Category: Political-Philosophy

An Easter Message for an Agnostic

Existing, religiously-speaking, at a regularly changing point somewhere on the continuum between Agnosticism and Atheism, I’m not one who subscribes, or is even particularly influenced by, this vision of Easter below.

Traditional Easter message

However, even I couldn’t help being moved by this picture, taken by Reuters’ Philippe Wojazer just under a week ago, one of first images of the inside of Notre Dame in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous fire, of the Christian Cross, still standing almost defiantly in its place on the High Altar, despite the conflagration.

FRANCE-FIRE-NOTRE DAME

It could well have assumed an even greater significance today, with the shocking news of the massacre of over 200 Christians celebrating Easter Sunday at church services and hotel in Sri Lanka, from all indications carried out by Islamist-Jihadist suicide bombers.

Critics can say that what follows is something of an emotional reaction. Well, maybe, but so what? I couldn’t care less.

Others might say that what follows is “Islamophobic”. Again I couldn’t care less, not least because “Islamophobia” is a wholly specious term, an entirely invented concept, first coined by the International Institute for Islamic Thought, a US front organisation for the militant-Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, as a means of silencing any debate on, criticism of, or even scholarly enquiry into, the nature of Islam, particularly its violently supremacist and intolerant Wahhabist and Salafist strains.

Notre Dame is not merely a Catholic, or even a Christian place of worship. It’s an exemplar of a Western civilisation that owes its unique place in our heritage as much to post-Reformation and Enlightenment liberal and secular philosophy as it does to Judeo-Christian ideas. But a Western civilisation that’s under both threat and attack from a millenarian, politico-cultural totalitarian ideology increasingly inseparable and indistinguishable from the religion in which it wraps itself.     

So the message this particular Agnostic-going-on-Atheist is taking, this Easter Sunday of anti-Christian terrorist carnage, from the juxtaposition of that image of the Notre Dame interior with the Sri Lankan atrocity, is this.

That the Cross will never succumb to the Crescent.

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No Brexit Roll Of Honour Is Complete Without The Name Of Steve Baker

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 2nd April 2019

When the definitive impartial, objective history of the 2016-19 traducing of Brexit – and in the process, democracy itself – by Government, Parliament and wider political-class alike, comes to be written, there will be many villains, but few heroes. Among The Conservative Woman‘s excellent Brexit Roll of Honour series, produced as a counterpoint to its equally good Brexit Wall of Shame collection, there must though be a prominent place for the scrupulously unbiddable Steve Baker, the ‘Conservative’ Party’s MP for Wycombe.

In some ways, this should not be a surprise. In sharp contrast to the legacy-Cameroon, pro-EU, neo-Keynesian, Fabian-Blairite tribute-act that the Party has become, he is a rarity. A sound-money Hayekian and adherent to Austrian-School economics, critical of both excessively-loose, expansionary central bank monetary and interest-rate policies and the unrestrained credit-creation capacity of fractional-reserve banking that generate asset bubbles followed by busts: an advocate of low taxes, fiscal rectitude and spending restraint: an unashamed champion of a smaller state, competition, and free markets:  and a long-term avowed Euro-sceptic on the grounds of the EU’s inherent economic inefficiency and its glaring democratic deficit, who chaired Conservatives for Britain, which eventually morphed into the successful Vote Leave campaign.  

A co-founder of The Cobden Centre think-tank, it’s easy to see from his own writing why he found no favour among the 2010-2015 Coalition’s ‘liberal’-centrist’, political-triangulation obsessed, devotees of sleight-of-hand “Osbrowneomics”, as it came, not at all unfairly, to be lampooned. Though he did serve on the Treasury Select Committee, it’s not difficult to imagine why he was left languishing, under-utilised, on the back benches: inside the Treasury, say, he would have presented a formidable intellectual challenge on economic and fiscal policy to George Osborne, like his predecessor-but-one Gordon Brown, one the most political of Chancellors.

He was among the Tory rebels defying the Government whip to oppose Euro-phile David Cameron by voting in favour of a EU referendum in October 2011, and for a cut in the UK’s EU budget in October 2012, and against the omission of a Referendum Bill from the 2013 Queens’ Speech.

His directly Brexit-related achievements, however, start in September 2015, when, according to Tim Shipman’s “All Out War”, it was Baker who was influential in getting Cameron’s attempt to have the Referendum framed as a Yes/No question, (where, psephologically, “Yes” typically enjoys a significant advantage), rejected by the Electoral Commission, and replaced with the more neutral Remain/Leave choice. Later that month, he was part of the rebellion by 37 Tory backbenchers which helped defeat Cameron’s attempt to weaken the rules forcing ministers and officials to be neutral in the pre-Referendum purdah period

He upped the ante considerably, however, after May’s post-Referendum unelected coronation, becoming chairman of the backbench European Research Group, and overseeing its activities in promoting a Brexit fully reflecting the historic 2016 vote and the vision of it which May initially (and, as it turned out, deceitfully) set out in her Lancaster House Speech and its Mansion House successor, until he was made a junior minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union in June 2017.

As we now know, he, and the Brexit Department’s other ministers, were cynically used as camouflage, and their work ignored, by May and her Number Ten team in their backstairs operation to produce her now rightly infamous Chequers Plan. On its being revealed in early July 2018, however, and unlike most of May’s largely supine, spineless, careerist Cabinet members, he followed Boris Johnson and David Davis in immediately resigning on principle.

Reverting to the ERG, but now as deputy chairman, he continued oversight and co-ordination of its opposition to May’s Chequers Plan and its equally-flawed Withdrawal Agreement successor.  Fortunately, he’s also avoided the temptation, sadly irresistible to its chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg, to deliver naïve platitudes to the media along the lines of “The Prime Minister is an honourable woman who can be persuaded to change her mind”, when the essential untruth of both propositions has long been obvious.

He has become more even steadfast in the recent weeks and days of the near-constant interplay of procedural chicanery between Parliament and Government over May’s cynical attempts to sneak her (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement through the Commons by repeated votes, opposing most of the options in the Indicative Votes farce.

Where Baker has finally earned his spurs, though, and put his eternal place on any Brexit Roll of Honour beyond dispute, is in his furious reaction in the middle of last week, as, one by one, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees-Mogg all folded and backed May’s deal: ostensibly as the lesser of the two evils of This-Deal or No-Brexit, but almost certainly, in two of the three cases, with an eye to garnering support from soft-Brexit MPs in an imminent leadership contest

Baker admits that he, too, wobbled momentarily, and at one time had even, reluctantly, decided to back May’s deal: but that, reflecting on what he rightly calls “the spite, pride, mendacity and pitiless commitment to trampling democracy with which we are governed“, decided that he could not, in all conscience, support it, even if that meant resigning the Conservative Whip. He was, and is, evidently made of sterner stuff than his numerous less-principled colleagues. 

Addressing them, and starting with a reference to May’s having just addressed the 1922 Committee only a few minutes earlier, Baker let rip.

“I am consumed with a ferocious rage after that pantomime. What is our liberty for if not to govern ourselves? 

Like all of you, I have wrestled with my conscience about what to do. But I could tear this place down and bulldoze it into the river. Those fools and knaves and cowards are voting on things they don’t even understand.

We’ve been put in this place by people whose addiction to power without responsibility has led them to put the choice of No-Brexit or This-Deal. I may yet resign the whip than be part of this.”

It’s already been extensively publicised and quoted, and rightly so. It might not attain the legendary status of Cromwell’s “In the name of God, go!” to the Long Parliament, invoked by Leo Amery towards Chamberlain in May 1940, but his “What is our liberty for, if not to govern ourselves?” won’t be quickly forgotten. Nor should it.

Only on Monday 1st April, Baker stated on BBC Politics Live that he could well now vote against the Government in a Commons Vote of No Confidence. With the stage Theresa May’s disastrous bungling and betrayal of Brexit has now reached – colluding with a terrorism-supporting Marxist whom not long ago she condemned as a national security threat and unfit to govern, in order to strangle Brexit, in opposition to half of her own Cabinet and most of her own MPs and Party – Steve Baker should not just support a Vote of No Confidence in her government if there is one, but resign the Whip and actually table it himself.

If by bringing this thoroughly rotten May government down, and swathes of her pseudo-‘Conservative’ MPs down with it, he somehow saved Brexit, then a place on any Brexit Roll of Honour would be among the least of the honours and accolades deservedly heaped on him.

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Why, Brexit or No Brexit, Leave-ers Must Rally In Parliament Square Today

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Friday 29th March 2019

Disregard all the confected agonising about a few decimal-points percentage less GDP growth over ten years. Ignore the un-evidenced predictions about job loss Armageddon. Ever since the mid-February 2016 announcement of the EU Referendum date, the Remain campaign has been throwing economic sand in your eyes: because it knows that, on the key Brexit question, that of sovereignty, independence and democracy, it has no case.

