Tag: Democratic-Accountability

What Boris Johnson owes Nigel Farage

Rather than with a devalued and discredited knighthood or peerage, the best way for Boris Johnson to repay his indebtedness to Nigel Farage for enabling both his premiership and his election victory would be to implement the Tory manifesto’s promises of reforming and re-democratising our politics.

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 18 December 2019

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind. Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude”  (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII)

You might think that an overall majority of 80, a number at or even beyond the most optimistic predictions before last Thursday night’s exit poll, and the largest overall majority in Parliament for the Conservative Party since 1987, would have been satisfaction enough.

Apparently not, though, for those elements of the Conservative Party who, after briefly celebrating, reverted to berating Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party for either standing at all, or allegedly depriving them of victory in several other seats retained by Labour, by standing its own candidates there.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me reiterate that I still believe, as I did and argued in mid-November when this dispute came to a head, that both parties were at fault, driven on one side by egotism overriding tactical nous, and driven on the other by a cynical party-advantage aim of desiring a Tory majority in Parliament, even one partly comprising reluctant or soft Brexiteers, rather than a Brexit majority.

I thought Farage’s initial intention to contest up to 600 seats totally unrealistic, and his subsequent decision to stand aside in all 317 Tory seats – even those held by May-loyalist unreconciled Continuity-Remainers, like Greg Clark in Tunbridge Wells – misguided, because it effectively disenfranchised Tory Leave-voters there.

But I also condemned Farage’s decision to stand against Remain-voting but Brexit-supporting Labour MPs – I genuinely regret that Caroline Flint won’t be in the Commons to help a sensible Labour Party rid itself of the cancer of Corbynism – and I criticised the Tories’ refusal to withdraw their candidates from the long-time Labour seats where the psephology suggested they had the least chance of unseating Labour.

Well, as we now know and should admit, some of those psephological assumptions were wrong. And yes, an even lower seat total for Labour than its 203, its smallest since 1935, would have been most welcome: the greater the scale of the shellacking visited upon Labour by the voters, the greater the chances of Corbyn and his hard-Left cult being consigned to the extremist wilderness where they belong.

But what appears to be the widespread conclusion, that in most if not all cases where a winning Labour vote was less than the combined Tory and Brexit Party vote, it was the latter’s candidacy which was solely to blame, looks unduly simplistic, not to say more than a little self-serving.

That widespread conclusion itself appears based on an assumption that every Brexit Party vote, absent a Brexit Party candidate, would have gone to the Tories. Really? Is it not at least possible that, in several instances, voters prepared to break, for the first time, a generations-long family, workplace and community tradition of voting Labour might have been prepared to plump for the Brexit Party, but voting Tory would have been a step too far?

That’s certainly a feasible interpretation of the result in Barnsley Central, where the Brexit Party candidate came 2nd, getting fully 40 per cent more votes than did her Conservative Party opponent, only 42 per cent of whose votes going to the Brexit Party instead would have deposed the sitting Labour MP.

In neighbouring Barnsley East, where the Brexit Party candidate also came 2nd, a mere 31 per cent of the Tory vote going to the Brexit Party instead would have captured the seat and defenestrated yet another Labour MP.  Arguably, in those two Barnsley constituencies, it’s the Tories who should have stood aside. 

In Sunderland Central, the respective changes in vote share probably tell a more nuanced story than the actual result. It looks very like Labour’s 13.4 per cent drop in vote share mostly went to the Brexit Party, whose vote share went up by 11.6 per cent, compared to the Tories’ uplift of a mere 2.0 per cent.

Elsewhere, local factors may have prevailed. Consider the two constituencies serving Newport, South Wales, of which I do have some personal knowledge, despite it being a long way away from my South Coast lair. It’s a microcosm, but potentially very illustrative.

Newport East and West results comp

In both Newport East and Newport West, the combined Tory and Brexit Party vote exceeded the winning Labour vote.  Going along with the desired narrative, it would be tempting, even easy, to draw the obvious conclusion: that the Brexit Party stopped the Tories capturing both seats. But it might also be wrong, because there are important local factors at play.

In Newport West, the Tory candidate Matthew Evans was the very popular former Mayor of Newport, while the Labour MP was new and thus relatively unknown, the seat having for years been the personal fiefdom of that irascible old Labour dinosaur Paul Flynn, who died as recently as February this year. In Newport East, however, the Labour incumbent since 2005, Jessica Morden, is apparently regarded there as being good constituency MP.

Had there been a local tactical alliance, the Brexit Party could have stood down in Newport West to give Evans a clear run, while the Tories could have stood down in Newport East to let the Brexit Party, which obtained a higher vote-share there than it did in Newport West, to have a crack at unseating Morden.  The likely result would have been two pro-Brexit MPs in the new House of Commons, one Tory and one Brexit Party, and two more seats added to the scale of Labour’s defeat. Instead, Newport still has two Labour MPs. 

The Conservative Woman‘s Editor Kathy Gyngell was entirely correct to argue, as she did on Monday 16th December, that Johnson owes Farage more gratitude for the latter’s tactical mis-steps than the curmudgeonly recrimination proffered so far. On the other side of the political aisle, even The Guardian agreed that Johnson owes a debt to Farage for his own triumph

Only within sections of the Conservative Party does this appear to go unrecognised. It could be merely the arrogance and sense of entitlement to which elements of the party appear prone: but on the other hand, it could be yet another manifestation of the Tory Party’s default “party before country” survival instinct, which makes it so simultaneously hostile to, yet fearful of, potential competitors.         

So let’s have no knighthood or peerage for Farage in faux-recompense, please: there’s something else which would be a far more deserving, and widely-beneficial, expression of appreciation.

In the latter part of my plea on the morning of Election Day, I wrote that the Brexit vote was more than just a demand to leave the European Union: that voting for that specific policy was also a proxy for a strident demand for a different way of doing politics, vesting more power in the people at the expense of a managerial, technocratic elite.

The “Protect our Democracy” section (pp 47-48) of the Tory manifesto does pledge a start on this, with the absolute minimum, but there’s more to do. For Boris to parallel Brexit with a comprehensive re-democratisation of British politics would be a discharge of his indebtedness to Farage far beyond any mere gong, bauble or ermine-trimmed gown.

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Hold your nose and vote Tory today. But not necessarily ever again.

It’s no more than the least worst option among poor alternatives but, solely to procure some – any – kind of Brexit at all, one must hold one’s nose and vote Tory today, even if never again.

Note: Longer version of the article also published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Thursday 12 December 2019

What a thoroughly depressing, unedifying decision awaits us in this general election today. A choice between, on the one hand, a Tory Party which is likely – but no more than likely and certainly not guaranteed – to ‘get Brexit done’ as if it was merely a one-off event, a box to be ticked and then set aside: and on the other, a ramshackle Left-Green Remainer coalition under which it would definitely never be allowed to happen in any meaningful way, if at all.

Despite the pages of promises unrelated to Brexit in the various party manifestos, this is overwhelmingly a Brexit-dominated election. It’s taking place because of the need to break the deadlock imposed by a Remainer-majority Rotten Parliament that for 3½ years strove not to implement the very instruction which it asked the electorate to give it. It refused to approve both any deal, and no-deal. But it also usurped the power of the executive of the elected government to approve either.

So it’s with the withdrawal agreement now in prospect and its likely ensuing future trade agreement that consideration of how to cast our vote must start.

Despite the claims advanced in its favour, the extent to which Boris Johnson’s revised withdrawal agreement differs materially from Theresa May’s in areas like the Northern Ireland backstop, the scope and duration of the continuing post-Brexit jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and Britain’s ability to strike new trade deals with non-EU countries, remains a matter of debate.

It’s also reasonable to ask how, when May was faced with near-absolute negotiating intransigence from Brussels for over 18 months, Johnson was able to secure within mere weeks a revised withdrawal agreement which is apparently so changed from the original that it becomes not just acceptable, but praiseworthy. I suspect that may be because the EU always had a fallback position ready, but which it never had to deploy because May’s team were such inept and conciliatory negotiators, but it’s a factor which we should bear in mind.

For me, the most persuasive assessment is that which acknowledges that Johnson’s revised agreement is very far from ideal, but that it is nonetheless a significant improvement on its predecessor and is probably just about good enough to make it supportable: a position that would become stronger if a big enough House of Commons majority enables Johnson to stick to his pledge that there will be no transition period beyond the end of 2020, and that preparations would continue for a No-Deal exit on WTO terms on that date should it be necessary.

But there often seems not to be a big expanse of blue water between the May ‘damage-limitation exercise’ and the Johnson ‘something to get done’ approaches to Brexit. As the Daily Telegraph’s Jeremy Warner notes, doubts remain about Britain’s future relationship with Europe, and the possibility of a Johnson conjuring-trick that would leave many Brexiteers disappointed, can’t be ruled out.

