Theresa May’s One Chance For Redemption: Sacrificing Her Leadership For A Sane Brexit

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Theresa May will never be remembered as a great prime minister because she is timid, calculating and lacks any positive vision for the country. But she can still redeem her failed premiership by sacrificing it in order to achieve a sane Brexit

The fate of Brexit hangs in the balance, primarily because two equal and opposing forces are selfishly attempting to hijack Britain’s negotiating stance for their own purposes.

One one hand there are the Brexit Ultras (or the Brexit Taliban, to use the less charitable but evocative phrase) who insist, like religious fundamentalists, that theirs is the One True Brexit, the only route to heaven, while all other interpretations are dangerous heresy. These people – your Steve Bakers, John Redwoods, Jacob Rees-Moggs and Suella Fernandeses – do not see Brexit as meaning departure from the political entity known as the European Union. To them, Brexit means severing virtually all ties and treaties with the EU while retaining nearly all of the current perks, while making up for any economic shortfall by effortlessly completing a series of swashbuckling free trade deals with countries often far less important to the UK economy than our nearest neighbours.

But on the other hand, there are forces who are arguing passionately for a “soft Brexit” with strong and enduring ties to the Single Market, not because they believe in Brexit or have accepted it, but because they see this as the first step to reversing the result of the EU referendum and keeping Britain in the European Union (generally by means of a second referendum, which they believe – erroneously, I think – that they could win). These people are not to be trusted. During the referendum campaign they could be found loudly insisting that any change in Britain’s relationship with the EU would result in political isolation and economic Armageddon, yet now they claim (somewhat more plausibly) that it is only separation from the Single Market which will cause harm. Their old argument was therefore a lie, a fig leaf to justify their determination for Britain to remain part of European political union at any cost.

And sandwiched between these two fanatical, opposing forces, are the saner Brexiteers – such as those connected to the Leave Alliance – who have been arguing all along that Brexit is not a sudden event but a process of unpicking 40 years of political and regulatory integration, and that the best way to achieve our political ends without causing undue economic damage is by means of a transition that involves rejoining EFTA and trading with EU member states on the terms of the EFTA-EEA agreement.

At the moment, however, Theresa May’s inability to exert control over her own party means that the government’s negotiating stance is effectively held hostage by the Brexit Ultras, who see the slightest moderation on trade as a “betrayal” of Brexit, despite laws relating to the EEA accounting for just 20 percent of the total EU acquis. Despite having languished in the political wilderness for decades, getting 80 percent of what they want on the back of a tight referendum result is somehow not good enough for the Brexit Taliban – and their selfish greed for the full 100 percent needlessly imperils the whole endeavour, and our economy with it.

But it need not be like this. As Stephen Bush points out in the New Statesman, there is no shortage of MPs willing to work with Theresa May to achieve a softer, saner Brexit (at least for a transitional period) if only she was willing to work in a bipartisan way rather than remaining a hostage to her own backbenchers.

Bush writes:

As Parliament has ratified Article 50, passed May’s Queen Speech and thus lost control of its ability to directly influence the government’s negotiations, when the final Brexit deal comes before the House of Commons, the option they will be voting on will be “Theresa May’s Brexit deal or no deal”. As I’ve written on several occasions, no deal is a great deal worse than a bad deal. No deal means, at best, exit on World Trade Organisation terms, no deal to allow British airplanes to fly to the European Union or the United States, chaos at borders and an immediate and hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

This all has one massive upside for May: while there are many Conservative MPs who don’t accept this to be true, the opposition parties all know it to be the case. May will always be able to count on enough MPs from the parties of the centre and left being unwilling to make their own constituents’ lives drastically worse.

But the snag remains:

But that would require her to pursue a Brexit deal that wasn’t focused on keeping her government on the road –  one that saw getting the best deal as more important than preventing May being removed by her own backbenchers. The difficulty is that Theresa May displayed precious little desire to pick a fight with her own party before she threw away their first parliamentary majority in 23 years and she has even less of one now.

This is one of those times when a presidential-style system of government would actually aid Britain enormously. With a separately-elected head of government, more autonomous and less beholden to the rank and file of their political party, it would be easier to forge a winning coalition in Parliament to pass a more sensible, measured Brexit bill. Unfortunately, with the British parliamentary system, any attempt by Theresa May to make overtures to pragmatists across the political aisle would immediately put her premiership in grave peril. A leadership challenge would all but certainly be triggered immediately, and it would then be a race against time to pass the bill before the self-destructive forces at work within the Tory Party concluded their ghastly business and replaced May with a One True Brexit fanatic.

But at this point, there is precious little to lose – not for the country, anyway (though Tories with medium-term hopes for future political careers may feel somewhat differently). And there is precious little for principled conservatives to lose either, given that Theresa May’s government has given every indication from Day 1 that it intends to fight a rearguard retreating battle against encroaching statism rather than take it on with a bold, alternative vision.

The prime minister and her Conservative Party have had all summer to dwell on the reasons for their disastrous election campaign and their their growing unpopularity among people with their original hair colour, and to come up with at least a sketched outline of a new approach. And what was the best scheme they managed to cook up between themselves in all that time? A puny, derisory pitch to reduce interest rates on student loan debt, in the risible hope that doing so might win the affections of young voters currently seduced by Jeremy Corbyn.

The ambition has gone from this Conservative government, together with any semblance of intellectual rigour in their policymaking. Rather five years of Jeremy Corbyn, constrained by his own centrist MPs and a Tory party in opposition, than any more of this decay and damage to our reputation. At least the government’s approach to Brexit might be somewhat more pragmatic if led by people who do not expect the European Union to freely offer all of the benefits of the Single Market for none of the costs or commitments. And then, when Corbyn’s Labour Party have proven themselves to be a shambles in every other respect, the Conservative Party might bounce back into government under the direction of a leader more worthy of respect.

What great development are Theresa May’s supporters hanging on for? What great new policies or achievements do they imagine her accomplishing with her puny non-majority in the time before she is inevitably toppled by one of her Cabinet members? There is nothing. So better to bring the suffering to a close and stop deferring the inevitable.

If the prime minister were better advised, she might also see the advantages of this option. Theresa May is a weakened leader, barely in control of her directionless party which itself is unpopular with voters after seven wasted years in government. At present, her premiership is set to come to an ignominious close with no significant accomplishments to her name. But this need not be so.

In a final act of defiance – and as an extravagant and substantial gesture to help bring the country together after the EU referendum and its fallout – Theresa May should stand up to her backbenchers and to the Brexit Taliban, and work with willing MPs from the opposite benches to ensure that a more considered Brexit Bill is passed by Parliament. This need not and should not be a formal arrangement with the Leader of the Opposition, who will have his own motives. Jeremy Corbyn’s support remains shallow within the Parliamentary Labour Party, and willing supporters could be found by going round the Labour whips.

At present, the very future of Brexit is being imperilled by zealots who foolishly insist that forty years of political and economic integration with the EU be unpicked in the space of just two years. These people need to be sidelined, and if the price of doing so is the end of an otherwise hopeless premiership and the provoking of a long-overdue existential crisis within the Tory party then it is a price very much worth paying.

There is nothing else that Theresa May can do which would impact so positively on her legacy at this point. The prime minister should consider her options.

 

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Peter Hitchens Demands A Real Conservative Alternative To Jeremy Corbyn

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The current cast of characters jockeying to replace Theresa May are almost as underwhelming as the prime minister herself. British conservatives of all shades need to have a full and open debate about how best to move the Conservative Party and the country forward, and then find a future leader with the charisma to take on Jeremy Corbyn in the battle for hearts and minds

Exactly two years ago, I wrote a rather despairing piece asking “Where is the Conservative Party’s Jeremy Corbyn?” Now Peter Hitchens is rightly asking the same question, having long ago despaired at the direction of the Conservative Party and its accommodation with Blairite, centrist managerialism.

Back in August 2015 I wrote:

I want a standard bearer for the Right who actually makes me feel excited, not resigned, when I enter the polling booth. I don’t necessarily expect that person to be elected by a landslide on the first attempt, and to immediately implement their entire agenda in full. But neither do I expect – as presently happens – all of the soul-sapping compromising and watering-down of core principle to take place before the candidate even gets their name on the ballot paper.

Jeremy Corbyn has not done all of his compromising upfront – he is proud of his beliefs, and does not seek to apologise for them. And he doesn’t talk and answer questions as though he is responding to the twitches of a focus group’s instant polling dial. That’s why he is surging in the polls. That’s why previously dejected Labour activists who support Corbyn are suddenly walking a little taller again. That, I think, is why Owen Jones is walking round with such an infuriatingly wide smile on his face at the moment.

It cannot remain this way if we are to be successful in advancing the cause of smaller government and greater individual freedom and autonomy. We cannot allow the Left to monopolise inspiration and ambition, however far-fetched, while we conservatives occupy and embody the dull, managerial, technocratic and remote politics of austerity.

And conservatives will never win a real mandate for change so long as we are content to be the party of last resort, the failsafe option voters pick when all of the other choices are too wacky or offensive to contemplate.

I concluded by asking:

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?

Substitute Theresa May’s name for David Cameron’s, and pose the same question to yourself. Is the answer any clearer or more satisfactory than it was two years ago?

Clearly not. And now Peter Hitchens has arrived at the same conclusion, writing in the Mail on Sunday:

If (like me) you have attended any of Mr Corbyn’s overflowing campaign meetings, you will have seen the hunger – among the under-30s and the over-50s especially – for principled, grown-up politics instead of public relations pap.

Mr Corbyn reminds mature people of the days when the big parties really differed. He impresses the young because he doesn’t patronise them, and obviously believes what he says. This desire for real politics isn’t just confined to the Left. Ken Livingstone is right to call Mr Corbyn Labour’s Nigel Farage. Ukip appeals to a similar impulse.

Millions are weary of being smarmed and lied to by people who actually are not that competent or impressive, and who have been picked because they look good on TV rather than because they have ideas or character.

Indeed, ideas or character are a disadvantage. Anything resembling a clear opinion is seized upon by the media’s inquisitors, and turned in to a ‘gaffe’ or an outrage.

Actually, I dislike many of Mr Corbyn’s opinions – his belief in egalitarianism and high taxation, his enthusiasm for comprehensive schools, his readiness to talk to terrorists and his support for the EU. Oddly enough, these are all policies he shares with the Tory Party.

But I like the honest way he states them, compared with the Tories’ slippery pretence of being what they’re not.

I have indeed attended one of Jeremy Corbyn’s massive rallies, in which the Labour leader (then fighting to cling on to leadership of the party in the face of a challenge from the hapless Owen Smith) managed to pack out the vast Kilburn State theatre in North London with excited and motivated activists of every age. It was quite a remarkable sight to behold, with energy levels more like those you would see in a hard-fought US presidential primary than a dour Labour Party leadership contest.

Contrast this with the pathetically phony photo opportunities orchestrated by Theresa May’s hapless 2017 general election campaign, with a small huddle of telegenic young activists, clearly bussed in from London, holding up professionally printed placards in front of the Tory campaign bus while the prime minister grated her way through that godawful “strong and stable” stump speech. There was no authentic grassroots enthusiasm for May or her policies, to the extent that CCHQ was terrified to allow the prime minister to get into any kind of unscripted interaction with the public, let alone a televised debate.

Theresa May - conservatives - campaign rally crowd

 

There may well be an appropriate time for dull managerialism and “steady as she goes” leadership, but Britain in 2017 is not it. Obviously Brexit must be handled with skill and sensitivity (not that the government has shown either of these attributes), but in every other respect Britain requires radical solutions to deep-seated problems rather than Theresa May’s brand of denial and incompetence. Whether it’s low productivity, education, the housing crisis, a failing nationalised healthcare system, dangerously pared-down national defence or a society fractured by toxic identity politics, this is a time for bold and unapologetically conservative solutions. But instead we have a weak prime minister at the head of an incoherent government, terrified of proclaiming conservative principles and desperate to move closer to the Labour Party on nearly every issue.

Hitchens goes on to describe what he sees as the ideal future Conservative leader:

My hope, most unlikely to be realised, is that a patriotic, conservative and Christian equivalent of Mr Corbyn will emerge to take him on, and will demonstrate, by his or her strength of conviction, that there is an even greater demand for that cause than there is for old-fashioned leftism. In any case, I think any thoughtful British person should be at least a little pleased to see the PR men and the special advisers and the backstairs-crawlers of British politics so wonderfully wrong-footed by a bearded old bicyclist.

