot remember a time in the campaign when the Conservatives attempted to explain what we are really about: the party of the ladder, of aspiration and of opportunity.

“We let ourselves be perceived primarily as the party of ‘austerity’, failing entirely to campaign on our record of a strong economy or strong employment.

“Virtually nothing was said on the NHS or schools or the caring professions that work within them. Instead we created fear among pensioners, and threatened to take away school meals, handing a gift to our opponents. Is it any wonder that the Conservatives did not get a majority?”

Yes and no. Halfon is absolutely right to criticise the Tory campaign for its lack of a positive vision of any kind, let alone a coherent, recognisably conservative vision. But the specific targets of Halfon’s ire are all wrong. To follow his advice, the Tories should have engaged in a race with the Labour Party to shower praise and money on an unreformed NHS, wittered on endlessly about public services and exacerbated Britain’s corrosive culture of universal benefits, where everyone becomes accustomed to receiving handouts from the state regardless of their wealth or individual circumstances (see free school meals, the winter fuel allowance, child benefit and so on).

At least the Cameron/Osborne government, ideologically woolly as it was, made a token strike against universal benefits culture with their child benefit cap. Robert Halfon now sees support for giving benefits to people who don’t need them as the price of political survival. If this is true then there may as well not be a Conservative Party at all, because the Labour socialists will have won the war.

Here’s Nicholas Mazzei, writing in Conservative Home:

“Yeah I did; he was gonna write off my student loan. Come on!”

These were the words of a 25-year-old voter who text me early this morning, who had always voted Conservative and, up until the campaign began 5 weeks ago, was anti-Corbyn.

If you want to understand why the youth vote surged for Corbyn, I want you to read that line and look at the offer the Conservatives have made to the youth of Britain from our own manifesto. From this 25-year old’s own words, “the Conservatives have done nothing to reach out to those under-35”.

Now while most us would agree that the promises of wiping out debts and free university education by Labour were dangerous, unaffordable policies, we need to remember that the youth of the UK have been lumped with endless debts, rising costs in homes and education, and lower potential of earnings.

Much like in the US election, where voters turned out for Trump’s pro-employment message, youth voters in the UK turned out for a party which actually addressed their concerns.

Again, the problem is accurately diagnosed. The suite of Conservative Party policies, such as they were, did very little to even acknowledge the concerns of young people in a cosmetic way, let alone meaningfully address them. The Tories had no plan to encourage the building of sufficient houses to tackle the housing crisis because the status quo works just fine for their older core vote, thankyouverymuch. They remain obstinately committed to the most stubbornly self-harming form of Brexit possible, for absolutely no good reason, when most young people are sceptical of Brexit altogether.

And as icing on the cake, Theresa May and her lacklustre team preached a parsimonious message of fiscal restraint as a regrettable necessity – willingly accepting Labour’s framing of the economic debate! – rather than even attempting to sing the virtues of freedom, liberty and a smaller state dedicated to helping people in real need rather than a large state parcelling out insufficient morsels of assistance to everybody regardless of need.

Theresa May’s team seemingly forgot that people don’t become more conservative as they get older automatically or without some prompting, and that if the Tories continually screw somebody over through their formative years, young adulthood and early middle age then they won’t magically become Tory voters when they get their first grey hair. People become more conservative as they get older because historically, sensible government policy has allowed them to become greater and greater stakeholders in society, largely through property and equity ownership. Cut off millions of young people from this ladder to prosperity and security, and the conveyor belt which gradually moves people from political Left to Right as they age will come grinding to a halt. We see this in the YouGov poll. where the Tories now only overtake Labour among those aged over 50.

But while Mazzei effectively diagnoses the problem, his solutions also seem to involve lurching to the Left:

The UK has the highest average tuition fees in the world, second only to the USA (which is at around £5300 a year compared to £6,000 in the UK). We cannot lump all this debt on to young people. Education in general needs more investment and should be protected at all costs.

No. Why should somebody without a university degree subsidise the education (and future higher earning potential) of somebody who wants a free degree? While tuition fees at some American schools are horrendously expensive and poor value for money, UK fees are much cheaper, to the extent that they still often do not even cover the full cost of tuition. They are by no means outrageous, and those unwilling to make the investment in themselves are under no obligation to attend university. If anything, the presence of tuition fees clamps down on the number of pointless degrees in non-subjects being taken by students. Lower or remove tuition fees and we will likely see an explosion in gender studies and other pointless social justice-related pseudo-courses.

