Tag: Parliament

Johnson poll-axed by the Tory Red Wall

If the Tories are pinning their hopes of re-election in 2024 on retaining the Red Wall seats they wrested from Labour in 2019, at least one opinion poll suggests their efforts are already doomed to failure

Note: Longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 06 January 2021.

In folklore and mythology, the Grim Reaper appears wearing a dark, hooded cloak and carrying a scythe, to warn that nothing lasts forever, not least life itself. In political reality, however, his contemporary equivalent arguably comes clad in an Armani suit or skinny jeans, and bearing a laptop with unfavourable opinion survey results.

Or so the ‘Conservative’ Party might reasonably fear, after the Focaldata poll published over the weekend of 2nd/3rd January.

Reported and analysed in The Sunday Times, the poll’s findings were startling. They showed that, were a general election to be held now, the Tories would lose entirely the 80-seat majority which they secured only just over a year ago, putting us in hung Parliament territory and therefore almost certainly presaging a Labour/SNP coalition government.

The findings obviously need to be treated with caution. After all, it’s only one poll, the fieldwork for which was done during December and mostly before the conclusion of Johnson’s EU negotiations and his pre-Christmas announcement of his Brexit trade deal; and yes, nearly four years have to elapse before the next general election.  All the same, for Johnson, in a mere 12½ months, to go from an 80-seat majority to an indicated hung Parliament is some collapse, as the eight percentage point vote loss shows.

Significantly, however, that projected 81-seat loss would include no fewer than 35 of the 43 Midlands and Northern Red Wall seats which in December 2019 voted Conservative either for the first time in decades or in some cases for the first time ever.

Perhaps, though, one should not be too surprised.

Three months ago, I argued that the bricks were already falling out of the Tories’ Red Wall, citing both evidence that voter opinion in those seats was already turning against them, and a growing body of opinion that those constituencies’ Tory MPs should recognise the extent to which their newly acquired support was already becoming restive.

If, as the  Focaldata poll suggests, the Tories’ star is already waning electorally and the prospects of them retaining that raft of crucial Midlands and Northern seats are commensurately reducing, then Johnson has only himself to blame.

It’s those Red Wall voters who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of his SAGE-deferential, economy-damaging, authoritarian response to Covid. An Office for National Statistics analysis found that 17 of those 43 newly-Tory seats were in the top fifth of areas whose labour markets were most reliant on the sectors at prime risk from the impact of the government’s lockdown response. High-Street retailing in those areas has been badly hit, creating not only an unemployment effect but a broader adverse economic impact on local area prosperity.

Moreover, with a higher ratio of people in working-class and lower-middle-class employment not conducive to home-working than in the relatively affluent South-East, Red Wall voters are arguably more exposed to the virus itself. They’re suffering the exacerbation of the class divide which is a direct consequence of the Johnson government’s approach.

Not for many of them the pleasurable convenience of using a laptop in the kitchen and communicating with colleagues via Zoom in one of the middle-class cognitive-focused professions, while occasionally ordering food and other necessities online. If not already furloughed on a fraction of their regular pay, those newly-Tory Red Wall voters are relatively more likely to be found in the warehouses despatching the orders or the vans delivering them, or in any number of increasingly precarious workplaces that require physical attendance and face-to-face communication. You can’t work from home via Zoom if you’re a garage forecourt attendant or a self-employed carpenter.

At the same time, their children are more likely to be among those harmed by the growing educational inequality caused by the continuing school closures so insisted upon by the teaching unions, most of whose full-time members have continued to receive full pay, or even an inflation-busting pay rise, in return for not teaching.

In contrast to the children of the affluent middle classes who can afford private education, for whom online substitute education has reportedly been rigorous and fairly successful, 20 per cent of all State school pupils have been doing less than one hour of schoolwork a day, and 93 per cent of them have had four or fewer online lessons a day. They’re also less likely to come from households with the requisite technology or devices to benefit from what online teaching there is for them.

A half-generation of children is having its education blighted, with dire consequences for its future employment prospects or social mobility.

No wonder those Red Wall voters who lent their support to the Tories are now, according to their opinion-polling responses to Focaldata, withdrawing it in droves. Their jobs are at risk of disappearing, their small businesses are at risk of failing, their towns and neighbourhoods are at risk of declining, and their children are being denied their education.