So we aren’t home and dry yet, and anyone who believes that anything other than an outline of a comprehensive free trade agreement can be achieved by then is clutching at straws. Moreover, Brexit will be an ongoing process, not an isolated event: full divergence from 46 years of convergence will take years, not months. We won’t begin even to glimpse the final shape of Brexit until well into the second half of 2020.

We’re therefore being asked to take an awful lot on trust, with no guarantee that we won’t end up with some kind of BRINO-plus with extended transition. But, being realistic, of the Brexit policy alternatives that are likely to be in a position to prevail once the election results are in, this is sadly the least worst option.

Which brings us to that question of the big enough Commons majority alluded to above. In particular, Johnson’s curt dismissal of a tactical alliance with The Brexit Party to try and secure a solid pro-Brexit majority in Parliament by targeting Leave-voting seats, currently represented by Labour-Remainer MPs, which the Tories could never hope to gain but which a non-Tory pro-Brexit alternative just might.

I’ve written previously about the mistakes made and lack of nuance, driven by posturing and egotism, on both sides: and the argument that dividing the pro-Brexit vote between two parties risks splitting it and letting in a Corbyn-led government or coalition that will either cancel Brexit outright or dilute it to sham-status is perfectly valid. The boost in Tory polling numbers and corresponding collapse in Brexit Party support cannot be denied, although which is cause and which is effect might be a moot point.

But there’s also something else. Following the failure of that tactical alliance to get off the ground, the Tories’ purpose, it appeared, became not just to win those seats through their own efforts, improbable though that remains in some cases, but to destroy The Brexit Party or at least seriously damage its credibility in the process.

It was discernible how, during the middle weeks of the campaign, the Tories and the Tory-supporting media appeared to turn considerable firepower on to The Brexit Party for threatening to ‘steal’ its voters from one end of the Tory Tent, while much less seemed to be turned on to the LibDems for trying to ‘steal’ its voters from the other end of it. The Daily Telegraph even published a soft-focus hagiographic puff-piece on Swinson that would not have been out of place in the pages of Hello! magazine.

The allegations of senior Brexit Party figures and candidates being offered inducements to stand down may have faded from public memory, but that does not mean they didn’t happen. Some of those claims sounded more credible than others, but Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe’s account to Julia Hartley-Brewer of the inducements offered to her sounds genuine.

We’ve been here before. Similar tactics were used against UKIP in the run-up to the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament: assiduous ‘offence’-archaeology to unearth candidates’ embarrassing past comments on social media: dire predictions of splitting the (then) pro-referendum vote: and noisy, suspiciously well-timed re-defections accompanied by apologetic recantations, by ex-Tory candidates. Wanting to leave the EU was the policy of ‘closet racists, fruitcakes and loonies’.

Brexit Party MEP Claire Fox recently wrote eloquently about the levels of vitriol thrown at Brexit Party Leavers by Tory Leavers, and the arrogant yet patronising sense of entitlement and resentment evinced by many Tory Brexiteers towards the perceived upstart challenger to their assumed sole ownership of the Brexit issue.

Urging voters not to vote for another party you perceive as a threat to you is an acceptable part of the democratic process. Demanding that other party withdraw from an election because you perceive it as a threat to you, however, is profoundly un-democratic. The overriding impression of the last six weeks is that the Tories, despite their pre-election blandishments, would prefer a small pro-Tory metro-‘liberal’ majority in Parliament to a larger pro-Brexit but not exclusively Tory one, with the former even at the expense of the latter, and the Brexit Party killed off. So what’s really going on?

At this point, we need to take a quick diversion back into recent Conservative Party history. The Tory high command were always reluctant Brexiteers. In his superb book All Out War, journalist Tim Shipman tells how George Osborne thought the idea of even holding a referendum on EU membership ‘mad’: ‘we should stop talking about it’ was his advice to David Cameron.

It’s widely suspected that the reason Cameron was driven to promise a referendum in his January 2013 Bloomberg speech was not the principled democratic one of giving the electorate the chance to have its first vote in 38 years on Britain’s continuing membership of the EU, but the narrow, partisan, party-management one of countering the domestic political threat then posed by UKIP and securing Tory Party electoral advantage.

It’s also widely assumed that the solemn promise to hold a referendum was included in the Conservatives’ 2015 general election manifesto for the same reason, and in cynically confident expectation that the outcome would be another Tory-LibDem coalition in which the promise could be discarded and the LibDems blamed.

As we all now know, the Tories unexpectedly won a majority, and the rest is history. But Cameron is still blamed by many Europhile Tories for allowing the referendum to happen at all. As Charles Moore recounts in the 3rd volume of his Thatcher biography, Heseltine’s and Howe’s attitude was always one of the EU question being too complicated a one to be left to stupid voters.

The 2016 Brexit vote was a multi-level, multi-purpose, demand. It was not solely a vote for one specific policy, namely, to leave the European Union, but something far more profound, deep-rooted and far-reaching besides: a revolt by the long marginalised and ignored against the deracination and effectively de-democratisation of politics by a centrist-consensualist, elitist, technocratic managerialism stretching back for 30 years or more: a demand for a reversion to an earlier, different, more participative way of doing politics.

Both Right and Left appreciate this. The vote and the insistence it be enacted is about cultural insecurity as much if not more than it is about economic security writes Gerald Warner at Reaction. Even that impeccably Man of the Left, Simon Jenkins recognises in The Guardian that this Brexit-dominant election is mainly about identity, not money.

To respect that deeper, wider demand by 17.4 million requires a proper Brexit to be the launch-pad, the catalyst, for an ongoing process of comprehensive democratic and economic repair and renewal, not merely a ‘get it done and move on’ tick in a box. And this is where the reservations about voting Tory today really start to intensify.

I’ve already written on both the doubts surrounding the kind of Conservatism and direction of travel Johnson would espouse and follow, and more recently on his comparatively underwhelming performance in his first five months as Brexit Prime Minister. Those doubts have not been assuaged by the criticisms of the somewhat defensive, safety-first, anodyne Tory manifesto as treating Tory voters with disdain.

So the gut-feeling this election morning is that the Tory drive to ‘get Brexit done’ by treating it as purely one-off, short-term transactional, rather than long-term transformational, is part of a cynical wider operation of which this election and Brexit are certainly part, but not the whole. The orchestrated rejection and disparaging of those who ought to be its natural allies on this, and the presence on Tory candidate lists of paleo-Cameroon, soft-Brexiteer party-insiders certainly points that way.

As I’ve hinted before, I suspect the Johnson/Cummings/Number Ten strategy is to do something which can plausibly be labelled as Brexit, so they can claim to have ‘got it done’ as if it was just a box to be ticked: then, having done that, get back to business-as-usual with our cartelised political system largely unchanged, ignoring the implied deeper demand of the Brexit vote and silencing the Brexit Party’s ‘Change Politics for Good’ advocacy of democratic reform, thus suiting the Westminster technocratic-government elite down to the ground.

Just under a month ago, polling guru Michael Ashcroft elicited this pithy reply when suggesting that, despite the disappointment of no Tory – Brexit Party tactical alliance, Leave voters should nevertheless hold their noses and vote Tory. I suspect the comment by “Patriotic Ally” summarises the thoughts of many.

Hopefully at some point in the future it will be possible for some of us to vote for the ‘Conservative’ Party without having to hold our noses. But, with their Brexit Party neutralisation operation having, according to YouGov’s final poll, largely succeeded, and their vision of Brexit sadly being the only one in serious prospect, then to have any chance of seeing any Brexit at all, that is what we must do today. But not necessarily again.

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Boris’ Interim Report: Must Try Harder

PM Boris Johnson’s performance against the eight benchmarks set him on appointment has been mediocre at best  

Note: Longer version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 04 December 2019

At the end of last July, just after Boris Johnson had been elected leader of the Conservative Party and appointed Prime Minister, I tried to speculate on the general direction of travel which his government would follow, not only on Brexit, but on other key policy issues.

Would he follow the robustly anti-leftist, pro civil liberties, free-trade, free-market, tax-cutting rhetoric of his leadership campaign? Or would he actually turn out to be more in the ‘Wet’ One-Nation tradition of ‘liberal’-‘progressive’ Conservatism? To serve as a benchmark, I suggested eight key tests by which we might judge whether he would delight or disappoint us.

Now, some might say it remains too early to judge: that the 5 months he has been in office have been overwhelmingly occupied by Brexit to the exclusion of virtually everything else, and that only after a period of government when it was no longer the dominant, almost only, issue would it be possible to make a more accurate assessment.

Well, maybe. But on the other hand, we do now have the two documents which will define the Johnson premiership in its entirety: firstly, his revised Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration and secondly, the Conservative Party’s election manifesto. So with these plus the experience of the past five months as a reference, how has he measured up against each those eight tests?