Patriotic and conservative would be a good start, but I don’t think that this is specific enough. Theresa May, for example, ticks all three of Peter Hitchens’ boxes (one can make a valid argument that May represents a serious thread of conservative thought) yet is completely and utterly unequal to the role of prime minister, ideologically and temperamentally.

And as far as being Christian is concerned, Theresa May is a practicing Christian and famously the daughter of a vicar, and yet she has shown no real impulse to halt the suppression of legitimate religious expression where it comes into conflict with the free speech-averse forces of social justice and identity politics, for example. What, then, is the point of cheerleading for a Christian prime minister when they fail to defend religious freedom when in office? I would much rather have a prime minister who is secular-liberal when it comes to religion, eager to separate church (and faith) from state as far as possible while simultaneously protecting the right of British citizens to worship freely.

When it comes to choosing the ideal future Conservative prime minister, I maintain that the Tories could do far worse than select somebody who fits the profile I set out shortly before the disastrous general election back in June:

Ex armed forces (of either gender), mid to senior rank, with an illustrious overseas deployment history. Someone who exudes unapologetic patriotism yet never lapses into cheap jingoism, and whose commitment to defence, national security and veterans affairs is beyond question.

Followed up by a successful later career, possibly in the third sector or the arts but better still in the private sector, having founded a stonking great big corporation that also gives back to the community by employing ex-offenders or partnering with charities to do meaningful work in society.

A solid and consistent record (at least dating to the start of the EU referendum campaign) on Brexit, able to tell a compelling story about how Brexit – properly done – can be good for our democracy and at least neutral on the economic front.

A person who believes that until somebody comes up with a viable alternative to (or augmentation of) the democratic nation state, this institution remains the best method yet devised of ordering human affairs, and that consequently we should not needlessly undermine and vandalise it by vesting power in antidemocratic supranational organisations or pretending that we can sidle our way into a post-patriotic world by stealth rather than with the consent of the people.

Somebody who will not bargain away our civil liberties chasing the chimera of absolute security from terrorists and madmen – particularly while refusing to face down radical Islamism as an ideology to be confronted and defeated – but who will also stand up to expansionist, nonsensical definitions of human rights and an identity politics / political correctness agenda that values hurt feelings more than freedom of expression.

Somebody with the articulateness, gravitas, sincerity and quickness of thought capable of doing the near impossible in 2017: single-handedly turning the tide away from the vapid, broken politics of me, me, me. Somebody willing to ask – as John F. Kennedy once did – not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Somebody who dares to call us to a higher purpose than merely living in a country with “good public services”, deifying “Our NHS” and having the goddamn trains run on time.

Somebody who chooses for us to go to the moon (or rather its current day equivalent in terms of spectacular human achievement) “and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills” (John F Kennedy).

Doubtless my idea of the ideal conservative prime minister and Peter Hitchens’ conception will differ somewhat – Hitchens is more socially conservative than I, while I see myself as more of a conservatarian with pragmatic, tempered libertarian instincts.

But these differences of opinion only make it all the more important that we have a full and open debate about the future of conservatism, and what kind of leader would be best placed to move the conservative movement and the country forward. And far better that this conversation first take place in the abstract, as a discussion of principles and ideology, so it does not immediately descend into personality-based infighting and jockeying for position among Theresa May’s likely successors.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is also vitally important that conservatives (I deliberately speak of small-C conservatives rather than the often toxic and inept Conservative Party) find a way to re-engage with a youth vote that the Tories have been shamefully quick to write off and cede to the parties of the Left. This abandonment of the youth vote is absolutely untenable going forward, and is yet another reason why the next Tory leader needs to have sufficient charisma and authenticity to cut through anti-conservative prejudices among young people that have often been baked into their consciences since they first became politically aware.

Until the Conservatives figure out who and what they actually want to be, both Peter Hitchens and I are likely to remain underwhelmed and disappointed. An urgent reckoning needs to take place in order to answer this question: Has seven years of Cameron/Osborne/May-style accommodation with centrist Blairism delivered any real tangible improvement to the trajectory of Britain, or are we largely treading water? And if the latter, is the solution to move even further to the left, as Theresa May and her political spirit animal Nick Timothy seem to want, or is it wiser and better to bring real conservative values to bear on 21st century problems?

As far as I am concerned, the choice is self-evidently clear. The Tories can stubbornly cling to their current philosophy and hope at best to remain in office but not in power for a few more years as they desperately scamper after the Labour Party in their march to the hard left, or they can renew themselves, stop apologising for their conservatism and start enacting it instead.

But in the meantime, let’s start the debate.

 

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Why Theresa May Needs To Go Now

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Every day that Theresa May remains in office is another day that the Conservative Party is idling in neutral, failing to retool and re-energise itself to take on Jeremy Corbyn’s marauding socialists

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Evening Standard, explains quite comprehensively why there is only downside and no upside to keeping Theresa May in 10 Downing Street a moment longer than it will take the Conservatives to organise a leadership contest to replace her.

Montgomerie writes:

Tory MPs, returning in a shell-shocked daze to Westminster for this week’s low-fat, low-content Queen’s Speech, must quickly recognise that Theresa May is as finished as Mrs Clinton. Every day she remains in charge is a wasted day. Every day the country inches closer to an election for which Jeremy Corbyn will have added more activists to his impressive turnout machine. Equally, the Conservatives will have one less day to rebuild their own offering and operation.

Mrs May’s flat-footed response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy was not just further proof she’s not that good at politics. It was another moment of not rising to the occasion as a leader with vision would do. The horrific burning alive of largely poor and marginalised people was — like 2008’s crash — another reminder of unjustifiable vulnerabilities at the bottom of society and inadequate responsibility from those at the top.

Yes. This blog has noted the number of commentators who leapt to the prime minister’s defence in terms of her out-of-step public response to the horrific Grenfell Tower fire last week. A significant minority seem to have convinced themselves that the prime minister’s excessive reserve terror at the thought of interaction with the public is somehow an admirable thing, the epitome of British stoicism, rather than further dismal evidence of Theresa May’s inability to lead.

These claims dismiss critics of Theresa May as reactionaries who just want to see the prime minister emote for the cameras and hug a few of the survivors, but this dismissive attitude completely misses the point. I don’t think anybody in Britain had any great desire to see the prime minister weeping with the Grenfell Tower victims on the evening news bulletins. They did, however, expect her to show up, even if it was politically awkward, just as American political leaders show solidarity with disaster victims in the United States and French political leaders in the aftermath of terror atrocities in France. This is not an unreasonable, irrational demand. It is Leadership 101, and Theresa May has been failing the test in manifold ways since well before the general election.

Montgomerie continues:

The most fitting memorial to those who perished [in the Grenfell Tower fire] is not to comfort the bereaved as all half-decent societies would. The best way of honouring the dead would be to deliver the scale of house-building that Conservative PMs such as Churchill and Macmillan championed but which an ideologically rigid Thatcherite dogma has since discouraged. For good measure, a government building more homes in the South would also significantly expand infrastructure in the North. The everyday so-called current government spending still needs trimming but leaving the next generation with inadequate roads, railways and broadband is just as irresponsible as leaving them up to their necks in debt.

I’d put believing that Elvis Presley is still alive on equal par with the claim that Mrs May could launch this agenda or something similar. Despite the words she uttered in Downing Street after first becoming PM she has done nothing of consequence for communities suffering most from the multigeddon of globalisation, open borders, automation and the collapse of the working-class family.

Rather than overhauling a threadbare party machine that helped lose a 20 per cent opinion poll lead, she has reappointed her Tory chairman. Those thinking the days of treating her Cabinet with disdain are over should look at her careless loss of two of the Brexit department’s four key ministers last weekend, a week before today’s starting gun for talks.

Also true. While this blog has focused on the need for conservatives to start transmitting a positive, optimistic message and defence of their worldview if they want to stand a chance of competing with the parties of the Left for the youth vote, good messaging alone is not enough. And while acts of pandering and voter bribery – such as matching Labour’s pledge for free university tuition – are rightfully unacceptable to conservatives, it should not be impossible for the Tories to recognise that their current housing policy (or lack thereof) is a punch in the gut to any young person not fortunate enough to inherit from their parents or be helped onto the housing ladder by them. Planning laws need to be urgently reviewed and liberalised. The Left wants to build council houses for all, so that everybody is dependent on the state for one more thing. Conservatives should counter with a bold proposal to expand the supply of private housing for rent and purchase.

Montgomerie is also right to criticise the party machine. CCHQ has presided over the near-total gutting of the party in recent years, from the winding up of the terminally dysfunctional Conservative Future youth movement to the neutering of the constituency associations and the megalomaniacal insistence of central control over candidate selection so as to ensure the continuance of the current system of patronage and nepotism which gave us such wonderful “rising stars” as Ben Gummer. Theresa May is not responsible for the party machine that she inherited when she became prime minister last year, but neither has she shown the slightest interest in revamping the party and opening it up to outside talent. The necessary change will not come so long as she remains leader.

Montgomerie’s conclusion is also strong:

A new PM and a contest necessary to establish who it should be will not be good for the nation’s immediate peace of mind or for business sentiment, but there are no easy options from where we are. What Britain does have is a two- to three-month window before September’s German elections. After that, Brexit negotiations will be fast and furious.

The Tories need a contest thorough enough to identify a team as much as a leader, and an agenda for social renewal as much as for Brexit. With both established, there is a real chance of stopping the momentum building behind Jeremy Corbyn — and it must be stopped. His views on tax, state power and defence would enfeeble this country.

We must not underestimate Corbyn. Voters who yearn for change may well roll the dice if forced to choose between Corbyn and “the same old Tories”. If, after all, people can convince themselves that the moon landings were staged, they may even believe Corbyn is equipped for Britain’s highest office.

There is never a good time to instigate a divisive, ugly leadership election campaign between general elections, but far better that Conservatives bite the bullet now than wait until a year into Brexit negotiations before swapping out the leader of the country. It’s bad enough to have to consider changing horses at the water’s edge of Brexit negotiations; changing horses mid-stream would only undermine the British negotiating position further.

And as Tim Montgomerie rightly says, a leadership contest is needed to identify not just a leader but also a team and a set of values – not just relating to Brexit – around which the party can coalesce and campaign. The 2017 general election campaign was a miserable affair in which Tories – led from the top by Theresa May – refused to make a bold, positive affirmation of free markets or other traditional conservative standards, instead portraying “austerity” and limits on the state as a necessary evil rather than as a potentially good thing in and of themselves.

The Tories were tricked into fighting on Labour’s turf (arguing about inequality) when they should instead have proudly made the case that conservative policies expand the pie for all while Jeremy Corbyn’s focus on equality of outcome promises only more equal slices of a rapidly diminishing national pie. Conservatives essentially went to fight in this general election only to discover that their leader had broken their best ideological weapon in advance of the battle. No wonder they lost ground against Jeremy Corbyn’s uplifting (if loopy and fiscally nonsensical) vision for Britain.

And then there is the elusive, undefinable sense of momentum. Whatever momentum Theresa May had when she took over from David Cameron, she has now squandered it all. Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is on the march. Through her inept leadership and hopelessly prosecuted general election campaign, Theresa May literally gave 1970s style socialism a foothold back in our national politics, and raised the real risk that Corbyn could enter 10 Downing Street as prime minister if her shaky minority government were to fall. Prior to the election her aura of strength and stability was severely knocked by the multiple terror attacks on British soil, some of which exposed failings for which she was directly accountable as Home Secretary.

And now the Grenfell Tower disaster response has revealed the prime minister to be a shrunken, fearful and traumatised figure, clinging on day by day while colleagues openly worry about her mental state of mind. Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan between them have assumed the role of national Consoler-in-Chief, while Theresa May skulks in Downing Street and only meets with the survivors and bereaved relatives under duress. This might be partly excusable if she had organised a first-class disaster response plan a la Gordon Brown, but she didn’t. Instead there were days of chaos and confusion before Whitehall finally took over the response from Kensington & Chelsea council.

Rightly or wrongly – and the vast majority of criticism directed at Theresa may has been fully justified – the impression is of a prime minister in over her head, unable to regain her political footing and behaving in an entirely reactive way rather than giving the country the proactive leadership that it needs. There is no coming back from such a self-inflicted calamity. There is no PR job that can be done to repair the damage. And if Theresa May is hanging on in some desperate bid to burnish her legacy with a smattering of minor accomplishments before her inevitable removal then she is not only deluding herself but also putting herself before the Conservative Party, and party before the country.

So let’s bring on the contest. Let 48 Tory MPs submit their letters to the 1922 Committee and formally trigger a leadership challenge, forcing the prime minister’s resignation. There is no reason for us to continue to “bear those ills we have / Than fly to others that we know not of”. The undiscover’d country could hardly be any worse.

