Tag: Liberal-Elite

Honour The Military Covenant!

MPs debating the exclusion of Northern Ireland from the Bill extending the protection of former Armed Services personnel from malicious historical prosecutions should honour the Military Covenant, not find grounds to wriggle out of it

I suspect few people will have heard of a gentleman called Dennis Hutchings. Those who haven’t should rectify this gap in their knowledge because, whether they’re aware of it or not, they’re indebted to him and to thousands like him; but the Government and MPs which they, and we, have entrusted with the responsibility of discharging that debt on our behalf are resiling from their obligations and shirking both their duty and their own and their predecessors’ implied promise to him.

Mr Hutchings is one of those referenced in the quotation whose both origin and precise words are disputed, but is attributed variously to Kipling, Orwell or Churchill:

We sleep easy in our beds because hard men stand ready to risk their lives on our behalf, to inflict violence on those who would do us harm.

In Mr Hutchings’ case, “those who would do us harm‘ were the IRA, at the height of their murderous campaign of terrorism in Northern Ireland, to try and achieve violently via the bomb and the bullet what they were unable to achieve peacefully and democratically via the ballot-box.

In 1974, while a serving soldier in the Life Guards, he had to make a split-second decision, under stress, whether to allow what was thought at the time to be an IRA suspect to run away from a patrol in County Tyrone, or follow standing orders and open fire. He insists, as he has done for the last 46 years, that he fired only a warning shot in the air. Another soldier, now deceased, also fired. The suspect was killed, but Mr Hutchings, now 78 years old and progressively dying from kidney and heart failure, is before the Northern Ireland courts charged with attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm.

This is happening even as the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill is wending its way through Parliament. Its purpose, in the wake of British military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is to better protect former members of the Armed Forces from politically motivated lawfare conducted by mainly leftist human rights lawyers, in the form of (frequently found to be un-evidenced, or entirely without foundation) specious claims of unlawful detention and maltreatment.

In this respect, many readers will recall the notorious and now thankfully struck-off Phil Shiner, doyen of ambulance-chasing Yuman Rites parasites, but senior Labour Party politicians have by no means been blameless. Many readers will also recall Emily Thornberry going so far as accepting Christmas hospitality and a donation from Leigh Day, the legal firm accused of pursuing false torture claims against British soldiers, even while serving as Shadow Defence Minister.

Crucially, though, the current Bill as drafted would apply only to overseas operations, so would thus exclude Northern Ireland, despite The Troubles having accounted for 722 British military deaths resulting from hostile paramilitary activity, compared with 454 in Afghanistan and 226 in Iraq during both Gulf Wars.

Axiomatically iniquitous as this should be, almost no objection to the Government’s exclusion of military service in Ulster from the scope of its immunity from historic prosecutions Bill appears to have been raised during its so-called ‘scrutiny’ by ‘Conservative’ MPs. Why not? Was being shot at or bombed by the IRA or Loyalist paramilitaries somehow less risky than being shot at or bombed by Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army or the Taliban?

Where in particular was any protest from that formerly self-appointed champion of our military veterans and now a Junior Defence Minister with the same responsibilities, Johnny Mercer MP, from whom, having served in Afghanistan himself, one might perhaps have expected more?

Especially as in May 2019, he had pledged not to support the Government’s legislative agenda until it ended historic prosecutions, including any relating to Northern Ireland? And as his brief from newly-appointed PM Boris Johnson on his promotion to junior ministerial office, a mere two months later, specifically tasked him with ending the legal pursuit of former service personnel, especially those who had served in the Province?

If only Mercer were now displaying in that cause the same zeal with which he leapt aboard the Woke-Left bandwagon to condemn England’s foremost philosopher of conservatism, Sir Roger Scruton, without bothering to check the veracity of the accusations against him, when Scruton was viciously traduced in a blatant partisan hatchet-job by the New Statesman‘s left-wing hack George Eaton deploying deliberate misinterpretation and highly selective quoting.

The exclusion of Northern Ireland from the Bill’s scope becomes even more egregious, given the shameful exoneration and immunities handed out to former IRA paramilitary terrorists by Anthony Blair, despite the fugitive recipients of his notorious ‘letters of comfort’ being linked to some 300 killings. 

Mr Hutchings is therefore in the invidious position of being dragged through the Criminal Courts after 46 years, in probably the last few months of life, while his erstwhile IRA adversaries enjoy the protection of the same immunity of which he is somehow deemed unworthy. No wonder he feels aggrieved: he has more than adequate reason to do so, and we should feel similarly indignant on his behalf.

Incredibly, it gets even worse. Some MPs, Mercer not unsurprisingly to the fore, now appear to be objecting to the very principle of such a Bill at all, claiming, despite it always having been intended that immunity from prosecution should never extend to torture, murder or genocide, that the Bill will create a presumption against prosecution for lesser alleged crimes, would hinder repeat investigations, and would enable ex-soldiers to ‘escape justice’.

Britain’s soldiers, it seems, can never be hung out to dry enough to satisfy the demands of, not only the politicians who commit them to action in the first place, but even their own senior commanders and political heads, for whom ‘diversity’ now ranks higher as a priority than equitable treatment or military effectiveness.

Until two decades or so ago, the Military Covenant did not figure much in the public consciousness, nor was it much discussed, despite its 400-year history. Neither enshrined in law, nor conferring contractual obligations, nor even enforceable, it was nevertheless understood to be an informal but morally binding agreement on their relationship between the State and those who voluntarily sign up to put their lives on the line to defend their country and its people.

Visible change commenced under Cameron when his Coalition government, rowing back from his previous commitment to enshrine the Covenant in law, proposed merely to publish an annual statement of how it was honouring the Covenant – or rather, as is so often the case in such public-relations driven exercises in self-congratulation – ostentatiously pretending to honour it while starting to chip away at its unstated commitments.

The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill is being debated in third reading in the House of Commons today. Rather than searching for weasel-word sophistry to justify hanging ex-soldiers like Mr Hutchings out to dry, it is high time the political class reverted to honouring the Covenant in full.

A full 130 years have now passed since Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem in which it appears, but apparently, very little has changed that would either undermine or in any way invalidate the message contained in its couplet:

It’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, and ‘Kick ‘im out, the brute!’ But it’s ‘Saviour of ‘is country’ when the guns begin to shoot.

Honour the Military Covenant, Fake-‘Conservatives’, or forever hang your heads in eternal shame. And as a proud military parent, never again would I waste my precious vote on you.

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The Tory Red Wall is Losing Bricks Fast

Complacent Tories are already behind the curve in recognising increasing disaffection among their new Red Wall voters in the North

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 06 October 2020

As ever more draconian, but in practice substantially unenforceable, restrictions were last week imposed by the Johnson Junta on our liberties via Lockdown 2.0, the mooted opposition to them from within the ranks of the supine, compliant, party-before-country, time-serving, careerist lobby-fodder which makes up the majority of the ‘Conservative’ Parliamentary Party collapsed.

The incipient ‘revolt’ on Wednesday 30 September by no fewer than a threatened eighty melted away to a mere seven, on nothing more than a vague promise to consult them in the future.