Will he ensure, come what may, including if necessary by proroguing Parliament to prevent its 70 per cent-plus Remainer majority stopping Brexit, take us out of the EU on 31 October, on a WTO No-Deal if Brussels maintains its intransigence, and with Britain as thoroughly prepared for it as possible?

This article isn’t the place for a detailed dissection of the pros and cons of Johnson’s revised Brexit deal. For me, the most persuasive summary of it is the one which acknowledges that, while it is far from ideal, it nonetheless is a distinct improvement on its predecessor and so probably just about good enough to make it supportable. But although the answer to the test question is clearly “No, because we have still not left the EU“, a reasonable case can be made that this was not for want of trying. 

On the legislative side, right up until the moment it was dissolved in early November, Johnson was faced with a majority-Remainer House of Commons, including members of his own party, which was not only determined to thwart it and to leave no avenue of Parliamentary procedure unexploited – however arcane and devious, and however potentially constitutionally illegitimate – in pursuance of that aim, but was also resolved to deny the electorate a chance to vote it out and elect a fresh Commons.

On the judicial side, he was faced with a blatantly politicised and judicially-activist legal Establishment which, by ruling the Prorogation of Parliament unlawful was prepared in effect to re-write the Constitution by arrogating to itself the power to amend it by inserting its own opinion into the political process.

Will he take, or authorise Dominic Cummings to take, an axe to the higher reaches of the Whitehall civil service machine which has proved so unwilling to accept our decision to leave the EU, and so hostile to implementing it?

There seems to be little evidence of it. Despite the misgivings surrounding Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill’s role, as May’ national security adviser, in the sacking of Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary and informed speculation during the Tory leadership campaign that he would not long survive a Johnson premiership, he remains in place.

Although the Svengali figure of Olly Robbins who was May’s chief Brexit negotiator has left Whitehall, and the Brexit negotiating team was slimmed down, Johnson’s current Europe adviser is something of a former Brussels insider. While it’s obviously very useful to have someone familiar with the backrooms of Brussels, against that must always be the fear that he may have been institutionally captured.

Will he abrogate Britain’s accession to the UN Migration Compact, cynically signed by May largely under the radar in December 2018?

As far as I can see, he has not even mentioned it. In fact, the indicators appear to be pointing towards a significant dilution of his leadership campaign promises on reducing the scale and raising the quality of inward migration, despite the manifesto pledges about an Australian-style points system. Indeed, he has arguably retreated further.

In the Daily Telegraph of 14th November, the Editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson floated the idea of a Government amnesty for illegal immigrants. Given the close links between the magazine and Number Ten, I suspect it’s unlikely that the latter was wholly unaware of the proposal before publication. It could have been designed to test the waters of public opinion, or perhaps even to engineer an adverse reaction, so as to justify a harder policy line with which to chase ex-Labour voters in the Midlands and North.

The two main problems with such an amnesty are that, firstly, it rewards illegality – what signal does it send to the law-abiding migrants who have taken the trouble to establish themselves here legally? – and that, secondly, it acts as an incentive to anyone currently contemplating migration into Britain, illegal or otherwise, to do it before more robust controls are implemented.

In addition, and as Migration Watch’s Alp Mehmet explained at The Conservative Woman on 27th November, in a commentary of all four main parties’ manifestos, it is perhaps the Conservative Party’s, deferring to the financial strength of big-business on the one hand and the powerful Woke pro-immigration lobby on the other, which especially represents a betrayal of its Leader’s previous promises.

Will he instruct the new (Remain-voting) Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to unwind all the surrender to the EU of control over policy, rules and structures which govern the future of our Armed Forces?

Here the picture, albeit still mixed, is slightly better, although May’s deal was so egregious in this area that it never constituted a particularly high bar to clear.

As Briefings for Brexit’s and Veterans for Britain’s Professor Gwyn Prins’ comprehensive analysis shows, closer integration with the nascent EU Defence Union, even under Johnson’s modified proposals, still carries significant risks for future co-operation and intelligence-sharing with our non-EU Five Eyes Alliance partners, and although we do have an opt-out mechanism, this is exercisable only on a case-by-case basis.

Professor Prins makes a persuasive argument, however, that the overall geo-strategic objection to UK participation in the accelerating EU Defence and Security integration remains: that the project’s fundamental raison d’être is ultra-federalist and anti-Anglosphere in concept and purpose, being designed to detach the EU from the NATO and wider Atlantic Alliance. Remember, France’s Macron has declared NATO “brain-dead”, and implied that the EU sees the USA as among its own likely future enemies.

Will he abandon the futile drive for expensive Green renewable energy, concentrate on developing alternative energy sources that promise reliability of supply at lower cost, and formally abandon the Government’s ill-informed, scientifically-illiterate and economically-damaging commitment to net zero emissions by 2050?

In a word: No. Once again he has gone almost in the opposite direction. In arguably one of the most abjectly cowardly reversals of a decade-long policy seen in many years, Johnson has resolved to ban fracking, ostensibly in deference to what is a cynical misrepresentation and exaggeration of the “earthquake” risk, but actually because the Tories lack the political courage to oppose the well-funded Green eco-propaganda campaign against cheap, reliable energy.

As if this was not bad enough, the Tories have signed up to the same net-zero emissions target as all the Green virtue-signalling main parties, just at a slightly slower rate, with a dearth of consideration of the long-term opportunity cost of spending upwards of £1 trillion on attempting to retard, by a few months, whatever would almost certainly happen regardless.

Will he commit to rolling back substantial parts of Theresa May’s politically-correct, divisive left-‘liberal’ SJW agenda, like mandatory gender pay gap reporting, ethnicity pay disparity audits, and gender-change via box-ticking self-declaration? 

Johnson has been conspicuously silent on this since his accession to Number Ten, and the 64-page Tory Manifesto – long on worthy aspirations and anodyne platitudes but short on specific policy pledges which could be remotely controversial – which has been variously criticised as “defensive” and “safety-first” contains no references to these issues whatsoever. Given that this was the focus of a substantial part of the condemnation heaped on his predecessor, we have to assume that silence in this case equals acquiescence.

Will he guarantee to address the pressing issue of voter and electoral fraud, in particular the vulnerability of the lax postal-vote system to rampant abuse, and Leftist objections to making ID at the polling booth mandatory?   

Johnson pledged via the most recent Queen’s Speech to introduce mandatory voter ID to help combat electoral fraud – to a predictable chorus of specious objections from the politicians of parties which currently appear to benefit most from it, and their media cum quango-state backers – and this has been included in the Tory Manifesto, along with as yet unspecified measures aimed at “stopping postal vote harvesting”. This is at least a start, although much more needs to be done.

Will he address urgent constitutional reform, in particular the position of the unelected, anti-democratic House of Lords, the corrupt and cronyism-ridden Honours system, and funding from tax the current political activities of former Prime Ministers who, despite being rejected by voters, still want to remain active in public life? 

Not much, if anything, has actually been done in this area, though in fairness, little would have been possible with a gridlocked majority-Remainer, anti-Tory Parliament. The Tory Manifesto is more promising: it does at least pledge to repeal the disastrous Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA). But both the role of the House of Lords and the relationship between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are to be referred to a new Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission, which looks suspiciously like kicking the issue into the long grass.

It would have been much better to have adopted Lawyers for Britain’s Martin Howe QC’s proposal for a Restoration of the Constitution Bill to replace the current judicially-activist Supreme Court and repeal the egregious Benn Surrender Act usurping for Parliament the proper executive role of government, as well as repealing the FTPA.

On reforming the Honours System and curbing funding for the ongoing political activities of former prime Ministers, there has been neither mention nor action. 

Overall, then, Johnson’s is an underwhelming performance so far, notwithstanding the hype surrounding his “great new deal” and the constant “get Brexit done” soundbite. Those of us of a conservative – but not necessarily Conservative – disposition are, I think, entitled to start asking some serious questions about precisely where the Johnson-led Tories are going, not only on Brexit but on much else besides.

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Conservative Party Candidates: Local Consensus or Centralised Conspiracy?

A discernible pattern of preference being given to parachuted-in favoured Party-insiders, in the selection of Conservative candidates for the General Election, is emerging

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 9th November 2019 

The selection of “Conservative” Party General Election candidates by local associations is now in its final phase before the 14th November Declaration Day deadline. However, some intriguing claims are emerging, especially from constituencies where the sitting member is standing down, about Party HQ attempting to micro-manage the selection process in favour of its own preferred choices, even to the extent of excluding a local candidate whom the local CA would choose.

First, to a currently Tory seat in the South-East whose MP is standing down. I was told last week, by a friend who happens to be a stalwart of the local Conservative Constituency Association that ructions were very likely to occur at the CA meeting scheduled to be held shortly to discuss the new candidate.

