General Election 2017: Tory Apocalypse / Brexit Salvation Reax

Theresa May - Lord Buckethead

A self-inflicted catastrophe for small-C conservatives with one – potentially enormous – silver lining

Who knew that Theresa May was quite so staggeringly incompetent? I mean, we all knew that she wasn’t a real conservative, at least in the best Thatcherite traditions of the party. That much was made clear from successive party conference speeches and her idiotic manifesto’s all-out assault on the libertarian or free market wing of the party.

But her years plugging away in the Home Office and quietly manoeuvring herself into the most powerful job in the country belied the fact that as prime minister, Theresa May would be revealed as little more than a puppet manipulated by her two closest aides (also both cuckoos in the conservative nest) with almost zero reliable judgment of her own.

Through her sheer campaigning ineptitude and inability to articulate a positive conservative vision (remember how this blog kept banging on about the need for one of those?), Theresa May has allowed Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of 1970’s style socialism to regain a foothold in British politics, and for this unforgivable high crime alone she needs to be sent to political Siberia with no undue delay.

But as I made clear in my election night live-blog, Jeremy Corbyn also deserves enormous credit for improving Labour’s electoral position and enthusing so many people with socialist politics. Sure, in one sense it is easy to sway people with the promise of endless free stuff, always paid for by someone else. But as I noted a couple of weeks ago, it is still necessary to overcome voter scepticism that the promised Utopian land of plenty can actually be achieved.

Jeremy Corbyn successfully made the pitch to lots of people – or at least got them to temporarily suspend their disbelief. And he did so in the context of a still-centrist Parliamentary Labour Party which hates his guts and has been trying to undermine him since before his leadership even began, not to mention a hostile television news media which only fell into something approaching balance when election campaign rules took effect, and a pro-Tory print media which pulled out all the stops to get Theresa May over the finish line. That is no small feat.

The other major factor was the youth vote. While we still don’t actually know how many young people voted or quite to what extent they broke for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, it seems clear that the promise of free university tuition – and let’s face it, just an ounce of empathy for a generation coming of age at a time when the prospect of home ownership is more distant and potential career paths more disjointed and precarious – won the support of millions of young people.

Apparently when it comes to closing time at nightclubs, young people are spontaneously breaking into the sung refrain “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!“. The naive chant of mostly low-information voters who wear their political views more as a trendy fashion statement than a considered position? Sure. But also a demographic which Theresa May and her campaign team, in their infinite wisdom, did absolutely nothing to court.

I blogged about this in the heat of the moment on election night, and then split out my thoughts into a separate piece here. And it seems clear to me that British conservatives (I use a small C deliberately) simply cannot go on writing off the youth vote and ceding it to the parties of the Left. We have been doing so for far too long, at our peril, and now that a charismatic conviction politician (in the unlikely form of Jeremy Corbyn) has come along who can actually speak to this demographic we are totally defenceless.

And then there’s Brexit.

The one silver lining of this confused election result is that Theresa May’s stubborn insistence that “Brexit means Brexit” – by which she means that Brexit means abandoning the EEA, denying the existence of non-tariff barriers to trade, demanding a bespoke comprehensive free trade agreement within two years and threatening to walk away with no deal if the EU failed to acquiesce – may now be moderated by more sensible voices which lean toward the once-maligned “Norway Option”.

The DUP, on whose support the Conservatives must now rely to command a majority in the House of Commons and remain in government, are against a hard Brexit, as are many Tory Remainers and many small-C conservative Brexiteers across the country. While the Tory Brexit Taliban (a wonderful phrase concocted by Pete North) will kick up an almighty fuss if they sense any dilution of their maximalist approach to Brexit, suddenly it has become a lot harder to see the pathway toward that goal. Good.

Aside from these thoughts, I am still digesting the surprising election result and the potential ramifications of a new political reality with many moving parts. But below are some of the hot takes and more considered reactions which have resonated most with me in the hours since the fateful exit poll was released.

Author and blogger Paul Goldsmith rips into the Tories’ awful manifesto, the incompetence of their leadership and their small-minded, fear-based campaign:

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Theresa May’s manifesto was almost like saying ‘come on, I dare you to vote for us’. The idea that people who had worked all their lives and paid taxes and national insurance to build up a nest-egg to pass onto their children and grandchildren should run down that nest-egg to the last £100,000 to pay for care they thought was part of their social contract with the state in return for those taxes and that insurance? A return to a grammar school system that might look superficially advantageous to poorer children but with no clarity on how it wouldn’t once again abandon 75% of the population to the mental slavery of under-education? A free vote on fox hunting? A determination to insist that the ‘will of the people’ had been clearly expressed for the hardest of Brexits including withdrawal from the Single Market and customs union and immigration controls that include the preposterous 100,000 a year immigration cap?