Some things in life really are simple, but just not easy: the words aren’t necessarily synonymous. Especially in politics, however, some simple things are deliberately over-complicated by those who need to obfuscate them in pursuit of an agenda.

Brexit is actually a very simple, almost atavistic, existential question, arguably the oldest one of all. It goes back to Plato vs Aristotle. How are we to be governed, by whom, and from where? Do you want to be governed by people whom you can elect and can throw out? Or ruled over by people whom you can neither elect nor throw out?

why people voted leave 2Huge numbers of the 17.4 million who voted Leave, despite being disparaged as uneducated, stupid and bigoted, actually understood this, instinctively and viscerally, even if they couldn’t all necessarily articulate it lucidly. They knew what was, and still is, at stake. That’s why sovereignty and democracy – the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK topped by some margin the most extensive and methodologically-sound post-Referendum polling undertaken of the specific reasons why people voted for Brexit.

As one said to me: I’m voting for Brexit so that my children, and in turn their children, can live in a society where the laws they have to obey, and the taxes they have to pay, are decided by, and only by, people whom they can elect and can throw out, and by no-one else. As a justification, I’ve yet to hear that bettered.

Remember, Brexit was the biggest vote for one single, specific policy in British political history. An estimated three million people voted who don’t normally bother or who hadn’t voted before. Why? Because they recognised this had a significance far, far beyond that of mere elections, which are actually decided in no more than no more than about 100 swing constituencies, the rest being either tribal heartlands or even the modern-day equivalent 18th Century rotten boroughs. 

Because it was a nation-wide, whole-electorate poll, where they knew that this was one of the few times, possibly the only time, in their entire lives when their individual votes actually counted, and could make a difference.

But the overwhelmingly Remainer-dominated political class, enthusiastically assisted by its amen-corner courtiers in the media, culture and Academe, has, cynically and calculatedly, betrayed them all, and with tacit support from swathes of people on the losing side. The really shocking aspect of the last thirty-three months has been the exposure of just what a precariously thin thread British democracy hangs by, not just among the Establishment-Elite, but also apparently among a sizeable proportion of the electorate, when it delivers an outcome uncongenial to them. 

The readiness of so many simultaneously to withdraw the franchise from those who disagree with them, and cavalierly dismiss them as unfit to participate in deciding their own destiny, suggests that the Brexit Vote aftermath is a mere symptom of a much deeper underlying problem in UK society, not the cause of it.

After the past week’s events, there can no longer be even a scintilla of doubt that Parliament has now consciously voted to set itself against the people. It has, quite simply, declared war on the electorate, on Brexit, on the Constitution, even on democracy itself. It has, in effect, shredded the social contract. It is trying to steal from us the very decision that it asked us to make, because it does not like it. It is behaving like a thief in the night, breaking in to a poor man’s home to steal the one thing of value he has: his vote. 

May the burglar makes off with British democracy

Look at the first part of the video clip below. Ordinary people in an ordinary Northern town, discussing, albeit in maybe not particularly erudite or sophisticated terms, the iniquities, the democratic deficit, inherent in having a remote, unelected, unaccountable layer of government officials, above and superior to those they’re actually allowed to elect, but who themselves make most of the rules yet are both insulated from the need for democratic consent and immune from democratic sanction.

The leaders of a mature democracy ought to be proud that those ordinary people in an ordinary Northern town are capable enough and engaged enough to have discussions like this. Yet what was the reaction of the Remainer-dominated political class and its media, culture and Academe echo-chambers to their vote? “They didn’t know what they were voting for”. 

Now look at the second part, from 03:30 onwards. That ordinary Burnley lady, learning the EU Referendum result that she helped to achieve.  “We did it! Everybody woke up in time! Everybody listened! We’ve done it!” Possibly, like so many, the first time in her life that her vote actually mattered, the only time, perhaps, that it made a difference. Nearly three years on, it still retains its raw, emotive power.

Back in July 2018, just after the revelations of May’s Chequers deception, I wrote that this had just got a lot bigger than Brexit: that it was now about nothing less than whether we are a functioning citizens’ democracy at all, or just unwilling, powerless subjects of an unaccountable apparatchik-elite pursuing its own agenda.

We cannot let the cadres of disdainful, contemptuous, anti-democracy charlatans in Parliament get away with betraying those people of Burnley, and millions of others like them. We have to prevail. We cannot afford to fail. The alternative is too baleful to contemplate. That’s why Leave-ers need to rally in Parliament Square today. Not just to reclaim Brexit from the MPs who have stolen it, but to reclaim our democracy too.

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No Brexit Wall of Shame is Complete Without the Name of David Cameron

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 26th March 2019

It’s perhaps a natural tendency, when compiling a Wall of Shame relevant to current events rapidly nearing their dramatic dénouement, to concentrate exclusively on the contemporary actors in the drama. The Conservative Woman‘s excellent Brexit Wall of Shame series certainly contains plenty who thoroughly deserve their notoriety, based on their current or recent conduct. But such an approach can risk leaving some of those originally responsible for it undeservedly overlooked.

David Cameron is one such who surely deserves his dishonourable place. Not only did he initiate the events leading up to the 2016 EU Referendum and its unnecessarily chaotic aftermath, but he must also bear a large part of the blame for the ‘Conservative’ Party having degenerated to a state of such manifest ill-preparedness to deal with it.

First, for all that the man himself insouciantly chillaxes in retirement, the Tory Party now struggling and failing miserably to implement the largest ever mandate for one specific policy in British political history is still recognisably Cameron’s Party, and unmistakeably bears his imprint.

Just consider the current crop of senior Party figures, whether those still among ministerial ranks, ineffectively directing its policies and egregiously mis-directing Brexit, or those formerly so but now exerting malign anti-Brexit influence on the back benches. Theresa May, Michael Gove, Amber Rudd, David Lidington, Nicky Morgan, Greg Clark, Matthew Hancock, Oliver Letwin, Nicholas Boles, Justine Greening, to name but a few.

All are identifiably of the Cameroon “moderniser” ascendancy set in train by Cameron and Osborne during their time as interns then advisers at Party HQ, based around their disparagingly, but accurately labelled Notting Hill Set.

As Robin Harris shows in his superb “The Conservatives – A History”, once in control of the Party, its local associations and, crucially, its candidate selection process  – remember the notorious A-List and Cameron’s Cuties? – they consciously set out to re-make it in the mould of a red-Tory, closet-LibDem, very metropolitan-‘liberal’ amalgam.

Dave Hug A Husky 1Economically, fiscal rigour and low taxes were out, “spending the proceeds of growth” was in. Socially, the Left’s  ‘liberal’-‘progressive’ social justice warrior agenda was enthusiastically embraced, not just in its good parts, but in many of its worst aspects as well. Green-ery was accorded the status of incontestable truth, challenging which was tantamount to heresy.

Predictably, virtue-signalling appeasement of militant feminism, Islamism and cultural-marxism, and either acquiescing in the Left’s war on free speech, or pusillanimity in the face of it, is where his Party ended up.

A key part of this agenda was always an unquestioning pan-Europeanism and acceptance of, if not tacit support for, Britain’s EU membership. Even if occasional lip-service was paid to the membership’s majority Eurosceptic view, such heresy was never allowed to permeate the leadership’s thinking, the preference being to try and bury the subject as an issue.

Sometimes, however, the mask slipped. I still vividly recall a session of Prime Minister’s Questions when, to a question from one of his own back-benches along the lines of “Will My Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister grant the public a referendum on our European Union membership?”, Call-Me-Dave responded with this: “No because it would not be in our interests to leave”. Just reflect for a moment on the anti-democracy implied in that wording.

No wonder this is a party which manifestly can’t cope with heeding and implementing arguably the greatest popular mass revolt against the Elite-Establishment since since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 permanently established the supremacy of Parliament over the Monarch, signifying the shift from absolute to constitutional monarchy.

Forward now to Cameron’s now infamous Bloomberg Speech of January 2013, in which he pledged an In/Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership, to be held after seeking substantial constitutional and institutional reform of it to address Britain’s legitimate grievances. (It included, incidentally, these words: “You, the British people, will decide.” – whatever happened to that, I wonder?)

Govt leaflet EU Ref once in a generation decision

It would be nice to think that Cameron’s motivation in conceding, at last, an In/Out EU referendum was the principled democratic one of giving the electorate the chance to have its first vote in 38 years on Britain’s continuing membership of a supranational political project which even then had moved so far beyond what was voted on in 1975 as to be almost unrecognisable.

Alas not. As Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant admitted only last November, Cameron’s prime purpose was the narrow, partisan, party-management one of ensuring that “the European question was neutralised”, so as to secure Tory Party electoral advantage. Party before country, and even democracy, in other words. Plus ça change. . .