She alleged growing disquiet at what she described as Central Office trying to impose, over the head of an eminently suitable local councillor, a favourite of the Candidates’ Board on their central list with no constituency connection whatsoever. As she put it to me, if objecting causes fireworks, then so be it, but she’s damned if he’s going to rubber-stamp the selection of some chinless-wonder staffer who’s coming straight from being a Central Office gofer after getting a 2nd-class PPE, and who’s seeing the constituency solely as the first step on his or her political career-path.

Second, let’s move to Mid-Sussex, where archetypal patrician Tory grandee Nicholas Soames, one of the 21 anti-Brexit rebels deprived of the Conservative Whip for in effect voting to stop Brexit happening on 31st October, is bequeathing a current majority of over 19,000. In the frame for this are a current Government SpAd with pro-Brexit credentials but who, reportedly, nevertheless supported May’s BRINO (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement: an educationalist  whose both current and recent political activity, as well as residence, is centred on London: and the current Tory MP for Eastleigh, Mims Davies.

Is there really no suitable local candidate? In the case of the first two, any connection with the constituency is perhaps rather more claimed than it is immediately obvious. Davies, however, does appear to have some genuine connections with the county, having been a Conservative town councillor and as a district councillor on Mid-Sussex District Council from 2011 to 2015 before becoming an MP.

Yet despite this, it’s Davies who turns out to be the most intriguing case. Despite sitting on a 14,000 majority in her Eastleigh seat that voted 54:46 in favour of Leave, she’s definitely trying to up sticks and move to Mid-Sussex. Her somewhat disingenuous previous statement that she “would not be a candidate” in her current constituency originally gave the impression she was quitting Parliament altogether, so the revelation that she is instead seeking a safer seat has given rise to speculation that fear of losing to the LibDems is her real motivation.

UPDATE: Davies was selected to contest the seat for the Conservatives.

Third, let’s journey westwards, to Devizes, which, although voting Leave by 51.4 per cent to 48.6 per cent, was, at least until the dissolution of Parliament at 00:01 am on Wednesday 6th November, the domain of the wildly over-promoted and eco-gullible Claire Perry, with a majority over 21,000. There, elements of the local association are objecting in no uncertain terms about the possible selection of Danny Kruger, Eton-educated former speechwriter to David Cameron and current Political Secretary to PM Boris Johnson, to the extent of circulating annotated (mostly unfavourably) copies of his CV to all members. 

Kruger is clearly perceived by his detractors as one of the favoured metropolitan-‘liberal’- Cameroon glitterati, and it’s arguably difficult in the current climate to imagine a more damning assessment than “definitely on the Nicky Morgan, Amber Rudd, side of the party”. But that’s their verdict.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Devizes Constituency Conservative Party has resigned, allegedly in protest  about the undue influence the Party’s Head Office has had on the choice of candidate for the safe seat. The original shortlist of six has apparently been arbitrarily reduced to three, none of whose connections with the constituency appear especially strong, or particularly convincing.

Perhaps many local Tories in Devizes are just not prepared to have what, rightly or wrongly, they see as a Cameroon carpetbagger imposed on them by Central Office willy-nilly. Is there really not a good, genuinely-Conservative local councillor who would make a good constituency MP? After years of being “represented” by Claire Perry, one can understand Devizes’ local Tories being wary.

UPDATE: Kruger was selected to fight the seat.

Fourth, let’s travel north, to the East Midlands and Bassetlaw, the seat vacated by staunch anti-Corbynite Labour Brexiteer John Mann when resigning as a MP on 29th October. In the 2016 EU Referendum, Bassetlaw voted 68:32 for Leave, a margin of over 2:1. With Mann’s majority of only 4,852, and Labour having all but formally declared itself to be a Remain/Second Referendum party, it’s obvious that mere 2,500 voters switching from Labour to Conservative would turn it blue.

Bassetlaw 2017 GE result

Yet from Bassetlaw comes the allegation that the 2017 Tory candidate, apparently a former local councillor and previous Tory CA chair, who campaigned for Brexit in 2016 and significantly reduced Mann’s majority in 2017, thus turning it from a safe Labour seat into a marginal – but was, it’s claimed, critical of Theresa May’s approach to Brexit – has twice been rejected as its 2019 candidate by Tory Central Office, despite being originally admitted to the candidates’ list. The expectation is that an external candidate, presumably acceptable to Tory HQ, will be parachuted in.

This is doubly troubling when the Labour candidate selection process in Bassetlaw is itself in near-total disarray, following a Momentum/NEC decision to overrule the local party and de-select its choice of candidate in a manner more reminiscent of a kangaroo court than adherence to due process. Objections have predictably followed, and the Labour selection process now appears mired in complete confusion.

Presented with an open goal in Bassetlaw, therefore, Tory Central Office appears to be kicking the ball off the pitch.

Fifth, back to the South-East, and to Sevenoaks in Kent, which until the dissolution of Parliament was the seat of former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, with a 21,917 majority. Included in the Party HQ approved shortlist for it was a self-employed local councillor: the former Number Ten 10 adviser to David Cameron, Laura Trott (not our quadruple-gold Olympic cyclist, sadly, but her namesake): and the former MP for Peterborough, Stewart Jackson, a staunch Brexiteer who latterly was David Davis’ Chief of Staff at DExEU.

UPDATE: Trott was selected to contest the seat.

Sixth, again in Kent, and to Orpington – Jo Johnson’s old seat – which over the weekend chose Gareth Bacon, current Tory leader in the London Assembly, to contest the general election for the Conservatives from a shortlist of three. My mole at the selection meeting tells me that, to his intense dismay, and despite Bacon’s local government experience in the area, Bacon nevertheless “turned up with his fan club in attendance”, and that it was obvious as soon as he entered the room that he would win.

Which prompts the thought: if Bacon chaired the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority for the final two years of Boris Johnson’s mayoralty, i.e., from 2014 to 2016, was he not involved, at quasi-political level at least, in formulating the Fire Service’s what we now know to be highly contentious advice to residents of high-rise residential blocks like Grenfell Tower to stay put in the event of a fire, and not try to get out of the building? Has anyone made that connection yet?

Does anyone see a pattern here? Now it may or may not be coincidence, but there has recently been an abrupt change at the top of the Party hierarchy, with the resignation from both the Candidates’ Committee and the Party Board of a senior MP over “rising tensions in the Candidates’ Committee about the controversial approach to selections which CCHQ is pursuing”, amid mounting fury over the Candidates’ List, with local associations increasingly pushing back against central control.

Awareness, and anger, even among Tory candidates seeking re-election as MPs, is growing.  The allegations of “doing a chicken run” have duly followed the selection of Mims Davies for Mid-Sussex, and complaints are reportedly being aired on MP’s Whatsapp groups of “lots of special advisers on shortlists, and many more poor, but connected, candidates“.           

One would have thought the “Conservative” Party would have learned from the débacle of the Cameroons’ now notorious A-List, which eventually was quietly killed off. Evidently not.

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Treat this Vichy Parliament with the contempt it deserves

Much huffing and puffing in indignation yesterday from Sarah Wollaston, the “Liberal” “Democrat” (well, this week, anyway – she does change parties so often) MP for Totnes, at PM Boris Johnson’s pulling out of today’s scheduled meeting with the House of Commons Liaison Committee, comprising the Chairs of all the principal Select Committees.    

Wollaston’s response unwittingly highlighted the questions hanging over the democratic legitimacy – or, increasingly, not merely the lack of it, but even contempt for it – of this Rotten Parliament, which has long exceeded either its usefulness or its ability to represent the electorate. She is a perfect vehicle to illustrate it.

Always more of a false-flag, closet Lib-Dem inside the “Conservative” Party than a true Conservative, she nevertheless became its candidate for the Totnes constituency via an Open Primary which the Tories managed to botch spectacularly, firstly by not sufficiently checking the politics of the actual applicants, and secondly by allowing anyone to vote in it, regardless of their political affiliation.

She initially declared for Leave in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum, only to defect noisily to Remain in mid-campaign, in what many suspected was a put-up job aimed at discrediting the Leave campaign by her ‘defection’. More recently, she has opposed a second referendum, before U-turning and demanding one. In the last 8 months, she has changed parties in Parliament twice, first defecting from the Tories to the ill-fated and serially multi-titled The Independent Group, and subsequently to the LibDems.

Yet despite having twice in effect repudiated the manifesto which she endorsed and was content to stand on to get elected in 2017, she resolutely refuses to resign and trigger a by-election so as to give the voters of Totnes the opportunity to decide if they still want to be represented by her in the House of Commons. And she has the gall to criticise the PM for an unwillingness to “face scrutiny“. The hypocrisy is off the scale.

Wollaston epitomises a Parliament that is treating the electorate, and even democracy itself, with contempt. As Prime Minister, Boris Johnson was entirely justified in reciprocating in kind.