Let’s add that to the person delivering this, it turned out, far more madcap scheme. Theresa May came across as arrogant, complacent, prickly when challenged, and downright mendacious when insisting ‘nothing had changed’ during her unprecedented manifesto u-turn on social care. Then there was the refusal to engage in TV debates. I wonder if any leader will do THAT again. Her refusal to properly involve her Cabinet in creating that manifesto left them hung out to dry when defending it, as they were reduced to constant ‘dead cat’ strategies of shouting ‘IRA’, ‘MARXIST’ and ‘TERRORIST SYMPATHIZER’ at Jeremy Corbyn, because they had so little positive to say.

Then look at what she was up against. Every night I would watch the news with Mrs G. We are not, and never will be ‘Corbynistas’, but by g-d did he look good compared to the Prime Minister. Mrs G often said it herself “every night he seems like the only person in this election who really believes what he is saying.”

This last point is particularly valid. Don’t underestimate the attraction of a political leader who (regardless of the rightness or wrongness of their policies) actually sincerely believes what they are saying, and has the courage to defend those beliefs.

When Theresa May first called this general election, I wrote a piece pondering whether Jeremy Corbyn’s likely defeat would spell the end for conviction politics altogether. How wrong I was. If anything, the Tory implosion and Corbyn’s solid showing (and the enthusiasm he has generated among many young people) have reminded us that having strong principles and the willingness to defend them can actually be attractive to voters. If only the conviction politician in this case had been on the Right rather than the Left.

Daniel Hannan, writing for the Washington Examiner, reaches for some low-hanging fruit about how young people voted for Free Stuff:

It’s true that the Conservative campaign could have been better, but that is true of every campaign in history. The prime minister, Theresa May, was criticized for calling an unnecessary election and then refusing to participate in the televised debates. But that doesn’t come close to explaining how Labour rose from 30 to 40 percent support during the campaign.

No, I’m afraid we’re down to the simplest and most depressing explanation. Quite a few voters will support any party that seems to be offering them free stuff.

Labour’s manifesto was a ridiculous list of public handouts. More money was promised for healthcare, schools, the police, public sector pay rises, pensions and free university tuition. All the extra cash was vaguely supposed to come from “big business” and “the rich.” In the event, an awful lot of people liked the sound of goodies that someone else would pay for.

The Labour vote came disproportionately from people under the age of 25, who turned out in unprecedented numbers, confounding every opinion poll. Few of voters of that generation know about the IRA bombing campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, which far surpassed today’s Islamist terror in its scale. They do not remember the Cold War. They do not even recall, except in the vaguest sense, the last Labour government which, in 2010, left Britain with a deficit higher than Greece’s.

On polling day, a Labour activist tweeted a photograph of students queuing outside a polling station. It was, she said, a sign of the political upheaval that was taking place. But my immediate thought was: “If your guy implements the socialism he wants, we’ll all have to get used to queuing.”

He’s right. The case for free markets and fiscal conservatism has to be made anew in every generation. Many of the young people who helped power Jeremy Corbyn to victory are at best dimly aware of the extent to which post-war consensus, socialist policies doomed Britain to slow and steady decline up to 1979. They didn’t experience the Winter of Discontent themselves, just as I didn’t.

But if nobody makes the case for the kind of policies which rescued Britain from near-terminal decline and which are at the root of the historic prosperity and plenty which we now enjoy, then they will take this stability and prosperity for granted, assuming that it is the baseline, the default setting. They will wrongly assume that things can only be improved by overturning conservative policies and attacking the free market, when in fact conservative economic policies and free markets underpin nearly every good thing in their lives, from the clothes they wear, the variety of food in the grocery stores where they shop to the smartphones in their hand from which they glibly re-tweet “For the many, not the few”.

Here’s Margot James, Conservative MP for Stourbridge, making a similar point in Conservative Home:

Apart from a level of debt which is unsustainable over the long term, the economy is now in good shape.  We have brought sanity to the public finances, as we promised we would. Consequently, the economy has not been to the fore when people have been deciding how to vote.  Labour have been able to latch on to this relative economic security by peddling a message that the state should provide more at every turn.

The election descended into a profligate binge over how much taxpayers’ money Labour proposed to give away: keeping the triple lock for pension increases, maintaining winter fuel payments for older people as a universal benefit, thousands more police officers (regardless whether or not they are needed, given the changing nature of crime), more money for schools, health, and social care…all this was added to the billions needed for the nationalisation of the railways and the Royal Mail. And finally, the game-changer: an end to tuition fees for higher education.

