The Speech Boris Ought To Deliver Today

(but which he almost certainly won’t)

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Tuesday 2nd October 2018

Forget about Theresa May’s set-piece Prime Minister’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference tomorrow. No-one, not even normally loyal supporters, expects anything much of it, or of her. Given the utter disaster that her Conference speech was last year, and so low is the bar she consequently has to clear, that just getting to the end of it without major mishap will be success of a kind.

No: today’s the day. The day when Boris supposedly comes clean, sets out his stall, and unashamedly makes his pitch to be both Party Leader and Prime Minister. The day when, in a Conservative Home event scheduled to last from 1.00 pm until 2.00 pm, he makes a speech clearly calculated to be the big event and talking-point of the conference, and upstage May’s predictably pedestrian by comparison effort tomorrow into the bargain.

But the runes aren’t necessarily overwhelmingly favourable. Out in front of the pack with Party members and activists he may be: but in the event that May is deposed, whenever and for whatever reason, he has to surmount the obstacle of a Parliamentary vote by Tory MPs to decide which two leadership candidates are placed before the membership.

And a majority of those 315 Tory MPs are determined that he won’t be one of them. Many purely because they are either closet or overt Remainers, who form a majority of Tory MPs anyway and would oppose any Brexiteer becoming Prime Minister, and others who, irrespective of their Brexit stance, harbour personal antipathy towards Boris for a variety of reasons, some arguably justified, but others less so.

So rather than tilting at an immovable windmill, a shrewd Boris should box clever, and confound both expectations – and his enemies – by doing the completely unexpected.

He should start by repeating the essence of his resignation speech, namely its forensic, entirely policy-focused, criticisms of May’s Chequers Plan approach to Brexit and which were careful not to attack May personally, and its plea that it was not too late for a different, more robust approach more in tune with the desire expressed by British voters via the Referendum result for clear economic, judicial and political separation from the EU’s institutions.

Boris resignation speech 18 July 2018

He ought then to go on to note regretfully how this hasn’t happened, with not only the eminently foreseeable result of the EU’s peremptory rejection of Chequers despite even more concessions, but its accompaniment by the intransigent Eurocrats’ contemptuous and malevolent humiliation of May personally.

And then continue by expressing his sorrow at how, despite other and better Brexit plans being available, the Prime Minister has inexplicably persisted in sticking to her Chequers  Plan, despite its manifest flaws and unpopularity.

He should then turn to the Conservative’s non-Brexit difficulties. It’s deeply disturbing, he should say, that extreme-Left Corbyn socialism appears to have been allowed to somehow gain such a foothold among the electorate, despite the abundance of evidence from everywhere it’s been tried that it doesn’t work: that the Tories are out-polling Labour by barely the statistical margin of error in polling: that the business presence at a hard-Left Labour Party conference was notable for its extent: and that anticipation of a Corbyn government is as high as it is.

UK voting intentions 30Sep2018

He ought then to follow this up by noting ruefully the present leadership’s seeming inability to come up with any significant counter to Corbyn’s apparent appeal by forcefully making the arguments for a smaller, less-activist state and freer markets, and by devising innovative supply-side solutions to the housing and elderly-care crises, but resorting too readily either to negative scaremongering or watered-down versions of Corbyn’s own policies.

And then conclude, with infinite regret, that he’d come to the inescapable conclusion that the current leadership was unlikely to reverse this trend, so that however reluctantly, he could see no other option than a change of helmsman.

This is the point at which Boris should drop the bombshell that no-one’s expecting.

He should say that he’s aware of his own shortcomings: that he accepts that his colourful and occasionally chaotic, even louche, private life is a turn-off for many people: that he acknowledges he’s almost certainly temperamentally unsuited to the mundane attention to detail that the highest office demands, even of those once thought capable of handling it: that he recognises his limited appeal among his MP colleagues: and that, consequently, while convinced with regret that a change of leadership is inevitable both for Brexit and domestic political reasons, he personally would not be a candidate.

But follow this immediately by a declaration that he pledges himself to exploit such popularity as he does enjoys with the Party’s grassroots and activists, and the wider public, to campaign up and down the country for a committed Brexiteer putative, and hopefully actual Prime Minister.

Tory Leader poll Mon 01Oct 2018

And subsequently support him or her, in the capacity of Party Chairman, to lead the campaigns both for a proper, not ersatz, Brexit and the defeat of Corbyn. Because if May falls, the hapless Brandon Lewis will fall with her, and there will be a vacancy.

With this strategy, Boris would at a stroke destroy the main objection to a change of Party Leader and Prime Minister: that he seeks that change only as a vehicle for his own vaulting ambition. He would eliminate the obstacle of Tory MPs who, though they might be open to May’s replacement with a Brexiteer PM, wouldn’t support it if it meant Boris in Number Ten.

He would negate the disadvantage of his own mercurial temperament by deploying it in a role for which it’s far more suited. He would in effect have loaded the rifle, aimed and cocked it, but invited a more popular and accurate marksman to pull the trigger and fire it.  

This strategy and that speech would throw May and her soft-Brexit acolytes, anticipating a straight-out leadership challenge from Boris, right off balance. And it would provide a Conference talking-point like no other. It might even make Boris go down in history, as the statesman who secured Brexit by sacrificing his own ambition for the sake of the cause.

If only.

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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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The Salzburg Summit Winners and Losers

Who were the principal winners and losers from Theresa May’s Salzburg EU summit débacle?

Note: this is the longer version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 24th September 2018

In the city famous for its associations with The Sound of Music, the notes played at Thursday 20th September’s European Union Summit were discordant: not only because the would-be soloist Theresa May was unbelievably poor, but also because the Brussels Orchestra wanted her either to play a different composition altogether, or preferably not play at all.May Salzburg Summit 2

Over its four-and-a-half decades of European Union membership, Britain has often suffered frustrations and rebuffs at its tedious summits: the then PM Cameron’s total failure to return from the crucial one in February 2016 without even a minor concession he could implausibly present to UK voters as ‘significant reform’ was merely the most recent.