 

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Live Blog: Theresa May Becomes 76th UK Prime Minister

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Theresa May Becomes New UK Prime Minister – Live Blog

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14 July – 13:19

The greatest threat to Britain

 

Many commentators are speaking of this post-referendum, new government period as one which is fraught with danger. This is a great pity, and reflects the establishment’s gnawing fear of change and lack of confidence in Britain.

Fighting back against this attitude is the speech given by Sir John Holmes to Chatham House, attempting to chart Britain’s future outside the EU.

A key excerpt from the speech:

At the same time we have to stick to our view of ourselves as global players. There is a widespread perception in the rest of the world that we have just dealt ourselves out of the game, and gone back to being the small island off the continental shelf of Europe we were before our glory days. That perception must not be allowed to stand.

This means that our approach has to be one of resolute maintenance of Britain both as a country which wants to have a close and positive relationship with the rest of Europe and the EU, and also as an open, tolerant and internationalist country, with a determination to go on contributing to the solution of the world’s problems. These are not just platitudes. Only if we can achieve that will it be possible to say to all those young people horrified by the result of the vote that they are not condemned to live in a narrow, isolated society driven by a combination of nostalgia for an imagined past and xenophobia. That is their concern, I am convinced, rather than a more specific concern about whether or not we are part of the EU institutions. At least some of those who campaigned to leave the EU are firmly in this open, internationalist camp. We have to encourage them to stay there, and to make it happen, not just talk about it.

This is critical. There is a perception – partly in the world, but frankly more commonly held by the British elite – that we have “dealt ourselves out of the game”, as Sir John Holmes says. And many people do indeed seem to think that we will now go back to being a “small island” before our “glory days”.

This is jarringly, sickeningly false. Britain’s “glory days” did not begin in 1973 when we acceded to the European Economic Community. This country shaped the entire world for centuries before the EU was even a twinkle in Jean Monnet’s eye. The fact that people – some of them in positions of great influence – sincerely think that Britain’s global success somehow began when we joined the EEC, when we were in fact at our weakest and most run down as a nation, is utterly ludicrous. But it does speak to the remarkable effectiveness of EU mythology and propaganda.

Holmes is quite right. Very few of the young people weeping into television cameras about having their futures “ripped away” by Brexit actually understand the first thing about the European Union, what it is, how it operates and what it intends to become. They are wedded to the idea of being outward looking and internationalist, which itself is a commendable thing. As victorious Brexiteers it is our job to now show them that this is what many of us were fighting for, too. We must show the doubters within the British electorate that our quarrel was with the failed, sclerotic and deeply antidemocratic institutions of Brussels, not the idea of friendly cooperation between neighbouring countries.

It is therefore vitally important that Theresa May’s new government projects the proper image of optimism and potential, rather than some kind of war government battening down the hatches to ride out a dreadful storm. Will there be immense difficulties? Of course. But we already have the sore loser Remainer contingent determined to catastrophise Brexit and seize on any morsel of bad news as proof that they were right (rather than working positively together to achieve the settled will of the British people to leave the EU). We can afford no additional negativity from government.

The greatest threat to Britain now is not some fictional retaliation from a spiteful, scorned European Union, but rather the danger from within – the lack of self confidence shown by government and citizen alike that we possess the strengths and attributes required to succeed and function like every other single advanced country on earth outside of the European Union.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, at a time when his country faced a genuinely grave threat (rather than the bright opportunity of Brexit now presented to Britain):

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Theresa May, Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson will not bring down this country. Only we the British people have the potential to do that. We, with our nameless, unreasoning and unjustified terror in the face of newfound freedom.

14 July – 12:18

All roads lead to Norway?

The Guardian tries to war-game the various Brexit scenarios under the new Theresa May premiership:

May is a stickler for detail and doubtless will be alarmed by the absence of a coherent plan for Brexit in Whitehall. If preparation is a prerequisite for successful Brexit, the omens are poor. The official leave campaign, focused on victory and avoiding internal division, drew up only the flimsiest plan for what Brexit would look like, pointing vaguely at the exit door, but with little idea of what lay the other side. Foreign Office diplomats were instructed to draw up no contingency plans whatsoever, supposedly for fear they might leak.

The appointment of David Davis as Minister for Brexit, and Liam Fox as trade secretary suggests May is willing to go for a hard Brexit, where the UK does not remain in the single market – as the new chancellor, Philip Hammond, has also said – and removes itself quickly from the EU. But the civil service may feel the Davis blueprint recently published on Conservative Home is optimistic. In essence he argues article 50 should be triggered by the end of the year and predicts the UK could sign bilateral trade deals with a set of markets larger than the single market within 12 to 24 months.

[..] Detailed options on Brexit were previously discussed little, due to the foreshortening of the Tory leadership election. On the Labour side, a coherent policy on Europe that combines its pro-European instincts with its voters’ dislike of free movement has yet to emerge.

The discussion has instead been confined to thinktanks, bloggers, the House of Lords and Oliver Letwin’s hastily assembled Cabinet Office Brexit unit.

Yes, we bloggers did have a thing or two to say about the optimal Brexit plan. At the time, getting the message out there was next to impossible as the media preferred to hang on every word (and false warning or promise) made by the vapid “leaders” of the Remain and Leave campaigns. At least people are now beginning to take note.

The Guardian then starts to use language which could almost be lifted directly from the pages of one of the Leave Alliance bloggers:

A soft Brexit means a relatively slow negotiation designed to retain as close as possible a relationship with the rest of the EU. Access to the EU’s single market, with as few tariffs as possible, is the goal.

The off-the-shelf model is Norway’s complex European Economic Area agreement, but probably only as long as the EU agrees that Norway’s limited flexibility on free movement can be extended. This has been described as “EEA-minus”.

Rune-readers reckon this model might be the instinctive preference of both May and her Whitehall civil servants. It minimises disruption, calms business and could be sold as a staging post while Whitehall starts a bigger process of disentanglement.

Well, well, well. “Off-the shelf”. “Staging post”. Finally, the messages pushed by the Leave Alliance are being picked up even by the Guardian (with no attribution, of course).

Here, too, we see evidence of the Guardian skimming Leave Alliance output:

Some say that there are little-noticed flexibilities in the free movement in the Norway free trade agreement, such as article 112 that allows EEA states to “take unilateral action to restrict freedom of movement in the event of serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”. Some Brexiters have claimed this gives an EEA member state the right to restrict the freedom of EU citizens to come to the UK through a form of emergency brake.

Before conceding:

All this complexity may well lead the cautious May and her new “minister for Brexit David Davis” back to the Norway option as the best starting point.

It took two seconds for voters to mark a cross alongside leave on the ballot paper. It is increasingly apparent it might take two decades to work through the full consequences.

Precisely so. It has taken the Guardian awhile to get there, but they seem finally to have arrived. Brexit will indeed be a process, and a long and complex one at that. Forty years of political integration and the handing over of whole core competencies to the EU cannot possibly be unpicked in a couple of years. And as the Guardian belatedly comes to acknowledge, this leads consistently back to an interim staging option where single market access is preserved as we seek to scope out our optimal longer-term solution.

The dedicated bloggers and citizen journalists of The Leave Alliance came to this same conclusion many months, even years ago. It is a pity that the Guardian could not offer any attribution for their eureka moment.

14 July – 10:40

A kindred spirit’s take on Theresa May and Brexit

Allister Heath gets it:

Brexit is an idea, an intellectual vision for Britain, a 10- or 20-year journey to reshape our economy and society, reinvigorate our democracy and reinvent ourselves as truly global, high-wage, high value-added trading superhub. It matters little who begins to deliver this, as long as our withdrawal from the EU is executed in the best possible way: the referendum was about changing our destiny, not about making any specific pro‑Brexit individual our next prime minister.

We were voting for an idea, not a gang; this was a referendum, not an election. Ideas both predate and outlive individuals, and Euroscepticism is no different: the mark of true ideological victory is when erstwhile opponents implement a policy that they used to oppose and hire their former enemies to assist them in the task. Capitalism triumphs when ex-socialists privatise industries, deregulate and cut taxes; Euroscepticism truly wins when an ex‑Remainer takes us out of the EU.

[..] It also doesn’t matter that our new Prime Minister is not especially ideological; in fact, in the present circumstances this may well help her. A radical, disruptive, previously unthinkable belief structure – to quit the EU – has been chosen for her and imposed upon her. It’s an immense, awe-inspiring task; what we now need is managerial ability. Lady Thatcher had to find her mission; May has been handed hers.

More and more people are coming to think of Brexit in these terms, which is encouraging. Allister Heath was one of the first journalists to advocate the interim EFTA/EEA “Norway Option” approach championed by The Leave Alliance, just prior to the EU referendum. It is good to see Heath continuing to talk of Brexit in terms of a complex process which demands the best of Britain’s managerial talent to accomplish.

Heath also takes heart from Theresa May’s first address as prime minister:

She has started superbly, delivering a powerful, uplifting speech targeted at that category of hard-working, aspirational, lowish-income working people who are “just managing”.She is framing her non-Brexit vision as “unionist”, as in the Conservative and Unionist party; to her, it means that we are all united as citizens and that our economy must work for everybody.

These principles – opportunity for all, a colour-blind society, meritocracy, no discrimination, improving state schools – are profoundly Tory. They have little to do with “modernisation” or “centrism”; they are at the heart of what all successful Tories have always believed in. The devil, of course, is in their implementation: it can be through harnessing conservative and free-market principles, or via Left-wing means. We should hope and expect that it will be the former.

Heath interprets May’s speech almost exactly as I did last night, seeing it as a statement of our shared national destiny and recognition of our duty toward one another, while also praising May’s smart, laser-like focus on the people in the squeezed middle who are “just managing”.

Heath also shares this blog’s concern about which route Theresa May’s government will take to get to this promised land – whether it is through bold conservative means (as Thatcher did) or through leftist redistribution. It looks like both us us will be keeping Theresa May under close observation on this point.

Heath is clear about what he would like to see from May in the economic sphere:

She must also add to her remarks last night by telling us more about her vision for the economy. This must come from her, not her new Chancellor. Her leitmotif needs to be about empowering the poor by unleashing enterprise, not hobbling the rich; this will require more housebuilding, the re‑creation of an ownership society, far better schooling and adult education, led hopefully by private sector involvement, and a deregulatory and supply-side revolution to encourage investment and the creation of even more small businesses.

That would be pure Thatcherism 2.0 and much as I would love to see it all come to pass, on the balance of available evidence I just don’t think that Theresa May will be that good on economic policy. During her incredibly brief leadership campaign, May was sounding positively Miliband-esque on capitalism and redistribution. This certainly will not be a case of a radical conservative being held back by the doubting “wets” in her own cabinet.

But if everything on Allister Heath’s wish list does come to pass, this blog will certainly be celebrating.

14 July – 10:00

That jocular, back-slapping PMQs was nothing to be proud of

Finally, someone says what this blog was thinking yesterday as David Cameron took his swansong in parliament.

James Kirkup was unimpressed:

The political career of David Cameron ended, like they all do, in failure. He led Britain out of the EU without wanting to, and he had to quit as a result.  Under such circumstances, some people might have expected his last appearance in the House of Commons to be a painful, even embarrassing affair. Others might have expected him not to show up at all and leave it to his successor.

Yet here was being hailed and praised, the Commons all full of jokes and chuckles. Even Jeremy Corbyn tried to be jolly with a humiliatingly bad attempted joke about Strictly Come Dancing.  Only Angus Robertson of the SNP seemed interested in doing to job his voters sent him to Westminster to do, and his reward was disapproving tuts and groans from the rest of the House.

[..] Because “the House uniting to pay tribute” is actually everything that’s wrong with politics, everything that makes people hate their rulers and makes them vote to kick them as hard as possible, or not vote at all because they’re all the same, a cosy club of smug so-and-sos who look after their own and sod the rest of us.

Many people are angry at David Cameron. Many people are sad that he is leaving. Others are indifferent, jubilant, victorious, dismayed, optimistic, depressed.  The job of politics and politicians is to reflect and, as far as possible, reconcile such a spectrum of opinion. Yet on days like this, the House sounds one bland self-regarding note of praise, not many divergent tones.

I’m inclined to agree with this view – on reflection. Initially my instincts were also that it was a nice, rather touching affair, and I bristled when Angus Robertson made his serious political intervention. I was wrong.