But it shouldn’t stop there. Including the 21 Tory Continuity-Remainer rebels who have either resigned the Conservative Whip or justifiably had it withdrawn from them, there are now approximately 50 current MPs who have defected from the parties under whose banner they were elected in 2017. Like Wollaston, not one of them has had either the integrity or courage to return to their constituents and seek a fresh mandate for their changed affiliation – or, in most cases, for their 180-degree swivel from the platform on which they sought and gained office.    

It is time to start treating them with equal contempt. Not only the PM, but all ministers, should refuse to appear before the Commons Liaison Committee while Wollaston remains its Chair. They should refuse to appear before any Select Committee chaired by one of those 50-odd MPs, and refuse to answer any question asked by any one of them at any Select Committee hearing.    

This should be carried through to the House of Commons itself. Following the example which should immediately be set by the PM at Prime Minister’s Questions, Ministers should refuse to answer any question, even about their own Departments, coming from one of those 50-odd MPs. And their lack of democratic legitimacy, absent because of their refusal to obtain a fresh mandate from their constituents, should be cited as the reason, every single time.

This rolling disapproval should manifest itself in one other significant way, too. The PM, and all ministers (with other MPs whose democratic legitimacy, regardless of their party, is not in question encouraged to join in as well), should with immediate effect refuse to refer to any of those 50-odd MPs by the title “Honourable Member”. They are in no way “honourable”, and to continue referring to them as such merely compounds the contempt with which they are already treating their own electorates. Would a newly-elected Speaker really want to start his or her period of office by standing up for them?

This abject, quisling, Vichy-Parliament refuses to approve a Brexit Deal but also refuses to approve No-Deal. It claims to be acting on behalf of the electorate but refuses to submit itself to the verdict of the electorate by conceding a general election. And then there’s this:

It is treating both the electorate, and even democracy itself, with utter contempt. High time it received the same treatment.

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Parliament’s Day of Reckoning

As the one of most important days for UK politics and House of Commons history in years, possibly in decades, dawns, with Boris Johnson attempting to secure MPs’ approval for his Brexit deal, how does the parliamentary landscape look?

It’s worth bearing in mind, at the outset, just why we are in this mess. It’s because, essentially, we are saddled with a Remainer Parliament resolved to frustrate the expressed will of the electorate that delivered the largest ever popular democratic mandate for one specific policy in this country’s political history.

EU Ref by votes, regions, parties, constituencies, & MPs

Even on the basic party arithmetic, with no other factors taken into account, Johnson’s prospects for success in the Commons look very tight. The Government currently has an operational “majority” of minus 44, so in order to win, it broadly needs, not only to keep all of those in the Aye lobby, but also attract some others to it. The votes “in play” fall roughly into four key groups.

The DUP have officially rejected Boris’ deal “as it stands”, on the grounds that its revised Protocol covering customs, the NI-RoI border, and Transition arrangements does not fully assuage their objections to Theresa May’s original (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement. However, it’s emerged in the past 24 hours that this may not be unanimous, and that some of the DUP’s 10 MPs may be prepared to concede pragmatically that this is as good as it’s likely to get, and thus support the Government. The support of former Northern Ireland First Minister Lord Trimble looks to be a major boost.

Then there are the 21 Tory-Remainer rebels from whom the Whip was withdrawn. Rumours abound that an increasing number of these may relent and vote for the Johnson deal, on the basis that it is at least a deal, whereas their objection was to leaving with no deal. But this group also contains a cabal of pro-Remain MPs, some of whose professed determination merely to prevent no-deal is a transparently thin veneer to cover their determination to prevent any Brexit at all, democracy notwithstanding. Some of them are either standing down as MPs or are likely to be de-selected, and so have nothing to lose.

Next come the roughly 80-90 MPs of the European Research Group and its so-called “Spartans” sub-set. Many of this group voted for Johnson in the Tory leadership election, after voting against May’s deal twice but voting for it on its third attempt. As Johnson’s deal, for all its flaws, is at least demonstrably better than May’s, their support, bar possibly one or two hold-outs, looks more or less assured, although, intriguingly, two ministers from this group were reportedly on “resignation watch” yesterday.

Finally come the prospective rebels from the Labour benches, a growing number of whom are already on record as saying they would support Brexit as long as there was a deal, and who may well decide the issue, one way or another. 19 of them wrote to the EU asking it to agree a deal so that they could vote for it. At the time of writing, Labour was threatening to impose a three-line whip, but many of them are likely to be standing down or de-selected in a Momentum/Corbynite purge anyway, and will quite possibly disregard it.

As a general observation, for many Remainer MPs, this is crunch time. Irrespective of the merits or demerits of Johnson’s deal, those Continuity-Remainer MPs from across all parties who have hitherto been insisting that they “respect democracy” and oppose only a no-deal Brexit are finally going to have to stand up and be counted on what their position really is. Not before time,  and for some, it could well be blood on the carpet.

One tweet by the Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson perhaps sums this up. 

The arithmetic is complicated enough. Factor in the possibility of a wrecking amendment, and how it might play out, and we are into the realms of crystal ball gazing.

As this tweet from The Institute for Government’s Maddy Thimont Jack shows, MPs had already started proposing amendments to the relevant motion yesterday morning, the key one being (and little doubt exists that it would be selected by the pro-Remain partisan Bercow as Speaker) that proposed by serial anti-Brexit meddler and arch-Remainer Tory MP Oliver Letwin and signed by all the usual suspects:

The effect appears to be to force withholding of Parliamentary approval for the deal until the legislation to implement it has been passed. The immediate question which occurs is this: how can Parliament pass legislation implementing a deal which Parliament itself has not approved? Has Letwin, not for the first time, been too-clever-by-half?

Its ostensible purpose is to prevent Johnson’s deal being passed but the legislation to implement it being derailed, resulting in a no-deal Brexit on 31st October by default. However, there seems little room for doubt, given their past Parliamentary shenanigans, that the real aim of the cross-party anti-Brexit plotters clustered around Dominic Grieve is to trigger the Benn Surrender Act, and force Johnson to seek an extension to Article 50 until 31st January, thus giving the Remainer Alliance in Parliament time to force through legislation for a second referendum. The Letwin amendment is, in effect, a spoiler.

There are other possible options for die-hard Continuity-Remainer MPs to take, with outcomes ranging from another bid for a risibly mis-named Government of National Unity to an Article 50 extension even without triggering the Benn Surrender Act.

Contrast this reluctance and foot-dragging on the part of irreconcilably Continuity-Remain MPs with the attitude of the UK electorate, which now appears, and by a substantial majority, to want Brexit implemented on the basis of Johnson’s deal. The remoteness of this Rotten Parliament from the people it is supposed to represent grows more marked by the day. 

It must be said that, even if Johnson’s deal is approved today, and the implementing legislation follows in short order thereafter, the timing is still tight. The deal, as approved, still requires the approval of the EU Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament. Given their glacial pace, that has to be doubtful. The future of Brexit remains uncertain.

One thing however is certain. Today will show, once again, the sheer extent of the demos-phobia embedded deep in the psyche of the majority of MPs that the Brexit vote and its aftermath has exposed. Hopefully it will be the last gasp of the creatures before the swamp is drained.

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Was this the week UK Democracy died?

Note: This article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 28th September 2019

From the instant Remainer reaction of knee-jerk outrage when last Tuesday’s Supreme Court Judgment, ruling that the prorogation of Parliament had been unlawful, was criticised as a “constitutional coup d’état”, one always suspected that there was actually something in that criticism.

SCoUK delivers ruling on Prorogation

That the Supreme Court’s Judgment reversed the earlier verdict of the High Court that prorogation was essentially political and thus not justiciable – a verdict reached by a panel comprising no less than the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, and the Chairman of the Queen’s Bench Division, all of whom rank superior to Supreme Court Judges in the Judiciary – did nothing to ameliorate it.

As the week has gone on, that suspicion has grown. As one of the better analytical commentaries showed, the Judges took it upon themselves to rectify an absence relating to prorogation in the body of Parliament-made Statute Law by first arrogating to themselves the law-making power vested in the elected legislature, and then making it themselves in effect under Common Law. Previously, all constraints on the Executive’s prerogative power of prorogation were statutory.

Moreover, by effectively substituting its own judgment (of what constituted ‘good political reasons’ for prorogation) for that made by the Executive, and then evaluating the actual prorogation against its own criteria, the Supreme Court inserted itself into the political process. But as Lawyers for Britain’s Martin Howe QC pointed out, for a court to determine whether an issue of high government policy is good reason or not presents it with an insuperable difficulty. How can it know what was or was not in the government mind?

SCoUK judges constitutional coupThe  implications for the Constitution, already creaking from a Remainer Parliament’s tangible unwillingness to accept and implement the outcome of the 2016 EU Referendum, and democracy itself, are momentous.

As Spiked’s Jon Holbrook says, there is now no political issue on which the judges are not prepared to rule: if an exercise of the prerogative power to prorogue Parliament can be set aside by judges, then almost any political decision can be. The effect of which is, as Gerald Warner so trenchantly explained at Reaction, is, to all intents and purposes, to deprive Britain of a functioning government under a constitutional monarchy. In the words of the Daily Telegraph’s Philip Johnstone, Britain has become a republic with Bercow at its head.