But in the entire history of its involvement, the malevolent ambush and abject humiliation calculatedly inflicted on Theresa May by the EU Summit in Salzburgin rejecting out of hand her Chequers Plan for Britain’s EU exit, was surely unprecedented, however much we rightly condemn both the origins and details of the Plan itself for their duplicity and excessive appeasement of, and concessions to, Brussels. 

But such situations always produce winners as well as losers. Who were the principal winners and losers from Theresa May’s Salzburg débacle?

The first big loser is Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. Formerly a staunch Brexiteer, he agreed to take on the job at the Department for Exiting the European Union just after the resignations of David Davis and Steve Baker in the aftermath of May’s infamous Chequers Summit.

But he did so knowing the department had been cynically used by May’s No 10 Downing Street as camouflage for their covert backstairs operation to put together the Chequers Plan, presented to the Cabinet as a take-it-or-leave-it fait-accompli.

He also accepted the post in full knowledge that he would be required to progress and promote Chequers, which was already being comprehensively eviscerated for its lack of ambition and abandonment of the red lines which May herself had laid down in her Lancaster House and Mansion House speeches.

Three months later, May’s Chequers Plan, already (and justifiably so) politically toxic in Britain, and now comprehensively rejected by the EU, lies in ruins, to all intents and purposes dead. Whether Raab was motivated mainly by the prospect of promotion is almost immaterial. As bad judgement calls go, his was a humdinger, and it deserves to blight the rest of his political career.

Theresa's Puppet-Master Olly RobbinsA bigger loser than Raab is May’s No 10 Brexit negotiations adviser, former FCO mandarin Oliver Robbins.

As supposedly her ‘expert’ on the EU and thereby uniquely equipped to advise May on what the EU would or would not find acceptable, Robbins has long been suspected, not entirely without reason, of being opposed to Brexit notwithstanding the Referendum result, and therefore determined to influence an all-too-gullible and vulnerable to such influence Theresa May towards as soft-Remain, substantially-in-name-only a Brexit as possible.

It was Robbins who allegedly helped to devise, in secret, behind the backs of the public, MPs and even the Cabinet, and deceitfully using the Brexit Department as camouflage while disregarding its recommendations, May’s ignominious Chequers Plan: which was bounced on to the Cabinet, remember, with the peremptory instruction that it could not be changed, because it had already been agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

With the EU’s emphatic dismissal of Chequers, Robbins’ credibility is zero, his reputation for EU expertise deservedly joining in the gutter his reputation for a total abrogation of Civil Service impartiality and neutrality. The EU whose anti-democracy and technocratic authoritarianism he so obviously reveres has rewarded his misplaced loyalty and self-abasement in its cause by making a monumental fool of him. Clearly, he can play no further part whatsoever in any Brexit negotiations. Whether he can remain in Government service at all is dubious.

The main loser, of course, is May herself. For all the frantic spin of the 36 hours after the Salzburg Summit, attempting, with the connivance of the media, to present her simultaneously as both the grievously-wronged honest-broker and the re-incarnation of Boadicea, a Margaret Thatcher Mk II standing up for Britain against EU chicanery and intransigence . . . .Sun Front Page Sat 22 Sep 2018. . . . the inescapable fact is that she has been completely and utterly humiliated – exposed at best as a naïve, gullible ingenuée, and at worst as a devious, cynical schemer hoist on the petard of her own duplicity.

Let’s not forget just how and why we arrived at this embarrassment. It’s because Theresa May herself – whether out of ideological conviction or political expediency hardly matters – set out deliberately to deceive her Cabinet, MPs, party and country that she was pursuing in good faith the Brexit which 17.4 million voted for and which she largely pledged to achieve for them: while at the same time launching a secret backstairs operation to devise and advance her own much weaker Soft-Remain, Brexit-In-Name-Only Chequers Plan which not only reflected her own Remainer inclinations but preferred to appease an EU determined to ensure Britain must not be seen to benefit, either economically or politically, from Brexit.

It was, and is, gross constitutional treachery and political ineptitude, and that it has blown up in her face is poetic justice. Yet bear in mind, amid the spin, that she’s still a Remainer, she hasn’t junked either Chequers or the people who designed it, and she’d still revert to it if the EU accepted it. Her credibility too is at rock-bottom, and her position is even weaker than before. Hence the desperate, choreographed attempts to shore it up, to try and insulate her from irresistible demands for her resignation.

Johnson, Davis resign from Cabinet post ChequersAnd the main winners? Well, foremost, Boris Johnson, David Davis, Steve Baker. Leaving personalities aside, their resignations in protest at Chequers now look prescient, principled and justified. Paradoxically, the EU itself has proved they were right all along. Their positions, and credibility, have been strengthened.

ERG Davis, Paterson, Villiers, Rees-MoggNext come Jacob Rees-Mogg and the European Research Group of backbench Brexiteer Tory MPs. Their technical and constitutional objections to Chequers, and their warnings that the EU would not accept it, have also been proved right. Salzburg has vindicated them, and they too won’t be so easy for the closet-Remainer May-ites to dismiss in future.

After that come Tory members and activists in the country. Consistently opposed to Chequers in Conservative Home surveys, the latest of which shows a mere 10 per cent believing May should stick with Chequers, they have also been proved correct.  And this matters, because with a majority of Tory MPs being overt or closet Remainers, it’s grassroots dissatisfaction which provides the best chance of forcing May out.

History is replete with apparent defeats that subsequently turned out have been the springboard for ultimate victory. For both Brexiteers and Britain, Salzburg could well be another.

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Soft-Remainer Wets vs Canada-Plus Drys

The real issue behind the Tories’ Boris vs Doris imbroglio earlier this month, ostensibly about wives and words, is actually a bitter internecine dispute about the shape of Brexit.

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 10th September 2018

Neither Co-Editor of The Conservative Woman, Kathy Gyngell, I suspect, nor I, imagined it when we co-wrote our article “Boris’ Resignation Speech – Did He Flunk It?” published there on 20th July 2018.

Boris resignation speech 18 July 2018

That, a mere seven weeks later, the subject of it would be embroiled in quite the degree of controversy which enveloped him over the weekend of 8th and 9th September, firstly in the fall-out from his divorce announcement earlier that week, and secondly from some provocative language in his Mail On Sunday article attacking Theresa May’s justifiably much-criticised and thoroughly-debunked Chequers Plan for a Soft-Remain Brexit-In-Name-Only.