The moment I heard Labour’s policy of free university education I knew young people would turn out to vote in unprecedented numbers.  This was a policy that would deliver votes in the same way that the sale of council houses did for us during the 1980s.

At a radio hustings I took part in, we were asked what we would do for young people.  Labour was all about handouts: free higher education with no regard for how universities were to be funded, the reintroduction of housing benefit for 20 olds and an equal minimum wage.  I was a lone voice calling for improving opportunities for young people to gain skills, start businesses, and access better jobs brought about by encouraging investment.

Paul Goldsmith picked up on this point, too:

Many right-wing commentators have pointed out that all Jeremy Corbyn was doing was bribing people with other peoples’ money. One said that the election could be summed up in six words: ‘young people vote for free stuff’. Yes, there is an argument for both. But this is why it was incumbent upon Theresa May and the few people she takes advice from to present an optimistic picture of the benefits of the free market, or maybe stepped back, considered that if you keep on cutting spending per pupil in education the country will pay the price for generations, and changed course in a way that stays true to the now normal Conservative consensus that instead of spending a load of money to manage demand, money should go towards increasing productivity and supply, and demand will take care of itself.

But no. Instead we got the cowardice of fear. Fear of proper debate, fear of the demands of those on the Eurosceptic right who  will not stand for a single penny going to the EU and who insist with no justification that the world will simply dance to our tune, and fear of antagonising those who fund her party. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn offered the audacity of hope, a hope that economic theory might be turned on its head, a hope that people who would be milked for money would turn it over quietly, but more importantly a hope that no-one in this rich country will live in desperation anymore.

It is astonishing, the degree to which the Conservative Party fought the election and generally structured its messaging according to the terms of the socialist Left. Restraining the growth of the state has continually been portrayed as a regrettable necessity rather than a good thing in itself. And that’s when certain ex-advisers who shall not be named (cough, Nick Timothy) were not busy advocating an even more activist role for the state altogether.

When you start speaking in the other side’s tone of voice, using their turns of phrase and echoing their agenda (Theresa May’s first act as PM was to stand on the steps of 10 Downing Street and talk about how government could help the “Just About Managing” rather than getting out of the way and lowering their tax burden) then you legitimise their arguments. If you concede that it is the job of an activist, paternalist state to help everybody by shovelling benefits in their direction and artificially limiting their choices, why would anybody vote for the Tories when Labour promise to do the job so much more enthusiastically?

Sam Bowman, of the Adam Smith Institute, is not in a forgiving mood:

The Tories did so badly in part because they did not give people a reason to vote for them; in part because they doubled down on a hard Brexit strategy; in part because they neglected and even attacked their own base. For many years they and almost everybody else have totally failed to make a broad-brush case for free markets, with the honourable exception of a few think tanks and newspaper columnists. With that in mind, why is it surprising that someone who despises markets is so popular? How good the moderate and coherent Osborne brand of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism now looks.

[..] The Tories did not offer anything to voters or to their own supporters. A free market manifesto could have energised Tory campaigners and candidates who would have had a reason to go to bat for May when she stumbled. It could have included policies that would have been popular with voters, like stamp duty and inheritance tax cuts, or ways of unlocking more infrastructure investment, that could have been sold on the doorstep as a reason to vote for them if you didn’t like them on Brexit. Fox hunting doesn’t count.

[..] Virtually no time at all was spent on the economy. What a colossal mistake. Many people’s incomes are the same in real terms as they were ten years ago, which is unprecedented. It was insane to ignore this and not to offer policies that might have boosted investment (chronically low in Britain by international standards) and people’s wages. All we got was a crude parody of continental European industrial policy, which in practice meant hectoring firms about worker representation on their boards and baseless claims about price gouging. What good is a polling lead on the economy for a right-wing party if you’re only interested in talking about business to attack it?

The Conservatives could have had a powerful and, to their base, exciting election platform. More homes, more investment, and better infrastructure could all have been delivered through smart, density-focused planning reforms, by restoring capital allowances in the corporation tax and cutting the part of business rates that falls on property investment, and by allowing local government to finance new infrastructure from private investment.

These ideas are free market to the core but are about fixing the problems that ordinary people have. Standing for free market conservatism does not mean having to be a dogmatic ideologue — something May and her team never understood.

Over on Facebook, Brendan O’Neill – who does himself no favours with his strident insistence that his is the only One True Brexit – does make some good points, first about the nature of the current Labour Party:

As more election number-crunching is carried out, it’s becoming clear that the Tories and Labour now play entirely different roles to the ones they played just 20 or 30 years ago.