Although Hancock was reported across most of the media as having promised a Parliamentary debate on the next occasion, this isn’t borne out by his words spoken from the Government front bench as recorded by Hansard:

Today, I can confirm to the House that for significant national measures with effect in the whole of England or UK-wide, we will consult Parliament; wherever possible, we will hold votes before such regulations come into force. But of course, responding to the virus means that the Government must act with speed when required, and we cannot hold up urgent regulations that are ​needed to control the virus and save lives.

This is no concession at all, much less a promise. First, it would apply only in the case of a proposed country-wide lockdown. Second, Hancock pledged the Government only to ‘consult’ Parliament, not initiate a full debate – in contrast to the paltry 90 minutes allocated last Wednesday – ending in a vote which might deliver a Government defeat. Mere ‘consultation’ in no way obliges the Government to any notice whatsoever of the expressed opinion of the House.

Third, Hancock added the rider ‘wherever possible’; it isn’t hard to imagine how the Government would claim it was impossible. Fourth, Hancock reserved to the Government the right to act unilaterally anyway. Yet to this blatant procedural chicanery, barely a squeak of protest was raised, apart from during speeches made by the seven eventual rebels.

Not for the first time, Tory MPs sojourning comfortably in their gilded bubble, banking on the four years before the next election dulling the electorate’s memories, are behind the curve at recognising the disillusion and contempt growing among their erstwhile most loyal supporters at their failure to challenge the Johnson Junta’s headlong embrace of economically and societally damaging illiberal authoritarianism, based on increasingly highly questionable scientific advice.

But outside the MPs’ cocoon, the patience of even their formerly most long-serving members appears to be waning fast. As I found out in microcosm a few weeks ago, from my BFF’s mother, down from the Red Wall North for a few weeks visiting her daughter on the South Coast.

Although Violet (not her real name) is in her mid-80s, she’s impressively – almost frighteningly,  truth be told – switched on politically, with a mind like a razor.  To give you a flavour, last Christmas Day, after I’d been asked by her daughter, my lunch hostess, to keep off politics for the day as her Mum had that year been widowed, she greeted me with –

Mike!  Happy Christmas!  Now tell me: were you still oop on Election Night when that dozy Swinson lost her seat? Wasn’t that great?

She and her late husband were loyal stalwarts, even officers, of the local ‘Conservative’ association in their part of the North until, as she puts it, even they could stomach Cameron and his Notting Hill metropolitan-‘liberal’ dilettante chums no longer and resigned. She even attended the infamous Tory Party Conference of 2002, being in the audience when the then Party Chairman, one Theresa May, scowled at the assembled delegates as only the surly daughter of an Anglican vicar can, and scolded them that they were, in reality, the Nasty Party.

Violet’s opinion of the MayBot is, shall we say, not high. She met May when the latter as Party Chairman visited that particular Constituency Party Association, and she claims never to have encountered anyone so taciturn, uncommunicative, and non-committal, especially when supposed to be boosting morale among the party in the country and rallying the local troops to greater efforts. On the evening May was appointed Home Secretary by Cameron after the 2010 General Election and its subsequent days’ horse-trading with the LibDems, Violet telephoned me with this gem:

Theresa May? Home Secretary? Theresa Bloody May? She’ll be a disaster!

By ‘eck, she weren’t half right, were she?

The Northern constituency Violet lives in is one of those Red Wall seats which went Tory for the first time in decades last December. However, the local council in the biggest town, on the outskirts of which she lives but still just within its local authority area, is solidly Labour, and very concerned not to offend, and even to appease, a large and growing “Asian” population, on which specific demographic it increasingly depends for votes.

That “Asian” community is disproportionately concentrated in one locality and is characterised by large extended families, a high occupancy rate per home, a high degree of social interaction, and a reluctance to abide by local laws and regulations where they conflict with or impede the community’s religio-cultural practices.

Particularly during Ramadan, which this year ran from 23 April to 23 May, much socialising was allegedly prevalent in the local parks and open spaces for the post-sunset Iftar fast-breaking evening meal during the comparatively light and warm evenings, with not only scant regard for social-distancing guidelines but an indulgent, hands-off, non-interference policy from the local constabulary, in contrast to the heavy-handed authoritarianism with which separation was policed in other parts of the country.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that that specific locality emerged as the area’s coronavirus hotspot during the late-March to early-July lockdown. The problem arose and disaffection set in, Violet averred, when it became apparent that, while the remainder of the area was nowhere near as affected by Covid-19 as the hotspot, the entire wider community nevertheless had to suffer the economic and societal consequences.

Interestingly, this is starting to be recognised by some Tory MPs who are arguing instead for finely targeted local lockdowns where, and only for so long as, necessary, in contrast to the Government’s omnipotent-State, blanket-ban approach. But no-one in No 10 is listening.   

To say that the Tory support, which rallied to the ballot-box only ten months ago, is disillusioned with the Johnson government’s response to the pandemic would be an understatement. According to Violet, the blame is being heaped more or less equally on Johnson and his Cabinet for slavishly following ‘the science’ which has turned out to be questionable if not flawed, and on the local council for not making a case for exempting the non-hotspot part of the area from the full panoply of lockdown.

In short, the locals who, for the first time in decades voted for the Tories last December, think the Tories have made a mess of it, and furthermore, have little understanding of, let alone sympathy for, the plight of people in the medium-sized Northern towns. December’s ‘Conservative’ vote was probably a high-water mark never again to be achieved.

Now, it might be tempting to write this off as purely anecdotal; but increasingly it appears to be backed up by empirical evidence.

Regular pollster (Lord) Michael Ashcroft’s recent survey of voter opinion, “A New Political Landscape, has found that, although all isn’t necessarily lost for the Tories, voters have definitely turned.

In the Daily Telegraph, Big Brother Watch’s Silkie Carlo states that last week’s Parliamentary’ revolt’, although it degenerated into a damp squib, ought to be taken by the Tories as a warning that its public is growing restive.

In The Times, the experienced pollster Deborah Mattinson has described succinctly the reservations which newly Tory-voting Northern Red Wall constituents are already having about the direction and style of Johnson’s government, and cautioned that the Party needed to use the opportunity presented by its online party conference to reassert some grip.

At UnHerd, Ed West, author ofSmall Men on the Wrong Side of Historyexplaining the ‘Conservative’ Party’s looming electoral decline from both demography and (ironically) its own Leftward drift, warns that the Tories are running out of both time and voters.

Again in The Times, Rachel Sylvester cautions that the way in which managerial incompetence and economic credibility have both been thrown out of the window by the Tories in their authoritarian approach to the Covid19 crisis will not go unnoticed by their newest supporters who are those likely to be the hardest hit by it.

But the Party hierarchy, in contrast, remains complacently behind the curve. Only days ago, Party Chairman Amanda Milling MP announced with a fanfare that, to show their commitment to, and cement, what they now presume to call their ‘Blue Wall’ seats, the ‘Conservatives’ would be opening a second Party HQ, in Leeds, in 2021. Milling also confirmed that Tory MPs in those seats were to be offered a funding ‘war-chest’ to help them hold on to them.