What better time than to begin debating the legacy of a prime minister as he takes his leave of PMQs? This should have been an occasion for David Cameron to robustly defend his record in office, cheered on by his supporters and called harshly to account by his detractors on both sides of the house. And yet what we had was a rather nauseating, saccharine, Hollywood-style tribute where the errors and controversies were momentarily airbrushed away.

And why? Because, as James Kirkup points out, David Cameron is “one of us” (us being the political class). And too often, those in positions of the greatest power and authority in Britain barely receive verbal censure for their errors and missteps, let alone more serious sanction. On balance, this blog considers David Cameron to have been a very bland and unexciting leader, a letdown to serious conservatives but the Devil incarnate to deranged leftists. But that’s no reason not to have the debate one last time, while Cameron is still there to defend himself.

Kirkup concludes:

I’m not saying Mr Cameron should go out in sackcloth and ashes, but politics shouldn’t be a cosy club. It should be a fight, a contest of ideas and arguments and policies.  David Cameron fought many such battles and won a good many of them, even if he lost the last one on Europe.  His last day in the Commons should have rehearsed and aired those arguments, MPs criticising and praising him as they saw fit and as voters would want, with Mr Cameron giving a full account of himself. If he and his fellow MPs really wanted to do their duty today, they should have made sure he went out fighting.

Funny. Enraged by David Cameron’s despicable behaviour in the EU referendum (again, something which was brushed under the carpet in his triumphant, valedictory PMQs, this blog was all in favour of the sackcloth and ashes approach.

Predicting Cameron’s downfall as he lied, threatened and cheated his way to failure in the EU referendum, I wrote:

That’s why the prime minister’s days are numbered. At present he takes false courage from the fact that his normally sworn enemies in the Labour Party and on the generic Left are holding their fire in their shared desperation to keep Britain in the EU. But on June 24, Cameron will quickly realise that a good half of his own Conservative Party, together with everyone else in the country, will be straining at the leash to eject him from office, strip him of the bully pulpit he has so abused, and send him marching barefoot back to Witney in sackcloth and ashes.

Well, I was half right. The Conservative Party did indeed move quickly, dispassionately and ruthlessly to replace David Cameron once he announced his intention to resign. Unfortunately, he was sent on his way with a lot more praise ringing in his ears than his recent conduct deserved.

The House of Commons can either be a place for the people or an elite, self-serving club which looks after its own before even considering its duty to represent the full range of opinion across our United Kingdom. Yesterday, it never looked more like the latter.

13 July – 22:30

Where there is discord may we bring harmony…

 

Well, it wasn’t quite Margaret Thatcher quoting St. Francis of Assisi, but it was a solid and hopeful opening speech by Theresa May, Britain’s new prime minister.

This passage was particularly good, politically speaking:

If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.

If you’re one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly.

I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.

We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws, we’ll listen not to the mighty but to you. When it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you. When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few. We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.

That’s aspirational conservatism at its best, right there. Unfortunately it was preceded with some rather excessive (but expected) praise of her not-very-conservative predecessor and an unnecessary foray into identity politics, but on the whole this was well done by Theresa May and her speechwriter(s).

The powerful repetition of “not the powerful / mighty / wealthy, but you” is particularly effective, underscoring the Tories’ claim to what is often (wrongly) considered exclusively Labour or left-wing territory.

The undercurrent of everything currently happening in British politics – the EU referendum, the self-destruction of the Labour Party, everything – is the chasm between the priorities of political class and the needs of the increasingly squeezed working and lower middle classes. Any politician who does not now make incredibly earnest-looking efforts to appear as though they understand and atone for past failures in helping the squeezed middle is asking for existential-level trouble, and Theresa May is quite right to plant the Conservative Party square on their side.

(Of course, the devil will be in the details – Thatcher helped the working classes with Right to Buy and a crackdown on industrial strife whereas May seems to have more left-wing redistributionist policies in mind, stealing straight from the Miliband playbook).

This section on the unity of our United Kingdom is worth marking, too:

Because not everybody knows this, but the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party, and that word ‘unionist’ is very important to me.

It means we believe in the Union: the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it means something else that is just as important; it means we believe in a union not just between the nations of the United Kingdom but between all of our citizens, every one of us, whoever we are and wherever we’re from.

I’ve been chewing this section over, uncertain what to think of it. Other commentators seem to have responded well to it, warming to this novel rebranding of what it means to be a unionist. The cynic in me worries that it is more empty platitude than statement of intent – or worse, a very clear statement of intent that her government will seek to fortify its place in the political centre ground through a raft of targeted financial giveaways to this voter group.

But let us be optimistic at the start of a new administration. Let’s assume that our new prime minister is exhorting us to once again think of ourselves as one nation, a cohesive whole, rather than a jostling coalition of warring special interest groups and competitive victimhoods. Let’s dare to hope that we are now led by a prime minister who will use the challenges of Brexit – something which she did not want but has vowed to deliver nonetheless – to inspire us all to play our part as engaged citizens with a common destiny rather than avaricious, selfish consumers.

And then this peroration:

We are living through an important moment in our country’s history. Following the referendum, we face a time of great national change.

And I know because we’re Great Britain, that we will rise to the challenge. As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world, and we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.

May’s speech teetered between asking what we can do for our country and hinting about what our country might do for us (well, for some of us anyway). Perhaps that is as good as we will get in this day and age. It is certainly an improvement on other politicians who have sought to ingratiate themselves with us by promising only what they will make the government do for us. Theresa May does at least seem to suggest that it is “we” who must rise to the challenge, not just “others” or the government.

And for a blog which has consistently implored politicians to set us a challenge, that can only be a good thing.

Right now, that’s about all we can say with any certainty. If we take Theresa May at the best interpretation of her words today, then this could be a fruitful premiership. This blog’s approach, as stated before, will be to trust but verify.

13 July – 14:30

Farewell, David Cameron

 

And so, at the end of today’s session of Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron bowed out with these final words to the House:

“You can achieve a lot of things in politics. You can get a lot of things done. And that, in the end – the public service, the national interest – that is what it’s all about. Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it. After all, as I once said: ‘I was the future once’.”

Woolly, vague platitudes with a superficially appealing thin veneer of optimism – Cameron took his leave from top flight politics in exactly the same way that he practised it.

Of course one wishes Cameron well. To serve in government is to dedicate a portion of one’s life to public service, and while this blog became increasingly strident in its criticism of Cameron as his premiership went on, he bore his responsibilities with grace and (usually) good humour.

In fact, one of the most endearing things about David Cameron is the sense that he is not loathe to give up power in the way that, say, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown so obviously were. Cameron the pragmatist clearly wanted to stay in order to continue implementing his agenda (or treading water, in this blog’s view), but when after the EU referendum result and Andrea Leadsom dropping out of the Tory leadership race it became clear that his departure was to be suddenly accelerated, Cameron prepared to make way for Theresa May with high spirits and (judging by his unintentionally-recorded singing) a clear conscience.

That being said, one cannot look back on David Cameron’s six years as prime minister and come to any other conclusion that this has been a lost half-decade, a dispiriting period of time where the Tories were in office but hardly in power. Whether it is the utter failure of George Osborne to get to grips with the budget deficit (let alone the national debt), the housing crisis, the indecisiveness over airport expansion, civil liberties, national defence, sovereignty, foreign policy, the reflexive pro-Europeanism and much else, this government has been nothing but a letdown, made all the worse by the knowledge that once Labour finally sort themselves out and regain power they will drag the country even further to the left after Cameron failed to move it even slightly to the right.

And sadly, Cameron’s replacement shows no signs of tacking away from this centrist course. As my Conservatives for Liberty colleague Paul Nizinskyj puts it:

Then there is the depressing reality that, on economics, Theresa May is essentially Ed Miliband in kitten heels. It is the sincere hope of this organisation that she picks an economic liberal as her Chancellor because she is simply economically illiterate. The fact she has, with a straight face, proposed curbs on chief executive pay would be hilarious if it wasn’t so terrifying. This is a woman, who in being called out by Jacob Rees-Mogg on her attempt to push through the European Arrest Warrant without a vote in 2014, has shown she has no respect for due process. She does not understand property or individual liberty and she does not care.

Our conclusion? Theresa May is not only an authoritarian with no respect for civil and economic liberty, she is not only most definitely not a libertarian, she is in no way even a conservative.

Ouch. But Nizinskyj is not wrong. Civil libertarians, small-c conservatives and conservatarians (like this blog) will have our work cut out for us in scrutinising Theresa May’s government, doing our best to keep it honest and resisting its most illiberal tendencies.

But even then, if I had to give a prediction for the success of Theresa May’s new administration, I would be pessimistic. I hope to be proven wrong. But as things stand, and based on everything that Theresa May has said and done in her political career – not least the various centrist noises she made at the launch of her own Tory leadership campaign – we are looking at another lost term of office.

Why? Because this blog believes in the politics of persuasion, while centrists like Theresa May and the Labour rebels believe in the politics of pandering. This blog believes that the point of an election campaign is to educate, preach, cajole and convince people that one’s own ideology and policy solutions are the best choice for an individual and for the country as a whole, while the centrists believe that people’s views are fixed and immovable, and that the point of an election campaign is to bend, flatter and shapeshift until you have tricked the voter into believing either that you have his best interests at heart, or at least that the other side intends to do them harm.

So far I have seen nothing to give cause for hope that Theresa May will be any different to David Cameron in this regard – both take the dismal latter rather than the inspiring former view of politics, unlike Margaret Thatcher, their radical conservative predecessor who actually dared to convince voters rather than simply flatter them.

Margaret Thatcher, when faced with a terminally dysfunctional Labour Party, saw an opportunity to boldly remake Britain in a Conservative image, and in so doing she saved the country. David Cameron and Theresa May, when gifted the same golden scenario, see an opportunity to tack to the centre and cement themselves in power forever by being as blandly inoffensive as possible.

I dearly hope to be wrong. This blog would like nothing more than for Britain’s second woman prime minister to be another trailblazer, a new Margaret Thatcher to David Cameron’s rather lame Ted Heath tribute act.

But as things stand, there are precious few grounds for hope.

13 July – 12:00

The hypocrisy of Owen Smith

So it is official. With the launch of Owen Smith‘s campaign for the Labour leadership, Tweedle Dee has officially joined Tweedle Dum. Two complete nonentities with almost zero high level experience between the two of them (within politics or without) are to be the dual stalking horses for the pitiful higher profile centrist Labour MPs who dare not make a stand of their own.

The Guardian reports:

Owen Smith, the former shadow work and pensions secretary, will launch a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership on Wednesday.

Smith said Corbyn was a good man and been proved right about many things including strongly opposing austerity, but was “not a leader who can lead us into an election and win for Labour”.

He added: “Working people cannot afford to have a day like today when the Tories are popping champagne corks and celebrating their coronation and the prospect of a Labour government feels so distant.”

[..] Supporters of Smith, MP for Pontypridd , argue he is a better choice than Eagle because he was not in parliament for the Iraq war and has pitched himself on the soft left of the party. However, Eagle’s backers believe she is a strong choice to oppose Corbyn after performing well in PMQs against the prime minister. Many on her team also argue it is time Labour had a female leader.

What strikes one most is the hypocrisy of Owen Smith’s charge against Jeremy Corbyn that as leader, he failed to immediate conjure up a comprehensive alternative policy platform. Just a few years ago, under the uninspiring, failed leadership of Ed Miliband, the Labour Party was largely silent on new policy while their interminable policy review was completed.

In fact, this length of time into Ed Miliband’s leadership, the Labour Party’s policy platform was a self-described blank sheet of paper. Apparently failing to instantly come up with new policies is fine when you are a woolly Fabian centrist like Ed Miliband, but an unforgivable sin when you are Jeremy Corbyn.

But of course in reality, Labour’s policy vacuum has nothing to do with why Owen Smith launched his own, self-aggrandising leadership bid. It is just a convenient excuse. Smith seem to think that his time in the trenches as Shadow Welsh Minister and Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary give him such an overwhelming leg up over Angela Eagle, whose eleven whole months as Minister for Pensions and Ageing Society clearly make her a viable prime ministerial candidate.

Good luck to both of them. They’ll need it.

13 July – 11:50

The root of Labour’s unpopularity

Pete North muses on the unpopularity of the Labour Party in a very persuasive piece, the conclusion of which is worth quoting at length:

Social policy makers look at the charts of income distribution and see a wealthier population, but I would venture that social mobility has stalled, people feel trapped by their circumstances and there are masses of bureaucratic and financial obstacles in the way of getting even a basic foothold. The English dream of a house, a car and a family was once a birthright. Now if you have a crappy semi in Wiltshire and a car less than five years old, you might as well be Alan Sugar by the estimations of most young people.