The first thing that’s becoming clear is that people have overstated the extent to which Labour won over Leave voters. According to Lord Ashcroft’s exhaustive national survey, 60 per cent of Leavers voted for the Tories and only 25 per cent voted for Labour. John Curtice, the BBC’s key number-cruncher, reports that the biggest swings to the Tories were in Leave areas, while it was in “seats which voted Remain last year [that] Labour pulled off some of its best performances”. This means the Tories had huge swings in very poor areas like Boston and Skegness and working-class areas like Bolsover — which are Leave areas — while Labour made enormous gains in Hampstead, Kensington and Canterbury, which are Remain areas and / or well-off areas. The Tories made inroads with the poor, Labour made gains among the posh. This is fascinating.

More number-crunching is needed, but two things are becoming clear. 1) The idea that the Brexit issue or the Brexit divide has gone away is a fantasy. It merely takes a different form now, with Leave largely orientating around the Tories and Remain around Labour. Ashcroft says 68 per cent of Tory voters are Leavers and 64 per cent of Labour voters are Remainers. That is extraordinary. It’s the divide of our time, and we shouldn’t deny that. And 2) Labour, even led by Corbyn, is not a party of the working class. In fact it is becoming something else. It is morphing, or at least might morph, into being a party of the middle class that wants to *keep in check* working-class anger with institutions like the EU. Let that sink in. And let’s see what happens next.

And:

Okay, the wild Labour celebrations are getting weird now. Labour didn’t win. Even against grey, dull, U-turning May — the worst Tory leader of my lifetime, by far — it didn’t win. It is testament to Labour’s low ambitions that it is getting so excited about this. This is clearly a party that never expects to be in government again and must therefore welcome upward blips and handfuls of gains as the best it can get, proof it still has a pulse.

I also agree with O’Neill on the excessive celebration of the youth vote, as though their participation in the democratic process is somehow more valuable than that of older voters:

The message we’ve been bombarded with since Brexit and the Corbyn surge is that when the old vote, everything goes to shit, and the sooner these selfish, nostalgic bastards die, the better; but when the young vote, it’s all milk and honey and roses and light, and the sooner this fresh, caring generation takes over society, the better. The old are demonised, the young sacralised, giving rise to what must surely be one of the nastiest divides in our society right now. I can’t get behind the enthusiasm for the youth vote, I’m afraid, because much of it seems to me to be driven by a culture-war sense of entitlement against the apparently unfeeling, uneducated elderly. The culture war has come to the ballot box.

Now of course we should celebrate when a normally apathetic demographic group actually turns out to vote, but there is a worrying narrative building of young people, furious at having had their “futures taken away” by the selfish Leave votes of older people, finally striking back by supporting Jeremy Corbyn.

As well as being false, this is highly offensive. As though old people – many of whom sacrificed and laboured to give their EU-supporting kids the best possible chances in life – were not thinking about their children’s futures when they voted for Brexit, and as though young people – literally members of generation Me Me Me, consumerists who struggled to frame the EU referendum debate in terms other than what it meant for them and their own travel opportunities, love lives, mobile roaming charges etc. – were high-mindedly voting for the good of society and the future of our democracy. I have no time for this sanctimonious, false narrative, and it is good to see O’Neill also forcefully pushing back.

Turning to Brexit, here’s Pete North, angrily rebutting those who continue to fatuously declare that “the people” voted only for their specific, idiotic brand of Brexit:

As to the assertion that remaining in the single market is not leaving the EU, this is a zombie argument used by liars. The single market as it stands now is a collaborative venture between the EU and Efta states – and Norway etc only adopt about one in five EU rules by way of a system of co-determination – laws which we will likely have to adopt even if we left the single market – but without any means of disputing council decisions. Not least since many of them are rooted in global conventions.

I won’t go into the gory details because I will revisit these issues in the near future. The point of this post is simply to say that leavers do not get to call the shots on how we depart. They were given that opportunity over a year ago and declined the opportunity. It is therefore up to all of us to debate. Democracy is a continuum and though the decision to leave may well be sacrosanct the mode of departure still hangs in the balance and there is everything to play for.

You probably already know my views on this. There is no economic gain or utility in terms of sovereignty from leaving the single market. The main objective and the the single most important one is that we end political union with the EU and an off the shelf treaty is the fastest and safest path to that outcome. The rest can be sorted out later and revisited by way of EEA review.

There is no scenario where we don’t have to make compromises and fetishising sovereignty for its own sake is pointless since absolute sovereignty no longer exists unless you’re a regulatory superpower like China or the USA. Diverging from the existing regime brings us no efficiencies and comes at the cost of European trade. That was a tough pill to swallow for me being a long standing critic of EU regulation – but that is the reality of it nonetheless.