The unnamed government minister who spoke scathingly to the Telegraph about the Tory election campaign hits closer to the truth:

The Conservative Party has become “too shallow” and needs a “re-invigoration of political thought” that can draw young people to the party, a minister has said.

The MP warned that the Tory election campaign had relied on “poxy little slogans” to attract the youth vote and failed to counter Jeremy Corbyn’s offer of “free money” in the form of state-funded university tuition and other hand-outs.

The minister told The Telegraph: “You’ve got to persuade a new generation of people of what’s what. We never even tried, so Corbyn just came in and basically bribed people to vote for him with other people’s money that doesn’t even exist.”

[..] The minister said: “It’s all about political education and argument. The problem with the whole campaign is that it was about politics and politicians. “Everything is too shallow. Politicians have all got their experience but they lose if they forget to re-educate a new generation. You’ve got to persuade a new generation of people of what’s what.

“This is about political persuasion and think tanks and all that stuff.”

Another MP said the party had failed to properly engage younger votes on social media, where many users were instead targeted with videos attacking Mr Corbyn.

“Frankly the party has done very, very little to engage with young people,” he said. “We have made no real effort to garner support, even on social media, which is where everybody gets their news and views these days.

Yes, a thousand times yes. The case for conservatism has to keep being made for each new generation. The very presence of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party should have been a huge wake-up call to the Tories that defunct, failed ideologies do not simply slink away to die once they are exposed and defeated.

Margaret Thatcher’s government may have rescued Britain from 1970s decline, but this was before the living memory of half the electorate. Two generations have come since the Winter of Discontent, with many in the millennial generation probably unable to even explain what it was, or how the failed socialist post-war consensus brought Britain to the brink of irreversible decline.

Thus we now have a generation of young people who take relative material abundance, peace and security for granted rather than appreciating that capitalism is the source of our prosperity, not a drain on it. A pampered generation who simply don’t realise that British and Western values need to be cherished and defended (as the Second World War and Cold War taught older generations).

Ross Clark makes the same point in The Spectator:

The under 35s have never been exposed to the negative images of socialism that were familiar to older generations. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, to my age group socialism was inescapably associated with the failures of the Soviet bloc: it conjured images of queuing half a day for a cabbage, putting your name down on a long waiting list for the prize of a choking, belching Trabant – and of getting shot if you tried to escape. To my generation, capitalism was synonymous with freedom. But I am not sure that holds for a generation who see only large, tax-dodging corporations and bankers who wrecked the economy yet carried on skimming off vast bonuses.

Neither, when reading of Jeremy Corbyn’s renationalisation plans, do the under-35s have memories of nationalised industries in Britain in the 1970s. They don’t recall the three day week, the Winter of Discontent, dirty, late trains, or realise that the chaos on Southern Railway was once symptomatic of labour relations in huge swaths of nationalised industry. All they see are over-priced trains run by private companies which have ruthlessly exploited the private monopolies which they were granted in this, the most botched of the privatisations.

The Corbynite Left (and even Labour centrists) have been incredibly adept at presenting what are really regulatory failures or corrupt crony corporatism as failures of capitalism itself, which – as shown by the willingness of young people to vote for politicians like Bernie Sanders, Jean-Luc Melenchon and Jeremy Corbyn – has led many young people to demand that we throw the baby out with the bathwater. They sit and angrily Tweet about the evils of capitalism using handheld computing devices that only capitalism made possible, and nobody in British conservative politics seemingly has the balls to point out the absurdity to them.

The anonymous government minister is absolutely right to point out that Conservatives have an existential duty to “persuade a new generation of people of what’s what”, that showering public services with endless money and taking back state control of industry would have already happened if repeated lessons from history did not show that this approach simply never works.

The minister is right too when he says “this is about political persuasion and think tanks and all that stuff”. Yes it is. But you won’t reach young people with think tanks and white papers, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that the toxic Tory brand will not persuade them of the merits of conservatism either. That’s why we need strong new independent grassroots organisations to emerge, to promote the idea of freedom, self-sufficiency and a smaller, better-targeted state as an inherently good thing in and of itself, rather than a regretful response to recession.

As I wrote the other day:

For reasons of branding and basic administrative competence, any future small-C conservative movement hoping to gain traction with young people must be distinct from the Conservative Party, free of that residual toxicity and free to criticise the Tory party in government and in opposition when it proposes policies which either betray core values or threaten the interests of young people. A British CPAC and Young Brits for Liberty-style organisation could nurture talent of its own, outside the corrupting, nepotistic influence of the Conservative Party hierarchy, and would greatly increase their collective clout by helping or withholding support from future Tory election campaigns and individual candidacies based on policy, not party loyalty.