With so many things now beyond the reach of young people without making unacceptable compromises, they are resigned to live a pointless life with no stake in anything, working in service jobs, grazing according to their short term whims and no real direction. And we’re supposed to vote for more of the same?

These are the reasons why Labour has absolutely nothing to say to working class people. Or anyone with a pulse for that matter. They are far too obsessed with their own internal feuds and bombing Syrians for no reason. The Labour leadership cares more about Palestinians than Yorkshirefolk.

It is not interested in removing these bureaucratic constraints because they are major sources of revenue for their public sector empires. They are not interested in creating more freedoms for people. They like telling us how to live and controlling what we do.

This is why I am instinctively a conservative. I believe it is the job of government to remove obstacles, not create them. If you want an aspirational society then you have to give people a helping hand and second chances. If even the basics are out of reach then you simply don’t have a society. You have cohabitation. Miserable cohabitation. We’re left to rot, filling in forms, working tedious jobs to pay exorbitant rents, unfair taxes and a mountain of public debt.

If you look at the list of gripes above and they are very much hangovers from the Blair era. The era of massively inflated public sector, nannying interventions, ever more CCTV, unnecessarily outsourced public services and a mortgage system completely warped by Labour’s debt binge. And what has Labour got to say for itself now? Nothing. Even now, the Blairite wing of Labour is conspiring to reassert control over the party when they are the ones who made Labour unelectable.

And why would Labour have a clue what it’s like to struggle to find a path in life? When you have Jo Cox’s and Chuka Umunnas and Corbyns, none of whom ever had to lift a finger, it’s little wonder they are out of step with just about everyone in the country. With a head full of fair trade and sustainable development bilge, their world is not our world.

In our world a penny on petrol matters. A bus lane fine means cancelling a school trip, speeding points mean crippling insurance, a CCJ costs the chance of a job anywhere in the banking and insurance world, and a hike in business rates closes down the local shops we rely on. Bailiffs make us frightened to answer the door. Council tax means the poor never get a holiday. Court costs means we can never address injustice. Education costs mean we can never change careers. Public transport costs eat into our disposable income. That is Labour’s legacy. That is why Labour deserves to die.

Though there are obvious worthy exceptional individuals, one simply does not get the sense that the current Labour Party gets excited about the same problems and injustices as the ordinary British people – particularly now, when the party’s centrist MPs are more concerned about deposing their leader and restoring their sorely missed influence running the show.

Not that the Corbyn leadership is in any way saintly or immune from criticism. When North says that the Labour leadership “cares more about Palestinians than Yorkshirefolk” he hits on a worrying grain of truth.

But what comes through most clearly is the yawning disconnect between Labour’s recent legacy in government (continually expanding the public sector, making more people dependent on government and exerting more coercive control over peoples’ lives) and in opposition (agitating for more of the same), and the priorities of the people.

The time has come for a split in the Labour Party so that the cerebral, theoretical leftists can go one way, the party which actually defends the interests of the working classes can go another, and the parasitical political class can (ideally) fall down the gap in between the two.

 

13 July – 00:20

Jeremy Corbyn taunts centrist Labour MPs with a subtle repudiation of Neil Kinnock’s 1985 party conference speech denouncing Militant Tendency

 

After avoiding a party stitch-up to prevent him from automatically going forward into the Labour leadership ballot, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have been taking something of a victory lap.

The Labour NEC’s decision prompted the valedictory video shown above, hosted on the official Jeremy Corbyn YouTube channel and promoted on the Labour leader’s social media accounts.

In the video, Corbyn concludes his remarks:

Our party is determined that the next government will meet the needs of all of the people of this country. That will invest in health, in housing, in education, in jobs, in infrastructure.

The next government will be a Labour government – a Labour government – committed to ending the injustice and inequality that exists in Britain today.

My emphasis in bold.

I highlight this phrase because I do not believe it was accidental. In fact, I believe it was a direct and very deliberate reference to former party leader Neil Kinnock’s 1985 speech to the Labour Party conference, in which Kinnock (in a bid to make his party more electable) denounced the far-left Liverpool city council and the Militant tendency wing of the party.

Here’s what Kinnock said in 1985:

I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises.  You start with far-fetched resolutions.  They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.

Jeremy Corbyn’s choice of repetition (“a Labour government – a Labour government”) in his address today is, I am certain, not coincidental. On the contrary, it is a direct reference to Neil Kinnock’s speech and a repudiation of Neil Kinnock’s work in the 1980s to drag the Labour Party closer to the political centre (Corbyn himself was part of an effort to depose Neil Kinnock from the leadership in 1988).

By co-opting Kinnock’s turn of phrase, Corbyn is defiantly stamping his own authority on the Labour Party. Corbyn is making clear that he is the Labour Party now, for all intents and purposes, and that the party of Kinnock, Smith, Blair, Brown and Miliband has passed away.

Anybody entertaining any lingering wistful belief that Jeremy Corbyn will “do the right thing” and slink away “for the good of the party”, letting the centrists resume their rule without a fight, should now abandon all hope.

This is Jeremy Corbyn’s party now. And he is here to stay.

 

Neil Kinnock’s 1985 party conference speech – highlight:

12 July – 23:31

The Economist weeps for centrist Labour MPs

Showing their traditional concern for the interests of people who are not part of the political, cultural or economic elite, The Economist is busy rending its garments in despair for the poor centrist Labour MPs whose party, hijacked by evil ordinary people with their despicable left-wing views, has apparently “deserted them”:

The coming months will be ugly. They may culminate in centrist MPs abandoning a party that has abandoned them, and at a time when Britain needs a strong, united opposition. Still, the confrontation is welcome. Labour has long been an awkward coalition of anticapitalists and social democrats, undermining and frustrating each other. With the Tories drifting rightward and the centre ground looking sparse, Britain could use a centre-left party capable of holding the government to account and, as Brexit negotiations begin, pressing it to keep the country as open and dynamic as possible. Whether by defeating Mr Corbyn or splintering off, Labour’s moderates now have a chance to create such a force.

It takes a peculiar arrogance to openly fret more about the welfare of centrist Labour MPs, members of the privileged political class, than the ordinary people who make up the rank and file Labour Party. And yet this is exactly what the Economist does when it speaks about how Jeremy Corbyn’s party has “abandoned” the centrists, as though we should somehow feel sorry for a group of people whose collective vision and charisma inspires almost zero love and devotion among their own party membership. Focusing on the MPs rather than the party members (let alone the British people) is a complete inversion of what politics is supposed to be about – serving the people.

And yet the Economist’s conclusion is quite right – a split is looking more and more likely, and more logical. Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate from the party membership is overwhelming – and will be even more so if revalidated in the coming leadership election. Labour MPs claim a “mandate” from the people who elected them, which sounds nice and grand but is actually meaningless. Many people vote for their Labour MP as the “least worst” option, or for tactical reasons. Only true believers join a political party – the positive mandate they bestow on their choice for leader is much stronger and frankly counts for more.

Sometimes, a bit of instability is good. And in this case, the fallout from the EU referendum is seeing the cobwebs blown away from many of the dusty relics in British politics, including the Labour Party’s fraught coalition of working class supporters, socialist true believers and the professional political class who just happened to toss a coin and pick Team Red as the vehicle for their rise to power and prominence. Now the internal contradictions of that coalition are being exposed, which is a good thing, even if it means short term discord.

Ultimately, the impasse has to be broken. Ordinary people who are committed enough to the Labour Party to pay their dues and walk around with a membership card in their wallets want Corbyn. The professional politicians who front Labour in Parliament do not. The MPs can therefore either come around to Corbyn’s way of thinking, make their peace and accept a period in the wilderness while the Corbynites try doing things their way for a change, or else leave the Labour Party and try to found a new party of the centre-left.

There is honour to be found in all of these options. But if Corbyn prevails in this second Labour leadership election, there will be no more honour in centrist Labour MPs carping from the sidelines.

12 July – 21:50

Theresa May’s threat to liberty

Spiked does an excellent job of summarising the many, many ways in which Theresa May is a civil libertarian’s last possible choice to succeed David Cameron:

May is the figurehead for what is the most powerful authoritarian faction in today’s political firmament. She keeps alive the bland, technocratic, Third Way politics that began under New Labour, but she combines it with a vaguely socially conservative outlook. In this way, her authoritarian tendencies are constantly dressed up as mere managerial competence. She’s not undermining liberties, really; she’s just ‘getting on with it’ – she’s ‘getting the job done’. To May, the freedoms of the individual fall under the same category as, say, paper shortages, or lazy secretaries: obstacles to efficient management; administrative hurdles to be overcome.

Consider the action she’s taken on drugs. In 2014, against all advice, she banned Khat – a mild stimulant, popular with Somalis and comparable in harm to coffee. But that wasn’t enough. She then introduced the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which came into force in April 2016. The bill effectively prohibits the possession and use of any psychoactive substance – except those on a pre-approved government list. The intention was to crack down on so-called ‘legal highs’ – but the real effect the bill will have is to turn on its head the age-old principle that actions should be legal until made illegal – under May, it seems, actions are illegal until they’re made legal. An important principle of civil society is, to May’s mind, a managerial nuisance: this principle stopped her from ‘getting the job done’, and therefore it had to go.

[..] Most worrying of all is her broad-brush, cavalier attitude to what she calls ‘extremism’. For all her talking up of the extremist threat to the British way of life, May has done more harm to British liberties than any sad-act neo-Nazi or wacky hate-preacher ever could. In her speech at the Metropolitan Police conference on counterterrorism this year, she boasted of how she had deprived certain British nationals of their citizenship because she deemed them not ‘conducive to the public good’; she boasted of how her Internet Referral Unit has, since 2010, quietly removed over 90,000 pieces of extremism-related material from the web; and, most ominous of all, she boasted of how the new statutory requirements of the Prevent scheme will require ‘local authorities, the police, prisons, probation services, schools, colleges, and, yes, universities’, to monitor people’s behaviour for signs of extremism. More recently, she suggested that Ofcom be given unprecedented powers to strike down any TV programme it deems to include ‘extremist content’. This represents, effectively, the transformation of a vast swathe of the public-service workforce into a spying network – all cloaked in the bland, unassuming language of ‘effectiveness’. Again, it’s no big deal; May’s just getting the job done.

This blog agrees wholeheartedly, sharing all of these concerns. And in any other situation than the truly unique circumstances in which we now find ourselves, having voted to leave the EU and standing on the cusp of freedom from ever-closer European political union, this litany of faults would be more than enough reason to bar Theresa May from ever entering 10 Downing Street as prime minister.

The fact that Theresa May was the best of an underwhelming final two options for the Conservative Party leadership, with even that choice ultimately taken away when Andrea Leadsom dropped out of the race, means that while our new prime minister in waiting is likely best equipped to negotiate Brexit (assuming that she uses her talents for good and does not renege on “Brexit means Brexit”), we must be ever vigilant of her domestic policy. And stand ready to forcefully oppose it where necessary.

12 July – 20:28

Labour NEC confirms that Jeremy Corbyn will be on the Labour leadership contest ballot paper without needing to seek fresh nominations

Common sense and the rule of law have prevailed, and the Labour NEC has ruled 18-14 in a secret ballot that incumbent leader Jeremy Corbyn will not need the fresh nominations of 20 per cent of the Parliamentary Labour Party to go forward into the contest.

From the Guardian:

Jeremy Corbyn was jubilant after the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) decided his name should automatically appear on the ballot paper in the leadership contest triggered by Angela Eagle.

In a crunch meeting at Labour’s Westminster headquarters that began at 2pm on Tuesday and continued into the evening, NEC members, including Corbyn himself, voted 18-14 in a secret ballot that he was not subject to the rule that forces candidates to show they have the backing of 20% of the party’s MPs and MEPs.

However, in a separate decision taken after Corbyn had left the room, the NEC ruled that only those who have been members for more than six months will be allowed to vote – while new supporters will be given two days to sign up as registered supporters to vote in the race, but only if they are willing to pay £25 – far higher than the £3 fee many Corbyn-backers paid in the contest last year.

Labour’s membership has shot up to more than 500,000, according to party sources, as both Corbyn’s supporters and those who want to replace him recruit new supporters to their cause. But the introduction of the six-month cut-off point is likely to infuriate members who have joined in recent weeks with the hope of influencing the vote, and will not now be able to do so without paying an additional £25.

Good. Like Jeremy Corbyn or loathe him, the blatant misinterpretation and violation of the party rules which would have been required in order to keep the incumbent leader off the ballot paper would have made a mockery of the Labour Party’s own internal processes, as well as violated any sense of duty owed by the party to its own members.