2017 Remainer ParliamentWhich brings us back to our dysfunctional current Parliament. Having passed the Benn-initiated Surrender Act which, by requiring an Article 50 extension request be submitted should no deal be agreed with the EU Council meeting on 17-18 October, was effectively both an open invitation to the EU not to agree any deal, and a total shackling of both of the Prime Minister’s negotiating hands behind his back, what will it do next?

Self-aggrandising BercowI suspect Parliament’s Remainer-Leftist so-called Rebel Alliance will, with Speaker Bercow’s enthusiastic collusion, seize control of the Parliamentary agenda via Standing Order 24 and then, again using an accelerated procedure to ensure all three Readings in one day, amend the Benn Surrender Act (or Appeasement Act, if you prefer).

The amendment would be to bring forward, to a date before the EU Council meeting on 17-18 October, the date by which Boris has to come back to Parliament with a deal the Commons would approve. The effect of this, of course, would be to tie his hands even more.

The additional baleful consequence which is starting to be dimly discernible in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling is this: if (as I personally believe they have) its Judges have indeed carried out a constitutional coup d’état by arrogating more political power to themselves – by in effect inventing a convention that Prorogation is justiciable, even though Parliament has passed no Statute limiting or restricting Prorogation – then one wonders whether even Royal Assent to bring a Bill into law, or more crucially perhaps, Royal Assent to a dissolution of Parliament, might itself be justiciable.

The terrible spectre of, in extremis, a Remainer Parliament legislating to amend or repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act so as to perpetuate its own existence, followed by the refusal on the advice of the Prime Minister of Royal Assent to it, being itself justiciable and liable to be overturned by a politicised Supreme Court, is no longer unthinkable. At that point, democracy is dead.

With this week’s Supreme Court ruling, mass-participation democracy has in effect ceased to be the foundation of our political society: it has become, instead, merely an obstacle to be circumvented by the anti-democratic, either those in Parliament or those with the deepest pockets and most influential connections, whenever they are defeated in a popular vote.

SCoUK Lady Brenda Brooch-SpiderThat the central political issue of our time is now that of The People versus The Establishment has become starker than ever. By its ruling, the Supreme Court has ensured that the next general election will be about one thing and one thing only: The People against Parliament and The Establishment.

A self-respecting Labour Party would be up in arms about this. Keir Hardie and Tony Benn must be spinning in their graves. The purported party of the working-class, cheering on the well-connected and the monied as they overturn the biggest democratic mandate in UK political history.

There has been much lofty comment this week, mainly from the ‘Liberal’-Intellegentsia, about a proper re-setting of the delicate balance of power between the Monarchy, the Government and Parliament which the Supreme Court’s Judgment presages. There has been much also, from the same sources, about the reinforcement of Parliamentary sovereignty.

Less mentioned, curiously, has been the awkward fourth element in our political settlement. The People, in whose name the aforementioned triumvirate of powers professes, unconvincingly, to govern, but from whom Parliament derives its sovereignty in the first place.

Earlier this week, Brexit Party MEP John Longworth wrote lucidly about how the conflict between two competing philosophies of government and society, a conflict dormant but still unresolved since the Civil War, has been revived by by the Brexit vote and its aftermath. It is worth reading.

It’s worth recalling, too, that full universal adult franchise was not achieved until 1928, despite the Great Reform Act being dated 1832, such is successive generations of the Establishment-Elite’s determination not to yield its political power to the demos it considers unworthy to exercise it. That Democracy lasted under 100 years before we reverted to oligarchical rule is no longer inconceivable.

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Meet the Charmer Caroline

Meet Caroline Voaden, the ‘Liberal’-‘Democrat’ MEP for the South-West region of England. What a delightful piece of work she is.

Unaccountably, Caroline has not hitherto impinged much on the national consciousness, despite costing us a no doubt disproportionate share of the following (amounts subject to fluctuations in the Sterling-Euro exchange rate):

her annual MEP’s salary of approximately £90,600: her ability to allocate more than three times as much as that in expenses: her general allowance of £46,680 a year: her £257,974 annual staff allowance paid directly to employees: her personal annual travel allowance of £3,675: and her £275 daily attendance allowance for each day that she signs the register in either of the European Union’s Potemkin Parliaments in Brussels or Strasbourg (but is not thereafter obliged to participate in its proceedings).   

However, that relative anonymity vanished recently, when she ostentatiously ‘welcomed’ the politically peripatetic and therefore serial defector Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, the member for Totnes, to the Lib-Dems in her own constituency. 

2019.08.17 LibDem MEP Voaden 2

Wollaston, of course, will need little introduction to most ALR readers. She always was more of a closet Lib-Dem inside the “Conservative” Party than a true Conservative, having become its candidate for the Totnes constituency via an innovative Open Primary which the Tories managed to botch spectacularly, firstly by allowing anyone to vote in it, regardless of their political affiliation, and secondly by not sufficiently checking the politics of the actual applicants. 

She initially declared for Leave in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum, only to defect noisily to Remain in mid-campaign, in what many suspected was a put-up job aimed at discrediting the Leave campaign by her ‘defection’.              

Given that Wollaston, despite being the allegedly-‘Conservative’ MP, was always ideologically closer to the Lib-Dems, one might wonder why she actually needed ‘introducing’ to their local members and supporters at all, but we’ll let that pass.  

Now, aren’t the actual words used by Voaden revealing?  “…..passing on the view from Westminster and Brussels.” Both clearly see their role as representing the views of Westminster and Brussels to their constituents, not as representing the views of their constituents to Westminster and Brussels.

Not content with that somewhat idiosyncratic and self-serving interpretation of representing the people, however, Voaden went on casually to disparage her own constituents. In response to mischievous comments on social-media about the overwhelming predominance of white faces among the local supporters of the famously ‘diversity’-worshipping Lib-Dems, she tweeted thus:          

2019.08.17 LibDem MEP Voaden 1

What a charmer. A regretful ex-habituée of lefty North London, who’s happy to be aboard the Brussels gravy-train to ‘represent’, inter alia, Totnes, where she actually sees her job as representing Westminster and Brussels to Totnes rather than vice-versa, while impliedly castigating its residents for being 95 per cent white.

With hindsight, we should perhaps have been forewarned by her contribution to the Bournemouth hustings for the 2019 EU Parliament elections. ‘Our democracy is completely broken‘, she claimed, while curiously neglecting to add that a major cause of its fracture is ‘Liberal’-‘Democrats’ like herself who refuse to accept the largest mandate for one specific policy in UK political history, and are determined to deny, dilute or preferably destroy it.

Her experience as a reporter in the former Yugoslavia, she insisted, gave her an insight into ‘a country being torn apart by nationalism and hate‘. Whether she was specifically equating the Britain that voted for Brexit with the former Yugoslavia was not clear, but in the light of her remarks since, that’s surely at least a plausible inference.

Perhaps, however, someone should have reminded her that the break-up of Yugoslavia also provided an ominous example of what can happen when disparate nations and peoples are subjugated against their will in an overarching authoritarian polity which denies them proper political representation, self-determination, and self-government within independent sovereign nation-statehood.

As you might have expected, Voaden was both prominent in, and unapologetic over, the Lib-Dems’ puerile ‘Bollocks to Brexit‘ T-shirt display at the opening of the EU Parliament’s current session. . .

Bollocks to Brexit EU Parliament

. . . thus demonstrating a distaste for decorum every bit as keen as her evident distaste for democracy. She was somewhat less insouciant, though when robustly confronted by Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain over her and her colleagues’ infantile, anti-democratic exhibitionism, and was eventually, despite repeated attempts to dodge the question, forced by him to swear on live TV.

More recently, Voaden has, ahem, ‘distinguished’ herself by apparently managing miraculously to find some fishermen in Newlyn, Cornwall, who don’t think Britain’s fishing industry has been largely decimated by EU membership and the depredations of the Common Fisheries Policy, and actually want to stop Brexit in order to protect it. 

2019.08.22 Voaden Newlyn 1

At least that’s the impression which a quick, casual read of Voaden’s tweet above would convey, isn’t it? So why, then, the “apparently”? Well, look again at the sophistry implicit in the wording she used: not “fishermen“, as you might expect, but “those working in and around the fishing industry” – which isn’t necessarily the same thing.

It seems that her principal interlocutor and source for her “findings” might not actually have been a working fisherman or fishermen at all, but one Chris Ranford, whose job it is to help distribute grants from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (of which, it will be noted, the UK is far from being the largest beneficiary). In other words, an EU bureaucrat paid to give back to the UK fishing industry some of, effectively, its own money, minus a Brussels-skimmed handling fee. Which makes the conveniently anti-Brexit emphasis of Voaden’s “findings” rather more explicable. 