It is only through outside groups like this that the image of conservatism stands a chance of being rehabilitated among young people. It is only through a British version of CPAC or YAF that young conservative or agnostic students at university stand a chance against being steamrollered by the fashionable left-wing identity politics which are almost de rigeur for social acceptance and advancement.

[..] We need a strong external repository for conservative principle, capable of engaging with young people who have been continually taught that leftist progressivism = forward-thinking “compassion” while liberty, independence and self-sufficiency from government are evidence of greed and moral failure.

We particularly need to work closely with conservative organisations in the United States, which face a similar uphill struggle in overcoming a historic disinterest in the youth vote but which are now starting to have some success, generated in part by their opposition to the illiberal Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics sweeping American university campuses, with its disregard for freedom of speech and toxic obsession with the politics of victimhood.

We should be sharing best practice back and forth with American conservative organisations as to how to build strong redoubts for conservatism in overwhelmingly leftist places, so that conservatism isn’t washed away altogether. Frankly, British conservatism is in such a parlous state that we need their help. And then, once things have stabilised, we can look to reclaim some of the ground we have lost among young voters.

Skot Covert, Co-Chairman of the College Republican National Committee in the United States, offered this advice for a young conservative revival in the United States:

Due to an extended absence on the right’s part, winning the youth vote won’t be easy and it certainly won’t happen overnight.  However, when the GOP communicates our policy positions in culturally relevant terms in the right mediums, we see progress.  This means understanding how and where young voters communicate and having a discussion on the issues most important to them.

I believe it’s also critical to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to winning young voters.  My generation is diverse and vibrant.  We thrive on uniqueness and self-definition and instinctively reject the notion that we should “go with the flow”.  Crafting an effective youth outreach strategy must be developed around this understanding.

This is certainly true. People crave authenticity in a politician – somebody willing to speak extemporaneously and answer straight questions honestly without first running them through a focus group or a Comms Team. Young people especially, it seems, like an optimistic, forward-looking message rather than lashings of grim tidings delivered by a malfunctioning, cautious android like Theresa May. Who knew? That’s why young people preferred socialist firebrand Bernie Sanders to calculating, establishment Hillary Clinton. That’s why Americans elected Donald Trump as their next president.

But there is no reason why these qualities of openness and relatability cannot be vested in a politician who doesn’t hail from the hard left or the populist pseudo-right. There is no reason why a liberty-minded Conservative MP could not similarly enthuse young people with a message of individual liberty, economic freedom and the advantages (rather than the costs) of restraining the state.

Anoosh Chakelian explains in the New Statesman just how Jeremy Corbyn and Corbyn-supporting outside groups used this quality of authenticity to their advantage:

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign focused heavily on young people – a key manifesto pledge being to scrap tuition fees. His campaign style – rallies across the country, and fewer stage-managed speeches and press conferences than Theresa May – also appealed more to this demographic.

In addition, Labour had viral news on its side. As BuzzFeed reported, pro-Corbyn articles by “alt-left” sites were shared on an enormous scale on social media. I hear that nearly 25 per cent of UK Facebook users watched a Momentum video on the website in the penultimate week of campaigning. This is a particularly effective way of reaching young people, and inspiring them to vote – something the Tories weren’t as good at.

But who in the current Conservative Party hierarchy is remotely equipped for this task? Boris Johnson is probably the most charismatic of the senior Tories, but even he could never pack a large 2000-seat theatre for a political rally the way that Jeremy Corbyn can. And of course Boris Johnson is something of a charlatan, with sky-high negative ratings and absolutely no fixed political compass.

The cold hard truth is that the Tories don’t have anybody who can match Jeremy Corbyn for charisma right now – and how depressing that is. The best we can hope for is to give some of the better backbenchers (I keep banging on about Kwasi Kwarteng and James Cleverly) some ministerial experience to groom them for a few years down the road, but rather than looking to the future, Theresa May seems to have decided to keep her cabinet stuffed full of bland non-entities with her latest reshuffle. In her infinite wisdom.