And yet this alleged scandal has always had a very artificial, almost manufactured, feel about it. It isn’t really about Boris’ chaotic private life, or his undoubted character flaws, much less about some ill-judged phraseology in a newspaper article.

It’s merely the latest escalation of the Johnson vs May war, Boris vs Doris, and of the ‘Conservative’ Party’s internal struggle between the advocates of a Clean-Break Brexit and the more numerous  – in some cases Brexit-ambivalent but nakedly-careerist – supporters of an ultra-soft departure that’s more spin than substance.

Firstly, Boris’ serial philandering, and he and his wife having for some months lived in effect separate lives, is hardly a State secret. In some ways it’s arguably among the least of the various faults, like a lack of attention to detail, vaulting personal ambition, and a sometimes cavalier regard for accuracy, which make him such a dubious leadership proposition.

Yet the whiff of hypocrisy in some of the pearls-clutching reaction to it borders on the nauseating, coming from a party which has spent much of the past two decades enthusiastically supporting, if not imitating, much of the cultural-Left’s attack on the institution of the family.

May's leopard-print kitten-heels 2002

And all in a desperate, ultimately futile attempt to counter the Tories’ self-inflicted ‘Nasty Party’ image. Remind me once again, precisely who it was who coined that particular damaging phrase which has hung round its neck ever since?

Secondly, much of the confected outrage about Boris’ Mail on Sunday article has to rely for its impact on a blatant misquote. He did not, as was widely, but inaccurately, reported, liken Theresa May to a suicide-bomber. What he did say was, that, in proposing exit from the European Union on the basis of May’s Chequers Plan, “we have wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution – and handed the detonator to Michel Barnier.’

Now, given the extent to which, under Chequers, EU rules and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would continue to hold sway over large areas of economic activity, despite the UK no longer being a member of the EU, this is a fair point. But it’s also one which May’s No 10 team would definitely prefer was not widely understood.

Despite the EU’s effective rejection of the Chequers Plan, May’s increasingly bunker-like No 10 are still heavily invested in it. Remember, it was they who put it together in a secret backstairs operation in which May’s own Cabinet was kept in the dark, and the Department for Exiting the European Union was cynically used as camouflage for it. Hence the faux-indignation by May’s outriders in the Brexit-In-Name-Only wing of the ‘Conservative’ Party at Boris’ laying bare its manifest constitutional concessions. 

Next, it was revealed – or at least claimed – in 9th September’s The Sunday Times that a dossier of Johnson’s peccadillos had already been prepared in Downing Street for deployment against him in the event of him launching a leadership bid. May’s No 10, I’d suggest, is in paranoid-panic mode, and especially since the news broke that Boris is to address a 1,000-strong rally on the Fringe at the ‘Conservative’ Party conference on Tuesday 2nd October. It isn’t exactly difficult to guess what his main subject will be.

Boris 'We Never Even Tried' Brexit headline D-Tel Mon 03Sep18

That’s also the day before May’s speech to Conference as Leader. Given the utter disaster that was May’s Conference Speech last year, on top of her normal charisma-free, robotic delivery in contrast to Boris’ oratory – at which, for all his faults, he excels – it will be the talking-point of the Conference and set such a high bar for May’s own speech the next day that she is bound to fail.

So it’s not difficult to see why an unspectacular divorce announcement and a luridly-worded section in an otherwise unremarkable newspaper article would have been seen in the No 10 bunker as an opportunity to push the nascent Stop-Boris-and-Discredit-Brexit operation into higher gear.

Incidentally, as an operation to discredit an opponent and potential leadership challenger, and of which May is the beneficiary, the similarities with how Andrea Leadsom came to be removed as a challenger to May’s unelected and unopposed coronation in mid-2016 are intriguing.

None of this is to absolve Johnson of the faults which make him unsuitable and risky leadership material: I’m on record at The Conservative Woman calling him ‘a dilettante, a gadfly, and prone to indiscretions’, after all. But it does weaken the likelihood of an alternative to May’s disastrous BRINO Chequers Plan gaining traction, even though Boris himself appears uncertain of which one he favours.

In the past week or so, it’s emerged that the three leading Tory Brexiteers, namely David Davis, Steve Baker and Jacob Rees-Mogg, have all favoured exiting the EU on what’s known as the “Canada Plus” option. This isn’t ideal, for all sorts of reasonsnot least its implications for Northern Ireland’s economy and its cross-border trade with the Republic of Ireland: but compared with Chequers, it delivers more on the instruction handed to the Government by the electorate.

May, of course, is dead set against it. The real story of the Boris imbroglio of the past week is that it risks strengthening her hand, against his and those of his less compulsively mercurial colleagues, in the battle over which vision of Brexit is to prevail. Against that, the brouhaha surrounding Boris, his libido, and his leadership ambitions are merely a noisy, but ultimately peripheral, sideshow.

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After Brexit, Reform Our UK Democracy

Neither our current democracy, nor our present Parliament, are institutions fit to be entrusted once again with the powers of self-government we will have succeeded in retrieving from Brussels

Note: this is the longer (and updated) version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 28th August 2018 

Over two years after Britain voted, narrowly but still decisively, to leave the European Union, that it remains necessary to say “if Brexit happens”, is not only a shameful indictment of the ruling class’ contempt for mass democracy, but also a warning of what must follow if it does happen.

52 per cent of those who voted in the EU Referendum, no fewer than 17.4 million people, voted Leave – the largest vote for a single policy in British political history. On the best academic psephologists’ estimates, approximately 63 per cent of Parliamentary constituencies voted Leave. Approximately 85 per cent of votes cast in the 2017 General Election went to the two main parties whose manifestos and candidates both pledged to respect and implement the Referendum result.

Yet about 70 per cent of the 650 MPs who purport to represent us were opposed to Brexit, and still are. Even before the Referendum, a significant number voted against one being held at all.