But if the Tories fail to deliver on Brexit, as they have so far failed – and are still currently failing – to deliver on coronavirus, controlling illegal immigration and defending our history, culture and heritage from the cultural-marxist Woke-Left’s assault on them, it will all be too little, too late, and a waste of time, money and effort. Because the Tories’ Red Wall votes will have gone.

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Brexit-Watch: Friday 17 July 2020

Beware the resistance of the Whitehall Continuity-Remainer Blob  

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 16 July 2020

Choosing four recent Brexit-relevant media articles which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall

 

It’s time to agree to withdraw from the Withdrawal Agreement Centre for Brexit Policy

The relief and praise in equal measure which greeted Boris Johnson’s ‘renegotiation’ of the seemingly renegotiation-immune EU Withdrawal Agreement were justified – but only partly.  Despite the modification he achieved, its numerous flaws which his predecessor Theresa May signed up to out of either dullard ignorance or Remainer perversity persist.

Notwithstanding the current negotiations being conducted on our future trading relationship with the EU, provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement relating to, inter alia, the continued applicability of EU law, customs/border procedures, and Defence/Intelligence/Security issues, will, unless changed, effectively ensure the EU will continue pulling strings in Britain for years to come.

The Centre for Brexit Policy’s comprehensive report, on how various areas will continue to be adversely affected by Brussels’ malign influence, support its conclusion that the Withdrawal Agreement as currently structured cannot be allowed to stand, and must be replaced.

Interestingly, this proposal is being supported by one or two of the former Brexit Party MEPs who defected back to the ‘Conservative’ Party before the last election because they disagreed with the former’s position that the Withdrawal Agreement was fundamentally deficient and needed wholesale renegotiation, not modification. Depressingly, though, it’s difficult if not impossible to imagine Johnson’s inept and struggling government conjuring up the political courage even to address this, let alone do anything about it.

 

Michel Barnier tells Mark Francois that Brexit is pointlessDaily Telegraph (£) 

‘Resistance is futile’ seems to be the subtext of Barnier’s message.  Now, to be fair, Tory Brexiteer MP Francois is a bit of a buffoon – although one who attracts far more odium from his detractors than does the equally buffoon-ish Euro-fanatic Guy Verhofstadt – but I suspect he’s achieved the essentially mischief-making purpose of his original missive to Barnier, by provoking precisely the kind of haughty, ponderous, humourless response that so typifies the Eurocrat grandee.

Barnier has once again unwittingly revealed firstly, his total inability to understand how any country could possibly not want to remain part of the institutionally anti-democratic pan-European supranational project for which he evinces a near-sacerdotal reverence, and secondly, the EU’s continuing negotiating intransigence that sees him still insisting, even at this stage, that the UK must abide by the cherished ‘level playing field’ on EU (over)-regulation. It’s a bit rich of him to be accusing the UK of a ‘lack of respect’.

He shows why continuing negotiation is in effect a dialogue of the deaf, and why we would be better off cutting our losses, announcing that no further purpose is served by persisting in the charade, and devoting all our resources to preparing for the end of Transition without an agreement in place.

 

UK faces extra €2 billion EU pensions bill – Euractiv

To which demand the first response should surely be the question: why?

When the UK agreed to pay roughly €39 billion in a combination of severance and contribution to future liabilities under the original Withdrawal Agreement, included in that amount was approximately €9.75 billion for future EU staff pension liabilities. However, the EU’s estimate of those specific liabilities has suddenly jumped by about 22 per cent in one year, as a result of which we are being asked to stump up an extra €2 billion.  If that can happen to one element of our severance settlement, it raises the question of whether it could also happen to others, and whether a one-off payment somehow has the potential to morph into a never-ending commitment.

Given that the Withdrawal Agreement, for all its faults, was signed, why are we liable at all, when we have already legally left? And why was the amount not capped in the negotiations at the original €9.75 billion, to prevent us from being gouged for further increases? We should have no hesitation in either refusing, or securing a valuable concession elsewhere as the price of agreeing.

 

Brexiteers be alert – Whitehall is still trying to scupper a real Brexit – Briefings for Britain

Accustomed as we should be by now to the machinations of the irredeemably Europhile Westminster and Whitehall Remainer Blob which, four years on from the 2016 EU Referendum, continues to try and thwart or at least dilute its outcome, the Blob’s capacity to open a new front in its ongoing war against democracy should never be underestimated.

If you can’t stop it, review it” comes straight out Sir Humphrey’s (or perhaps Sir Mark’s before his welcome but overdue departure) playbook.  With the Department of Trade and Industry fully engaged in actually negotiating new, non-EU, trade-deals, the timing of the announcement of a review into the DTI’s modelling of trade deals looks anything but coincidence.  The suspicion of bureaucratic sleight-of-hand is heightened by the appointment, as chairman of the review, of an economist described as ‘close to very vocal Remainers‘.

The membership of the new agricultural commission to advise on food standards and trade policy looks similarly compromised, being stuffed full of the same people who, pre-Referendum, were prominent in scaremongering about produce standards and food imports in the event of leaving the EU.

Additionally, talk has emerged of the DTI joining the Department for International Development (aka Overseas Aid) in being merged into the Foreign Office, long regarded, and with reason, as the epicentre of Whitehall’s Remainer Resistance,  and with a dismal record of achievement when it was responsible for trade prior to the formation of the DTI.  How Sir Humphrey would approve!

Johnson, or at least Cummings, should be all over this like a rash, killing it stone dead. That the former isn’t, given the profound disappointment he is turning out to be as PM, isn’t surprising.  That the latter isn’t is worrying.  Is another Chequers-type BRINO in the making?

 

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If Not Now, Then When?

How many more instances of the out-of-control BBC’s blatant bias does the Johnson Government need to make it finally resolve to tackle it?

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 02 June 2020   

In an excellent article on 21 May at The Conservative Woman, News-Watch’s David Keighley forensically demolished, point by point, the bias-driven inaccuracies and assumptions in the BBC’s now-infamous 27 April edition of Panorama.  He correctly located the programme firmly within the Coronavirus iteration of Project Fear which the Corporation had been running, and still was – or even still is. 

Anyone who watched it will remember how every failure by the NHS, and even by its semi-autonomous linked agencies, in dealing with the COVID19 pandemic was invariably deemed to be exclusively the fault of the Government – even where it had no direct control or even involvement – in what was in effect a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party

Which makes the Government’s over-timid response, understandably touched on only briefly in David Keighley’s article, all the more deserving of criticism.  It could manage little, if anything, more than a half-hearted squeak of protest delivered by Culture and Media Secretary Oliver Dowden, whom I’ve previously criticised as an ineffectual, paleo-Cameroon careerist, and who increasingly comes across as a twerp to rival even his (politically) late and unlamented namesake Oliver Letwin.

MoS headline Sun 03-May-2020 Dowden-BBC

In the light of subsequent events, it’s worth re-visiting and analysing Dowden’s weak, anodyne and platitudinous admonition to the BBC’s Director-General Tony Hall in more detail.