It’s instructive to compare in hindsight Cameron’s lofty intentions to achieve serious EU reform, set out in his Bloomberg Speech, with the thin gruel indeed with which he returned, tail between legs, from the crunch negotiation in mid-February 2016, at which the EU refused to budge on any of its key policies and extended merely a few cosmetic concessions, after which his “deal” unravelled within hours. The parallels with Chamberlain’s similarly gullible and humiliated return from Munich in 1938 were both irresistible and inevitable, and justifiably satirised mercilessly.  

Cameron Chamberlain 2

It’s interesting to speculate whether, had Cameron pushed harder, had he told the EU that unless he got something like the degree of meaningful reform he’d outlined in his Bloomberg Speech, and threatened to walk away and campaign wholeheartedly for Leave if not, he might have achieved more and the Referendum might have gone a different way. But such an approach was never, I think, in his DNA, and probably politically-impossible even if it had been, given his previous record and his Remainer-majority Cabinet.

Without going in to the detail – examined fully in the copious literature that exists on it – of Cameron’s leadership – for, although de facto rather de jure, that is what it was – of the Remain campaign, one or two critically unedifying aspects cannot escape mention.

His decisions both to sanction spending £9m of taxpayers’ money, on essentially a pro-EU propaganda leaflet, and endorse Osborne’s egregious and cynical Project Fear, were appalling enough. But, above all, his instruction to Whitehall, born of his arrogant assumption that a Remain outcome was certain, not to undertake any preparation for a Leave victory, undoubtedly was a major contributor to both the febrile political climate and the negotiating débacle which have crystallised over the past 33 months.

Finally, we come to his indecently-hasty exit – eagerly imitating his role-model Blair in quitting the Commons rather than returning gracefully to the back benches for a time, in an acknowledgement of the transient nature of political power, as did Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, and even his immediate predecessor Brown – and that departure’s own, in turn, deleterious effects, from which we are still suffering.

Cameron resigns 24-Jun-2016

It’s arguable that, had Cameron remained studiedly neutral and above the fray during the Referendum campaign, he could have stayed on as in Number 10 as the statesman pledged to undertake his sacred duty to implement the people’s historic decision. But having been so partisan during the campaign, and lost, and having always been more effete dilettante and party-hack than principled statesman, this option was denied to him.

The consequences of his hurried departure, though, were the abandonment, by the senior legacy-Cameroons who had campaigned for Leave, of any semblance of public duty in favour of personal ambition, and the botched, confused, anti-democratic coronation of Theresa May, probably the most professionally-deficient and temperamentally-inept politician elevated to high office at a critical time for the nation’s fortunes since Lord North.

Now Cameron may not be directly responsible for May’s catastrophic calling of the 2017 election, her personality deficiencies, her deviousness and duplicity, and much else besides. But he cannot evade blame entirely. He did make her his surprise pick for Home Secretary in 2010, so cannot claim to have lacked knowledge of her manifest failings. He must have known there was a chance she would end up as his successor on his hurried relinquishment of his Seals of Office.

Cameron garden shed 2So, David Cameron, abandon, even if only briefly, your your lucrative but reclusive existence in your £25,000 designer “Shepherd’ Hut”, aka garden shed, churning out your doubtless tediously self-exculpating memoirs destined inevitably for the “Special Offer – Reduced – Only £4.99” section of dingy airport bookshops. Step forward and accept your thoroughly-merited prominent, permanent, and rightful place on The Conservative Woman‘s Brexit Wall of Shame

 

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Defectors From Democracy Itself

Note: This article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 21st February 2019

If they’re to generate maximum impact, political defections should ideally be both unexpected, and shocking.

In contrast, Wednesday 20th February’s defections to the recently-launched The Independent Group of eight ex-Labour MPs by so-called ‘Conservatives’ Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen, and their simultaneous resignations from the Conservative Party, must rank among the most anticipated and least shocking defections in British political history, if the prevailing reactions of “What took them so long?”, and “Good riddance” were anything to go by.

It had been obvious, ever since the result of the June 2016 EU Referendum, that their nominal allegiance, even to the allegedly-‘Conservative’ Party, had been hanging by a very thin thread, and that the claim by all three to be ‘Conservatives’ had long rested on shaky foundations.

Soubry even had previous form with defections. Having originally been a Liberal, she walked out on the Tories once before, back in 1981, to join the original Social Democratic Party after its launch by the Gang of Four who quit Labour in protest at its march towards Hard-Leftism.

Soubry quits for SDP 1981

She has always been the most vocally anti-Brexit of the band of Referendum-Refuseniks clustered around her in what’s become known as Remainer Corner in the House of Commons, on the Tory back benches away to the Speaker’s right, consistently opposing anything except either a Brexit-In-Name-Only Remain-by-Stealth, or something barely distinguishable from it, despite the inherent hypocrisy.

2017.01.26 Soubry on respecting Referendum result

Wollaston, too, is a flip-flopper, always in my view something of a false-flag ‘Conservative’ after being elected in Totnes via an Open Primary which the Tories managed to botch by allowing Labour and LibDem supporters to vote in it. During the EU Referendum campaign, she was initially Leave before switching to Remain in what looked like a pre-planned, orchestrated move to damage the Leave campaign. More recently, she has opposed a second referendum, before U-turning and demanding one.

Allen’s 2015 election to represent South Cambridgeshire arguably owed a lot to her predecessor, former Cabinet Minister, Andrew Lansley, but she has also been a serial rebel very much on the Left of the party who’s often seemed she’d be far more politically at home in the Lib-Dems. Despite voting to trigger Article 50, she’s consistently voted to give the Commons powers to dilute, frustrate, or even block Brexit.

A glance at the defectors’ resignation letter reveals, apart from a fairly tacit admission that their aim was always a ‘Conservative’ Party unmistakeably in a centrist Fabian-Blairite mould, a litany of self-serving hypocritical justifications for their actions, plus some assertions which either betray their true political colours to an extent they might not like, or display an astonishing lack of political awareness.

The Party is increasingly being dragged to the right, they insist, including, on  Brexit, by the “hard line” ERG and DUP in whose vice-like grip policy is trapped. Quite how this squares with a Cabinet dominated by Remainers, a party intent on capping the price at which energy can be sold and both taxes and public spending at high percentages relative to GDP, is not explained. And their slightly hysterical claim of a “Purple Momentum” taking over the party has already been comprehensively debunked.

They also seem oblivious to the fact that the ERG, having conceded much already, is merely trying to ensure the Government abides by the Manifesto on which it was elected in 2017, namely, to leave both Customs Union and Single Market – the same manifesto which all three defectors were happy to endorse and stand on to get re-elected – while the DUP has as its overriding aim protecting the territorial integrity of the UK from collusion between the EU and the Republic of Ireland which it perceives, not without justification, to be a threat to it.

At this stage, it’s early days trying to predict what their effect on the Parliamentary arithmetic surrounding the Brexit process will be. There’s an argument that, longer-term, the Independence Group that Soubry, Wollaston, and Allen have joined will fade into irrelevance, just like the original SDP. The potential for clashes, not only of policies given the member’s disparate political heritages, but also of egos, looks high.

May’s overall majority with the DUP over the combined Opposition parties has just been reduced by six, but I’m unconvinced that more ‘Conservative’ defectors won’t follow, including ones like Phillip Lee, Nick Boles and Dominic Grieve, against whom de-selection proceedings are either under way, imminent, or extremely likely. My initial view it that makes a formal ruling-out of a No-Deal Brexit, and a Second Referendum, both more likely (hence my blog-post of Sunday 24th February on why the latter would be totally devoid of any democratic legitimacy and so must be vigorously opposed).

All three defectors are, naturally, strong supporters of a Second Referendum, via the so-called People’s Vote campaign. Curiously, though, they seem not very keen at all on a people’s vote on themselves in their own constituencies, even though they’ve repudiated the manifesto on which they last stood and got elected, as, at the time of writing, none has pledged to seek a fresh mandate under her new flag by resigning to precipitate a by-election.

Soubry, Wollaston, and Allen are defectors from national democracy, in refusing to accept the outcome of the biggest democratic mandate for one single policy in British political history.

They are defectors from party democracy, in declaring that they would leave the Conservative Party rather than accept a democratically elected Leader who was not to their liking.

And they are defectors from local democracy, in switching sides rather than facing a de-selection process but nonetheless refusing to resign and trigger by-elections to allow each of their constituencies to vote on whether it still wants them to represent it in Parliament.

All three are certainly defectors: but not so much defectors from a political party where they never deigned to be anything more than conditionally semi-detached anyway, as defectors from democracy itself.