Many of those 2017 election pledges were self-evidently made dishonestly. Over the past two years, we have seen repeated Parliamentary obstruction – from both the elected Commons and, even worse, the unelected and unaccountable Lords, and often going down to knife-edge votes – to almost every Brexit-progressing measure introduced by a government that is clearly reluctant to implement the electorate’s decision.

This experience has surely, therefore, made one thing abundantly clear: that, if Brexit does happen, we cannot retrieve from Brussels our powers of governing and legislating ourselves, only to vest them once more in the very same Westminster Parliament which not only spent the last 45 years eagerly giving them away in the first place, but which still vehemently opposes their repatriation and our recovery of democratic self-government.

So Brexit must, in my view, be followed very quickly by significant Parliamentary and electoral reform, to strengthen democracy & the power of the electorate over the legislature, and to curb its ability to ignore or negate the expressed majority-view of the voters – to make legislature, government and executive work, not in the interests of the New-Class Establishment-Elite’s cartel, but in the interests of the people.

We must start with abolition of the unelected, unaccountable, House of Lords, which has become largely a refuge for superannuated politicians after their rejection by the electorate, a bauble with which to reward donors, or a safe harbour for otherwise unelectable placemen. It has been teetering on the edge of democratic legitimacy for years, but its conduct during the passage of Brexit-related legislation has surely signed its death warrant.

Many of the intemperate, anti-democratic speeches made by unelected Peers during the Lords’ passage of the EU Withdrawal Bill, outraged that the great unwashed masses of the British electorate had been allowed to determine their own constitutional future, and that their decision dared to diverge from that of their betters, will rightly be forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history.

Two, however, should be preserved for posterity, to remind us at some future date of what we needed to rid ourselves of. In the first, Lord (Chris) Patten, pillar of the Europhile ‘Liberal’-Elitist Establishment, on the, to him, intolerable folly of removing such decisions from him and his ilk exclusively:


In the second, Lord Hailsham, better known to politics watchers as former Conservative MP Douglas Hogg, who acquired during the 2009 Parliamentary expenses scandal a justly permanent notoriety, for charging to the long-suffering taxpayer such items essential to the performance of his Parliamentary duties as the costs of cleaning his moat, tuning his piano, and fixing the stable lights at his Lincolnshire manor-house

That Britain needs a bi-cameral legislature is undeniable: but that the House of Lords as presently constituted should under no circumstances comprise its upper, revising, Chamber, is surely equally so. Whatever format we eventually settle on is debatable: but that it must be on the basis of selection by universal franchise, not favours and cronyism, is a sine qua non.

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 neither main party, with the occasional exception, 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, one of the main talking points of its aftermath has been the huge disparity, in so many Parliamentary constituencies, between MPs and their voters on the issue of Britain’s EU membership.

That has exacerbated 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 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. That must now change.

More Direct Democracy is 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 relatively few expect their parties to honour. But in an age 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?

The Swiss manage to hold between 7 and 9 referendums each year, and on issues other than major constitutional questions like the voting system or EU membership, and are hardly the divided society that the anti-referendum campaigners claim. In fact, that the Swiss are also regularly the people expressing the highest confidence in their system of government is no coincidence.

confidence-in-govt-switz-top

The potential abuse of postal voting through over-generous qualification, and the related issue of voter ID-fraud, urgently need addressing. The requirement for voter-ID at the polling station in a democratic election ought to be axiomatic and a subject beyond debate, while postal voting needs once again to be restricted to those verified as genuinely too ill or infirm, of overseas on military service.

Objections to some of the above will no doubt be raised on the grounds that they contravene the Burkean principle that the elected MP is his electors’ representative, not their delegate. My contention however, and which I intend to explore further in future articles, is that so many elected MPs themselves, by so manifestly disregarding the majority wishes of their individual electorates and the country as a whole, have now stretched this principle to breaking point.

Without significant Parliamentary reform to make the legislature more responsive to the electorate, extra-Parliamentary action starts to acquire a legitimacy of its own. That prospect should be welcomed by nobody: but a Parliament constituted on its present basis is not a fitting repository of powers hard-won back from Brussels.

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A ‘Just Vote UKIP’ Strategy, to Stop May’s Imminent Brexit-Betrayal, Will Not Work

As a strategy specifically to stop Theresa May’s & her Vichy-Conservatives’ now arguably imminent betrayal of Brexit, implicit in her refusal to budge from her discredited Chequers Plan, ‘Just Vote UKIP’ on its own sadly isn’t going to work 

Note: this is the longer (and updated) version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 17th August 2018

A number of the responses to my The Conservative Woman Saturday Essay of 11th August, titled ‘How to Resist the Remainers’, appeared to find my suggestions for how a peaceful, legal, non-violent mass civic resistance might confront and hopefully thwart the May government’s impending probable dilution, if not outright abandonment, of Brexit somewhat too robust and risky for their taste.

And to think, moreover, that all that was required to stop such a betrayal in its tracks would be to start, resume, or continue, voting UKIP, or even merely threaten to do so.

Poster I'm Voting UKIP

The question of which great democratic advances have ever been achieved, or what anti-democratic obstacles to them have ever been surmounted, without anyone taking any risks whatsoever, is a moot point, but one perhaps to be re-visited later. But, as a strategy specifically for preventing what is arguably a now imminent Brexit adulteration at best and betrayal at worst, I’m afraid that ‘Just Vote UKIP’ doesn’t cut it.

That isn’t an overall condemnation of UKIP or its members and supporters per se, although there certainly are some specific criticisms which can be levelled at it, and are made below. But it is an observation that the both the electoral timetable, and current opinion polling, strongly suggest that, as a strategy whose aim is to stop May’s likely upcoming Brexit-betrayal, then it is, regrettably, probably doomed to failure.              

In the first place, ‘Just Vote UKIP’ in what? And when? Let’s consider the electoral timetable. 

The earliest upcoming UK elections are the next UK local government elections, due to be held on 2nd May 2019: unless the Article 50 period is extended, that is approximately 5 weeks after 29th March, the date on which the UK will have, albeit probably more in appearance than in substance, nominally left the EU.