Of course, not everybody is pleased with this outcome:

Unfortunately there could be no other outcome. Labour MPs have set themselves implacably against the leader overwhelmingly supported by the party base. Corbyn’s leadership has a strong and recent mandate. “Ah, but Labour MPs have a mandate from their voters”, I hear you cry. Yes, they do, albeit of a very ethereal sort. But if that is the case, and the wishes of paid-up party members are to be overruled and subverted at will whenever MPs arbitrarily invoke their “mandate” from the voters, then what’s the point of having a party membership at all? And who exactly do those MPs think will knock on doors and deliver leaflets for them come the next general election?

No, this was the right result. And if it precipitates short term chaos, then so be it – it is the kind of chaos which sometimes needs to happen, the coming to a head of a tension between Labour’s natural base and its political class which has been left to fester unresolved for far too long.

If the Labour centrists wish to be rid of Corbyn, it is for them to come up with a pitch to party members that is so fresh, compelling and powerful that it sweeps aside their preference for and loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn. They do not get to unilaterally assert their will and subvert the party rules to get their own way. They must win fair and square. If the centre-left case is so compelling then let it be made loud and clear. So far it has not been – even Corbyn’s challenger, Angela Eagle, refuses to name a single area of policy where she disagrees with Corbyn. Is this because she doesn’t disagree with her leader on policy, or is it because she knows that expressing her own sincerely held centrist views would condemn her to defeat?

Labour Party members deserve to know. The time has come for the Labour centrists to put up or shut up.

12 July – 17:05

Tweedle Dee joins Tweedle Dum

 

Now Owen Smith, that other hugely respected big-name heavyweight, is throwing his hat in the ring to be Labour leader.

Politics Home reports:

The former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary has gathered enough support from his fellow MPs to join Angela Eagle in challenging Jeremy Corbyn.

He and Ms Eagle have held talks in recent days over one of them becoming a so-called ‘unity candidate’ to take on the under-fire leader.

But they failed to reach an agreement and Ms Eagle announced her own leadership challenge this morning.

A senior Labour source said Mr Smith will announce his candidacy this week, and could even do it after tomorrow’s meeting of the party’s ruling national executive committee.

Speaking last week, Mr Smith said he was “ready to do anything I can to save and serve the party”.

Assuming that Corbyn is not hobbled by the Labour NEC’s blatantly antidemocratic plotting to keep him off the ballot paper, the incumbent Labour leader can look forward to another thumping victory as Angela Eagle and Owen Smith divide the anti Corbyn vote between themselves while centrist Labour’s only viable centrist heavyweights continue to cower and bide their time.

12 July – 16:38

Will the Labour NEC press the self destruct button?

There are early unconfirmed reports that the Labour National Executive Committee is to decide whether or not Jeremy Corbyn requires nominations to go into the coming Labour leadership contest (he doesn’t – see previous update) by secret ballot.

There is only one reason the NEC would resort to such a move – they intend to subvert the democratic processes of their own party in order to keep Jeremy Corbyn’s name off the ballot paper, but don’t want to face accountability for their cowardly decision.

Labour’s snivelling, self-entitled centrist MPs lack the courage to face Jeremy Corbyn in a fair and open leadership contest, knowing that the party membership no longer has any time for their dreary, self-interested policies. And so rather than engaging in any form of introspection, thinking about why they are so deeply unpopular, instead they seek to remove the obstacle which stands in the way of their path back to power and influence within the Labour Party.

This is utterly despicable.

The Labour Party certainly faces a dilemma, with the bulk of the Parliamentary Labour Party utterly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The proper release valve in such a situation is deselection. Centrist Labour MPs are implacably opposed to a party leader who is overwhelmingly popular with the membership. It therefore follows quite logically that such Labour MPs need to be deselected by their constituency associations and replaced with parliamentary candidates who actually support the leader and share his political outlook.

We should be much less squeamish about MP deselections, and stop fetishising Parliament as the place where the Serious People sit and must be heeded and respected at all times. In this case, much of the Parliamentary Labour Party is an obnoxious, self-serving little private members’ club, grubbily pursuing their own interests rather than those of party members. It is no good for the public to complain about self-serving, failed politicians and then get squeamish about one of the best tools available to remove such politicians from power and influence. The CLPs should be actively pursuing the option of deselecting their current MPs where those MPs defy the local party’s wishes on a matter so fundamental as the leadership of the party.

Without the release valve of deselections, we will remain trapped in this impasse, with Jeremy Corbyn rightly clinging to the leadership based on his mandate from party members and Labour MPs determined to ignore and undermine his authority.

The centrist Labour MPs have lost control of their own party. Labour now belongs to the Corbynites. The centrists have the choice of accepting their turn on the back seat until they can command widespread support from the membership again or leaving to form a new party of the centre-left. Both of these would be honourable choices. But what is not honourable is their current tactic of whining and undermining their current leader while shamefully lacking the courage to put up a candidate to stand against Corbyn in a free and fair fight.

This blog is quite clear: it is not for Jeremy Corbyn to move an inch further. Here is a leader who has already accommodated more difference of opinion, taken more abuse and dealt with more open disloyalty than any other Labour Party leader in history. If Labour’s rebellious centrist MPs cannot now make their peace with this shift in power, the door is wide open and they are free to leave.

Very few of them will be sincerely missed.

12 July – 15:00

The Labour NEC to rule on whether Jeremy Corbyn needs to seek nominations or will automatically be put forward to the ballot as incumbent Labour leader

This is the precise wording from the Labour Party Rule Book, Chapter 4, Clause II:

2. Election of leader and deputy leader

A. The leader and deputy leader shall be elected separately in accordance with rule C below, unless rule E below applies.

B. Nomination

i. In the case of a vacancy for leader or deputy leader, each nomination must be supported by 12.5 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void

ii. Where there is no vacancy, nominations may be sought by potential challengers each year prior to the annual session of party conference. In this case any nomination must be supported by 20 per cent of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.

My emphasis in bold.

Let’s speak plainly: anything other than a clear endorsement by the Labour NEC of Jeremy Corbyn’s right to participate in the coming Labour leadership contest without needing to seek new nominations will be a flagrant disregard for the rules and a blatant attempt to subvert the party’s own internal democracy in order to impose the will of Labour MPs on party members.

The clause itself could not be more specific, with two separate subclauses detailing the procedures which should take place when there is a vacancy for leader and when there is not. With Jeremy Corbyn still very much in charge, it is clear that the party should follow subclause B-2 which states that “nominations may be sought by potential challengers”, and that those challengers are subject to the 20 per cent of the PLP threshold requirement.

Nominations may be sought by challengers, not by the incumbent.

Apparently the treacherous MPs of the Parliamentary Labour Party claim to have solid legal guidance that in face Jeremy Corbyn does need to seek nominations. I would love to see this guidance just to behold the verbal contortions and cognitive dissonance involved in writing a piece of legal advice which so blatantly contravenes the Labour Party’s own clearly expressed goals.

And why? Because scores of self-entitled, spoiled centrist Labour MPs think that they have a divine right to rule the Labour Party and that anybody else should just shut up and let them get on with it. The real left-wingers are welcome to stay as long as they sit in the back and impart a nice sentimental hue to whatever the centrists are up to, but by no means are they to attempt to exert any influence of their own. That right is reserved for the centrists, even when they are hated and held in contempt by their own party membership. That is the noxious arrogance currently roiling the Labour Party as they seek to unseat their left-wing leader.

I know it’s unfashionable in Westminster, but the Rule of Law is actually quite an important thing. Just as Acts of Parliament are not to be lightly disregarded when they become inconvenient to the government of the day, so a political party should not go tearing up its own rule book just to rid itself of somebody whose approach they dislike.

If the centrists are right that theirs is the better philosophy and the only wing of the party which stands a chance of seeing Labour returned to power, let them make their case to the membership and have one of their own win the party leadership the old fashioned way.

They gain zero legitimacy by cheating their way back into power, and if they think that they would be able to enjoy their reasserted rule of the party in such a scenario, having legitimised all kinds of toxic briefing and plotting against the leadership, they will be in for a cruel awakening.

If the NEC votes for a decision requiring Jeremy Corbyn to seek the nominations of his treacherous MPs when the party rule book clearly states that he is not required to do so, effectively barring the overwhelming favourite from taking part in the leadership election, the Labour Party will tear itself apart at the seams.

And it will be squarely the fault of the centrists.

12 July – 14:05

In making sure that Theresa May actually implements Brexit, the mantra should be “trust but verify”

Dr. Richard North of eureferendum.com looks ahead to the triggering of Article 50 and urges vigilance:

Whether Mrs May means what she says, only time will tell. The crucial test is invoking Article 50. Basically, there are two options. We either play it long – not going until after the French and German elections, putting in the papers late next year.

Politically, that’s almost certainly unacceptable. Therefore, we need to play it short. We can avoid the certain disaster that that would bring by leveraging an early notification against an agreement by the EU to extend the negotiation period – say to five years – as the first order of business.

What then happens is, to a very great extent, up to the larger “leaver” community. If we sit back and relax, or continue promoting unrealistic leave options, then the “remains” will make the running. We’ll be left out in the cold.

Basically, the smart money is on EEA-plus, but we have to make it clear that this is only an interim option, and start pushing for recognition that there is an end game, beyond the EEA option.

We also have to settle the freedom of movement issue, and I am now confident that this can be secured within the framework of the EEA Agreement. But this is going to take considerable negotiation skills, and strong organisation.

For the rest, we have to play the hands we have been dealt. We have no option but to take May at her word – but also keep up the agitation to make absolutely sure that she keeps to it.

I like the idea of using the early invocation of Article 50 as a bargaining chip in exchange for an extension of the original mandated 2 year negotiation period. As the Leave Alliance bloggers never tire of pointing out, unpicking 40 years of incessant, deepening political integration will take time, and even an “off the shelf” interim solution like the EFTA/EEA approach could benefit from breathing room – especially while the British government re-arms itself with scarce competencies in trade negotiation and diplomacy.

North also seems to acknowledge the new reality that the invocation of Article 50 cannot be delayed for long. No matter how misguided the “Article 50 Now!” campaign may be – it is akin to deciding that you have had enough of hospital while undergoing surgery under local anaesthesia, and hopping up off the hospital bed before the surgeon is allowed to finish his work – delaying beyond the end of 2016 no longer seem politically feasible.

And the conclusion, though far from ideal, is absolutely correct – we do indeed now have to take Theresa May at her word when she says that “Brexit means Brexit”, and that she does not seek to misuse any of the interim stages out of the EU as a final resting place for Britain.

12 July – 12:50

An obsessive focus on social order while freedom goes out the window

Janan Ganesh cannot resist a dig at the fact that every prominent Leave-supporting politician has now fallen by the wayside, leaving it for stealthy Remain supporter Theresa May to sneak through and claim the crown:

In the Bizarro World of British politics, a country that voted to leave the EU will now be led by someone who wanted to stay. No prominent Leaver has survived more than a week or two of serious examination. Given their sanguine certainty about the consequences of exit, it is magnanimous of them to let others govern the beatific Shangri-La that is surely around the corner.

But Ganesh quickly trades humour for a dark warning tone about the prospects of a Theresa May premiership in terms of liberty:

Mrs May is the most seasoned new prime minister since Jim Callaghan in 1976, and somehow a mystery at the same time. Colleagues know as much about her as a Londoner might know about a neighbour. All we can do is assemble clues — and for a liberal voter, or just a pragmatist who thinks a country with 5 per cent unemployment has no screaming need to discard its open economic model, the clues are disconcerting.

Although Mrs May began her career in finance, she has never had a business-facing job in politics. Before her eight-year immersion in the home affairs brief, which can make a curtain-twitcher of any libertine, she held portfolios for transport, culture, the environment, work and pensions, the family, education and women, as well as the Tory chair. This amounts to a tour of nearly every function of state except oversight of the economy.

The gap in her experience is neither her fault nor proof that she has been conditioned to view the anarchic workings of enterprise as menaces to be contained by paternalist government. But then the clues do not end there. It is some feat to say things about migrants that make nativist Tories feel queasy. Mrs May has done it twice in nine months, in a party conference speech last autumn and more recently in her hesitation to guarantee the status of EU nationals already in Britain.

Before concluding:

She is not a reactionary. Nobody who sensed the perceived nastiness of her party as early as 2002, as she did, and challenged the police as often as she has, could be. But if Tory history pits the spirit of freedom against the claims of social order, the one periodically dominating the other before giving way, she might herald the latter’s resurgence.