That’s why we cannot rely on the Conservative Party to save conservatism from itself. The Tory party is corrupt, inbred, nepotistic, dysfunctional and ideologically bankrupt. Right now they are seriously considering skipping after Jeremy Corbyn on a fun political jaunt even further to the hard Left. Yes, somehow the Tories squandered the opportunity to use Corbyn’s rise to move the Overton Window of British politics further to the right, and instead are doing all they can to help him shift it to the left. These people are incompetent clowns who cannot be trusted to walk with scissors, let alone safeguard the ideology and worldview which we depend on to keep us prosperous and free.

We need outside groups to pick up the burden so shamefully dropped by Theresa May and her dysfunctional party. Student organisations, business organisations, bloggers, the works. The Tory Party as it currently stands will never persuade any more young people to vote Conservative. We need outside organisations with legitimacy and untainted reputations to make the positive case for conservative, pro-market values, and then pressure the Tories to hold the line rather than fight every battle on Labour’s terms.

I repeat: do not look to the Conservative Party to successfully engineer an improvement in the youth vote. The Tories are not going to make things any easier for themselves when it comes to youth outreach, and given the level of competence exhibited by CCHQ they have the potential to make things a whole lot worse.

We few young small-C conservatives need to pick up the slack ourselves.

 

Jeremy Corbyn - youth vote - t shirt

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Sajid Javid’s Perplexing Case For Britain To Remain In The EU

Sajid Javid - EU Referendum

Sajid Javid’s bizarre, fatalistic justification for backing Remain

When it comes to picking a side in the coming EU referendum, it is possible to categorise the many betrayals and disappointments dished up so far by the Conservative Party.

Some, like William Hague’s, are infuriating because of their misplaced priorities and fawning deference to power. Others, like that of Harlow MP Robert Halfon, are depressing because they fly in the face of long-avowed, ostentatious euroscepticism. But none are so perplexing as the screeching U-turn executed by Business Secretary Sajid Javid.

A barely coherent Javid took to the pages of the Daily Mail today with the most bizarre case for staying in Europe yet offered by a turncoat Tory – arguing that Britain would be much better off had we never joined the EU in the first place, but that now we are in the clutches of Brussels we have no choice but to allow ourselves to be slowly consumed and digested, like an unlucky insect caught in a Venus fly trap.

Javid begins by painting a rosy picture of the Britain we might now inhabit had we never joined the European Community back in 1973:

It’s clear now that the United Kingdom should never have joined the European Union. In many ways, it’s a failing project, an overblown bureaucracy in need of wide-ranging and urgent reform.

Had we never taken the fateful decision to sign up, the UK would still, of course, be a successful country with a strong economy.

We would be an independent trading nation like the US, Japan, or Canada.

Over the years, we would have developed trade agreements with the EU and with others, all without surrendering control over immigration or our economic independence.

You might think that this would lead quite naturally to a stirring call for Britain to reclaim all of these squandered benefits of independence. But Sajid Javid proceeds to wrong-foot us by continuing:

If this year’s referendum were a vote on whether to join in the first place, I wouldn’t hesitate to stand up and say Britain would be better off staying out.

But the question we’re faced with is not about what we should have done 43 years ago. It’s about what we should do now, in 2016.

That’s why, with a heavy heart and no enthusiasm, I shall be voting for the UK to remain a member of the European Union.

And so unfolds the most depressing, fatalistic argument in favour of staying in the European Union that you will likely hear this entire campaign. Apparently, had we made the right choice forty years ago we could now be living in the land of milk and honey, with endless prosperity and contentment for all. But we missed the boat, and because of that one supposedly irredeemable mistake, we are condemned to dwell forever in the arid desert of unwanted European political union.

Why? Because Sajid Javid is afraid of the potential short-term cost. Or rather, because he values democracy, sovereignty and national self-determination so little that the mere possibility of short term economic disadvantage is enough to make him turn a blind eye to the very real failings and even more anti-democratic future direction of the EU:

As I’ve said before, a vote to leave the EU is not something I’m afraid of. I’d embrace the opportunities such a move would create and I have no doubt that, after leaving, Britain would be able to secure trade agreements not just with the EU, but with many others too.

The great unanswerable question is how long that would all take – and at what short-term cost?

Take this logic and flip it around. Suppose it were possible that by becoming a fascist dictatorship for decade or so it would be possible for Britain to increase GDP by three per cent over and above current annual forecasts – by forcing the unemployed to build houses and weapons in exchange for benefits, riding roughshod over pesky planning regulations, and generally doing all of the autocratic things which democracy rightly prevents us from doing.