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Representative Democracy has now run its course

From Burke, to Bercow: its decline and fall shows how, as a philosophy, representative democracy has run its course and needs to be replaced 

Note: Amended, longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 24th January 2019

It’s the justification MPs habitually use when ignoring or defying the clearly-expressed wishes of their constituents, and also their perennial fallback when challenged on it. Our Parliamentary system, they assert, follows the Burkean principle. We are here, they insist, not as delegates, but as representatives: not to follow your instructions, but to exercise our judgement on your behalf.

edmund burkeThe principle derives from the political theorist and MP Edmund Burke’s Address to the Electors of Bristol in 1774, and in particular the paragraph cited below.

An elected MP was not, Burke reminded them, a mere delegate who should blindly obey the instructions of his voters: but their representative, empowered by them through the very act of their sending him to Parliament, to exercise his – not their – judgement, using his brain and his conscience,  of what was in the best interests of the country.

“But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Yet only 20 years or so later, in his “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, Burke was criticising those who deferred to technocratic experts, or who looked abroad for inspiration from regarding everything in the constitution and government at home as illegitimate or usurped. Extolling the inherent virtue in common-sense values, he said of them: 

“they despise experience as the wisdom of unlettered men”          

MPs have deployed Burke’s initial, 1774, argument ever since. But does it remain valid in early 2019? Or has it run its course and become effectively redundant, sustained cynically now by a cohort of MPs increasingly distant from, and contemptuous of, their voters, as a self-affirming expedient?

When Burke delivered his address, Bristol had an electorate of roughly 5,000 out of a population of about 80,000. This small electorate was based on a very restricted franchise. Very few working men and non-owners of property were able to vote, and women were not allowed to vote at all. There were no political parties as we know them, and no manifestos. Politics was, in the words of constitutional historian Dr David Starkey “a matter for gentlemen and their immensely rich aristocratic patrons”.

estimated illiteracy, england, 1500-1900Illiteracy remained at approximately 40 per cent for males and approximately 60 per cent for females (remarkably, illiteracy actually increased in the last quarter of the 18th century), and education levels were relatively poor, compulsory mass education being still several decades into the future. Even for those with both the franchise, plus sufficient education and literacy to convey their views to their MP, communications were poor. The main rail line between Bristol and London was opened only between 1838 and 1841. Before that, the mail coach between Bristol and London took around 38 hours.

How, then, would it have been possible, practically, for there to be regular communication between Edmund Burke MP and even his very restricted electorate? Arguably, Burke’s philosophy of the relationship between an MP and his electors was the only one which was feasible in the circumstances of his time.

Contrast the situation now. The median constituency size is about 72,400 in England (albeit slightly smaller in the devolved nations) but with a universal adult franchise. We have mass education, plus an adult functional literacy rate of approximately 85 per cent, but whose definition excludes people who “can understand short straightforward texts on familiar topics accurately and independently, and obtain information from everyday sources”. The proportion of people able to communicate with their MP is therefore probably over 90 per cent.

We have multiple sources of information, and multiple platforms of  mass communication. Nine in every ten people had internet access in the home in 2018. There is, I would contend, no bar to being informed about what our MPs are doing, and equally no bar to their communicating with us. Indeed, many are assiduous users of e-communication in all its forms to do precisely that.

Any structural justification for the continued applicability of the Burkean principle of representation has therefore vanished.

Our political parties, although more organised, are also more centralised. More than ever before – though admittedly with some variation between parties – election candidates are chosen, not by local associations, but by Party HQs either giving them a limited “choice” between two or three centrally-approved ones on a centrally-controlled candidates’ list, or imposing them directly.

Party policy boards, by whichever name called, decide the policies, which the candidate is pretty much required to endorse. Dissent and independence of mind are not encouraged, and seldom rewarded. Patronage is ruthlessly exploited and the whipping system ruthlessly deployed to keep most members in line.

The resultant submission to conformity is compounded by too many of our representatives being virtually professional career politicians, devoid of any significant formative outside grounding. In relatively recent times, MPs who were not wholly or mainly reliant on their Parliamentary income, and who, to decide their beliefs, could draw on real-world experience – rather than an immediate post PPE degree stint as a party assistant, researcher and unsuccessful candidate prior to acquiring a safe seat, were less inclined to undue deference to the Party hierarchy.

Hand in hand with that has gone an increasing tendency to outsource more policy-making which would once have been MPs’ responsibility to debate and democratically determine, not merely to Civil Service officials and QUANGOs, but to unelected and unaccountable international or supranational bodies like the UN, EU, NGOs and other elements of the International Liberal Order.

the liberal international orderThe consequence is that we now have a cadre of politicians whose role, rather than representing their electorates to the Government and the Executive, has morphed more into one of representing the Government and the Executive to their electorates. Far from becoming representatives and not delegates, they have become spokesmen and not representatives.

The Parliamentary chicanery which has occurred since the 2016 EU Referendum was not the proximate cause of this – it had been building for many years – but it has both exacerbated it dramatically and exposed it to public awareness like never before. It’s worth reciting some of the basic facts.

At the May 2015 General Election, it’s now widely assumed, having promised to hold an EU referendum if elected, but confident the promise would have to be junked as the price of their preferred option of a second coalition with the Liberal-Democrats, Cameron’s ‘Conservatives’ won an absolute majority which they were not anticipating.

In June 2015, MPs voted by 544 votes to 53 to hold that referendum.

In the 2016 EU Referendum, and on best estimatesBritain voted to leave the European Union by 406 parliamentary constituencies to 242. It voted to leave the European Union by 263 voting areas to 119.  Conservative-held constituencies in 2016 voted to leave by 247 to 80. Labour-held constituencies in 2016 voted to leave by 148 to 84.

In contrast, among 2016 MPs, Remain was the preferred option by 400 to 248. Charting 2016 MPs’ declared voting intentions against the actual voting results emphasises the relative chasm between MPs and the voters they claim to be “representing”, which persists to this day.mps votes vs public votes eu ref 2016In February 2017, MPs voted by 498 votes to 114 to trigger Article 50.

At the 2017 General Election, approximately 85 per cent of the votes cast went to the two main parties both of whom pledged in their manifestos fully to implement the Referendum result.

Yet something like a 70 per cent majority of MPs is clearly now intent on either diluting Brexit to meaninglessness, reversing it by spuriously demanding another referendum or extending Article 50, or preferably just cancelling it altogether in flagrant disregard of the largest mandate ever delivered for one specific policy in British political history.

The current anti-democratic and constitution-threatening procedural subterfuges being assiduously prosecuted by the cross-party Parliamentary anti-Brexit Movement are too many and too current to recount in detail here and most readers will be familiar with them anyway.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how our MPs as a body can any longer plausibly claim to be “representing” either their individual electorates or the nation collectively, even on the most generous interpretation of the principles Burke enunciated. Whatever takes their place must reverse the trend of the last thirty years or so and return to more truly “representational” methods of public political engagement. That means, in my view, much more direct democracy, and in several forms.

Reform of candidate selection should be high on the list. The Tories’ notorious A-List of Metro-Cameroon Cuties to be imposed on unwilling constituencies has thankfully gone, and Labour’s dominance by hard-left Momentum seem to have done for All-Wimmin shortlists: but with the occasional exception, neither main party appears at all keen to open up their candidacy processes to a wider selection and thus make them, not only more transparent, but more representative of their local members’ views and concerns.

So the case for constituency Open Primaries, by which all the members or even the registered supporters of a party in it can choose their candidate, is strong. There have been too many instances, in all parties, of either centrally-favoured “rising stars”, or ministers dumped out of a marginal and desperately in need of a safe seat, being foisted on to constituencies against their will, to the detriment of a sound local candidate who knows the constituency and its concerns far better.

A proper Recall Mechanism, by which a minimum percentage of constituents can “recall” a MP to face re-election, is a priority. Momentum for one, unsurprisingly, accelerated after the 2009 expenses scandal, and intensified when several MPs were caught out having voted in debates on legislation, in the outcome of which they had a direct financial interest.

One of whom, co-incidentally, was one Richard Drax, who made several protesting interventions when a Recall Bill was finally debated, to the effect that MPs were all honourable men whose reputations might suffer were their constituents to read in the Press that they were the subject of a Recall Petition. Which, you might think, was precisely the point.

But it’s not only to deal with misconduct that a Recall Mechanism is required. Since the 2016 EU Referendum was held and even more so recently, in several Parliamentary constituencies, the anger of majority Leave voters with their, not only Remain-voting, but actively Brexit-blocking, MP is fuelling attempts at de-selection, which, under the present rules, is almost impossible.

That exacerbates the need for proper Recall. In both main parties, how many Remainer MPs allegedly “representing” solidly Leave-voting constituencies would persist in obstructing Brexit in defiance of their electorates, if a mere 5 or 10 per cent of their voters could trigger a Recall and force them to re-stand for election and possibly lose their seat?

MPs, of course, are dead against it. Tory MP Zac Goldsmith’s Bill presented in the 2010-2015 Parliament, to allow constituents to recall an errant MP to face re-election, was watered-down almost to the point of ineffectiveness. MPs decreed instead that only a committee made up of themselves was fit to decide whether one of their fellow-MPs had misbehaved sufficiently to have to account to his electorate. So far, astonishingly, none has been so judged.