This blog shares that concern (and indeed was warning about it long before Janan Ganesh turned his gaze on Theresa May). People often think of the Conservative Party as a coalition of two sides – the more free market Thatcherites for whom Stepping Stones is a Bible, and the traditionalist social conservatives who make up the Law & Order wing. The belief was that the Tories would then oscillate between these two imperatives according to their leader.

But Cameron broke this myth apart by occupying a third ground. David Cameron cared about gaining and holding power by pledging “modernisation”. Sometimes that modernisation required a more laissez-faire approach and sometimes it involved the Tories being as snarlingly authoritarian as they ever were – the tone of the Cameron government would change as the situation demanded.

Say what you will about Theresa May, but she is no moderniser. And given the fact that she has had hands-on experience in nearly every government department save those which directly touched the economy, it is hard to see how our next prime minister will not act and think as though government should take an active, outsized role in nearly everything – Cameron’s “plan for every stage of your life” made flesh.

On the balance of available evidence, it seems that the Tory Party pendulum is swinging well and truly back towards the authoritarian tendency. Expect to see this reflected in Theresa May’s cabinet choices when she picks her government in the coming days.

And then prepare for an onslaught on your freedoms and civil liberties the likes of which many of us have not seen in our lifetimes.

12 July – 01:38

Building a New Jerusalem

Ben Kelly of The Sceptic Isle and Conservatives for Liberty is excited at the opportunity ahead of us to use Brexit to rebuild our democracy and our entire civil society:

The vote to leave the European Union was the catalyst for the biggest political change in this country for seventy years. The magnitude of it really cannot be overstated and it is slowly beginning to sink in. No one, not even those who voted for it, can say they haven’t had a moment of feeling overawed. Anyone who has been shocked by the immediate fallout has shown a great deal of naivety; for Britain and Europe, this is huge. The changes that Brexit will bring about will not be felt just in the initial year or so, it will be a chain reaction lasting for decades.

[..] There is not a single part of government policy that the EU does not touch in some way; from trade to fishing, agriculture, energy, environment, transport and telecommunications policy. We are bound by the EU’s position in international organisations and international conferences, meaning we have been gradually losing control of foreign policy too. This has been a contributing factor to our muddled and reluctant presence on the world stage and the starving of personnel and funds from our Foreign Office.

The subordination of our institutions of government has meant that everyone from the Minister, to the MP right down to the councillor is restricted and working within parameters that are not conducive to new ideas and innovation. Leaving the EU has the potential to reinvigorate British democracy and bring about major reforms in the way we are governed. The reformation of British politics will demand dynamic personalities, world class talent and fresh thinking.

Brexit is going to be a difficult and complex process and it will take a long time. There are serious risks too. We need to manage our transition sensibly and protect our economy by adopting a transitional arrangement in our negotiations. However, we will soon be in a position to begin repatriating vast policy making powers and begin a comprehensive review of the statute books. Let us not be daunted or allow a fundamentally positive development to be shrouded in pessimism.

This is the biggest political project since the Second World War. We have before us a monumental task; the rebuilding of British governance and the construction of a new Britain. This is something we should be tremendously excited about.

Kelly also comprehensively debunks the popular notion among disappointed Remainers that the British people voted for Brexit motivated primarily by xenophobia or intolerance of immigration:

They have convinced themselves that Leave voters didn’t know what they were voting for and that we are leaving in a pique of anti-immigration rage. The evidence thus far challenges their theory; according to Lord Ashcroft’s poll 49% of Leavers said their main reason for voting was to ensure that decisions about Britain were made in Britain. Similarly, a ComRes polls found that the ability of Britain to make its own laws was cited by Leave voters as the most important issue when deciding which way to vote (53%). This gets to the heart of the matter. The Leave vote was motivated by the desire for Britain to be a self-governing country. This is a fundamental principle; it cannot be disproved and it cannot be overruled by experts. People’s understanding of what this means will have varied from the basic to the sophisticated but it is an inherently valid reason.

Kelly is absolutely right. The EU’s tentacles reach into nearly every aspect of our government, and disentangling ourselves will take time. Those who suggest otherwise are guilty, at best, of extremely simplistic thinking. And this is why we must ultimately be glad that Theresa May rather than Andrea Leadsom has prevailed in the Conservative Party leadership contest.

Throughout the EU referendum campaign and following the result, Leadsom – despite her promise in other areas – has shown a worrying glibness and superficiality in her thinking on how to achieve Brexit. While she did not sink to the “repeal the European Communities Act” idiocy of some other prominent eurosceptics, neither did Leadsom give any indication that she really grasped the complexity of what lies ahead.

Theresa May, for her many faults – and this blog has not been shy about highlighting them over the years – does seem to get it. She gives the impression of understanding the complexity, and of the need for a transitional, staged approach to Brexit. This gives the interim EFTA/EEA (Norway Option) route out of the EU’s political union the greatest chance of success as the UK’s “departure lounge” on the journey to full political autonomy.

But as Pete North points out (see previous update), the failure of the eurosceptic aristocracy – Farage, Hannan etc. – to articulate a clear positive vision of what Britain outside the EU should look like means that the establishment have now well and truly seized control of Brexit, and regained their footing regarding political events in general.

This means that while the promise and opportunity spoken of by Ben Kelly still undoubtedly exists for the taking, we must work twice as hard to actually realise those benefits.

11 July – 23:54

Rod Liddle channels the incomprehension of disappointed Remainers

 

Some time ago, a very generous reader compared me to a “low rent Rod Liddle”. On reflection I realised that this may have been meant as an insult rather than a compliment about the good value provided by this blog, but I was happy enough with the comparison that I added it to my About page (together with Owen Jones’ petulant and false accusation that I am a “patently dishonest man” for suggesting that he believes the things that he writes in his own Guardian column).

In this video, the original and best Rod Liddle channels the twisted thought processes of many of the most common types of Remainers-in-denial as to why there should be a second EU referendum.

Highlights from Liddle’s Glenn Gould-like skit:

“It’s just hate! It’s a vote for hate. Just hatred. And hate isn’t democratic. And that means the vote isn’t democratic. And so when they have the vote again, people who hate aren’t allowed to vote.”

Annabelle Snowflake – Carer, Camden

“The thing is, the thing that they’ve done is that they’ve betrayed the kids. And you can’t betray the kids. That’s why we need a second referendum and I would say nobody, y’know nobody, man, nobody over the age of forty should be voting in that. They betrayed the kids and it’s the kids who are going to inherit this Earth of ours, y’know?”

Binky Allbran – Pop Musician

“The misapprehension I think people have is about these so-called “numbers”, 52 and 48. They are not themselves real or intrinsic or tangible. Numbers are simply symbols, you see, that we give to quantities of things. They are not themselves quantities. And so there is no one-to-one relationship between the number and the quantity. It is all up here in our minds, and so it could be the case that while some may argue that 52 is a greater quantity than 48, at a deeper structure it may be that 48 is a greater quantity than 52.”

Professor BJ Trout – Philosopher, Oxford

“The important thing, perhaps, perhaps the most important thing is that the referendum must be respected. The views of those people who voted to leave, they must be respected. But almost as important, perhaps more important, is that they should also be ignored. So, respected – and ignored.”

Sir Michael Hetherington Volestrangler – Former Politician, Westminster

Brilliant. One hears endless variations on all of these themes repeated ad nauseam by weepy Remainers who sincerely believed that they were Captain Planet in a giant real-life game of Good versus Evil. Hopefully some of them come to look back on their conduct (and open contempt for democracy) with a degree of embarrassment as it becomes evidence that Brexit has not ushered in the apocalypse or a new Era of Hate after all.

11 July – 22:52

Pete North on UKIP’s failure

Pete North sees Theresa May’s coronation as Tory leader and the next prime minister as a direct consequence of the failure of UKIP, Nigel Farage and the eurosceptic aristocracy to bother planning for Brexit:

Today highlights what a monumental failure Farage is. Today the eurosceptic movement was routed and does not have a seat at the table in the Brexit proceedings. At best we may see Leadsom or Gove in a junior role as a courtesy – but more as an act of party unity. But these will be ceremonial roles only.

And is this because of an establishment stitch up by the Tory machine? Kind of but not really. You see, had the eurosceptic movement campaigned with a plan and a set of specific demands, they could have called the shots post-referendum. Having failed to do so it has failed to capitalise on the referendum win in order to take us the rest of the way. Now the process of leaving the EU is to be decided entirely by the establishment along with the domestic agenda.

All the likes of Ukip and the Tory right have been able to muster is some fantastically naive proposals on what Brexit might achieve and some or other nonsense about an Australian points based immigration system. Not at any point have they put the work in to demonstrate that any of it is even possible and now it is down to the technocrats and the lawyers to decide what Theresa May means when she says “Brexit means Brexit”.

[..] The problem has always been the lack of a plan of any kind. If you are going to overthrow the orthodoxy then you need to be sure that you are the ones with the ideas otherwise people will go with what they know in the ideas vacuum that follows. That is why there is no place for Farage, Gove and Johnson et al. They are men of no substance with nothing to add to the process.

It is hard to disagree with this narrative. When the history of this EU referendum and the years leading up to it are written, people will marvel at the fact that those politicians and leaders who built their entire reputations on being tub-thumping, Brussels-bashing eurosceptics completely and utterly neglected to decide what their preferred vision for Britain looked like, let alone articulate it to the people.

This is an astonishing failure of vision. And as Pete says, it has allowed the establishment (in the form of Theresa May, a Remainer, and the centrist Tory team she will doubtless now assemble around her) to take the both the credit for and the initiative from what the people achieved with their bold decision to leave the EU. What we now get will be a Very Establishment Brexit – better than a Remain vote, to be sure, but far from the more far-reaching renewal of our politics and democracy which we could have seen if only the standard-bearers for our movement had spent less time preening on YouTube and more time doing the serious intellectual legwork of working out what an independent Britain actually looks like.

11 July – 22:35

Angela Eagle’s forgotten leadership bid

 

The Guardian looks back on Angela Eagle’s rather self-indulgent and hilariously badly timed leadership challenge, all but bumped from the news agenda by the Conservative Party’s rather more consequential manoeuvrings:

Finally beginning her campaign after weeks of speculation that she would take on Corbyn amid a revolt against him by Labour MPs, Eagle said the party needed to move beyond the factionalism and divisions of the current era.

“I’m not a Blairite, I’m not a Brownite and I’m not a Corbynista. I am my own woman – a strong Labour woman,” she said, to cheers from supporters. “I’m not here for a Labour party that just takes part. I’m here to win.”

The long-planned launch experienced a hiccup when it coincided with Andrea Leadsom’s hastily arranged announcement that she was pulling out of the Tory leadership race. As well as rendering parts of Eagle’s speech immediately out of date, it brought a deeply awkward moment as she sought questions first from the BBC and then ITV’s political editor, Robert Peston, only to find they were not there.

The former shadow business secretary, who was among dozens of Labour frontbenchers to quit in the past few weeks, said Corbyn had made a useful contribution to new ideas in the party, but should step down.

The pomposity of a bland nonentity such as Angela Eagle presuming to assess Jeremy Corbyn’s decades-long contribution to the Labour Party really is something to behold – it can be best likened to a beered up England fan holding forth on the strengths and shortcomings of Raheem Sterling in terms of raw analytic value.

But Angela Eagle is quite right in stating that she is not a Blairite, Brownite or Corbynista. In fact, she is blissfully free from any terms which denote believing in a fixed or coherent ideology. Eagle thinks that this is a great selling point – and of course it is, to those grasping centrists desperate to worm their way back into power and unconcerned about what values and principles have to be traded away to get there. But to everyone else it represents everything that is rotten with a Parliamentary Labour Party which was determined to undermine their left-wing leader from Day One, and who are now using the post-EU referendum chaos as the ideal smokescreen as they go about their dirty work.

In hilarious and heartening news, Angela Eagle could be about to face deselection by her own constituency party (CLP). The Liverpool Echo reports:

As Angela Eagle launches her bid for leadership of the Labour party the Wallasey MP may also face deselection by her own local members.

The Wallasey constituency Labour Party (CLP) had urged the MP, and former Shadow Business Secretary, to support Jeremy Corbyn last month when plans for a vote of no confidence were first revealed.

Ms Eagle later emerged as one of the frontrunners to challenge the Labour leader after the party’s MPs overwhelmingly backed the no confidence motion in him. Shortly after a petition was launched calling on Ms Eagle to resign, and has now collected more than 14,000 signatures .

But now Ms Eagle also faces a vote of no confidence, with an enlarged local party membership which has seen its numbers swelled since the prospect of a challenge against Corbyn first emerged.