First, there’s the excessive “Dear Tony” familiarity; at the risk of being stuffy, I’d suggest this is singularly inappropriate in the current circumstances, and does nothing to dispel the impression of what ought to be a formal arm’s-length relationship in the public interest being conducted more like a friendly exchange between fellow-members of the same like-minded elite.

Dowden urges Hall to ‘uphold the highest standards in relation to integrity and impartiality‘.  At the risk, this time, of being pedantic, the use of ‘uphold‘’ here implies that those ‘highest standards of integrity and impartiality‘ are in fact the norm from which the Panorama programme was merely an isolated, uncharacteristic, aberration.  That might come as a surprise to the 69 per cent of respondents to the late December 2019 Savanta-ComRes poll who said they trusted the BBC less even than ITV News on impartiality and accuracy.

Dowden concludes by referring to the need to maintain ‘public confidence‘ in ‘the BBC’s long-standing reputation for fair and balanced reporting‘.  That, in turn, might come as a surprise to the 75 per cent of respondents to the (also late-December) Public First poll supporting abolition of the ‘licence fee’ outright, and the 60 per cent favouring the decriminalisation of non-payment.

As for the Mail‘s headline, Dowden’s pleadings represented, not so much a ‘blast’ as a half-hearted pretence at a gentle rap over the knuckles.  They virtually invited a contemptuous response from the BBC.  It has not been long in coming.

The Corporation remains unapologetic about its practice, especially noticeable in that edition of Panorama but by no means restricted to it, of habitually presenting as ‘impartial’ ‘experts’ people who turn out on closer investigation to be fiercely partisan, hard-Left, committed anti-conservatism activists with a distinct political agenda. Even Sky News has been shamed into improving itself a little on this score; but not the BBC. 

It participated enthusiastically in, almost to the extent of heading up, the media lynch-mob in its witch-hunt against Dominic Cummings.  Acres have already been written on this, to which I don’t propose to add; except to point TCW readers to former BBC staffer Robin Aitken’s excellent Daily Telegraph article. summarising the underlying background.  Two statements, in particular, stand out, and they explain a great deal:

he is the BBC’s single most dangerous opponent, because he is one of the very few people on the Right who clearly understands that the BBC presents an obstacle to everything that conservatives believe in

and

the BBC hold Cummings and the Prime Minister responsible for Brexit, which for an organisation that led the battle to prevent the referendum result ever taking effect (and very nearly succeeded), is a very bitter charge indeed.’

Which brings us to L’Affaire Maitlis. This has also not lacked for apposite comment.  Like David Sedgwick’s at Comment Central, Charles Moore’s analysis at the Daily Telegraph could leave even the most sceptical reader in no doubt that Maitlis’ partisan monologue at the start of Tuesday 26 May’s Newsnight was a gross breach of BBC impartiality, (and so presumably must also have been a gross breach of her contract of employment?)

As Moore suggested, there was a dual purpose to Maitlis’ diatribe, which incidentally can’t be explained away as spontaneous: it was read from a teleprompter, so must have been pre-scripted, which therefore also means it must have been subject to BBC editorial control.  The first aim was simply to hector the audience, but the second, ancillary aim was to virtue-signal to Maitlis’ like-minded professional and social milieux, to reassure them that she too holds the ‘correct’ metropolitan left-‘liberal’ opinions prevalent in their circle.  

Less remarked on, though, was the hint of deception, or at least complicity in deception, by Maitlis’ colleagues and therefore, by inference, the BBC itself.  Remember, Maitlis had signed off from the Tuesday edition with the promise See you tomorrow‘; but, as speculation over the reason for her non-appearance on the following (Wednesday) evening’s edition grew, her Newsnight friend, colleague and Editor Katie Razzall tweeted thus:

But by 9.32.pm on that Wednesday evening, Razzall as Editor must surely have known what we the audience then didn’t, because it emerged publicly only on the Thursday morning: that the BBC, far from ‘suspending’ Maitlis, had in effect surrendered to her imperious demand to be given a night (in the end, two) off, because she was ‘furious’ at it for having the cheek actually to reprimand her, however gently (and inadequately), for her blatant breach of its impartiality requirement as her employer.  Razzall, therefore, looks to have taken the opportunity to appear supportive and principled, but in reality, was arguably just being disingenuous, if not two-faced.

As might have been predicted (and was probably inevitable), the ineffectiveness of the BBC’s excessively kid-gloves response was shown starkly only a few days later when Maitlis, far from being chastised, doubled-down and offered a repeat performance.       

Taking everything into account, the tweet below is hard to find fault with.

When Number Ten is reportedly ‘incandescent’ over Maitlis’ diatribes,  and 40,000 people went to the trouble of lodging a formal complaint about it with the BBC in a mere two days, it’s hard to imagine just how much more provocation Johnson’s Government actually needs before finally resolving to address the BBC question.  Yet, judging by Dowden’s limp reaction earlier in May, the answer seems to be: ‘quite a lot’.

At least on the timing of any action, a decision to keep the powder dry for the moment, looks sound.  It makes sense to keep the file labelled ‘BBC’ in the pending tray, albeit at the top, until COVID19 and Brexit are safely out of the way.  But then. . . .

Tactics, though, are all-important.  It was both misguided and inept of Dowden to restrict his remarks to the issue of lack of impartiality; the ‘bias’ allegation is by definition inherently subjective, and the Corporation has a range of strategies for deflecting and then smothering it, including enticing its critics into an endless ‘he said, but we said’ squabble, which ultimately gets nowhere.  For the Government to try and upbraid the BBC for its political bias is the non-military equivalent of fighting a battle on ground of the enemy’s choosing.

Had the hapless Dowden been more astute, and even remotely serious, he would have threatened ‘Dear Tony‘ with immediate decriminalisation of non-payment of the ‘licence-fee’, or even an urgent, unscheduled mid-period Charter Review to abolish it.  Instead, his entreaties were all smokescreen and displacement activity.

There is a much better route, and much stronger case, available based on the BBC’s iniquitous compulsory ‘licence-fee’.  It’s true that much of  the UK’s mainstream media, whether broadcast or print, is biased.  But the BBC is uniquely egregious on that score because we are forced on pain of fine or imprisonment to pay for it regardless of whether we want to consume its output or not: unlike, say, Sky News or The Times, where we can simply choose not to purchase their product, or cease subscribing to it.             

The Daily Telegraph‘s Madeleine Grant hit the nail on the head in linking the two, correctly saying that, unless the BBC rapidly both repudiates and eliminates the shamelessly partisan personal editorialising of the type epitomised by Maitlis on Newsnight, it cannot continue receiving any kind of coercive funding.  

Time, though, is running out.  On Monday 25 May, The Times reported the BBC’s proposal that the wealthy may in future be charged more for their TV licence.  This is outrageous, in the sense that no-one should be coercively charged anything for a product they don’t wish to consume, especially the deceitfully mis-labelled ‘TV-licence’ which is, in fact, a regressive poll-tax; but making ‘the wealthy’ pay more for it both reduces its regressivity and plays to class-envy, thus taking some of the sting out of the criticism of it as a concept.