According to Sajid Javid’s logic, we should toss democracy aside and eagerly embrace strong-fisted dictatorship, just to reap the potential economic gain. Nothing else would matter – or at least, everything else would be secondary to the GDP question.

Javid continues:

The negotiations would end well for Britain, but we have no idea what the economic cost would be in the meantime – how much foreign investment would go elsewhere, how much domestic investment would be deferred or cancelled.

Even the most committed members of the ‘leave’ camp accept that there will inevitably be a short-term cost to leaving.

The question is whether it is balanced out by the long-term gains. It’s a very reasonable question – and I came incredibly close to answering ‘Yes, yes it is.’

Javid even admits here that “the negotiations would end well for Britain”. Ignoring the fact that a plausible plan for Brexit exists, which de-risks the entire process and eliminates much of the uncertainty, Javid is willing to throw away an eternity of democratic self-governance in exchange for what he himself believes to be just a couple of years of potentially increased economic security. This is an almost pathological level of risk-aversion.

Javid’s half-hearted apologia concludes:

My heart says we are better off out. My head says it’s too risky right now. For the past six years, I’ve been doing everything I can to repair the damage Labour did to our national economy.

I’m no europhile, but nor am I prepared to risk undoing all that work and casting aside all the sacrifices we asked of this country while the post-Brexit talks drag on and investor confidence wavers. Staying in the EU for now doesn’t have to mean accepting the status quo.

[..] For me, this referendum does not have to be a once-in-a-generation event. The fight for reform is not over and if Brussels fails to recognise that, I can see a time when walking away may be the right thing to do – but in a more benign global economic environment and under a UK Government that makes a credible case for leaving.

And so ends the most bizarre case for remaining in the EU you are ever likely to hear. Apparently we are now to make existential decisions about the future of our governance and democracy solely according to where we happen to be in the economic cycle. Want to restore sovereignty while the economy is booming? Go for it! But want to make a bid for freedom during a downturn – or even just a potential downturn? Sorry, GDP projections say no.

This atrocious argument for Remain encapsulates everything that this referendum should not be about. We are talking about the future governance and sovereignty of our country. If there was ever a time for us to think as fully engaged citizens with an eye on the future – and the ability of our children to exercise control over their destinies – then this is it. Now is certainly not the time to think and act like fearful, petty consumers, concerned only with the fatness of our wallets today while sparing no thought for the future of our democracy.

Yet this is exactly what Sajid Javid asks us to do. I agree with you, the EU is totally undemocratic and resistant to reform, he essentially tells us. But the pound might briefly dip against the euro if we leave, so screw securing democracy for tomorrow, vote for the status quo to guarantee an uninterrupted supply of cheap flat-screen TVs today!

What a pathetic, insular, insulting argument to make. How disgusting that the supposed rising star of the Conservative Party would thus attempt to appeal to the scared and avaricious consumer within us, rather than the enlightened and noble citizen.

Make a passionate case for a federal European state and I will respect you, even though I profoundly disagree.

Make a wobbly-lipped, pant-wetting case for clinging to the EU’s skirts out of sheer terror at the Big Bad World and I will roll my eyes at you and move on.

But if you dare treat me like some kind of mindless automaton who thinks only with tomorrow’s bank balance in mind – if you tell me that the EU sucks, but that I should vote to remain because to leave would cause a brief macroeconomic blip – then I will tell you to go direct to hell. And I will hold you in seething contempt for a very, very long time.

When the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to discuss the portentous issue of separation from Britain in 1776, the committee chosen to draft the famous declaration was – astonishingly – not myopically obsessed with the impact of independence on GDP.

Thomas Jefferson understood, when he wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, that something far greater than 1777’s economic forecasts was at stake. That democracy itself was at stake.

Sadly, this democratic ideal – or indeed the concept of anything being more important than minimising the risk of disruption tomorrow, even when the status quo is crying out for disruption – is totally anathema to many of those who argue against Brexit today, including many supposed eurosceptics who should know better.

The Conservative Party has served up its share of gut-wrenching disappointments and betrayals in the build-up to this EU referendum. But none of them are proving quite so difficult to stomach as this steaming pile of nonsense from Sajid Javid.

 

Sajid Javid - EU Referendum - 2

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The Overcrowded Centre: Tory MP Attacks Labour From The Left On NHS Privatisation

Tory Conservative Labour LibDem Liberal Democrat Rosettes

 

2015 is already proving to be a difficult year for those of us who would defend politicians from the accusation that they are “all the same”.