To describe Voaden’s tweet as, at best, disingenuous, would be eminently justified: though that might perhaps be construed by her as a churlish act of lèse-majesté, given the tenor of her reply to two sceptical Brexit Party MEPs, at least one of whom really does know what she’s talking about when it comes to the baleful effects of EU membership on our fishing industry.

2019.08.22 Voaden Newlyn 2

Fortunately, all this may be but a temporary irritation. Because the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate already selected by the Lib-Dems to fight Totnes at the next Westminster General Election is already objecting to potentially being supplanted by the turncoat Wollaston. Because the chances are that neither she nor Wollaston would now get elected anyway.  And most of all because, with only 66 days to go before we finally leave the EU on 31st October, and even as one of the merely peripheral benefits of Brexit, the ‘Liberal’-‘Democrat’ MEP covering Totnes will soon be out of a job.

We shall not see her like again. With any luck. 

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PM Boris risks disappointing us – and not only on Brexit, either.

Eight key tests, of which delivering a proper Brexit on 31st October is only one, that will determine whether Boris Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister will be fulfilment or failure 

Note: Longer, updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 26th July 2019

Expectations matter. After the near-euphoria of the thirty-six hours or so that elapsed last week between Boris Johnson’s victory in the Tory leadership contest, and the completion of his dramatic and rightly stables-cleansing inaugural Cabinet reshuffle, the expectations being projected on to both him and his new administration are so varied as to be probably irreconcilable.

No matter how welcome were the long-overdue defenestrations of May’s Remain-Lite BRINO-loyalists such as Hunt, Mordaunt, Clark, Fox, Lidington, Gauke and the rest, and as much as the new Cabinet was initially hailed by Brexiteers as unashamedly and determinedly pro-Brexit – a Brexit on 31st October without fail, and on a WTO No-Deal basis if necessary – the actual picture is a lot less clear-cut.

Right at the start of the reshuffle, I suggested that a 3:1 ratio of Leavers to Remainers should be the benchmark to justify such a welcome beyond dispute.

2019.07.24 Me ALR on Boris Cabinet Remainer-Leaver ratio

That was arguably unrealistic: but what has actually transpired is nothing like it. 

True, Number Ten itself and the three “Great Offices of State”, namely Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, are occupied by Leavers, provided one accepts, in the last-named, the commitment of Sajid Javid to the Brexit cause, despite having voted Remain.

It’s difficult to overlook, though, that charged with No-Deal preparations, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cabinet Office Minister, is the similarly loyal to May’s Remain-Lite BRINO Michael Gove: that  other Secretary of State positions have a slew of Remainers in themand there are some surprising, on the face of it, retentions, rehabilitations, and omissions.

For example, why has Amber Rudd, until very recently doyenne of the anti-Brexit Tory-Remainer Metropolitan-‘Liberal’ Elite, kept her Cabinet seat? Why has prominent Remainer Nicky Morgan been recalled to the Cabinet? Can we be confident their apparent acceptances of Brexit as a democratic necessity are any more than skin-deep expediency? Why is there no place for prominent Brexiteers with past Government experience, like Owen Paterson and David Davis?

And above all, why was Steve Baker given such a derisory job offer that he felt he had no option but to refuse it? This looks like a very bad mistake by Number Ten. A nominally pro-Brexit Government that could not find within it a position that Steve Baker felt able to accept – has it just made a serious error of judgement, or is another agenda is in play? Do the headline appointments mask a more ambivalent commitment reflected in the lower ranks?

It didn’t take committed Conservative Party activists very long to realise that something didn’t appear quite right, and to start questioning the rationale for so many Remainers and at best soft-Brexiteers, supporters of May’s deal, being in a new nominally determinedly pro-Brexit government.  

2019.05.25 Molly Giles Boris reshuffle

It’s possible, of course, that Boris and his formidable team headed by the mercurial Dominic Cummings and the experienced Eddie Lister are just boxing clever. The language deployed, and guarantees given, by Boris since his accession leave no scope for any Cabinet member to claim later that they weren’t aware, when agreeing to serve, of precisely what they were signing up to.

And, as far as those who were sacked or who resigned in advance are concerned, there’s nothing like neutering the opposition through splitting it, by keeping some in the tent while conspicuously leaving others out of it, to wonder whether their erstwhile colleagues were ever really on their side at all, or, if they were, whether they’ve now sacrificed their opposition for the sake of office. That, however, is a double-edged sword, because, as already appears to be happening, it can also encourage disloyalty among those retained and thoughts of defection among those dismissed.      

But a very possible explanation also is the canny realisation that, despite his emphatic victory among the party membership, Boris’ rating among Tory MPs is far less favourable, so that the wafer-thin House of Commons majority, plus outright opposition to No-Deal among many Tory MPs, means that keeping the reluctant, soft-Brexiteers on side via what would, to us, be their over-representation in Cabinet, is probably unavoidable.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson Meets With His New Cabinet

However, that factor, combined with the wafer-thin Commons majority, can’t but increase the danger that, Boris’ protestations of willingness to exit on WTO/No-Deal notwithstanding, we may end up with what is little more than a refreshed version of May’s vassal-state (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement, with re-branded wording on the Northern Ireland backstop, but spun as something different. 

Which in turn raises doubts about a Boris-led government’s general direction of travel, apart from Brexit. For all his free-trade, free-market, tax-cutting rhetoric, the suspicion remains that Boris will be more in the One-Nation “Wet” tradition of ‘Liberal’-Conservatism, still very much alive and well in some of his Cabinet choices, than many of his supporters realise, and want.

In few areas is this more evident than in his repeated apparent willingness to pander to the fundamentally eco-totalitarian Green Agenda. He intoned the fashionable but false mantras about “tackling climate-change” and “producing Green jobs” in his speech outside Number Ten on returning from Buckingham Palace. He went even further in his statement to Parliament on Thursday 25 July, extolling and endorsing its recklessly officially uncosted, but estimated to cost at least £1 trillion and 1-2 per cent of GDP, commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, despite its having already been comprehensively debunked.

Make no mistake, Boris will govern as a cosmopolitan centrist, says The Daily Telegraph’s Allison Pearson. How much he can resist the demands of the SJW Continuity-Mayites is a hitherto unknown factor.  Remember, Boris’ big weakness is that he loves to be liked. He doesn’t appear to have Margaret Thatcher’s emotional resilience, that imperviousness to criticism and immunity from needing the constant approval of others which is vital in leadership when big, difficult, controversial, and probably unpopular, decisions have to be taken.

I’m especially unconvinced that, if it came to the crunch, he wouldn’t prioritise narrow party survival over upholding the national interest and even democracy itself. 

Despite being a Brexit-absolutist, I’m also a Boris-sceptic. Although he was infinitely preferable to his ultimate rival in the leadership contest, Jeremy Hunt, rightly portrayed as Theresa-In-Trousers, he wouldn’t have been my pick as either Tory Party leader or Prime Minister. The least worst option on the ballot paper isn’t necessarily the ideal choice.

So here are eight key tests by which we might judge whether Boris will satisfy, or disappoint us.

Will he ensure – come what may, including if necessary by proroguing Parliament, to prevent its 70%-plus Remainer majority stopping Brexit – that he takes us out of the EU on 31st October, on a WTO No-Deal if Brussels maintains its intransigence, and with Britain as thoroughly prepared for it as possible?

Will he take, or authorise Dominic Cummings to take, an axe to the higher reaches of the Whitehall Civil Service machine which has proved so unwilling to accept our decision to leave the EU, and so hostile to implementing it? As Douglas Carswell points out in this podcast, Brexit has exposed deep and fundamental flaws in Britain’s administrative state, and without tackling its homogeneously pro-EU, left-‘liberal’ groupthink and institutional atrophy, Boris will get little done.

Will he abrogate Britain’s accession to the UN Migration Compact, cynically signed by May largely under the radar in December 2018, and under which it effectively becomes illegal and a “hate-crime” to criticise mass immigration, which the Compact deems an inviolable human right? Because if he doesn’t, his pledge to reduce immigration and control it via an Australian-style points system is just so much hot air.

Will he instruct the new (Remain-voting) Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to unwind all the surrender to the EU of control over policy, rules and structures which govern the future of our Armed Forces which has been deceitfully and surreptitiously undertaken by May since the EU Referendum? Anyone in any doubt about what this means should listen to this Briefings for Brexit podcast from last November. 

Will he abandon the futile drive for expensive Green renewable energy, concentrate on developing alternative energy sources that promise reliability of supply at lower cost, and formally abandon the Government’s ill-informed, scientifically-illiterate and economically-damaging commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 of CO2, a colourless, odourless, invisible 0.04% trace gas essential to all plant life on Earth?