What would be the argument to persuade non-activists or non-members that there was any point in voting UKIP? And even if there was such an argument, how effective would it be? In the 2018 local elections, the party lost no fewer than 123 of its 126 councillors: 2019’s are in more metropolitan-type areas, where its appeal, rightly or wrongly, is even less. Comparatively-speaking, its local government base, at 125 councillors out of a total of over 20,000, is minimal.

The next European Parliament elections are from 23rd to 26th May 2019: again, unless the Article 50 period is extended, approximately two months after the 29th March exit date. Even with a nominal-only Brexit on that date, the UK will no longer be sending MEPs to the European Parliament, and so will not even participate. The memories of 2014’s victory, where UKIP secured 27 percent of the vote and more than doubled its seats to 24, are no guide to the future.

If (admittedly a big ‘if’) May survives as Prime Minister, even with a small majority thanks to the Democratic Unionist Party, the next General Election is not due until 5th May 2022, which will be four years after the projected Brexit date.

We are already now seeing polling reports suggesting ordinary voters on both sides of the Leave-Remain divide are bored with Brexit, just two years after the Referendum, and before it has even happened. What appeal and chance of success would UKIP have some four years after the actual Brexit, even a nominal one?       

Although dissatisfaction with May’s Soft-Remain, Brexit-In-Name-Only Chequers Plan is thought to be a contributor to the recent boost in membership, the party is currently standing at an average of just 6 per cent in the polls

Britain Elects to July 2018

Under First-Past-The-Post, this is far too low to make an impact: in the 2015 General Election, UKIP captured 3.9 million votes and 13 per cent of the total vote, but still gained only two seats, both of which have since been lost.

In the second place, vote for whom? Consider the recent leadership history.

At TCW, I have previously criticised Nigel Farage for leaving the field of battle too early, but since his 2016 departure, UKIP has in effect wasted the last two years. It has gone through a credible leader and deputy leader in Diane James and Suzanne Evans, both seen off by the residual Continuity-Farageistes, and two utter clowns in firstly, Paul Nuttall, and secondly, Henry Bolton, before stabilising to an extent under the current leadership of Gerard Batten.

But Batten’s term of office comes to an end, intriguingly, around the time of Britain’s projected exit date of 29th March 2019, and Farage is hinting at a return. Interestingly, elements within UKIP are reported to be less than wholly enthusiastic at the prospect.

So for whom would anyone starting or re-considering voting UKIP actually be voting?

Moreover, UKIP’s complement of MEPs has thinned out since its 2014 high-water mark due to a couple of expulsions and several resignations: although it does retain some very good MEPs, activists and members, notably Margot Parker, Roger Helmer, and David Kurten, the appeal of a party which has unfortunately managed to alienate and drive away plausible, articulate and media-friendly people like Suzanne Evans and Steven Woolfe is likely to be limited.

To be fair, there is one scenario in which one could imagine the ‘Just Vote UKIP’ strategy having a chance of success. But it would require all of the following to come to fruition:

  1. Brexit to be deferred or cancelled;
  2. the majority of the ‘Conservative’ Party to accept that without demur;
  3. a mass defection of both former UKIP-to-Tory movers and always-Conservative Brexiteers to UKIP;
  4. an electoral system less stacked against it; and
  5. a media less biased against its core policy.

The prospect of a ‘Just vote UKIP to stop a Brexit betrayal’ strategy having to rely on Brexit being actually stopped or betrayed, in order to stand even a chance of success, does, I suppose, have a certain bleak irony about it.

But given the several discrete steps that it would require, it looks one hell of a risk to take for people apparently deterred from any form of peaceful, legal, non-violent mass civic resistance by the risk, inconvenience, and temporary relinquishment of online consumerism, which that might allegedly entail.

Update / Postscript

Having now had more time to review the below-the-line comments to the original article at The Conservative Woman, three of the generic memes which seem to re-occur throughout a number of them warrant a response:

“typical Tory comment / keep on voting Tory then”

Presumably, out of my fifteen or so TCW articles so far in 2018, the eight at least which have fiercely criticised May’s Vichy-‘Conservatives’ in general and her duplicitous Soft-Remain Brexit-In-Name-Only in particular, the two of them which specifically called for her to be ousted and replaced with a committed Brexiteer, and the one which even explicitly advocated the Party’s demise, have been ignored.

“you’re offering no solutions, you’re just sneering at UKIP

In what way does saying that the party retains some very good people, but observing factually that the combination of an adverse electoral timetable and its current opinion-polls standing at present limit its potential as a preventer of the Brexit-betrayal which is imminent, constitute ‘sneering at UKIP’?

“but it was only the threat of UKIP that made Cameron to hold the EU Referendum”

Very probably, but that was when it was polling at a constant 11-12%, and later, had won the 2014 European Parliament election with 24 MEPs and 27 per cent of the vote. Under First-Part-The-Post, parties polling at around 6 per cent do not represent a threat – just ask the Greens.

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Blueprint for a Peaceful, Legal, and Non-Violent Civic Resistance

How the Continuity-Remain Government’s and political class’ anti-democratic determination not to deliver the Brexit which 17.4 million voted for could be resisted and defeated

Note: this is the longer (and updated) version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 11th August 2018 

Just after the 2016 EU Referendum, I speculated on Twitter that, despite the clear majority vote to leave, the overwhelmingly anti-Brexit ‘Liberal’-Elite, New-Class Establishment would not willingly respect and implement the electorate’s democratic decision without a fight, so that we might have to take to the streets, preferably non-violently, to achieve it.

In hindsight, even that pessimistic prediction was an under-estimation, but the revelations from Theresa May’s now infamous Chequers Summit, and developments since, serve only to exacerbate fears of an impending massive sell-out and a soft-Remain, Brexit-In-Name-Only, at the very least. In my view, even May conceding a second referendum, as the price of the EU’s agreeing a limited or even indefinite extension of Article 50, can’t be ruled out.

Assuming that supposedly Brexiteer Tory MPs continue to sit on their hands, and that the burgeoning grassroots revolt doesn’t grow sufficiently large or irresistible to force her resignation and replacement with a committed Brexiteer, the question arises: what next?