The Maitlis episode as culmination of ever more flagrant BBC bias has given Johnson ample justification for pushing ahead with decriminalising non-payment of the BBC’s iniquitous ‘licence fee’, on the wholly legitimate grounds that people of whatever means should not be forced to pay for this. With trust in the media being significantly lower, rarely can the circumstances have been so propitious.

But so they were, almost as much, over the period of the General Election and then formal exit from the EU in December and January.  Despite all the anti-BBC Boris-bluster then, nothing has actually been done, the ball has been dropped, and it needs to be picked up again. Don’t hold your breath, though. The danger has to be that, once again, the faux-‘Conservatives’ will back down.

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Professor Lockdown: Wholly Hubris or Partly Honey-Trap?

The circumstances of the extra-marital romantic assignations for which the architect of lockdown broke his own recommended social distancing rules are enough to prompt suspicion that initiation of the relationship might have been neither entirely his, nor entirely for purely personal reasons

Note: updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 18 May 2020

Definition of honeytrap

When the scandal of Imperial College’s Professor Neil Ferguson’s breach of the COVID-19 lockdown social-distancing rules for his amorous dalliances with his married mistress Antonia Staats broke, it was not only understandable but also totally justified that the main focus of public attention by far was on his own gross professional and personal hypocrisy.

After all, here was arguably the principal architect of the SAGE advisory group’s ‘expert’ ‘scientific’ advice, which prompted the Government to –

  1. restrict personal freedoms to an extent unprecedented in peacetime;
  1. in effect shut down the economy; and
  1. put half the nation’s entire workforce on the public payroll,

flagrantly doing precisely the opposite of his own recommendations.

The disastrous effects of the Government’s panicked U-turn from mitigation to suppression, so as to follow the SAGE/Ferguson recommendations slavishly, are all too familiar.  The excessively heavy-handed authoritarianism of the Police in enforcing lockdown rules.  The deliberate inducement of the worst recession for 300 years.  A level of budget deficits which will take years to recover from.  They need no more than a brief mention here.

Neither is this the place to debate either the merits or demerits of Lockdown per se, which have been impressively covered elsewhere, or Ferguson’s private morals, which are of no intrinsic concern to us.

However, given the sheer hypocrisy of his personal conduct compared to his professional scientific advice, and the baleful consequences of the Government’s following the latter, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether there are any underlying political factors which influenced Ferguson’s specific choice of paramour?  Or, possibly, which influenced his paramour’s particular selection of him as the object of her attention and beneficiary of her favours?

Primarily on Ferguson’s ‘expert advice’, a formerly-‘Conservative’ Party government has created a weaker, static, travel-shunning society cowed into acquiescent submission by lurid pandemic scaremongering, and a weaker economy dependent on massive State intervention. It’s pursuing policies which wouldn’t be at all out of place in an election manifesto produced jointly by Momentum and Extinction Rebellion.  No wonder the State-Socialists and the Green anti-capitalism eco-totalitarians are crowing that Lockdown has become the new normal.  So what part, if any, might his inamorata have played in influencing that advice?

It didn’t take very long for the Guido Fawkes website to uncover ‘left-wing campaigner’ Ms Staats’ political affiliations, which turned out, with a wearisome predictability, to be eco-socialist, anti-Brexit, and anti-capitalist.  As to Ms Staats’ other links, including to the US-based online globalist-activism Avaaz, these were set out very succinctly by Janice Davis in the penultimate paragraph of her own The Conservative Woman article of Wednesday 13th May; it needs no repetition or elaboration from me, except perhaps to note the allegations of funding connections with the Moveon.org organization funded by George Soros

Antonia Staats 1, 5, & 6

To those of us disinclined to believe in fairies and unicorns, this all started to ring warning bells, and still does.  A hard Green-Left anti-Brexit, globalist, eco-activist, who just happens to have been bedding the very man on whose ‘expert advice’ coincidentally the Government has been inveigled into trying to re-make the economy and society in ways very similar to what the anti-Brexiteers, the far-Left, and extreme-Greens demand?  Can we totally exclude the possibility that Ferguson and Ms Staats connected by some process other than pure chance?

How long has the relationship been going?  Does the apparent willingness to breach the lockdown rules for the amorous assignations – in Ferguson’s case hypocritically so – suggest that it might still be in its first flush of ardour and therefore of comparatively recent origin?  The pair are reported to have hooked up via the match website OkCupid, but which of the two actually initiated it?  Is Ferguson subject to the Official Secrets Act in relation to divulging via post-coital pillow-talk any confidential information to which he might be privy by virtue of his official role?

Now, it must be said that, from Ferguson’s track record, it’s entirely possible to conclude that his recommendations to the Government via SAGE were formed without any external influences.

Professionally, his history of wrong predictions with disastrous consequences has been mercilessly dissected.  The coding on which his modelling is based has been shredded.  With only small adjustments to inputs on his model, very different outputs emerge

In his personal capacity, he has not been notably reticent about his political views, either.  In 2016, he co-authored a paper on the allegedly terrible consequences of leaving the EU.  Immediately after the 2017 General Election, he greeted effusively the capture of the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency by the spectacularly misnamed ‘Liberal’ ‘Democrats’ who, ever since the 2016 EU Referendum, have consistently campaigned on a pledge just to ignore its result and unilaterally overturn it.

Ferguson - Moran

It’s worth reading in detail this article on Ferguson for The Critic by journalist and founder of Lockdown Sceptics, Toby Young.  It’s worth, too, listening to this James Delingpole/Toby Young ‘London Calling’ podcast of 6th May for the Young’s excellent monologue summary (from 06:36) of how Ferguson so egregiously epitomises the dangerous serial failings of the ‘liberal’-left, authoritarian-statist, fiscally incontinent, groupthink-conformist quangocracy.  His apparent assumption that lockdown rules on social distancing were for the little people to follow, but not necessarily himself, could well stem from an elitist hubris that’s entirely self-generated.

So it’s entirely feasible that little, if any, external influence was actually necessary for him to make up his mind in the direction he did.  After all, his recommendations were hardly inconsistent with his previous positions; it was not as if he’d reversed policy direction by 180 degrees.

But perhaps any influence, if influence there was, was of the more subtle kind, in the form of flattery, or validation, which might just have prompted him to strengthen them in a particular direction?  Would it have been akin to gently pushing on an already open door?

Both in reality and fiction, the honey-trap has a long and chequered history.  Betty Pack, as MI6 agent ‘Cynthia’, used her feminine allure to help Britain covertly abstract from the Poles the key to the German Enigma codes.  In Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, a young female OAS agent deliberately becomes the mistress of de Gaulle’s much older security adviser, to inform the would-be assassin of the action being taken in the hunt for him.  Former LibDem MP Mike Hancock employed as his parliamentary researcher, with access to sensitive Defence papers, the Russian spy Katia Zatuliveter, 40 years his junior, with whom he was also having an affair.