Nobody, save the most ardently partisan Kool-Aid drinkers, is seriously excited by any of the main political parties as they jostle for position in the overcrowded political centre. And as blue merges with red, and red pretends to be blue, who can blame voters for wanting to be rid of any candidate sporting a Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat rosette?

Case in point: Robert Halfon, the incumbent Conservative MP for Harlow (this blogger’s hometown constituency) is now openly attacking his Labour challenger for – of all things – being too supportive of private sector involvement in the NHS.

Round About Harlow reports:

Continue reading

Dear Insert Name, Thanks For Your Generic Efforts, Love DC

David Cameron Robert Halfon Backbencher MP Conservative

  

Many people, Semi-Partisan Sam included, receive at least one round-robin letter, trumpeting the glittering achievements and detailing the tribulations experienced by far-flung branches of the family, in the run-up to Christmas each year.

Folksy newsletters of this kind have long-attracted a mixture of ire, derision and pity, but we grudgingly read them because were it not for this (and the real-time bragging that takes place on Facebook), we would otherwise have absolutely no idea what’s new with Aunt Cersei and Uncle Jaime in Kings Lynn or cousin Arya in her gap year travels around the world.

But the one thing we round-robin recipients never do is boast about having received the same mail-merged missive as every single one of our other extended family members. This only makes it more odd that Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, took to Facebook today with evident pride to share a letter purportedly written and sent by David Cameron to celebrate the government’s achievements in the year to date.

The mediocre, mail-merged round-robin letter is shown in its banal entirety below:

David Cameron Robert Halfon Backbencher MP Parliament Letter

Cameron’s attempt at a morale-boosting letter is full of the meaningless platitudes about securing a “brighter future for Britain” that one might expect from a tired politician going through the motions on a local radio interview at 6AM, but it is doubtful that the prime minister personally authored the letter whilst away on vacation in Portugal. Far more likely that the job was delegated to a junior special adviser or some other paint-by-numbers Downing Street aide.

But what is truly interesting about this seemingly dull letter is the fact that the only identifying marker tailoring the letter to Robert Halfon is the inclusion of his name after the word “Dear” at the top. From that point onwards, David Cameron’s missive takes a lazy ramble across the current political landscape, touching on high-level achievements rather than the particular work or campaigning issues of Halfon and his fellow backbenchers.

The prime minister proudly acknowledges the “difficult decisions” that were taken to stabilise and return the British economy to growth. With a fanfare he takes credit for reducing the deficit by a third – some credit, considering that the government fell far short of its target on deficit reduction, and that the national debt continues to grow.

In his summer hubris, Cameron goes on to take personal credit for falling unemployment, reduced immigration (again, far from achieving the targets set out in the 2010 general election campaign), improved schools and, at probability’s furthest stretch, the supposed repatriation of previously outsourced and off-shored jobs to Britain. And the memo ends with a limp call to action, exhorting the prime minister’s Westminster foot soldiers to continue fighting the good fight to keep Ed Miliband out of Number 10 Downing Street (and Cameron on the business side of the famous black door).

But would it really have been so hard to add even a dash of customisation before firing out these letters? The recipient in question, Robert Halfon, is a relative newcomer to Westminster having joined the 2010 parliamentary intake, and so does not have a huge stable of stories, anecdotes, policies or victories for a hapless intern to research. But he does have several solid achievements and bold stances to his name that could have been used, had anyone been bothered.

The top paragraph of the Cameron-O-Gram might have approvingly mentioned the successful Fair Fuel campaign led by Halfon, conveyed thanks for leading the way in advocating more youth apprenticeships, or pledged to work with the Harlow MP to address the problem of prohibitively high car parking prices at NHS hospitals. But it did none of these things. In fact, the standardised email to lowly backbenchers went even further in demonstrating its ignorance or indifference to the work of individual MPs by prominently hedging its bets:

“So a big ‘thank you’ for everything you have done to get us this far. And thank you too for your campaigning this past term – whether that be in the local and European elections in May, or in Newark last month, where our Party came together to win our first by-election in government for 25 years.”

“Whether that be…”? Shockingly, David Cameron and his office seem entirely ignorant as to which MPs contributed the most and the least to recent campaigns, despite Grant Shapps’ threat to shame and punish any MP who failed to pull his or her own weight on the campaign trail. People accuse Ed Miliband’s office of being out of control and unable to properly co-ordinate, but now it seems as though the Conservatives are rapidly falling to a similar dull point.