More referenda are needed, both to counter the tendency of the elected to ignore the views of their electorates once elected, and to sustain and/or enhance voter engagement in politics. For national-level democratic participation, we must rely on a once-in-5-years cross-marking exercise, based on manifesto commitments and campaign promises which, in the present Parliament, approximately 70 per cent of MPs are ostentatiously refusing to honour. But when we can book a holiday, arrange life-insurance, or apply for a university course with a few mouse-clicks or screen-touches, why should this be?

That the Swiss, who via decentralistion, localisation & frequent referendums have the most say in their government, routinely come out as the nation having the most trust and confidence in their government, is no accident. We should learn from them.confidence in govt switz topRepresentative democracy, as a philosophy, has run its course – effectively killed off by the very MPs who cynically use it as justification or excuse for their blatantly anti-representational conduct.

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Sorry, Establishment-Elites: Populism isn’t going to just fade and go away

Holiday reading: “National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy”, by Matthew Goodwin and Roger Eatwell (Pelican Books, 2008) 

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier on Friday 4th January 2019

Until comparatively recently – say, the last ten years or so – “populism” was a relatively neutral descriptive label, confined mainly to textbooks and dictionaries of political science.

Even my own well-thumbed copy of Roger Scruton’s Dictionary of Political Thought (3rd edition, 2007) discusses it primarily in the context of the Russian Narodnik movement and the late 19th century US Populist Party. In the 1950s, it was applied most frequently to the French Poujadistes, the union of small shopkeepers and artisans which campaigned against most forms of large-scale development and industrial modernisation. Even in 2007, Scruton alluded only briefly to the early stages of its current pejorative usage.

Since about 2013-2014, though, it’s been resurrected, to be deployed in a different way by the ruling – not only political but also media, corporatist, academic and cultural – Establishment-Elites who see their continued hegemony threatened by it, especially when, as with Brexit, Trump, and growing success by anti-EU parties in Europe, it produces electoral outcomes not to their liking.

“Populism” is now the anti-democratic, globalist, ‘Liberal’-‘Progressive’ Oligarchy’s preferred term of disparagement for the growing politics of pluralist mass democracy based on self-governing nation-statehood, one that rejects rule by unelected and unaccountable supranational technocracy.

gilets jaunes comp dec 2018

It’s about this movement that political scientists and academics Matthew Goodwin and Roger Eatwell have written in their new (late October 2018) book “National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy”, trying to explain its origins, its central tenets, and its prospects. It’s worth recalling, in passing, that Goodwin especially has elsewhere made a persuasive argument that Britain’s EU Referendum result, which so shocked the overwhelmingly pro-EU Establishment-Elite, had been “baked-in” for several years previously.     

Contrary to the assumptions of its contemptuously-dismissive opponents, the movement isn’t new. Goodwin and Eatwell show how its genesis pre-dates the 2007-08 financial crisis and the subsequent recession. However, they also argue convincingly that both events, and especially the globalist ‘Liberal’-‘Progressive’ Oligarchy’s policy-responses to them – hardship for those on low and middle incomes via austerity and greater job insecurity, but asset-value protection or even enhancement for the already wealthy via ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing – generated an increase in inequality and sense that the economic system was skewed in the Oligarchy’s favour, both of which significantly enlarged the political space for the movement to fill.

Nor is it, as its detractors lazily claim, a movement composed solely of old, white, men. In the USA 2016 Presidential election, not only did 53 per cent of white women voters vote for Trump, but 43 per cent of all women voters opted for Trump. Between 1988 and 2017, the percentage of French female first-time voters who voted for one or other Le Pen nearly quadrupled from 9 per cent to 32 per cent. Greece’s anti-EU Golden Dawn party drew significant support from the young who felt their prospects were deteriorating. Clearly, something other than the Liberal’-‘Progressive’ oligarchy’s lazy, clichéd, prejudices was, and is, at work.

Goodwin and Eatwell identify what they call The Four D’s – the historic shifts, the long-term trends which are a growing cause of concern for millions and which are driving the movement: and which, being structural, are unlikely to fade or dissipate, or be assuaged, in the near future.

First, Distrust – the way in which the elitist nature of ‘Liberal’-‘Progressive’ democracy, forever seeking to minimise the opportunities for meaningful participation in it by the masses, has promoted distrust of politicians and institutions on the part of millions who feel they no longer have a voice in the national discussion.

Second, Destruction – particularly the perception that culturally-‘liberal’ politicians, unaccountable supranational bureaucracies and global corporates are eroding, not only traditional communities, but also national identity and societal cohesion, especially via encouraging historically unprecedented rates of mass immigration, while politically-correct agendas strive to silence any expression of opposition.

Yet this isn’t channelled into racism or xenophobia, but into demands that immigration be controlled by democratic consent, that the pace of immigration be slowed, and crucially, that it be accompanied, not by non-judgemental, relativist, divisive, separatist multiculturalism, but by assimilation and integration. Notable in the chart below is how, on both sides of the Atlantic, people say that immigrants adopting the national language and sharing the national customs, values and traditions are far more important factors than their birth-nationality or ethnicity.   

imp of speaking national language

Third, Deprivation – the growing conviction of many, fuelled by rising inequalities of income and wealth, as well as the perception of cultural discrimination consciously practised against them by the ‘Liberal’-Elites, that they are losing out relative to others, and that the future for themselves and their children is not only diminished, but actually bleak.

future prospects for kids

Fourth, De-Alignment – the burgeoning gap, and therefore weakening bond, between rulers and ruled, between the traditional mainstream political parties and the people they purport (or even no longer bother even to pretend) to represent: manifesting itself in a much more fragmented, volatile and unpredictable politics.

Goodwin and Eatwell also show that, again giving the lie to the dismissive prejudices of its critics, the Populism movement is not anti-democratic. Its preference for properly representative democracy remains strong.percent believing in popular democracy

Rather, it opposes aspects of ‘Liberal’-‘Progressive’ democracy as it has evolved to date, and actually wants more democracy: more direct-democracy referendums and more-listening politicians who will devolve power to the people to exercise it democratically, instead of vesting it in what too often are unelected and unaccountable, bureaucratic and technocratic, economic and political elites.

Goodwin and Eatwell demonstrate, too, that neither is Populism “fascist”, as its belittlers and defamers claim, most notably near-hysterically in the aftermath of the Brexit and Trump victories and the strengthening electoral performance of anti-Establishment parties in Europe. The movement by and large does not seek to tear down failed institutions which turned anti-democratic and replace them with autocratic ones: but to repair them so that they once again serve the interests of those they are supposed to serve.populism vs fascism core themes

The authors argue, in my view correctly, that unless elitist ‘Liberal’-‘Progressivism’ acknowledges its shortcomings, it will fail to come to terms with the new Populism, and so will struggle to contain it. The omens are not good. That bastion of ‘Liberal’-Elitism, The Sunday Times, for example, has described it as one of most dangerous developments of modern times. Set against Nazi Fascism, Marxist-Leninist Communism and Islamist-Jihadism, that seems a curious way to describe a pleading by the denigrated and forgotten for the democratic settlement to recognise and accommodate their legitimate concerns more. 

Conversely, however, if can bring itself to dilute its self-exalting smugness and intolerance, and broaden its appeal by meeting the legitimate concerns of voters who do want radical action to roll back elite-driven agendas in areas like welfare-universalism, mass immigration, rising inequality and civil liberties, it may yet accommodate itself to it.

The former will mean Populism remaining outside the mainstream, but becoming ever more widespread while the ‘Liberal’-‘Progressive’ centrism shrinks. The latter will mean Populism becoming the mainstream as more of the present mainstream adapts to meet it, signs of which are already visible. Either way, it’s here to stay, and isn’t going away any time soon.

I bought Goodwin and Eatwell’s book immediately on publication, but only over the holiday period has it been possible to go through it more slowly, in depth. I’d have no hesitation in recommending that you do, too.

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The Fight for the Soul of the Tory Party

By deposing the Leader and Prime Minister largely responsible for its current ideological paralysis, the Conservative Party must resolve its intellectual vacuum about what modern conservatism stands for

Note: this is the longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 1st October 2018

“There are some of us, Mr Chairman, who will fight, and fight, and fight again, to save the party we love”.

In 2018, 58 years after they were addressed by its then Leader Hugh Gaitskell to the 1960 Labour Party Conference, opposing its move towards the hard-Left and its embrace of unilateral nuclear disarmament, those words need once again be addressed to a party conference. Only this time, to the Conservative Party Conference, and moreover not by its Leader, but at her.