We have no reason to assume the practice doesn’t continue.  And in a world populated by many more non-state actors, there is equally no reason to suppose that sexual entrapment, not undertaken for criminal blackmail purposes but with the aim of either obtaining intelligence or exerting influence in a particular policy direction, doesn’t occur outside government agencies, and is never used by either supranational bodies or well-funded NGOs.  Or, indeed, online activist organisations?

It was intriguing how much the initial reaction to the Daily Telegraph‘s exposure of Ferguson’s liaison almost bordered on the incredulous; based on the first, and most glamorous, photograph of Ms Staats which it published to illustrate it, comment along the lines of ‘What on earth did she see in him? She’s a bit out of his league, isn’t she?‘ was frequent.  At the risk of being un-gallant, subsequent pictures may now have, ahem, modified this impression somewhat; but was he possibly, because of his position & influence, selected as a target for some kind of subtle honey-trap operation?

Antonia Staats 2, 3, & 4 comp

One of the few certainties about the whole COVID-19 imbroglio is that there will eventually have to be a mammoth public enquiry.  Are there not sufficient grounds for a full security enquiry to be held within its ambit?  To investigate whether there exist, not merely ‘questions to be asked’ or even ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’, but actually something more than either of those?  Were Ferguson’s lockdown recommendations and his own subsequent flouting of them based entirely on scientific certitude and elitist personal hubris?  Or something more?

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The BBC Empire strikes back: will PM Boris Johnson back down?

A combination of Johnson’s vacillation, resistance, and ministerial appointments reflecting both, together with a probable reluctance to counter and overcome the BBC’s self-serving resistance campaign, make it highly likely that he will abandon pledges to reform its anachronistic and illiberal funding model 

Note: Based on, but both expanded and updated from, the articles originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 11th February 2020 and Tuesday 3rd March 2020, respectively 

Is Boris about to wimp out on the BBC licence fee?‘, I asked here on 17th February.  In the mere two and a half weeks since, the answer has hardened from ‘Hmm, maybe.’ to ‘Almost certainly.’

At that time, the original proposal, to decriminalise non-payment of the fee and possibly scrap the licence altogether, had already been downgraded to merely modifying (but, er, not before 2027) the licence fee model, and only a ‘consultation’ on decriminalisation. 

In that earlier 17th February blogpost, however, I recounted how only four months previously, the Institute of Economic Affairs had published its own ‘consultation’ in the form of its policy paper New Vision: Liberating the BBC from the licence fee, its main recommendations for transforming the corporation into a subscriber-owned mutual being summarised here.

I went on to describe the alternative explanation – for Johnson’s apparent reluctance, that is, to follow up on his initial resolve, despite evidence of substantial public support – which was suggested by academic David Sedgwick in his book The Fake News Factory: Tales from BBC-Land, and I speculated that the Cabinet and Government appointments emerging from  Johnson’s reshuffle seemed to bear this out. 

So what has happened since then?    

Well, neither popular dissatisfaction with the BBC, nor support for the drastic reform of its funding model, have subsided.  On 23rd February a new ComRes poll found 50 per cent of people saying the BBC is poor value for money, and support for abolishing the licence fee at 61 per cent.  In early December 2019, YouGov had found that 48 per cent of Britons trusted the BBC to tell the truth either not much or not at all, while only 44 percent trusted it to tell the truth a fair amount or a great deal.  In the year to November 2019, 200,000 people cancelled their TV licence, and the licence fee evasion rate continues to grow.

Trust in the BBC YouGov 01-Dec-2019

BBC 'licence-evasion' rate 2010-2018

Meanwhile, the BBC has started mobilising its forces for the fightback against what, given the evidence above, would for it undoubtedly be an existential threat.

Firstly, its main staff union, BECTU, is organising a ‘save the BBC’ petition.  

Note how merely considering decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence-fee is presented as ‘continuously attacking the BBC’.  If this isn’t with the BBC’s at least full support, if not even co-operation, I’d be astonished.  Secondly, there’s also a pro-BBC petition by the left-wing campaign group 38 DegreesAgain, I doubt if the BBC finds it unwelcome.

Secondly, BBC grandees are being wheeled out to promote the corporation’s own version of Project Fear.  Chairman Sir David Clementi led the predictable shroud-waving, conjuring up an apocalyptic vision of a Britain plunged into civilisation-threatening darkness should a distraught populace be deprived of Strictly Come Dancing, before wailing that scrapping the licence fee would ‘weaken the nation‘. 

How the nation would be weakened merely by some of its people no longer being coerced to pay for something they do not want was not immediately obvious.  Or, as Continental Telegraph‘s Tim Worstall succinctly put it, disingenuous tripe: in effect ‘Without the licence fee we’d stop making Strictly Come Dancing ‘coz we’d have no money, so we’d have to make Strictly Come Dancing in order to make money’.  

Clementi went to list examples of programmes and national sporting events which would, allegedly, not be accessible under a subscription model – a risible argument which in effect acknowledges that the BBC couldn’t make programmes of sufficient quality or appeal to persuade customers to part with their money voluntarily.  In which case, it should be asked, why should they be forced to fund it coercively?

The ‘endangering coverage of national sporting events’ claim has even less merit. Clementi completely failed to explain why, apparently, a subscription-funded BBC couldn’t bid against its rivals for the right to broadcast major national or sporting events.

Thirdly, the corporation’s reliably on-message MPs among dripping-Wet ‘One-Nation’ Tories are distraught.

The BBC is so much a broadcaster that people love, gushed political pipsqueak Huw Merriman, overlooking consistent opinion-polling reporting the exact opposite, and whose own article ironically ended with a poll in which fully 92 per cent of respondents wanted the licence fee scrapped.

Merriman poll TGraph licence fee scrapped

Merriman, incidentally, is the erstwhile sycophantic PPS bag-carrier to former Chancellor of the Exchequer and arch-Remainer Philip Hammond, content to act as his anti-Brexit plotting master’s mouthpiece, and thought to have been the anonymous PPS who forecasted that Parliament not approving Theresa May’s (non)-‘Withdrawal’ BRINO Agreement would ‘put Corbyn into No 10’.  Yet despite being a relative nonentity, he has managed to become Chair of the Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group on the BBC.  It’s likely stance on the licence fee question isn’t hard to guess.

Destroying the BBC would be ‘cultural vandalism’, hyperbolised loyal May-confidant Damian Green, studiously ignoring the fact that hardly anyone demands its specific ‘destruction’, merely the reform of its funding model to make it non-coercive.

Even ministers are backtracking furiously, running scared.  The next BBC boss will need to be a reformer, squawked former DCMS Secretary Nicky Morgan in one of those proverbial statements of the bleedin’ obvious, but curiously forgetting that it’s the Government that’s promising to require reform.

There are no ‘pre-ordained’ decisions, yapped Transport Secretary Grant ‘aka Michael Green’ Shapps, going on to label the BBC a ‘much loved national treasure’, but conveniently omitting to mention its 92 per cent ‘Bad’ rating on Trustpilot.