“Letter-gate” reveals a picture of a prime minister and a government that not so long ago fawned over restive backbench MPs to keep them sweet, but which now believes that they can be treated with any amount of contempt given the fact that they will need help from CCHQ to survive the 2015 general election, and will overlook the snub.

And there can be few better ways to showcase this contempt than spamming hardworking backbench MPs with a cheesy, internal and non-specific campaign memo – ostensibly to give thanks for backbench loyalty – which is hardly different to the regular mailing list bulletins “written” by various Tory ministers and still received by Semi-Partisan Sam as a former member of the Conservative party.

At this point in the life cycle of government, a proactive and attentive leader might take the time to properly shore up morale and accrue some goodwill among his troops heading into party conference season. At the very least, a good party leader might feign an interest in the constituency work or personal causes of their MPs. But Cameron seems unable to even fake this enthusiasm.

Ironically, the earnest and hardworking MP who was so delighted to receive this piece of junk mail from Number 10 – the political equivalent of a pizza delivery leaflet shoved through the letterbox – was chastising his constituents, charities and community groups for spamming / petitioning MPs and adding to their workload in precisely this automated fashion only 30 months ago. In February 2011, Halfon wrote:

So what’s the best way to persuade an MP to support your cause? It’s simple. When I get an invite to visit the local branch of an organisation, I will always go. When I get a personalised letter, hand-signed from a chief executive (as opposed to public affairs officer) that contains local statistics and information, how can I not fail to be interested? When a local constituent calls me asking for a meeting, to talk about his or her involvement in her charity, I will always do it. I remember particularly how I was recently lobbied directly in the Commons by a resident who was involved with a breast cancer charity. She had a profound effect on me. I was only too pleased to support her cause.

So my final advice to charities and the voluntary sector is this: forget the impersonal emails, move away from computer generated email campaigns, stop sending reams of paper by post. Make it personalised and local, and you will not just have my real support, but that of many other MPs as well.

To counsel constituents against using inappropriate forms of communication while lauding precisely the same impersonal tactics when executed by 10 Downing Street, as Halfon seems to be doing, is puzzlingly contradictory to say the least. And at a time when Conservative MPs defending narrow majorities most need the help of their leader to retain their seats in 2015, it is especially odd that at least one backbencher is not more offended at being condescended to in this manner.

As the sweltering Parliamentary summer recess rolls on, the question we are left asking is this: With potent threats from both UKIP on the right and Labour on the left, how on earth does David Cameron expect to lead the Conservatives party to a majority and victory in 2015, when he clearly has so little respect for his generals in the field?

A postcard from Portugal would have cost so little, but said so much more.

UKIP’s Choice

I like the commitment to giving the British people a say on our future membership of the European Union. I like the commitment to stripping away burdensome regulation from business. And I really like the libertarian streak which says (with the shameful and notable exception of opposing gay marriage) that you can do what you damn well like in your eating, drinking or recreational life without fearing either chastisement or prosecution by the government. But the recent scandals and dramas within UKIP are making me realise all over again that having a few really great core principles is simply not enough. Not for a political party with serious national electoral ambitions, at any rate.

In moment of great frustration with British politics and the day-to-day compromise of coalition government I have flirted with the idea of giving UKIP my vote. There are parts of the UKIP agenda – you’ll only find them on the UKIP website, the British media generally fails to report the serious stuff – that make perfect sense and which should appeal to anyone of a conservative-libertarian leaning. And in the past it has frustrated me that the focus on UKIP’s more sensible ideas has been continually taken away by the actions of some of UKIP’s more unhinged, out-of-the-mainstream supporters.

I continued to make this argument in good conscience throughout the Godfrey Bloom saga and then the David Silvester affair, because the first was a nonsense and the second was a nonentity. But not so this time.

Gerard Batten is a serving MEP and a serious voice within his party – not a swivel eyed lunatic from the fringe. And so when he publicly advocates making Muslims effectively sign an oath of loyalty and nonviolence to prove their harmlessness to the state, this represents a very real problem for UKIP, damages their pro-liberty credentials and alienates many people (myself included) who were otherwise inclined to give them a fair hearing.

gerardbatten

The Guardian gives some of the detail:

Gerard Batten, who represents London and is member of the party’s executive, told the Guardian on Tuesday that he stood by a “charter of Muslim understanding”, which he commissioned in 2006.