[..] In that regard do not let anyone tell you the debate is settled or let them interpret the result of the election for you. The question of how we leave has always been open ended and there is every reason to get involved. Plenty of people want to close down the debate by telling lies. The usual suspects. I’m not standing for it and this ain’t over til it’s over. The fight over Britain’s destiny did not end in June last year. The referendum was only the beginning and hardline leavers do not own this debate.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker can’t believe our good fortune in having inadvertently steered a course between two dangerous options (Corbynite socialism and Mayite Brexit illiteracy) with the electorate’s inconclusive verdict:

After a very short night, I was woken before 8am on Friday by a call from my son Nick, 5,000 miles away in India, who had been following the drama 8,000 feet up in the Himalayan foothills. “This is yet another amazing tribute,” he said, “to the unconscious political genius of the British people. They have somehow managed to steer between the Scylla of Corbyn’s suicidal economic illiteracy and the Charybdis of Mrs May’s hard Brexit.”

“She will only be able to govern with the support of 10 Northern Irish MPs who insist that we must keep a ‘frictionless border’ with Ireland and the 13 Scottish Tories who, with Ruth Davidson, are equally insistent that we must somehow remain free to trade in the single market. That is brilliant for the Union, because both Northern Ireland and Scotland are crucial to her survival.

“With all the other parties also somehow committed to staying in the European market, plus many of the less reckless Tories, that means that it will be extremely difficult for her to press on with her hard-Brexit, ‘walk away without a deal’ line. “I am now more optimistic about Britain’s future”, Nick concluded, “than I have been for a long time.” Many of my readers, I know, will be shocked, if not surprised, to hear that I agree with him.

Booker’s son is not wrong – and this is what makes the election result so bittersweet from my own perspective. Anything that moderates the nature of Brexit and injects some light rather than heat into the debate is clearly a good thing. But Theresa May has led the Conservative Party to a very bad place, perilously close to defeat, and there is no guarantee that either she or her replacement will learn the correct lessons.

The danger is that the Tories, rather than rediscovering their ideological backbone and making the case for free markets and a less activist state to the people, instead now join Labour in a full-on race to the political left, which would be devastating for conservatism as a whole as well as being a competition which the Right can simply never win. Must the price for Brexit be the shifting of the Overton window ten degrees back toward the Corbynite Left? It looks increasingly as though this may be the case.

Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman looks at the mechanics of the Conservative Party’s current predicament:

Better by far, say the wise old owls, to hang on.  An arrangement with the DUP would give the new Government a majority, they say.  There is no prospect of a no confidence vote succeeding.  And May can find shelter behind our old friend, the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.  Maybe she should see the Brexit talks through, some muse, and then depart with the thanks of a grateful nation.

Perhaps the old birds are right.  But this site is nagged by the uncomfortable feeling that they may be failing to see the wood for the trees.  May won the biggest Tory share of the vote since Margaret Thatcher, but the landslide she anticipated did not take place.  Voters seem to have mulled her refusal to level with them over social care, her reluctance to debate, her lack of ease with campaigning and engagement – and, having weighed her in the balance, found her wanting.  It is not certain that she has the flexibility and adaptability to share power with her Cabinet and Party and Parliament, as she must now do to survive.

It is all very well to take refuge behind fixed terms plus hope in the DUP.  David Cameron had a majority, and his government was crippled by rebellions.  May was at mercy of the Commons even before the election: remember the Budget and national insurance?  Conservative MPs may not yet have grasped that we face the possibility of five years of a Do Nothing Government – with all that this implies for the proper management of the country’s finances.  On paper, such an administration may be able to stagger on – at the mercy of tide and chance, with a Party leader vulnerable at any moment to a leadership challenge via letters to Graham Brady.  But in practice?

No, Theresa May needs to go now. None of the pieces I have read since that exit poll came out have convinced me otherwise, well argued though some of them are. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter that none of the likely options to replace her are any better (and Pete North forcefully explains why this is the case). The key is that the contenders could hardly be any worse, either in their zeal for a particularly destructive form of Brexit with almost no real thinking behind it, or in their dubious commitment to free markets and restraining the size of the state. And recall, May’s successor will be equally constrained in their Brexit approach by parliamentary arithmetic, so there is no need to keep May around for fear of a more hardline approach to Brexit.

Theresa May needs to go because she single-handedly destroyed her own authority, not just within her party or the country at large, but on the world stage too. These are momentous times, and with the metro-Left political elites of most countries currently scoffing at Britain for supposedly relegating ourselves from the ranks of serious countries by voting for Brexit, we need a strong, charismatic leader who is capable of going toe to toe with Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump. Not a weak supplicant caretaker PM whose permission to continue representing us is extended only one day or one week at a time.