BBC rated Bad on Trustpilot

I suspect the strong probability is that, regardless of public opinion, a significant part of the Tory Parliamentary Party is already compromised.  And that’s before MPs start coming under pressure from astroturfing letter-writing campaigns to their local papers and similar phone-ins to their BBC local radio stations. 

In the meantime, the BBC remains able to treat its captive funders with undisguised contempt.

The Courts have refused an appeal against the decision not to grant a Judicial Review of its impartiality vis-à-vis the requirements of its Charter.  It backed its reporter who described the crowds celebrating in Parliament Square on Brexit Night as ‘too white’. Its Newsnight ‘expert on the deleterious effects of ‘austerity’’ was a far-Left activist. If its audiences hate its obsessively woke distortion of historical classics in the name of ‘diversity’, they can lump it.   

All these developments hardly suggest Johnson’s robust-sounding earlier pledges on the BBC’s iniquitous ‘licence-fee’ will be carried through swiftly and eagerly.  Or at all.  As early as 5th February, News-Watch’s David Keighley warned at The Conservative Woman that the licence fee ‘overhaul’ would be a damp squib.  Only last Saturday, the Taxpayers’ Alliance’s Sam Packer showed, also at The Conservative Woman, how the sock-puppet ‘consultation’ on decriminalisation will be manipulated to guarantee the result desired by both the BBC and its supporters within the Whitehall Blob.

So, to answer that question posed two and a half weeks ago: Yes, almost now a racing certainty.  Johnson will indeed wimp out.

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Is Boris about to wimp out on the BBC ‘licence-fee’?

With Johnson’s dramatic announcements of his intent, both to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence-fee and even to consider its outright abolition, already starting to be hastily softened and diluted, it’s justifiable to ask whether both won’t eventually be abandoned under pressure                

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier on Tuesday 11 February 2020

It all began so well.  On 14 December, under 48 hours after his stunning election victory, Prime Minister Boris Johnson initiated moves to decriminalise non-payment of the coercive, regressive, household TV-signal receivability poll-tax inaccurately known as the BBC ‘licence-fee’. 

It was hardly unexpected.  During the final week of the election campaign, Johnson had already condemned the iniquity of people being forced to fund the BBC despite having no wish to consume its output, and had raised the prospect at least of its outright abolition.  

He correctly branded it a tax – as had the House of Lords as long ago as 2006 when it determined that it was indeed a tax and not the ‘service-fee’ which the BBC disingenuously claimed and continues to claim – and his chief strategist Dominic Cummings was reported to be working on proposals for alternative ways for the Corporation to fund itself.  

As relevant as these considerations are, they’re in some ways almost secondary: because abolition of the licence-fee, or at the very minimum, decriminalisation of its non-payment, should, on principle alone, be so uncontroversial as to incontestable, given that a BBC TV licence is mandatory on pain of fine or even imprisonment, even if the householder wishes to consume only non-BBC output.

It’s a statist, authoritarian funding model, more suited to a dreary 1960s socialist semi-dictatorship than a modern liberal democracy with competitive free markets.  In a multi-platform, multi-provider broadcast environment, where we access hundreds of TV and radio channels, on computers, tablets or smartphones, inside or outside, at home or travelling, at any time, the BBC’s household TV-signal receivability poll-tax is anachronistic and outmoded to the point of obsolescence. It’s increasingly unenforceable, and ultimately doomed.

As an analogy, imagine being forced to pay Waitrose an annual £157 ‘trolley-tax’, just for the ability to choose always to shop elsewhere.  Imagine being forced to pay British Airways an annual £157 ‘flight-tax’, just for the ability to choose always to fly FlyBe or Easyjet.  Well, that’s the BBC ‘licence-fee’.

In the days following Johnson’s 14 December announcement, with ministers already instructed to boycott the BBC’s flagship Today Programme over credible allegations of its consistent anti-Brexit and anti-Conservative biases, it received widespread praise and approval from voters and commentariat alike, by no means all of them slavish Tory-supporters or Boris-worshippers.

A Savanta-ComRes poll found that BBC News was less trusted than ITV News on perceptions of impartiality and accuracy: that two-thirds of respondents believed the licence-fee should be either scrapped or substantially reformed: and that half of all under-55s would prefer to receive news free from commercial broadcasters funded by advertising, rather than pay for it via the BBC licence-fee.

The BBC is trapped in a Remainer-London bubble of its own making, wrote LBC broadcaster Iain Dale in The Daily Telegraph.  The licence-fee days of a BBC that drips with anti-Brexit bias are numbered, declared Ross Clark in The Sun.  The ‘diversity’-obsessed BBC is now mortifyingly out of touch with modern Britain, chided Sherelle Jacobs, again in The Daily Telegraph.  The paying public think the BBC’s ‘values’ stink, rasped former Labour and now SDP-voter Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times.

This notable unanimity between public and punditocracy continued into the New Year, the apparently imminent decriminalisation of the licence-fee given impetus, it seemed, by the announcement of the departure of the BBC’s Director-General.

Exit stage left, Lord Hall of the British Bias Corporation, observed BBC NewsWatch’s David Keighley at The Conservative WomanIn the age of Netflix, the licence-fee can’t be justified, averred Stephen Canning at the free-market championing 1828.com.  In the 21st century, we should be able to imagine life without the BBC licence-fee, insisted the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Moore.  The BBC is panicking at the public’s rejection of its left-‘liberal’ world-view, said Janet Daley, also in the Daily Telegraph.

Then came the Brexit Weekend of 31st January – 1st February, when the BBC, far from demonstrating any acknowledgement of, much less contrition for, the precipitous decline in its audiences’ toleration of its coercive funding model and of its inherent institutional bias, simply doubled down on its contempt for its captive customers, as I described in detail here a week or so ago.  And then promptly compounded it by announcing, on Monday 3rd February, an increase in its so-called ‘licence-fee’.

Only a month before, a Public First poll found 75 per cent of respondents supporting abolition of the licence-fee outright, and 60 per cent favouring the decriminalisation of non-payment, indicating both greater dissatisfaction with the BBC and greater willingness to see its funding reformed than reflected in the Saventa-ComRes poll mentioned earlier.

Rarely can a set of political circumstances have been so propitious for a recently elected government to implement a pre-election pledge for an easy win, to widespread approval.  So we waited for what seemed the inevitable announcement.

And then something changed.

In the week after Brexit Weekend, a rather more hesitant, cautious, non-committal tone has started to emerge from certain Conservative Party figures and Government sources. It was very noticeable during an extended interview on Talk Radio between host Mike Graham and John Whittingdale MP, the former Tory Culture Secretary. 