As if Theresa May’s duplicitous preparation and imposition on her Cabinet of her now justly infamous Chequers Plan were not bad enough, she has carried on championing it even after its crushing, personally humiliating dismissal by the EU.

May humiliated Salzburg Summit 3She continues to cling obstinately, not only to Chequers as the sole Brexit option she is prepared to consider, but also, incredibly, to Olly Robbins, her thoroughly discredited No 10 Brexit adviser, whose brainchild it was, and on whose ‘expert’ advice that the EU would accept it she persists in relying, to the exclusion of all others.

Yet not merely other, but superior, alternatives exist, being urged on her constantly by allies and opponents alike, which both better reflect the desire manifested in the Brexit vote for clear political, judicial and economic separation from Brussels, and give better opportunities for a newly-independent post-Brexit Britain to forge new trading links around the world.

The Institute of Economic Affairs’ Plan A Plus maximises the scope for eliminating damaging tariffs and regaining control over our fisheries, as well as facilitating new Free Trade Agreements with the world’s dynamically-growing economies outside the stagnating and scelerotic EU: Chequers keeps us tied into it as closely as possible.

IEA Plan A Plus Launch Sep 2018The Canada Plus arrangement gives us total freedom of control over immigration policy, and independence from the EU’s ‘Common Rule Book’: Chequers gives us neither.

Yet they fall on deaf ears. May has her Chequers Plan, she insists that nothing else is acceptable, and that, for her, is that. To the evidence, both that it is less popular than No-Deal, and that its unpopularity exacerbates that of herself and her party, she is impervious.Unpopularity of Chequers dealBut there is worse to come. May’s obdurate adherence to Chequers is being compounded by her acceptance at the very least, or even endorsement if not something more, of a grotesquely cynical ramping up of Project Fear.

The scaremongering operation born out of the Treasury’s pre-Referendum antipathy to Brexit is now being pushed once again by May in full Stockholm-Syndrome mode – on new ‘expert’ advice from her preferred source? – but this time against a No-Deal Brexit as an alternative to Chequers, as part of a deliberate “Chequers or Chaos” strategy.

We saw a foretaste of it in the run-up to the early-July Chequers Summit, with Airbus warning of an exodus from the UK in the event of No-Deal, very soon, curiously, after discussions with Business Secretary and arch-Remainer Greg Clark. But since then, there have been plenty other examples. To quote just two or three:

After having previously instructed them to spend their summer holidays touring Europe to drum up support for her Chequers Plan, May was in early September ordering Ministers to stress to the public that there was no alternative to it

Or try the Association of British Insurers’ warning that it would become illegal in the event of a No-Deal Brexit for insurance-based pensions to be paid to UK-nationality recipients resident in the EU. Fortunately, fairly easy to demolish.

Then, as recently as last week, May’s government theatrically appointed a Food Supplies Minister, “to oversee the protection of food supplies in the event of a No-Deal Brexit”. Such an appointment has previously confined to wartime and was not even deemed necessary in the rolling strikes and disruptions to distribution experienced in the 1974 industrial crisis and the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent.

In summary, not only do we have a Remainer Prime Minister sticking resolutely to a Brexit plan already rejected out-of-hand by an EU no doubt confident that further concessions can be wrung from a desperate Theresa May in deep political trouble, but shunning all other, and better alternatives. We also have a Remainer Prime Minister colluding in, if not directing, a co-ordinated attempt to frighten the British public into accepting it.Project Fear 2018

It’s perhaps hardly surprising that 56 per cent of those polled by Sky Data think Brexit will be worse than expected. The Remainer dominated media and political elite, including even the Governor of the Bank of England, have done little for the last 28 months except attempt to talk the nation into a state of catatonic panic. Mrs May must be so pleased.

Were Brexit the sole source of the Conservatives’ predicament, the crisis might – just – be containable. But overlying May’s Brexit shambles is the Party’s severe ideological vacuum, epitomised by the instinctively statist, authoritarian, May, devoid of any discernible guiding philosophy, personality, or leadership ability, and of which her self-inflicted Brexit shambles is arguably merely a part – its apparently total inability to come up with any ideas, vision or policies to counter the 1970s-throwback, reheated hard-Left socialism of Corbyn’s Labour.

Not before time, commentators have been lining up this past week to highlight the depth, and cause, of this malaise, and rightly condemn it.

In The Daily Telegraph, Allister Heath correctly laid the vast majority of the blame for Corbynomics being so ostensibly popular with Middle England on the faux-‘Conservative’ Party which has largely stopped countering it and in effect capitulated to it.

McDonnell’s Mad Marxism is very likely to be an electoral winner, warned Maggie Pagano at Reaction, not because of any intrinsic merits, but thanks to Theresa May’s Tories’ timidity & incompetence.

The Conservatives, observed Ryan Bourne accurately, also in The Daily Telegraph, have now spent so long agreeing with Labour’s negative portrayal of our economic system, and even imitating its policies, that they have now deprived themselves of any effective criticisms of them.

Ministers like Philip Hammond, noted The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, are incapable of fighting back other than with left-wing prescriptions like surreptitious tax rises or expensive new spending projects, so that Corbyn is actually leading the nation’s intellectual conversation.

The Conservative Party must re-embrace freeing individuals & businesses from creeping Nanny-State paternalism & authoritarianism, in favour of aspiration, opportunity & meritocracy, pleaded former International Development Minister Priti Patel MP, writing in the Parliamentary magazine The House.

Red-Labour has been made electable by the pseudo-Tories, fumed Gerald Warner at Reaction, condemning the so-called ‘modernised’ Conservative Party for squandering the once-in-a-lifetime chance given to it by Brexit to cease being an empty, principle-free shell.

The Conservatives, fulminated The Spectator editorial in its pre-Conference edition, are functioning as Corbyn’s Useful Idiots: years of failing to make the case for basic liberty and the free enterprise system, of stealing Labour policies in pursuit of electoral advantage, have left them unable to explain why Corbyn is wrong.

And when usually loyal Conservatives like Charles Moore and Tim Montgomerie legitimately ascribe culpability for the Party’s ideological paralysis to May and call for her to go, in effect saying, rightly, that she is all but guaranteeing the advent of a hard-Left Labour government led by Corbyn and McDonnell, her days are surely numbered.

So in Birmingham, over the next two days, there are parallel Brexit and non-Brexit battles taking place. The unofficial, but never far from the surface, impending leadership contest is almost immaterial, because the ideological struggle over the shape, not only of Brexit but of Conservatism, will determine its outcome.

Will the Party continue on its present ever-Leftward drift, preoccupied with fashionably politically-correct social-justice and identity-politics, and convinced, bizarrely, that the only way to stop full-strength Corbyn economically is to offer diet-Corbyn instead? Or will it somehow re-discover the moral and intellectual firepower to oppose Corbynism absolutely and offer a distinctive and optimistic vision of a freer, less-taxed and better-off society?

For anyone wanting the latter, an irredeemably intransigent, incompetent, inflexible Theresa May, a disaster for her party, the country and arguably democracy itself, and who ideally should not even be giving the Leader’s Speech on Wednesday at all, must be forced to declare that it will be her last. If ever there was a need for a repeat-in-reverse on Tuesday of Macmillan’s Night of the Long Knives, it’s now.

Drastic though it is, the present circumstances do justify a palace coup – whereby she is told by a co-ordinated procession of individual colleagues visiting her one by one as with Thatcher in 1990, and in no uncertain terms, that the game is up: that she cannot lead the party through Brexit, much less into the next General Election which could follow a failure to get her Brexit deal through Parliament before March 2019: and that her only alternative is to resign, with effect from the conclusion of her speech, in favour of a pro-Brexit caretaker Prime Minister.

Labour Party Conferences may well be mainly characterised by a succession of extreme-Left demagogues delivering two-minute rants from the platform on arcane and largely indecipherable motions. But at least policy is discussed and even voted on, albeit after a fashion.

But in almost comically stark contrast, the obsessively stage-managed, anodyne, debate-free rallies of the slavishly-loyal, listening dutifully to ministers’ set-piece speeches, which now comprise the formal proceedings of Conservative Party conferences, have become notorious – rightly mocked even by The Daily Telegraph as merely “paying through the nose for the privilege of clapping”.

Conference audience dutifully applauding

If the Party, despite its current dire ideological and political predicament, yet again prefers to close ranks, eyes and ears, and contrives to hold a synthetically-orchestrated, reality-ignoring Conference: and if the pro-Brexit, anti-May dissenters yet again recoil from openly mounting a challenge, both to her conduct of Brexit specifically and her party leadership generally: then a Corbyn government is a near-certainty, and they will have no-one but themselves to blame.

That modern-day equivalent of Gaitskell’s “fight for the soul of the Party” needs to be taking place. In Birmingham. Here and now.