The document asks Muslims to sign a declaration rejecting violence and says parts of the Qur’an that promote “violent physical Jihad” should be regarded as “inapplicable, invalid and non-Islamic”.

Critics said his comments represent the “ugliest side of Ukip” and “overlap with the far-right”, in spite of the efforts of party leader Nigel Farage to create a disciplined election machine ahead of the European elections.

Asked on Tuesday about the charter, Batten told the Guardian he had written it with a friend, who is an Islamic scholar, and could not see why “any reasonable, normal person” would object to signing it.

One hardly needs to restate their horror and revulsion at all forms of violence and terrorism in the name of religion before condemning this politician’s attempt to take a redacting pen to the holy book of a faith not his own – but I shall do so anyway. We can abhor the violence, but that does not make it right to propose amendments to the religious texts of a faith that you do not yourself practice. Indeed, if Gerard Batten is to apply his editing skills to every major religious text touting a menu of violent and uncivilised punishments to be meted out to those who accidentally violate the etiquette of their ancient day, he will not only raise Muslim ire but also the outrage of other religions perhaps much closer to his own heart.

Seeing the “I have Muslim friends” card played as a defence by Godfrey Bloom is also quite depressing, and hardly mitigates the fact that he is basically advocating state interference in the workings of a religion, state interpretation of religious texts and state monitoring of compliance with religious teaching.

And in a final flourish, Batten also failed to repudiate his 2010 call for a ban on new mosques in Europe, apparently confirming the suspicions of many that UKIP is concerned about freedom of religion and freedom from religious persecution only when it can be used as an argument to allow certain Christians to continue discriminating against gay people.

The latest UKIP scandal has, naturally and rightly, drawn condemnation from across the political spectrum, with Conservative MP Robert Halfon (of the Jewish faith) describing Batten’s “Islamic code of conduct” as the first step toward making a persecuted people wear a visible gold star on their clothing:

Halfon, who is Jewish and has spoken out repeatedly against Islamic extremism, told the Guardian he considered Batten’s views “unbelievably sinister” and “frightening”.

He tweeted: “Big difference btwn lawful Muslims & extreme Islamists. UKIP MEP Batten’s statement a 1st step to wearing a Yellow Star.”

Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat MEP for London, also criticised the comments, saying they “rip apart Ukip’s pretence” that it treats everybody equally.

“His offensive blanket stereotyping of Muslims speaks volumes about Ukip’s extremism and should warn voters that voting Ukip means associating with hatred and Islamophobia,” she said.

These shenanigans within UKIP must come to an immediate halt if the party is to staunch the bleeding and begin to repair its tarnished reputation. The existing media portrayal of the party as a club for closet racists, little-Englanders and swivel eyed loons is harmful enough without having senior MEPs throwing more fuel on the fire. The fact that some of the provocative statements in question were given in the year 2006 is no defence or mitigating factor here – all that means is that eight years have passed without a public apology and withdrawal of the remarks.

True to recent form, Nigel Farage has been slow to respond to this latest volley of bad publicity – and so, for the moment, Gerard Batten is left to twist in the wind. This, in itself, is unacceptable. This is a time for the leader to lead. Perhaps UKIP wants to be a party of unapologetic Islamophobia and a cheerleader for freedom of religion, but only when Christian freedoms are perceived as being threatened. And if so, that is their choice to make – free speech is still just about protected in this country, and UKIP are entitled to campaign on that platform. In turn, I would also then be freed from the desire to give them any further serious consideration and airtime on this blog, because I would exercise my right to avoid associating myself with such a party.

But if the UK Independence Party actually stands for personal liberty and does not wish to associate itself with religion-specific loyalty tests and bans on practicing Islam (because that is what withholding permission to build new mosques would ultimately mean), with fearmongering or with discriminatory policies, then Nigel Farage needs to speak up and show any recalcitrant members the door.

Newer, less established and experienced political parties eventually have to choose between their fiery, populist rhetoric and the need for sober policymaking; between courting any stray vote that can easily be won and accepting that the votes of some other people are fundamentally undesirable. The Liberal Democrats faced their reality-check on the topic of undergraduate tuition fees, and for better or worse they chose responsible government over delivering on their tuition fee cap bribe to their starry-eyed voters. It increasingly looks as though UKIP will have a dual reckoning – with their attitude to gay marriage on one hand and the decision to condone or condemn Islamophobia on the other.

If Mr. Farage could please make up his mind on these issues and convey the message to his troops, the rest of us will know whether to keep giving UKIP the time of day, or letting them jog on by.