I don’t believe that May and her sycophantic majority-Remain government should be allowed just to ride roughshod over democracy itself. I hope there’d be huge outrage across the country, particularly among the 17.4 million who voted for Brexit, not least on the Government’s promise to implement their decision. But: to be effective, what tangible form should it take?

The ‘Liberal’-Elite Remainer Establishment would undoubtedly love us to take to the streets, so that we could, with the willing assistance of its similarly-inclined compliant media, be painted as ‘violent far-right’. Something more subtle would be required. To quote Sun Tzu in ‘The Art of War’ – ‘the wise general never fights a battle on ground of the enemy’s choosing’.

My provisional blueprint for a rolling programme of peaceful, non-violent, civic-resistance has as its inspiration the fuel price protests of 2000. A maximum of a mere 3,000 people, by cleverly strategically blockading the main fuel refineries and distribution facilities, and skilfully eliciting public support, not only credibly threatened to, but very nearly did, bring the country to a halt, but also, crucially, and as was admitted only later, very nearly brought Blair’s first government down.

Fuel Protests 2000 v2

We’ve become accustomed to believing that, between elections, we’re comparatively powerless. I’m not so sure. True, we may not have direct political power. But what 17.4 million of us in aggregate do potentially have is economic power, and in spades. There are several ways we can exert substantial unconventional political influence, and by wholly peaceful, legal means.

Mass, rent and council-tax strikes can adversely affect local authority finances very quickly. The key is in numbers. They can’t possibly sue and/or prosecute everyone, because that would overwhelm most local authorities’ meagre legal resources, as well as clogging up the Courts; moreover the cash-flow problems it would cause most councils would be damaging on their own. Imagine if council staff couldn’t be paid because of a mass rent and council tax strike.

The next option is for a mass boycott of the corporates who’ve joined in anti-Brexit scaremongering, whether of their own volition or at the Government’s request. 17.4 million is a lot of customers. . . .

Alternative supermarket chains to, for example, Morrison’s, or Sainsbury’s whose Blair-ennobled Lord (David) Sainsbury donated £4.2 million to the Remain campaign, are available. Watch their share prices start to tank if costs rise from un-sold or perishing stock, as sales slump and profits start to slide.

We don’t need to choose, or continue to use anti-Brexit Branson’s Virgin-branded trains, banking services, or satellite TV. Not only are there alternative online retailers to Amazon available, but can we not do without most of what we buy from Amazon for three months?

Because it could take as short as that. Remember, the modern mass retailing business model is predicated on just-in-time delivery for high-volume sales, thus minimising stock-holding and warehousing costs. A significant interruption to the constant flow of high-volume sales, via a mass customer boycott, has the potential for major logistical problems, a build-up of non-shifting stock, and with all the attendant cost ramifications and effect on profit.

And that has the additional possible effect of reducing the State’s tax take, both from VAT on sales and from corporation tax on company profits further down the line.

You can probably think of many more:  but this final one might, I suspect, be a potential clincher. It exploits the old adage that if you owe the bank £50,000 and can’t repay it, then you have a problem: but if you owe the bank £50,000,000 and can’t repay it, then it’s the bank which has a problem. Because a mass withholding of mortgage payments can affect the entire banking system faster than you might think.

This is where it gets a bit technical, but please bear with me.

It’s all to do with the extra capital which, under international banking standards, a bank must retain, once a mortgage goes into non-performing mode for two or three months. Not only that, but banks then also have to increase the provisions they set aside against default and losses too, so it can be a double-whammy. Provisions are a charge against profits, so it means lower profits, no new lending permitted, & in extremis, restrictions on withdrawals, because liquid deposits can form part of the (greater) capital that suddenly has to be retained.

When a bank lends money, it creates an asset of its own –its right to receive repayment, or the indebtedness of the borrower to the bank. But under those same international banking standards, the bank must assign that asset a risk-weighting, which in turn dictates the amount of capital the bank has to retain against it, and which therefore cannot also be lent.

Lending to sovereign governments, particularly those with good credit ratings, can typically be risk-weighted low. Governments, after all, have the power to tax their citizens, backed by the threat of State coercion, to stump up the money to meet their debts, and so are considered a good risk.

Likewise, lending to good-quality corporates, especially those with a high Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, or Fitch credit-rating, can be risk-weighted only slightly higher than medium-quality sovereign debt.

Basel II Risk Weights

Residential mortgages are typically risk-weighted at 35 per cent to 40 per cent: which means that, for a residential mortgage portfolio totalling, say, £500 billion, the bank must retain, and therefore not lend, a capital base of between £175 billion and £200 billion to support it.

But if a residential mortgage goes into default through non-payment, its risk-weighting has to rise substantially, and can double, to at least 70 per cent to 80 per cent. If a whole £500 billion residential mortgage portfolio went into payment arrears, then the bank would immediately have to set aside between £350 billion and £400 billion against it, not between £175 billion and £200 billion. That’s between £175 billion and £200 million which, suddenly, is no longer available for lending on other, new borrowing, and at a profitable interest-rate margin.

I used to be involved in ‘What If?’ modelling for this kind of contingency: the planning assumed increased mortgage defaults from a major economic crash, but the effects from a mass withholding of mortgage payments aren’t dissimilar.

Clearing banks & building societies, as prime retail lenders, especially, are more vulnerable than often assumed. The shock of a significant part of an entire residential property-mortgage lending book suddenly needing double the previous capital base just to support it is a potential nightmare scenario, particularly for primarily-retail lenders.

And if that newly-doubled capital base is comprised partly of liquid deposits, whose withdrawal has to be restricted, then depositors may start to worry that they may not be able to get their money out. And then you have all the ingredients in place for a bank run. Remember Northern Rock?

It doesn’t stop there. Say the bank decides to foreclose on a mortgage and sell the asset which comprises its security. But banks aren’t in the residential property management business, and don’t want bricks and mortar assets sitting on the books, so they will typically go for a quick sale, even at well below market value, to recover their debt quickly.

Now imagine a small residential close of 20 houses, average market value, say £300,000, but including two whose owners are in default on their £200,000 mortgages, and which the bank as mortgagee is therefore threatening to re-possess and sell.