Perception matters, and right now Theresa May is correctly perceived as a loser with no authority. Better to make the change now, even if it means enduring five more years of aggrieved leftists who don’t understand how our system of government works (or make any effort to change it) moaning about another unelected Tory prime minister. Better to make the switch now rather than changing horses midstream in the middle of Brexit negotiations. And while whoever replaces Theresa May will probably be just as, uh, problematic from a conservative viewpoint, we should compensate by using the turmoil to finally promote some of the more Thatcherite, liberty-minded backbenchers – the likes of James Cleverly or Kwasi Kwarteng – to cabinet positions so that next time around we have a better talent pool to fish in.

The only problem is that by the time of the next general election, the Tories will have been in government (mostly in coalition / confidence and supply agreement, but also alone) for the past seven-plus years. The window for making radical changes to the way the country operates, tantalisingly opened after the Great Recession but stymied by David Cameron’s failure to win an outright majority against Gordon Brown, will have fully closed again. How many political parties or administrations can you think of which suddenly burst to life with original ideas and bold new policies 7+ years after first coming to power? Surely none. Anything radical must happen at the beginning, before the impetus wears off, steady state sets in and the people ultimately tire of the party of government and demand a change.

Regrettably, the Tories have wasted their years of potential firstly in coalition with the LibDems, then alone after the 2015 victory and now in some still-to-be-decided arrangement with the DUP, and accomplished very little save holding the EU referendum which gave us Brexit and presiding over a reduction (but not eradication) of the budget deficit. It is now quite possible that we must soon suffer through some form of left-wing government – perhaps a progressive alliance of the childlike Left, though who can now put it past Jeremy Corbyn to secure a majority of his own if May’s government falls? – before the Tories can then return once again to fix or limit the damage.

And yet in mitigation of this depressing fact, there is now a fighting chance that the new parliamentary arithmetic will see Brexit taking a more sensible, palatable and less destructive form, which is what this blog wanted all along.

Politics giveth and politics taketh away.

 

These are my current thoughts on the fluid post-election situation, together with some reactions from other people which have resonated with me since election night. I have quite a busy few days coming up so the blog may go a little bit quiet for the next week with only an occasional sporadic update, but normal service should be resumed by next weekend.

Stay tuned to the Twitter feed @SamHooper for more short-form ranting in the interim.

 

Theresa May - Downing Street speech

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General Election 2017: Conservatives Cannot Give Up On The Youth Vote

Jeremy Corbyn - Youth vote

British conservatives can no longer afford to cede the youth vote to the parties of the Left without putting up a fight for their hearts and minds

One thing seems absolutely crystal clear to me: the Conservative Party can no longer allow itself to glibly write off almost the entire youth vote and cede youth politics to the various parties of the left.

In some ways, Jeremy Corbyn seems like a most implausible politician to court the youth vote – an old, grey haired career politician with absolutely zero interest in doing anything fashionable, sartorially or politically. But my god, he is an authentic conviction politician. And if your average voter hates overgroomed, telegenic bland politico-bots then young people clearly hate them even more. Canned soundbites don’t work on social media-savvy young people, if they work on anyone. And yet the Conservatives went into battle – largely thanks to the “genius” Lynton Crosby – with an arsenal made up almost exclusively of glib, canned soundbites in place of anything remotely authentic.

Not that authenticity alone is enough. Right wing politics are clearly hugely toxic to many young people, who would sooner die than consider voting Conservative, let alone admitting any conservative leanings to their social circle. The Tories are too closely associated with grey, uninspiring “austerity”, even though austerity is largely a myth. The Tory brand, fair or unfair, is still toxic to many people. And the parties of the left have perfectly tapped into the consumerist politics of Me Me Me by promising to firehose endless sums of money into the gaping, insatiable mouth of Britain’s public services.

It seems painfully apparent to me that we need a prominent, national vessel for the development and promotion conservative policies (and personalities) separate from the Conservative Party, which simply can no longer be trusted to make the case for its own worldview. I wrote ages ago, back in 2015, that we need a British CPAC – a well funded and media savvy conservative campaign group which exists outside the dusty, dysfunctional Tories.

CPAC is the Conservative Political Action Conference in the United States, and while it has had its share of controversies it serves an important role in nurturing small-C conservative talent, seeding new ideas and generally providing an opportunity for advancement and self-promotion outside the structures of the Republican Party. It also plays a role in youth outreach, as do other organisations like Ron Paul’s Young Americans for Liberty.

The seeds of such a movement already exist – there is the excellent Conservatives for Liberty group, for which I am proud to have written numerous times. But for all the good work they do, they remain associated directly with the Tory brand and are too easily sidelined when a rabid anti-Thatcherite like Theresa May seizes control of the party and tries to drag it to the statist centre-left. Meanwhile, other think tanks which sometimes do good work (and sometimes not so good) – the Adam Smith Institute, the IEA, the Centre for Policy Studies – are very much of the political elite and by the political elite. They have neither the makings of a mass movement, nor the inclination to become one – and quite rightly, for this is not their speciality.