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A Country on the Cusp of Major Change: The UK’s Emerging Political Realignment

Not only is a new British political divide emerging from the developing post-Brexit realignment of UK politics, but even new labels will be required to describe its opposing sides 

Note: this is the updated, long-read version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 3rd August 2018

It was evident, even well before the 2016 EU Referendum voting pattern and its aftermath finally showed it to be redundant, that, as a method of labelling political positioning and allegiance, the traditional one-dimensional Left-Right axis was inadequate and obsolete.

As a description purely of what was long assumed to be mainly economic interest, and moreover solely derived from social class, it was poorly equipped to reflect attitudes to non-economic, cultural and social factors like civil liberties.

In contrast, and although far from perfect, the two-dimensional representation often called The Political Compass, for several years familiar to both academic and amateur students of political philosophy, displays this better.

Political Compass Dual Display

By differentiating the horizontal economic scale – running from the big-government, high-spending, high-taxing, State-interventionist, collectivist Left, to the small-state, low-tax, low-spending, private-enterprise, free-market Right – from the vertical socio-cultural Authoritarian vs Libertarian scale, it allows a more nuanced and accurate description.

Thus it’s possible to distinguish, on the Left, between Left-‘Liberal’ economic-collectivists who want state-ownership of major enterprises, heavily regulated and taxed  private-enterprise, and big-spending public services financed by high taxes on private profits, but also uncontrolled mass immigration plus transgendered paedophilia for all: and semi-authoritarian social-conservatives who don’t object to a mixed economy provided the State has a near-monopoly on the delivery of major public services.     

And thus it’s also possible, on the Right, to distinguish between mild social-liberals who nominally support capitalism and private-enterprise (but which very often is actually over-regulated and lobbying-susceptible crony-corporatism): and buccaneering free-marketeers who are nevertheless quite socially-illiberal on issues like, e.g., gay rights or free speech.

And, of course, libertarian-minarchists like me, in the outer 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock positions in the bottom right-hand purple ‘Libertarian’ quadrants, who, to use the old ‘boardroom vs bedroom’ analogy, think the State should:

  1. confine itself to the basics like defence/security/border-control, law & order and justice, and the adjudication/enforcement of contracts; and otherwise
  2. pretty much keep out of both boardroom and bedroom, provided that everything which happens in either is done between consenting adults, and no-one is harmed either unknowingly or involuntarily.

Degrees of state involvement

Yet even those assumptions have been shattered by the EU Referendum and its subsequent political fallout. We know that, with the exception of UKIP and the LibDems, both of whose electoral propositions were virtually defined by the EU question, the Referendum vote broke both ways across all pre-existing party allegiances and political ideologies.

People voted how they did for varying reasons, but crucially, often voted in the same way as other people with whom a political affiliation would have previously been thought impossible.

As just two examples, over 70 per cent of the mainly working-class and lower middle-class electors of Boston, Lincolnshire, voted in the same way as patrician High-Tory grandees Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, while inventor and entrepreneurial businessman James Dyson voted in the same way as Paul Embery, the left-ish leader of the public-services Fire Brigades Union.

This seems almost unprecedented in modern British political history. Nor, crucially, was it a temporary, Referendum-only blip. Not only has it not gone away, but it even appears to be solidifying. Politics has not, as the pundits expected and many still fervently wish, ‘reverted to normal’.

The UK appears on the cusp of a major political re-alignment, which will render prior labels redundant. The old labels and allegiances have broken down: we need fresh labels reflecting the new allegiances which are forming, coalescing around commonalities of interest hitherto unimagined.

Moreover, and contrary to the “Brexit has divided the country” meme, while the EU Referendum may have epitomised and accelerated this division, the Brexit vote per se did not, in my view, actually cause it.

The Referendum merely exposed, and for the first time allowed to be articulated, deep underlying political divisions which had been simmering away for several years among a significant segment of the population, who were in effect disenfranchised by the structural inability – or more likely unwillingness – of the consensually-centrist cartel’s political settlement to accommodate them and allow their concerns to be voiced, until the Referendum provided the opportunity. 

It’s this that Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Politics at Kent University, means when he argues that the referendum result was ‘baked in’ for years before the actual vote. It’s arguably why, too, the result came as such a profound shock to the ‘Liberal’ New Class Establishment.

How, then, to summarise, in convenient label form, the nature of the new divide and its opposing tribes? Some brief illustrations of that divide’s manifestations may be a guide.

The multi-acronymed international organisations and EU-friendly big-business corporates, whose dire warnings of immediate Armageddon, in the wake even of a Leave vote, were so wrong, remain implacably opposed to the Referendum result being implemented, and are colluding with the Government  in a 2018 reprise of 2016’s Project Fear. 

Well-connected, but sinister lobbying interests continue to fund campaigns for what is claimed to be merely a People’s Vote (as if the one on 23rd June 2016 wasn’t!) on the final exit deal, but whose intention to turn it into a 2nd Referendum in the hope of overturning the June 2016 plebiscite are barely concealed.

Sections of the Remain-dominated media continue obsessively to pursue evidence for conspiracy theories to justify setting the 2016 result aside, seemingly impervious to the debunking  and derision they rightly attract.

On one academic psephologist’s estimate, approximately 63 per cent of Parliamentary constituencies voted to leave the EU. In contrast, about 70 per cent of the 650 MPs purporting to represent them strongly favoured remaining it in, and approximately 50 per cent of them, including the Government itself are still trying to dilute Brexit to meaninglessness, or stop it altogether.

On Monday 30th and Tuesday 31st July, respectively, articles in The Guardian by the Leftist Zoe Williams, and in The Daily Telegraph by the (allegedly)-‘Conservative’ Chair of the DCMS Select Committee, Damian Collins, each demanded that the dissemination of news and opinion via social media be controlled. Both ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ agreeing, in plain sight, on both curbing free speech and restricting access for news and opinion to compliant traditional media channels no doubt deemed by the Remainer-dominated political-class to be more amenable to political persuasion or influence. 

These last two are especially significant, as they seem to encapsulate what many feel to be the essence of the new divide, and are therefore a pointer to the correct new labels for its two mutually incompatible and irreconcilable protagonists – The People vs The Political Class, or in the wider context, The Establishment Elite vs The Rest Of Us.

Not that the Continuity-Remainer dominated New Class Establishment Elite aren’t dreaming up their own sets of labels, both to differentiate themselves from us, and to rationalise their referendum defeat. Three especially are particularly unpleasant, and show the largely-metropolitan ‘Liberal’-Elite’s contempt for mass democracy on full display.

‘Old vs Young’ is their first divide. The elderly so voted disproportionately for Brexit, goes this trope, so they have ‘stolen the future’ of the young, thus defining age as the new political divide. Spiked‘s Brendan O’Neill, writing in  May 2017,  treated this initially with the withering contempt it so richly deserves. 

Brendan O'Neill on ageist bigotry of Remainers

But, unsurprisingly, there’s more to it than that. As this chart from Lord Ashcroft’s immediately post-Referendum polling report shows, you have to get down to the 35-44 age group before the Remain vote outstrips that for Leave.

EUReferendum voting AgeGroups

EU Ref sky data turnout-by-ageAnd that’s exacerbated by the figures for turnout. We know that the young, apparently so in thrall to the EU and so angry and appalled by the prospect of leaving it, actually posted the lowest turnout of all age groups. Oddly enough, to win a vote, it seems you have to, ahem, you know, vote.     

Next is another favourite ‘Liberal’ metropolitan’s comfort-blanket, the ‘Urban vs Rural’ divide. Now invoking a European perspective as well, this seeks to differentiate the metropolitan (allegedly)-elite from ‘pitchfork-wielding populists based in small towns and the countryside’. Quite how this copes with the fact that substantial UK metropolises like Birmingham and Sheffield voted Leave, however, isn’t immediately apparent. On one reading, the theory actually posits that urbanites are so disgusted with the voting preferences of their non-urban and rural compatriots that they are questioning democracy itself as a concept for government, another useful pointer to the correct labels needed to describe the new political boundary.            

Finally, the ‘Educated vs Uneducated’ divide. On this, using purely the possession of any old university degree as the separator, the prime political split now defining the country is that between degree-holders (Remain, sophisticated, ‘educated’) and degree non-holders (Leave, barbaric, ‘uneducated’).     

Apart from its inherent post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy, the conflation of correlation with causation, and the potential impact as a driver for both of an Academy overwhelmingly dominated by Remain. . . .   

Voting intentions UK academics EU Ref 2016. . . .it’s a wholly specious differentiation metric. The idea, for example, that an indoctrinated 22 year-old snowflake with a 2.2 in Intersectional Gender-Studies from a third-rate ex-Polytechnic is somehow ‘educated’ and thus uniquely qualified to participate in deciding Britain’s political future, while someone in their 50’s with two or more professional qualifications and maybe twenty years at a high level in their profession but no degree is somehow ‘uneducated’ and thus isn’t, is so manifestly preposterous that it should be laughed out of Court. That it isn’t, but is actually taken seriously, speaks volumes.