Residential close

The bank wouldn’t be bothered about market value: it would merely want to recover its debt as fast as possible. So suddenly, two allegedly £300,000 houses are potentially coming up for sale at only £220,000 each. What happens to the market value of the other eighteen? And how do their owners feel about that? Translate that on to a national scale, and suddenly you’re looking at a potential house-price crisis as well.

But, and as Sun Tzu himself might have said, you don’t actually have to create a bank run and/or a house-price crisis – you just have to create the plausible prospect of a bank run and/or a house-price crisis.

To my mind, the ironic beauty of this kind of overall strategy is that, instead of challenging the Remainer Establishment-Elite directly, on the streets, as it would prefer, it instead targets, and in its key aspects – rampant retail consumerism, fractional reserve banking, cheap credit, and a property bubble – the very system which the crony-corporatist globalist oligarchy has created and encouraged at least partially to enrich and empower itself, and then uses it as a weapon against its own creators. Sun Tzu, I suspect, would approve.

These are merely the economic measures. There are others. For example, it needs only six vehicles travelling sedately, but perfectly legally, at 40-50 mph in a horizontal line across all six lanes, to induce motorway gridlock.

In 2000, we saw what just 3,000 people – a mere 0.02 per cent of 17.4 million – so nearly achieved by boxing clever. Just like Sun Tzu favoured, they targeted their opponent where he least expected it, at a point where he was weak, and would have preferred not to fight.Fuel Protests 2000 v1

Imagine what pressure could be brought to bear on a Brexit-denying government and political class by a concerted, concentrated mass participation in a rolling programme of peaceful, non-violent, civic resistance on the same basis.

It feels increasingly unlikely that we’ll succeed in getting our democracy-disdaining political class to implement the democratic result they promised to respect and honour by appealing to their principles, or to their hearts and minds.

But then, as a shrewd, if cynical, man reportedly once said: ‘If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will soon follow’. 

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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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Visit by The President of the USA? Protest! Visit by The Emir of Qatar? Tumbleweed..

How the reaction of the ‘feminist’ Women’s March and Women’s Equality Movements to the Emir of Qatar’s London visit contrasted somewhat with their reaction to Trump’s London visit of barely a fortnight earlier        

During the week of 23rd to 27th July, the Emir of Qatar, HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani,  was visiting London, ostensibly to ‘strengthen bilateral relations between both countries‘, but also to seek international support in the face of the ongoing blockade, now over a year old, imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. 

Included in his schedule, as well as meetings with a delegation of MPs and Peers from both houses of Parliament, was a meeting with Theresa May and also one with Jeremy Corbyn, (who, despite having ostentatiously declined to meet President Trump, the elected Head of State of a democratic republic, evidently had no qualms about meeting HH The Emir, the unelected Head of State of a hereditary absolute monarchy). 

Anti-Qatar protest LON 23-27 JUL 2018The visit was not uncontroversial. Protests were expected, and duly materialised, not only against Qatar’s alleged role as a promoter and funder of Wahhabism-inspired international Islamist-Jihadist terrorism, but also its involvement in both the Syrian and Yemen conflicts. 

Nor are those its only failings. Were I a woman, Qatar would not be high on my list of desirable places to live. As a society where Shari’a Law is the main source of legislation, women can be flogged for ‘illicit’ sexual relations, by up to 100 lashes for adultery, but punished by death where those ‘illicit’ sexual relations were between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man.

Although never, apparently, used, stoning remains a legal punishment. Apostasy is similarly punishable by death, blasphemy by 7 years’ imprisonment, and proselytising any religion other than Islam by 10 years’ imprisonment. A woman’s testimony remains worth only half that of a man’s. LBGT rights are minimal, if any: ‘sodomy’ is punishable by 1-3 years in prison.        

The ‘Women’s Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity’ section of Human Rights Watch’s 2017 report on Qatar noted that Qatari law on family and personal status ‘continues to discriminate against women‘. A wife’s responsibility to ‘look after the household and obey her husband‘ is enshrined in law, which criminalises neither domestic violence or marital rape.

So, bearing in mind both the Women’s March and Women’ Equality Movements’ calls to arms for vociferous protests against Trump’s visit a mere two weeks earlier. . .    

Womens March Womens Equality notifys re Trump visit. . . and particularly their forthright condemnation of his self-evident misogyny. . .

WEP Trump misogyny comp. . . there would surely, I thought, be ‘feminist’ Twitter outrage, condemnation, and protest from them, against the visit of an unelected Head of State of a country as infamous as Qatar for such egregious maltreatment of women, and on a scale at least double or triple that manifested against Trump? 

Alas not. Here, as far as I can discover by back-searching both their timelines, are all the tweets of protest issued by both groups against the Emir’s visit:

WEPUK & WML tweets protest Emir Qatar

Nor, it seems, was I the only one to notice. I fear a potential recruit to the cause may have been lost. . . 2018.07.22 Eva Bradbury WML Emir Qatar

In my earlier ‘Faux-“Feminism” on the March‘, published as recently as 13th July, I suggested that both these movements, despite their names, aren’t political movements about women, but political movements for women, and specifically for women of a certain political persuasion, exhibiting virtually the predictably-standard package of Left-‘Liberal’, fashionably politically-correct, attitudes.

I suggested that both movements present as metropolitan middle-class left-wing movements, principally for metropolitan middle-class left-wing women favouring an aggressive cultural-marxist third-wave iteration of feminism which is viscerally and stridently anti-Western generally and anti-American especially. And, outside what can be included within those parameters, one not much concerned about the rights of other oppressed women at all.

No further questions, M’Lud.

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LibDem MP’s Claim to Victim Status Goes Pair-Shaped

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, exploiting our maternity leave” –           (with apologies to Sir Walter Scott)

Note: this is the longer (and updated) version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 25th July 2018  

Pairing’ is one of those arcane Parliamentary practices covering voting – or rather, not voting – that somehow survives where modern electronic, internet-enabled technology ought to obviate the need for MPs to vote in person by physically trooping through Aye or No lobbies to be physically counted by tellers, but doesn’t.