By way of background, it’s worth recalling that Whittingdale was Culture Secretary at the time of the last BBC Charter Review in 2016; but also that, having previously voiced some disobliging opinions about the BBC in general –

  1. anticipating its demise as ‘a tempting prospect’;
  2. criticising it for abusing its privileged position and protected funding by merely chasing ratings rather than producing new content; and
  3. describing the licence-fee as ‘worse than the poll tax’,

he was sacked by Theresa May in her first Cabinet reshuffle after becoming PM after it had mysteriously – or perhaps fortuitously – emerged earlier in that Charter Review year of 2016 that he had had a previous relationship with a sex worker, his sacking prompting an outpouring of Twitter-joy by prominent BBC lefty-luvvies who might well have had good reason to fear a different BBC funding model reliant on persuading customers voluntarily to part company with their hard-earned cash.

Pro-BBC lefties 2016 Whittingdale

His discussion with Mike Graham on Wednesday 5th February is very much more emollient and less critical than his previous opinions. Instead, he comes out with stuff like this:

“there are serious issues to address for the BBC, in that the broadcasting world is changing very rapidly, there is now a huge choice available which simply didn’t exist before”

“the BBC clearly needs to reconsider at this point what its place is and what it change it needs to make”

“in terms of the licence, I mean all that’s being announced today is a consultation about whether or not to decriminalise, which is something that we looked at before, but which we said should be kept under review, but I think that in the longer term there is a case for asking whether or not the licence is still an appropriate means of financing the BBC”

By all means listen to the interview and study the transcript for yourself: but to me it suggests a party and government starting to row back from its implied promises, and almost leaving it to the BBC itself to decide its future funding method.

On the same day, current Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan – she who declined to stand again as MP for Loughborough because of the time pressures of politics on her private family life, but nevertheless accepted a Peerage from Johnson so as to remain Culture Secretary for a mere few weeks but then adorn the Lords’ red benches for life –  agreed that the BBC licence-fee could indeed disappear.

But, er, not before 2027.

In other words, for the remaining 7 years of the current 10-year Charter period, the funding model based on the coercive, regressive, household TV-signal receivability tax would be sacrosanct.  Bizarrely, Morgan suggested that this showed the government was ‘taking heed of public opinion’.  She then went on to echo Whittingdale by confirming that what was being launched was merely a ‘consultation’ on whether non-payment of the licence-fee should be decriminalised.  Cue sound of ball landing in long grass. 

Three days later, Morgan was back, this time with the revelation that the licence fee might not in fact be scrapped outright, but replaced by ‘tiered levels of access’ in which viewers could choose the level of services they required. Significantly absent was any mention of no payment being required from those who don’t wish to consume BBC output at all; presumably, therefore, under this ‘tiered levels of access’ model, there would still be a minimum level payable anyway, so it would still be both coercive and amount to a regressive tax, as now.

It’s reasonable to wonder why the Government needs its own ‘consultation’ at all.  The work has already been done. Only 4 months ago, the Institute of Economic Affairs published its policy-paper ‘New Vision: Liberating the BBC from the licence-fee“, whose main recommendations, transforming the Corporation into a subscriber-owned Mutual, summarised here, were –        

  1. The nature of the broadcast market has changed to such a degree that public service broadcasting, the current definition of which used by Ofcom is no longer coherent, should no longer be delivered largely by one institution.
  2. Niche providers are often better than the BBC at ensuring the broadcasting of good quality content to meet minority tastes.
  3. The fact that the market for broadcasting is now an international industry means that many artistic, educational and cultural programmes, which might not have been economic in the past, may now be economic and not need subsidy.
  4. Changes in technology mean that the current approach to financing, owning and regulating the BBC is no longer tenable.
  5. The BBC should be financed by subscription and owned by its subscribers, enabling it to determine different subscription models for different markets
  6. The BBC should lose its legal privileges and be treated in the same way as al other news and media organisations for competition and other purposes

Johnson professes himself a fan of ‘oven-ready’ solutions.  This is one he could prepare and serve right away, restricted only by the time it takes to pass legislation revoking the current BBC Charter and allow the BBC a reasonable, but not excessive, duration in which to transition to its new funding model.    

Since Johnson won the election, there have been several disturbing hints that he might be resiling from some of the positions he previously appeared to espouse robustly. Immigration reduction, HS2 and Huawei all come to mind, and that’s before the tentative ‘squeeze the rich’ Budget proposals. trailed and rightly excoriated as disincentivising and un-conservative over the weekend of 8-9 February.

Now it starts to look as if the Biased BBC and its iniquitous ‘licence-fee’ might be going the same way.  Superficially, it’s difficult to see why, given the public support the proposal enjoyed and continues to enjoy.  In footballing terms, Johnson has the ball at his feet with an open goal gaping in front of him, and the crowd roaring him on.  Has he –      

  1. panicked at the first contact with the enemy; or
  2. gone native after institutional capture by a BBC-Whitehall pincer movement; or 
  3. never ever had any genuine intention of decriminalisation or abolition anyway?

Or is there something more profound, even darker and more cynical, at work?

In his new book “The Fake News Factory – Tales from BBC-Land”, a searing excoriation of the BBC, its bias, and its abuse of the power derived from its uniquely privileged position and jealously-guarded protected funding, author David Sedgwick suggests a possible answer.

It is that Boris’ Johnson’s recent sabre-rattling about the BBC has much more to do with his personal annoyance at how it has intruded on his private life, most notably during the recent election campaign, than it has to do with any principles-originating conviction that its current coercive funding model is illiberal, authoritarian, and a wrong that must be righted. 

Brexit apart, suggests Sedgwick, as a metropolitan ‘liberal’-‘progressive’ Conservative, Johnson is, politically, largely in tune with the left-of-centre, state-interventionist, Green, socio-culturally Woke institutional groupthink of the BBC, on whose propaganda the political class relies heavily to get its message across.  And that, with this worldview predominant in the Conservative Party in its current iteration, not much can be expected of it in taking the behemoth of the BBC on.

More recent developments certainly seem to bear this out.  In Johnson’s recent Cabinet and Government reshuffle, the post of Culture and Media Secretary, carrying responsibility for the BBC, went as predicted to ‘rising star’ Oliver DowdenRemainer, Cameroon, ex-SpAd & party-insider.  With at least one careerist eye no doubt fixed on future promotion, the prospect of him rocking the BBC boat looks remote. 

Appointed as a Minister of State alonside him was none other than former Culture and Media Secretary John Whittingdale, whose hedging and non-committal remarks about the BBC ‘licence-fee’ to Talk Radio‘s Mike Graham were described earlier.

To complete the hat-trick, elected as Chairman of the Commons Select Committee to scrutinse the DCMS was Tory MP Julian Knight, whose first contribution to the ‘licence-fee’ debate was to suggest that imprisonment for non-payment should be replaced by stiffer fines.  Given that most ‘licence-fee dodgers’, as he put it, who get convicted don’t pay because of financial hardship – not surprising with the ‘licence-fee’ being a regressive tax – all that bigger fines would do is increase the number of people given a criminal record.  Brilliant.  The idea of abolishing the regressive tax instead had clearly not occurred to him.

These three appointments, and the developments preceding them, hardly suggest that Johnson’s robust-sounding pledges on the BBC’s iniquitous ‘licence-fee’ will be carried through swiftly and eagerly.  Or at all.  To answer the question posed in the title: Yes, almost certainly – Johnson will indeed wimp out. 

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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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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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