You might think, on this basis, that the shape of at least one side of the new political divide is clear: ‘liberal’, centrist, urban, supportive of EU freedom of movement, pro-Remain. Yet, curiously, this isn’t the case. Comparatively recently, in a YouGov survey of the policy areas and political viewpoints on which voters felt most strongly that almost all of the current main political parties did not represent them, one thing was clear. That was, as academic Matthew Goodwin has also noted, that while there may well be a demand for a new political party in Britain, it certainly doesn’t appear to be for a ‘liberal’, centrist, pro-EU, pro-immigration one. 

New centrist party no

Which brings us back to the question of what labels we need, to attach to the new protagonists of Britain’s new, still-emerging political divide. 

David Goodhart’s Anywheres vs Somewheres is one of the best attempts to date. If I may paraphrase some of his remarks when I heard him talking about it:

These people [working-class and lower middle-class Leavers] are not racist or xenophobic. The British Social Attitudes Survey shows that only about five per cent of the population, at maximum, are genuinely racist. But they do think that the level of immigration has been too high, and that while they don’t want it restricted on an ethnicity basis, they do want it, not stopped, but controlled via a democratic process in which they have a say. They want an entitlement to welfare and State benefits to be conditional and contributory, not universalist. These are not big asks, yet for ten or twenty years all the main political parties have refused to even listen to them, much less answer them.’

This stuck me then, and does now, as being pretty close, but perhaps doesn’t quite catch it. Given the Remainer Elite-Establishment’s predilection for both intolerant, illiberal, political-correctness, and its visceral aversion to mass democracy in favour of ‘enlightened’ bureaucracy (its own, naturally), then maybe ‘Authoritarians vs Libertarians’, or ‘Democrats vs Technocrats’, or something similar, will be the new political paradigm when the dust settles.

At present, the incestuous political-class & its amen-corner of media courtiers are so mired in self-referential Westminster Bubble groupthink, that they are largely insulated from this burgeoning re-alignment, and therefore either uninterested or in denial about it. They also, let’s face it, all have a vested interest in preserving the existing system which sustains them.

But there seems no doubt that somehing momentous is afoot, even if we are in its early days. The transition may be smooth and benign, but given the determination of the Elite-Establishment not to yield one iota of its hegemony, that may not be guaranteed. Major political realignments of this magnitude in an established democracy are a challenge. What Britain makes of it may set a course, for good or ill, for most of our lifetimes.

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This Just Got A Lot Bigger Than Brexit

The May Government’s apparent determination to pursue only the softest of Soft-Brexits, by whatever means and at whatever cost, has produced a quasi-constitutional crisis of democracy that is far bigger than Brexit itself

Note: this is the long (and updated) version of the article first published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 10th July 2018.

A dramatic and febrile three days in the wake of the virtual imposition, including via the use of threats almost comical in their puerile pettiness, by an embattled but stubbornly-authoritarian Theresa May of her Brexit proposals at the Cabinet’s Chequers so-called Brexit “summit” on Friday 6th July, culminated on the afternoon of Monday 9th July in the resignation of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, following those of Brexit Department Secretary David Davis and Minister of State Steve Baker respectively, late on the evening of Sunday 8th July.

May has no right to feel aggrieved, or even surprised. First, her proposed negotiating position, about as far removed from her 2017 manifesto promises and previous negotiating pledges as chalk from cheese, were rightly labelled ‘Remain-By-Any-Other-Name’ and ‘Brexit-In-Name-Only’, and lacerated by multiple commentators for their disingenuousness and lack of ambition, their undue deference to Remainer intransigence and Brussels diktats alike, and even their downright mendacity. 

Foremost among these, though, was a devastating memorandum from Lawyers For Britain’s Martin Howe QC, exposing how, in contrast to the claims advanced implausibly by her sycophantic Remainer colleagues, May’s proposals would lead directly to a worst-of-all-worlds Black-Hole Brexit with Britain stuck permanently as a rule-taking vassal-state in the enduring grip of the EU’s legal and regulatory maw. 

On Sunday 8th July’s BBC Sunday Politics, presenter Sarah Smith extracted from Conservative Party Deputy Chairman James Cleverly an admission that, in contrast to what had hitherto been spun, the UK would automatically adopt any new EU rules, despite having no say over devising them, unless a (Remainer-dominated, remember) Parliament actually decided not to. Hardly the claimed “taking back control of our laws”.

Then it all got much worse. It emerged that May had  “shown” (or submitted for approval?) her Brexit proposals to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, before their disclosure even to Cabinet, ignoring every convention of collective Cabinet government. She was duly excoriated, both for a grave breach of constitutional protocol, as well as a characteristically appalling lack of judgement.

This was then followed by the additional revelation that her No. 10 Chief of Staff, Gavin Barwell and her staunchly anti-Brexit, pro-EU, éminence-grise Olly Robbins had seemingly been working on her ultra-soft Brexit plan, in secret, not even confiding in the Cabinet, apparently for months.

Fuel was added to the fire which by now was well beyond merely smouldering, by both the unequivocally-critical terms of David Davis’ utterly-damning resignation letter – 

“. .the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real. . “

“The ‘common rule book’ policy hands large swathes of our economy to the EU”

and the blatant lie in May’s point 2 – “[we are] ending free movement” – of her reply

One type of free movement may be being cosmetically “ended”, but only to be replaced by a different kind of free movement: and May refuses even to guarantee not to discriminate against non-EU nationals in its application.

Speculation was rife on the morning of Monday 9th July that May would use the opportunity presented by the Davis and Baker resignations to abolish the Brexit department completely, and fold it into the Cabinet Office, to be oversighted by none other than Robbins. This truly alarming prospect turned out not so far to be true: but that it was regarded as a strong possibility at all surely speaks volumes.

Next on that same Monday morning came the news that May’s Chief of Staff, the former Tory MP Gavin Barwell noted chiefly for his labelling Brexit ‘the politics of hate’, was to brief Labour, Liberal-Democrat and SNP MPs on her (Non)-Brexit ‘Brexit’ plans. Although subsequently shelved, the implication of this was momentous, and clear: uber-reluctant Brexiteer May, prepared to solicit the votes of the pro-Remain Opposition parties in order to get her (Non)-Brexit plans through Parliament, against both her own backbenchers trying to hold her to her manifesto commitments, and the votes of 17.4 million people.

In my opinion, the scaremongering by the likes of Airbus and BMW of the previous week, with Business Secretary and arch-Remainer Greg Clark acting as the willing mouthpiece of pro-Brussels, crony-corporatist big-business, is indelibly linked to this. Who knows what donations have been threatened to be withheld unless Brexit is effectively killed off, or promised if it is?  

It’s now abundantly clear that we have a political class that is resolutely determined, almost at any price, not to enact the instruction given to it by the British electorate, and is led by a Prime Minister evidently prepared to destroy her own party & even democracy itself, in order to perpetuate Britain’s subservience to the anti-democratic supranational EU. Always more Miliband-ite than even Blairite, May’s mask has finally slipped.

This means that the quasi-constitutional crisis we now face is greater than the extant issue. This just got a lot bigger than Brexit. It’s about nothing less than whether we’re a functioning citizens’ democracy at all, or unwilling subjects of an unaccountable apparatchik-elite pursuing its own agenda in defiance of, if not actually against, the people.

We just have to win this fight, and now in a much wider sense than merely holding a reluctant or even intransigently-defiant government to the referendum verdict it promised to implement, or the manifesto pledge on which it stood for election.

It’s now about so much more than Brexit. We can’t afford to lose. Because if we do, a triumphalist and overwhelmingly Remainer Left-‘Liberal’ Elite Oligarchy, who dominate Britain’s political, media, academic and cultural classes and thus control virtually every institution of public life, are likely to try and wreak a terrible revenge on the ordinary people of this country.

We saw a taste of it in their furious reaction to the Referendum result, and about which I’ve previously written at TCW. I suspect it would intensify. So nearly thwarted, via the near-loss of what they revere as axiomatic, and moreover to what they contemptuously regard as a backward, racist, xenophobic, unsophisticated, uneducated, politically-illegitimate rabble, they would probably redouble their efforts to foist EU rules, uncontrolled mass immigration, progressive loss of civil liberties, multiculturalism and divisive identity-politics on us in greater measure for having had the temerity to rebel.

I can recall tweeting, just after 2016 EU Referendum, that pro-EU, ‘Liberal’-Elite, New-Class Establishment Oligarchy would not accept without a fight its defeat by the Demos, and especially on an issue as fundamental to its entire world-view as EU membership, and that we might well have to take to the streets, preferably and hopefully non-violently, to enforce the implementation of the Referendum result.

That prospect now feels closer than ever, and we may have no choice. To quote Thomas Paine: “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace”.

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