Worse still, the Conservative Party’s own efforts to build a youth wing tend to attract the kind of tweed-wearing teens and twenty-somethings who only further the perception of the party as being for posh, wealthy and generally insufferable types. Conservative Future, their most recent attempt, seemed to operate like a kind of pyramid scheme with promises of future candidacies dangled in front of naive young activists, and was rife with a bullying culture which led to the group’s closure.

No. For reasons of branding and basic administrative competence, any future small-C conservative movement hoping to gain traction with young people must be distinct from the Conservative Party, free of that residual toxicity and free to criticise the Tory party in government and in opposition when it proposes policies which either betray core values or threaten the interests of young people. A British CPAC and Young Brits for Liberty-style organisation could nurture talent of its own, outside the corrupting, nepotistic influence of the Conservative Party hierarchy, and would greatly increase their collective clout by helping or withholding support from future Tory election campaigns and individual candidacies based on policy, not party loyalty.

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

Look at the people who might be considered contenders to take over from Theresa May when she is rightly consigned to the dustbin of conservative political history. Do you see the youth vote ever breaking in significant numbers for Philip Hammond or Michael Fallon? David Davis or Michael Gove? Maybe Boris Johnson might win a few, but he is widely hated by starry-eyed young Europhiles for supposedly “taking away their future”.

No, the future Conservative leader who stands even a chance of fighting the parties of the left for the youth vote must come up from outside the existing party structure, if they are to emerge at all. They must articulate a message of conservatism as being pro-freedom, pro-opportunity, pro-dynamism. Some compromises must be made, with the party finally addressing issues which screw the younger generation and force them into the waiting arms of the Labour Party – a serious housebuilding programme (not council houses, but houses for private sale and rent) for example. The end of universal benefits being lavished upon rich, self-entitled pensioners who don’t need them.

The Tories need a leader who can make self-sufficiency and freedom seem cool rather than callous, admirable rather than shameful, particularly to younger voters. I don’t see anybody on the Conservative front bench who stands a chance of doing that. Maybe James Cleverly or Kwasi Kwarteng from the backbenches, if they were to step up and gain some ministerial experience? Priti Patel?

Regardless, one thing is clear: the Tories can no longer be relied upon to keep the torch of conservatism lit by themselves. Theresa May half extinguished it with her statist left-wing manifesto, half stolen from the Labour Party, and her inept campaigning and toxicity among young people provided the final coup-de-grace.

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

Theresa May’s Conservative Party shamefully surrendered the youth vote without so much as trying to win them over. The broader British conservative movement must learn from this dismal failure and ensure that it is never repeated.

 

Rand Paul - CPAC

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Brendan O’Neill Is Right – Not Voting Can Be The Honourable Choice

Polling Station - Voter Apathy - Voter Disengagement - General Election 2015

 

It speaks volumes about the dire state of our politics and our democracy that best thing yet written about the 2015 British general election campaign is not a stirring paean to any of the political parties – not even one of the populist insurgents – but an angry, snarling article which mocks the illusion of voter choice and actively discourages people from bothering to vote at all.

And no, it’s not another Russell Brand intervention – he of The Trews sold out spectacularly this week, urging his legions of fans to vote Labour and install Ed Miliband in 10 Downing Street because apparently “this bloke will listen to us”. As if.

The true standard bearer for the politically engaged but fiercely indifferent contemporary British voter is Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill, who lets rip against the stale centrism of British politics with a powerful piece in The Spectator entitled “I’m not voting on Thursday – but don’t you dare call me apathetic“.

Directly contradicting the endless conveyor belt of career politicians who have been telling us incessantly that this is the most important election for a generation (as was the last, and the one before that), O’Neill writes:

Well, I’m not voting on Thursday, and don’t you dare call me apathetic. It isn’t indolence of mind — ‘sluggishness, laziness, love of ease’ — that’s keeping me out of the voting booth. On the contrary, it is an agitation of mind, a love of difficulty, that’s making me withhold my vote.

I, like many others, want my politics hard, existential, frightening even, addressing the biggest questions facing humanity: freedom, progress, morality, war, the future. But all we’re being offered is a choice between managers, primarily of Britain’s economic decline. ‘Who will YOU trust to shave the public deficit?’

Continue reading

On Young Voters And The GOP

Republicans - GOP - Young Voters

At least some people in the Republican Party seem to have woken up to the demographic timebomb ticking away under their feet, and have started to lament, if not yet analyse, the fact that the vast majority of young people in America today would sooner give up their loud music and Pac-Man video games (or whatever it is that young people do for fun these days) than vote for a GOP candidate in a presidential election.