It’s a strictly informal arrangement, not recognised by official House of Commons procedures, between two MPs of opposing parties not to vote in a division, thereby cancelling each other’s votes out.  Though clearly equitable in the case of, say, a Minister or MP temporarily overseas on official businesses, in other circumstances it can be open to abuse.

The Commons votes of Monday/Tuesday 16th/17th July respectively, on the Cross-Border Trade Bill, saturated with Brexit significance by a 12-strong bloc of unreconciled ‘Conservative’-Remainer MPs trying to defeat their own government, were extremely close. In the end, the Government prevailed by 6 votes, mainly thanks to the votes of 5  Labour-Brexiteer MPs.

At least three Liberal-Democrat MPs, however, were absent, and so did not vote: it was over one of them, Jo Swinson, that a row subsequently erupted. The allegation was made that, despite being officially ‘paired’ with ‘Conservative’ Party Chairman Brandon Lewis MP, because of her absence on maternity leave, the Government Whips instructed all its available MPs to vote anyway, effectively breaking the Lewis-Swinson ‘pair’.

Accusation, denial, condemnation and counter-accusation duly followed, culminating in the Government first claiming that the ‘pair’-breaking had been an ‘honest’ mistake’, but then apologising profusely for it and vowing not to repeat it.

So far, so predictable. And there the matter might have subsided, but for an apparent attempt – whether instigated by Swinson herself, or by LibDem Chief Whip Alastair Carmichael, or by identity-politics SJWs from one of the other Leftist parties is unclear – to capitalise on it by playing the feminist victim-card, stressing Swinson’s inability to attend the key vote(s) specifically because of her being on maternity leave.

Perhaps, though, someone should have checked the LibDems’ Twitter feed first.

Because it didn’t take long to emerge that, despite Swinson’s maternity leave having allegedly prevented her attendance at those key Commons votes, it fortuitously hadn’t prevented her virtue-signalling attendance at an anti-Trump demonstration 3 or 4 days earlier, on Friday 13th July. Along, evidently, with said offspring.

2018.07.13 LibDems Swinson standing up to Trump

In a truly shocking, but no doubt inadvertent, aberration from feminist solidarity, this was inconveniently pointed out, by, among others, one of those 5 Labour-Brexiteers MPs whose vote enabled a Government victory, Vauxhall’s Kate Hoey. And was it right, asked commentators, to whinge about exclusion from a key vote because of being on maternity leave, but to take an infant along to what was potentially a violent demonstration?

Then it all got worse.

It transpired that, apart from Swinson, neither the immediate past, nor present, leader of the LibDems managed to attend those key votes either – the three of them accounting for no fewer than a quarter of their entire complement of 12 MPs. 

Even more deliciously, in Leader Vince Cable’s case, this was because he had been busy attending a ‘confidential dinner’ about the setting up of a new ‘anti-Brexit movement’.

Just think about that for a moment. The Leader of most pro-EU, anti-Brexit party in British politics, missing a key Parliamentary vote which could have killed off the Government’s Brexit plans, because he was absent elsewhere, conspiring confidentially with others on, ahem, a new pro-EU, anti-Brexit party in British politics.

A party leader, exposed as conspiring with others to form a new party to compete with his own party. You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.

And not only that. A new, centrist, pro-Remain party? But isn’t this supposed to be the defining USP and key electoral proposition of the party that he now leads? The one which secured a massive, erm,  7 per cent of the vote at the 2017 General Election?

In addition, the LibDems refused to say which Labour figures, if any, had attended Cable’s ‘confidential dinner’. Was that perhaps because there was little interest from anti-Corbyn Labour ‘moderates’, contemplating a splitting-off, at the prospect of Cable as leader? And whoever might be providing the funding remains a matter for speculation.

Probably inevitably, the spat has prompted the operation of ‘pairing’ arrangements to be examined rather more closely than might otherwise have occurred. Of 2,000 ‘pairs’ arranged since the Election, reported Politics Sense66 have been broken: 14 by the Government and 52 by Opposition parties, of which 7 were by the Lib Dems.

Which, assuming those figures are correct, prompted the question: are the LibDems themselves the biggest breakers of ‘pairing’ arrangements?

Proportionately, the answer seems to be Yes.  With 7 out of the 66 ‘pairs’ broken since the 2017 General Election, they have instigated 11 per cent of all ‘pair’-breaks, despite having only 2 per cent of all MPs. Moreover, despite having only 4 per cent of the total number of ‘Conservative’ MPs, they have been responsible for 50 per cent of the number of ‘Conservative’ pair-breaks, and 33 per cent of the combined ‘Conservative’ and LibDem total.

Then, on the morning of Monday 23rd July, The Times reported the rumoured existence of a LibDem plot to oust and replace Cable as party leader. Given the multiplicity of problems, muddle and even failures currently besetting the party – not least the semi-existential question of why on earth anyone should believe in them as a political force when they clearly don’t believe in themselves as one – this was hardly a surprising culmination to what started out in all probability as a mere opportunistic anti-Tory, anti-Brexit gripe.

Cable, flags, rally

Going, and in just 5 days, from carping about alleged breaches of anachronistic Parliamentary procedure to a plot to defenestrate and replace your Party Leader is pretty impressive, even for the LibDems. Remind me again of that old proverb about people in glass houses?

The final irony of this whole imbroglio is that it still leaves unresolved the thorny issue of ‘pairing’. Moving in one fell swoop to a facility for real-time electronic voting, even from non-Parliament locations, sounds tempting, but e-security would be a constant concern, and the system would be wide open to voting-fraud.

On the other hand, many struggle to understand why, when MPs are provided by the taxpayer with handsome salaries, along with generous allowances for in-London housing and staff, they should in effect be excused, on sometimes purely domestic grounds, from attending and voting in debates?

As so often, the incremental approach seems to have an advantage. Tighten up the conventions on what constitutes a valid reason, justifying a pairing, for the non-attending and non-voting. And don’t enthusiastically tweet pictures of your female MP attending raucous lefty demos with a baby if you’re going to play the maternity-leave victim-card on her behalf less than a week later.

Whether, of course, this would be enough to save both Cable’s leadership and Swinson’s credibility is a moot point. One would be unwise to bet on it.                      

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