Will he commit to rolling back substantial parts of Theresa May’s obsessively politically-correct and divisive left-‘liberal’, SJW agenda, of which mandatory gender pay gap reporting, ethnicity pay disparity audits, and enabling people officially to change their gender in effect via box-ticking with no independent medical justification, are merely some of the more egregious examples? 

Will he guarantee to address the pressing issue of voter and electoral fraud, in particular the vulnerability of the lax postal-vote system to rampant abuse, as happened so recently in the Peterborough by-election, and Leftist objections to making ID at the polling booth mandatory in order to be able to vote?   

Will he promise to address urgent constitutional reform? In particular the position of the undemocratic and anti-democratic House of Lords, whose role in the Establishment-Elite’s drive to thwart, if not overturn, the popular mandate for Brexit has been widely criticised? Will he undertake to overhaul the corruption and cronyism inherent in the Honours system by which failed politicians ousted by the electorate can be rewarded and sustained in positions of power and influence? Will he end the racket whereby taxpayers are forced to fund the political activities of former Prime Ministers who, despite being rejected by voters, still want to remain active in public life?         

Boris comes to office carrying the burden of big expectations, not only about delivering Brexit, but also about re-setting the compass of Conservatism back towards a more traditional direction, after the abjectly Fabian-Blairite tribute-act it has become over its last three dismal decades.

To a certain extent, those expectations are ours, placed on his shoulders after the drift, despair and desperation of the wasted May years. But to a great extent also, they have been created by him. The responsibility to fulfil, and not fail, is his alone. But the trouble with engendering big expectations is that the disappointment and disillusion among those who have invested their hopes in you is all the greater when you do fail. The risks of Boris disappointing, on several fronts, are very, very real.

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May’s Baleful Legacy: Division, Distrust & Defeat, plus Democracy itself in Peril

Note: Updated version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 28th May 2019

Theresa May might well be one of our worst Prime Ministers, if not the worst, ever, but she will leave office with an achievement matched by few of her predecessors. Almost invariably, the verdict of history is kinder to previous Prime Ministers than that of the contemporary commentators at the time of their resignation. In the case of Theresa May, it is likely to be even harsher.

May back No 10 after resignation speech

Both the factual history of her disastrous premiership, and specifically the events of the week leading up to her resignation on Friday 24th May, are sufficiently well known not to require repetition here. But to delve deeper – into why they occurred in the way that they did, and then to try and set them in context for a political obituary and assessment of her legacy wider than the mere recitation of facts can provide – perhaps needs more of a focus on the personality of May herself.

It’s not as if there haven’t been question-marks over her personality and psychological make-up before. As long ago as January 2018, I wrote about the curious paradox of how her near-total lack of charisma and communication skills combined with an instinctive authoritarianism to produce a taciturn, careerist managerialist who is temperamentally incapable of leadership.

And that was six months before the leaks that emerged from the infamous Chequers Summit revealed an additional overlay of Machiavellian duplicity and mendacity, plus a determination to pursue a soft-Brexit very much at variance with the assurances she had been giving since her uncontested coronation.

As the inevitably of her resignation grew during last week, more clues about how May’s psychological make-up governed both her actions and her attitudes started to emerge. In some cases, they were clearly always in the public domain to an extent, but discreetly un-mentioned or underplayed. In others they comprised information hitherto known privately only to comparatively few, but who now felt able to disclose it.

What they portrayed was a solitary child with few friends, more comfortable with elders than contemporaries, who grew into an adult more comfortable relying on a small coterie of trusted confidantes because of her inability to engage in collegiate fashion with a wider circle – from which she never learned the knack of accepting others’ ideas or acknowledging alternative viewpoints, or its corollary, the art of persuasion and compromise.

What they also showed, and which exacerbated that, was the influence of her father’s unbending High-Church Anglicanism, producing a kind of virtuous arrogance, labelled pithily as “vicar’s daughter syndrome”, but described more specifically by one acquaintance thus: “She has this view of herself, which must be connected to her faith, which is that she has a morality others don’t understand.

One quote from a “senior Tory MP who has known her for decades” was very revealing. “Theresa was annoyed when Margaret Thatcher became [the first female] Prime Minister and beat her to it”. Beat her to it? At the time Thatcher became Prime Minister, in May 1979, May was only 22 years old.

Now this has been speculated before, so to see it supported by the remarks of a close acquaintance is interesting. A totally illogical resentment, leading to a determination to pursue a politically-opposite path, in order to trash as much as possible of Thatcher’s legacy in revenge, could explain quite a lot about May.

Or take another one. “She doesn’t have any ideas, so once she’s absorbed her brief she just doggedly decides that that is it.” In other words, she is supremely manipulable. What an absolute gift to the subtly-feline Sir Humphreys of our viscerally anti-Brexit Whitehall she was.

As was more or less confirmed by another quote from the same source: “The last cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood was a smart guy, because he realised this was the civil service’s chance to take back control. After 2017, he was instrumental in ensuring David Davis was bypassed and Olly Robbins became her Brexit adviser so the civil service could maintain control of the Brexit process.

So much of all this backs up long-held reservations. The blank mind susceptible to being filled by others: the apparent deficiency in emotional intelligence: the obsessiveness: the seeming cognitive dissonance, like when, the day after the loss of her majority in her botched 2017 General Election, she delivered a tone-deaf, tin-eared speech in Downing Street which barely acknowledged, if at all, the shattering humiliation she had received.

Theresa May Downing St morning after 2017 GE

Much of this was manifested in her resignation speech last Friday

She waxed lyrical about about the merits of compromise and bemoaned the lack of it among her colleagues, seemingly oblivious to her own actions in refusing to pursue the Brady Amendment to her duplicitous Remain-Lite, Brexit-In-Name-Only, “Withdrawal” Agreement, even after Parliament had voted for it: in insisting that the only alternative to her “Withdrawal” Agreement was No-Brexit: and in attempting to ram it through Parliament not merely three times but even a fourth via abject concessions to Labour to solicit its support.

She claimed to have fought “the burning injustices that still scar our society”. Yet she presided unmoved over the Windrush scandal, which represented real, tangible, injustice: and by introducing her much self-proclaimed Gender Pay Reporting and Race Disparity Audits at the behest of the grievance-mongering SJW-Left, she contributed to inventing victimhoods where none existed, thus boosting pernicious, divisive, identity-politics.

She was attempting to re-write the history of her own disastrous premiership, augmented by an aura of anguished self-righteousness. Whereas the unvarnished truth is that, presented with an almost unique opportunity to implement the biggest popular mandate in UK political history, she instead lied, dissembled and deceived, in order to try and dilute it, if not frustrate it completely.

Her legacy will be dire indeed. She leaves not only a country still bitterly divided – which, to try and be fair, it might arguably have been, albeit to a lesser extent, anyway – but also a political system in near-chaos, distrusted and despised by increasing numbers of voters, and thus quite incapable of even ameliorating, never mind healing, those divisions.

Despite saying she will be “the second female Prime Minister but certainly not the last” – my, the “second” still rankles, doesn’t it – she will almost certainly have created a danger that it will be a long time before the “Conservative” Party takes such a risk again. Which, should that reluctance materialise, will be a tragedy, considering the abilities of some of the already currently-identifiable future female candidates in its pro-Brexit ranks.

May leaves a party abandoned and rejected by its voters in a virtually unprecedented scale of electoral attrition, as the 2019 EU Elections results, revealed on Sunday night 26th May, show. Fifth place in a national election. A mere 9% vote-share. 15 out of 18 MEPs gone. The party’s worst result in a national election since 1832, beating even the 1906, 1945 and 1997 landslides.

Euro-election final results 28-May-2019

An electoral attrition potentially repeatable, moreover, in a General Election, with truly calamitous results for it. Though any attempt to read across from an EU to a General Election must obviously be caveated with health-warnings about the comparatively low turnout in the former, the likelihood of different voter-allegiance patterns in the latter, and the different electoral systems – d’Hondt PR vs FPTP – under which they are held, the general trend is there to see.

If the 2019 EU election results were replicated in a Westminster General Election, the “Conservative” Party would literally be wiped out. Zero seats. What a legacy for Theresa May.

Electoral Calculus W'Mnstr prediction based on parties' Euro-Elections 2019 vote-shares

And this at the hands of The Brexit Party, which despite being formally launched only 6 weeks ago, is surging in Westminster Parliament voting intention just as it was in the European equivalent. Why is this?

Not, as you might think, primarily because of Brexit itself, which May mis-interpreted and mis-handled so badly: or because of concerns about immigration, which she totally mis-construed. But because of widespread about an even more fundamental question: whether we live in a functioning democracy at all.

Democracy is not merely being able to put your cross in a box. It’s being able to put your cross in a box, knowing that if your vote wins, the Government and the legislature will respect it, and the losing side will accept it. That millions of people evidently believe that this no longer applies in Britain is Theresa May’s most baleful legacy of all, and one for which her reputation deserves to sink even lower as the years roll by.

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