There is an article worth reading on this topic by Jeff Jacoby in today’s Boston Globe, entitled “As Dems rack up debt, youth should flock to GOP”.

Mitt Romney is apparently the latest Republican to develop a sense of outrage that no one outside of the grey haired brigade would be seen dead voting for him:

‘I don’t mean to be flip with this,’’ said Mitt Romney during a Q&A with students at the University of Chicago last week. “But I don’t see how a young American can vote for a Democrat.’’ He cheerfully apologized to anyone who might find such a comment “offensive,’’ but went on to explain why he was in earnest.

The Democratic Party “is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation, mounting trillion-dollar annual deficits my generation will never pay for,’’ Romney said. While Democrats are perpetrating “the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in the history of humankind,’’ Republicans are “consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down and creating economic growth and opportunity so we can balance our budget and stop putting these debts on you.’’

At which point the needle on my “Are You For Real?” machine jolted as far toward the “You Must Be Kidding” end of the spectrum as it could go before the whole machine exploded in a shower of sparks.

The author himself does a good job of pouring cold water on any Republican claims to the mantle of fiscal restraint:

But that debt wasn’t piled up without plenty of Republican help. During George W. Bush’s presidency, annual federal spending skyrocketed from $1.8 trillion to $3.4 trillion, and $4.9 trillion was added to the national debt. Bush left the White House, in fact, as the biggest spender since LBJ . Granted, the profligacy of Barack Obama has outstripped even Bush’s bacchanal: CBS reports that Obama has added more to the national debt in just three years and two months than Bush did in his entire eight years. Still, younger voters can hardly be blamed if they haven’t noticed that Republicans are “consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down.’’

Therefore I do not intend to say anything more about the glaring, shameless hypocrisy of the Republicans – the party that gifted America two unfunded wars, large tax breaks not balanced by spending cuts and the joke that is Medicare Part D – laying any claim whatsoever to competency in handling the nation’s finances. Except that I will say that much of the “profligacy of Barack Obama” mentioned by the author was the result of a fiscal stimulus implemented (despite its imperfections) at a time when the US economy was in freefall, and without which the tepid recovery currently being experienced would likely be nothing but a sweet dream.

Mitt Romney and those others in the Republican Party who scratch their heads wondering why young people don’t like them miss the point entirely when they sulk that young people should embrace their economic policies. Though their fiscal policies may perhaps benefit young people in certain ways (and even this is arguable), there is no evidence based on past behaviour that they will actually have the political courage to implement them if voted into office. Old people (the beneficiaries of the “wealth transfers” that Romney claims to lament) actually vote in large numbers. Younger people don’t. The policy priorities of our political candidates duly reflect this fact.

Besides, it is not the GOP’s economic policies that are the main problem. The problem is the fact that in a bad economy, the opposition party is spending more time talking about abortion, contraception, mass deportations of illegal immigrants, repealing ObamaCare, questioning the president’s eligibility to hold office, and reinstating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and a host of other socially regressive policy positions which are anathema to a majority of young people today than they are about how to reduce unemployment and help a population ill-equipped to perform the more highly-skilled, non-manufacturing jobs of tomorrow.

Rick Santorum in particular often complains that the media focuses on his socially conservative policy positions and not his economic plan, but he can hardly expect young voters to thrust him into office on the back of his inspired ideas on the economy (spoiler – they are not that great) when they are more worried that he will cut off their unemployment insurance, or close down the Planned Parenthood centre where they go for medical care, or start a war with Iran.

It is no coincidence that the one Republican presidential candidate who actually walks the fiscal conservatism walk and who doesn’t continually bleat on about social issues and the culture wars – Ron Paul – vastly outperforms his rivals with young voters, in primary after primary.

Newsflash to Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich:

Even if you had a cogent economic policy (which, by the way, none of you do) you will never appeal to young people by just tweaking your fiscal message a little bit. You had a choice when you started your presidential campaigns, and in your desperation to secure the party base you chose to fearmonger and rant about “taking back America”, and fret about turning into a socialist state, and speak about the importance of individal freedom in one breath while promising to impose your religious values on the whole country in the next.

Many young people would like an alternative to President Barack Obama, but you offer them nothing by way of a contrasting, conservative vision for the country that they could ever find acceptable. You offer them nothing. You offer racial minorities nothing. You offer women nothing. You offer the working poor and the unemployed nothing. And all of these constituencies will dutifully line up to vote for Barack Obama, and you will lose the presidential election on November 6th.

It could be otherwise, if only you offered the American people a genuine acceptable choice when they cast their votes.