Since June 24 vice chair of Wallasey CLP Paul Davies said they had seen their membership grow by 367 members to total more than 1,200.

Tonight (Monday July 11) the CLP’s executive is due to meet to prepare a meeting of the full membership, scheduled for July 22.

This would certainly be a fitting end to an overambitious and comically mistimed attempted leadership coup.

11 July – 21:55

The trials and tribulations of Theresa May

In an uncharacteristically generous profile of Britain’s prime minister to be (Prime Minister Elect hardly seems an appropriate term), the Guardian looks back over Theresa May’s career.

Gaby Hinsliff writes:

Hers was a comfortable middle-class upbringing – two years of private school, then a local grammar and Oxford – and she enjoys a famously strong marriage to Philip, a banker she met at a Tory student disco.

But life hasn’t always been easy. Her father was killed in a car crash shortly after she graduated, and her mother, who had multiple sclerosis, died the year after. Then came the bitter discovery that the Mays could not have children. She watched as, one by one, her male Oxford contemporaries bagged seats before her and, despite being promoted dizzyingly fast when she finally reached Westminster in 1997, was never quite part of any leader’s inner circle.

My emphasis in bold.

How awful, that the smooth path from Oxford to a safe Conservative seat took slightly longer for May to tread than her male contemporaries. That’s the discrimination against women which we most urgently need to fight in 2016.

But of course as far as the Guardian is concerned, this is exactly the type of oppression which upsets them the most. Utterly divorced from the travails of ordinary people or anybody in the working class, the “injustice” of a female member of the cosseted Westminster elite taking a few years to reach high ministerial office is indeed a tragedy.

In her brief speech to the nation today (later repeated in an email to Conservative Party supporters), May spoke of the need for “a strong, new, and positive vision for the future of our country. A vision of a country that works not for the privileged few but works for every one of us.”

Never has the Guardian spoken and worked more forcefully for the privileged few and less for the struggling everyday Britons whose interests they claim to champion. Something they might like to reflect on as they continue to agitate against Brexit and support the centrist coup against Jeremy Corbyn.

11 July – 17:40

Theresa May addresses the nation

 

“Brexit means Brexit, and we are going to make a success of it” says Theresa May as she addresses the Conservative Party and the nation. It is good to hear this reassurance once again, though for Brexiteers our attitude must be one of “trust and verify”.

Also good to hear May speak about “forging a new role for Britain” and “giving people more control over their lives” – the latter rather uncharacteristic given her authoritarian tendencies, but certainly welcome if it is sincerely meant. It is encouraging to hear May speak about Brexit as an opportunity rather than a calamity or a threat, despite her Remain position in the EU referendum. And certainly Theresa May is one of the few heavyweight Conservatives who might be ready to begin forging that new role for Britain from Day 1.

Very disappointing, though, that the BBC felt the need to report on May’s “characteristic leopard skin shoes” as she concluded her remarks. Seriously, who cares? And why is a supposedly progressive and politically correct organisation like the BBC obsessing over details of fashion on this most momentous of political days, when a man would never be judged on such a metric? Hardly a proud moment for feminism, unlike the Conservative Party’s elevation of its second woman leader.

Sadly this comment from the BBC’s reporter Carol Walker is emblematic of the poor quality of coverage and analysis from the Westminster political lobby throughout the EU referendum campaign and its aftermath.

11 July – 16:45

Initial reaction to today’s developments

There are once again rumblings about the possibility of an early general election.

Hilariously, some of these calls come from the Labour Party, who given their betrayal of their core supporter base in the EU referendum and fratricidal coup against their popular party leader would surely be obliterated in any immediate poll and reduced to an angry, SNP-sized rump party in Parliament, whether led to the polls by an embattled Jeremy Corbyn or the bland and utterly pointless Angela Eagle.

But regardless, an early general election is a bad idea – not least because it would make a mockery of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act which set the standard length between general elections to five years. Fixed terms are, in the blog’s view, a good thing (albeit only when coupled with further constitutional reform which currently shows no sign of taking place). And it would be hypocritical and opportunistic in the extreme for the UK to adopt a “fixed terms when it suits us, snap general elections when we feel like it” constitutional muddle.

Of course there may be a public clamour for an early election nonetheless. Expect to see lots of aggrieved social media status updates bemoaning the fact that there has been a change in prime minister with no accompanying general election. These complaints will be made almost entirely by people who were too fat and indolent to stop watching The Great British Horses Strictly Come Dancing On Ice for five minutes in order to understand how their own democracy and constitution work. “We want reform and a general election!” they may now scream. Join the club. Where were you for all those wilderness years when constitutional reform was “boring” and “not relevant to the struggles of everyday people”?

And from a purely practical standpoint, now is not the time to hold another general election. Given the divisions within the country, such a referendum would inevitably partly play out as a re-run of the EU referendum, with the allied parties of the Left no doubt coming together in some sickeningly sanctimonious , holier-than-thou bloc to override the expressed will of the people for Britain to leave the EU. The worst case (but unlikely given the current state of the Labour Party) scenario would be that a pro-EU government is then returned to Westminster. What then? Which instruction should the government follow – the instruction of 23 June to leave the EU, or the instruction of a general election which was fought by one side on a platform of overruling that decision? No. Such a rash decision would beckon utter chaos.

What is needed now is strong, stable government to deliver the expressed will of the people and negotiate the best possible secession terms for Britain from the European Union. In this blog’s view, this should in the first instance involve a move to an interim EFTA/EEA solution maintaining our single market access while we work to steadily unpick forty years of political integration with Brussels. Of course this must not become the final destination, and it will be important for us to maintain the pressure on the government not to rest on its laurels and settle for a permanent place parked on the outskirts of the EU. But this is the approach which satisfies the concerns of the people for Britain to no longer be part of a supranational political union (with “Britain making its own laws again” shown by opinion polls to be more important to Leave voters than immigration or the economy) while maintaining economic stability in the meantime.

This blog has numerous misgivings about Theresa May. In fact, May is about the last person this blog would have wanted to be the successor to David Cameron, given the fact that she offers a continuation of muddled Cameron centrism mixed with her own signature dash of flinty-eyed authoritarianism. We must all be on guard to defend our civil liberties now that May is moving from the Home Office to 10 Downing Street.

But given the dismal eventual choice between Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May, it had to be May. Leadsom lacked the experience, temperament and fortitude to step into the role at the most testing time in British politics since 1945. This may one day change, and nobody would be happier if Andrea Leadsom one day becomes a Thatcher figure for the 21st century. Be she is not there yet, and we do not have the luxury of letting a green and inexperienced candidate learn on the job.

There is little to celebrate in Theresa May’s elevation to 10 Downing Street save the fact that once again the Conservatives prove themselves to be the true party of equality of opportunity while the sanctimonious parties of the Left are all talk, and the knowledge that a safe and moderately competent pair of hands will be guiding the ship of state in this turbulent, opportunity-filled period in our national life.

Brexit is the most important thing on our national plate, and will be for some years to come. We must not fumble the ball.

11 July – 16:20

Theresa May will be Prime Minister by Wednesday

 

Another momentous day in British politics, with the honourable but out of her depth Andrea Leadsom withdrawing her candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative Party, leaving Theresa May the unopposed candidate. Graham Brady of the 1922 Committee then confirmed that May will be certified as the official winner of the contest, and that the succession timetable would be dramatically accelerated.

David Cameron then announced outside Downing Street that he will chair his final cabinet tomorrow (Tuesday) and take his final Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday before going to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to the Queen.

This means that Theresa May (…) will be the 76th prime minister of the United Kingdom by Wednesday evening.

As an additional delicious bonus, all of this drama has utterly overshadowed Angela Eagle the Forgettable’s spiteful and treacherous challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, with the launch of her candidacy for leader pushed well down the news agenda.

Semi-Partisan Politics will be moving back to a rolling live-blog format over the next few days, providing rolling semi-partisan analysis and commentary of events as they develop.

Stay tuned to this live-blog, and to my Twitter account here.

 

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Mothergate: Andrea Leadsom Means Well, But Does Not Yet Have The Temperament To Be Prime Minister

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In choosing a new Tory leader and prime minister, promise and potential are not enough – experience and temperament matter too

A new candidate profile in the Telegraph paints a sensitive – and very human – portrait of Conservative Party leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom.

In the wake of the rather ludicrous ‘mothergate’ drama, Allison Pearson interviewed Leadsom and reports:

When Andrea Leadsom came on the phone yesterday afternoon I could tell from her voice that she’d been crying. After what had happened, the last thing she wanted was to talk to another journalist, but she agreed, with great trepidation, to speak to me as we’d planned.

Following what she thought was a friendly, professional meeting with a Times reporter on Friday, she found herself accused in a banner headline of saying that, as a mother she had the “edge” over the childless Theresa May in the race to be prime minister.

[..] When I ask if she would like to apologise to Mrs May, she says: “I’ve already said to Theresa how very sorry I am for any hurt I have caused and how that article said completely the opposite of what I said and believe.”

She refuses to say how the message was conveyed to the Home Secretary, but she admits she has felt “under attack, under enormous pressure. It has been shattering.”

[..] It’s been a brutally hard week which makes you wonder why anyone would go into politics. On the phone, I asked Andrea Leadsom when she last cried. There is a pause. “Twenty minutes ago,” she admits with a wobble. But, don’t worry, it’s not a sob story. She doesn’t believe in those. Meanwhile, she’s off to make a roast chicken stretch for the children’s friends who just turned up unexpectedly. “Lots of roast potatoes.”

Putting on a brave face, making the best of things, and soldiering on, she is much like swathes of Tory voters up and down the land. Will they really ignore her, as all the pundits predict, when it comes to the ballot in September? Not everything has to end in tears.

One feels for Andrea Leadsom, who not only seems like a fundamentally decent human being and with her long previous career outside politics much closer to the ideal of the citizen politician than many of the grey, indistinguishable drones (including Labour leadership challenger Angela Eagle) who have been marinating in the Westminster cesspool for their entire careers.

But it is very concerning that Leadsom has allowed what is essentially a media storm, entirely unconnected with policy or the fate of the country, to affect her so gravely. What we are witnessing is the emotional response of someone who is not used to being vilified in the press and the court of public opinion, and who seems to be shaken to her core at having been misrepresented and criticised.

Such treatment is part of the job description for any British prime minister, particularly in our current polarised age when it is all but guaranteed that any conservative prime minister will immediately be treated like evil incarnate by the socialist half of the country regardless of what they say or do. Such mundane events as being misrepresented by a newspaper or trashed in the press because of a careless choice of phrase ought to be like water off a duck’s back to a seasoned politician. Clearly this is not so for Andrea Leadsom, who has not yet developed the emotional armour to withstand the heat of battle.

Of course, one can argue that this should not be the case; that we cannot simultaneously call for more “normal” people to enter politics and then hold them to the standards of nonchalance in the face of political treachery set by the hardened political class. But sometimes idealism must fall before realpolitik. Even if it is the case that the Westminster media and political class are unnecessarily fratricidal, a British prime minister must still be able to deal with immeasurably complex and fraught issues of domestic security and foreign policy.

This isn’t the Sunday League – with her audacious leadership bid, Andrea Leadsom is asking us to believe that she is capable of playing in the Premier League, an instant promotion spanning several important intermediate steps. A junior minister who has never attended cabinet has a very different sense of what constitutes high stakes than someone who has held one or more of the great offices of state. The latter is almost certain to have wrestled with fiendishly difficult political decisions, the repercussions of which may even be life or death. The ability to do so while maintaining composure and clear thinking is of the utmost importance in a prime minister.

Of course personal temperament is not the only thing that matters. A candidate’s policy beliefs (with attitude toward the coming Brexit negotiations being top of the list right now) also matter enormously, as does their track record. But I get the strong sense that in our justifiable desperation to avoid acknowledging that someone so illiberal and authoritarian as Theresa May is the best of a bad option for leading the country in this difficult time we are sweeping Andrea Leadsom’s naivety, inexperience and rookie temperament under the carpet.

This would not be a mature way to behave. The choice between Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom must be made on the basis of who they are today, the policies they advocate and what they have accomplished, and not based on who they may become or whatever else we try to project on to their respective candidacies.

Andrea Leadsom may show future promise – promise which this blog very much hopes to see nurtured and realised in the coming years – but promise alone is not enough.

The ultimate decision over which Conservative leadership candidate would make the best Tory leader and prime minister must be made based on the best evidence available as to a candidate’s ideology, policy platform, track record, personality and temperament.

And much as it pains this blog to admit it, that choice should be Theresa May.

 

 

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