And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, what do they see the same PM to whom they lent their vote in a leap of faith doing when – apparently mesmerised by the lockdown enthusiasts who ruefully but mistakenly thought they’d never get away with imposing in Europe the authoritarianism of a communist one-party state – he’s not levying on the economy and society draconian restrictions unprecedented in peacetime?

They see a Boris Johnson seemingly in thrall to the eco-fanatic Green lobby and the World Economic Forum’s globalist-elite, anti-democratic, technocratic-totalitarian Great Reset – and make no mistake, his use of the movement’s standard and sinister ‘Build Back Better‘ slogan is a dead giveaway – and looking forward eagerly to the crony-corporatism benefiting boondoggles designed to promote and accelerate its malign agenda.

No doubt some of them also recall a Boris Johnson who seemed, if not to go AWOL, then at least to be somewhat reticent in 2020 when it came to standing up against the anti-capitalist cultural marxism and anti-white racialist identitarianism of the extreme and even so-called ‘Liberal’ Left.

As well as being unimpressed with his Covid measures, maybe those Midlands and Northern voters also aren’t keen on Johnson’s apparent reluctance to challenge and reject the Woke-Left identity-politics intent on trashing their culture and national history, or on his slavish embrace of the Green agenda likely only to make their energy scarcer and more expensive, and they see little chance of his making their 2021 any better.

As long ago as last mid-October, I remarked of Johnson that seldom in modern political history can so much newly acquired electoral advantage, and with it a rare opportunity to re-align UK politics, have been so recklessly and needlessly squandered in so short a time. This now seems to be the verdict also of the Conservative-leaning think-tank Onward, whose recent research concludes that unless the Tories fulfil their ‘levelling up’ promises to their new electoral demographic, they risk forfeiting their 80-seat majority.

If the Focaldata poll over the weekend of 2nd/3rd January turns out to be accurate, it looks like Red Wall voters have already pre-empted them. And who can blame them? Johnson’s obsessive adherence to the SAGE-authoritarian and Green eco-globalist agendas respectively is repelling his new Red Wall voters, and he doesn’t seem to care.

On past form, the Tories’ most probable reaction will be an arrogance-driven either dismissal, complacency or condescension, but they should resist the temptation to indulge in either. A hint of the latter has already been seen in the patronising assumption that those votes can in effect be bought back merely by throwing taxpayers’ money at the areas concerned, but the reasons for voter dissatisfaction discussed above appear too deep-rooted to be amenable to that convenient solution.

Relying on upcoming boundary changes to deliver extra seats to compensate them for any loss looks unlikely to be enough, with only ten additional seats in prospect. Moreover, the vote boost gained from former Labour voters in those Red Wall seats being repulsed by the leadership of hard-Left Jeremy Corbyn should be regarded as a one-off phenomenon. For all his flaws and inadequacies, its new leader Sir Keir Starmer is considerably more electable.

It’s even possible that the revolt will expand and intensify, once greater awareness of Johnson’s failure to curb illegal cross-Channel immigration spreads, and the flaws which lie in his Barebones-Brexit deal, despite his hyperbolic spinning of it, finally become more and more apparent.

Polls are, of course, inconsistent and unreliable. The first full test of electoral opinion in those Red Wall seats should be coming at May’s 2021 local elections, including the local elections postponed from 2020 because of the first Covid-19 lockdown; “should”, because both now look likely to be delayed. Johnson’s ‘Conservatives’ seem to be keen to put off an encounter with the electorate for as long as possible. Perhaps their private polling is closer to that Focaldata poll result than they care to admit.

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Theresa May’s Unconvincing Epiphany

Despite the near-universal praise it attracted, the former PM’s intervention in the latest Commons lockdown debate arguably owed more to low politics than high principle

Note: (Slightly) longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 10 November 2020.

Credit where credit’s due. In contrast to her usual Maybot-style wooden, robotic, delivery of leaden, uninspiring content, former PM Theresa May’s speech, delivering a scathing criticism of aspects of the Johnson Junta’s second Covid lockdown, in the House of Commons’ debate on the afternoon of Wednesday 04 November, was, for once, uncharacteristically good.

Moreover, its impact was enhanced by PM Boris Johnson’s somewhat boorish reaction to it. By ostentatiously walking out of the Commons Chamber, to the audible disapproval of his MPs, just as May began to speak, Johnson not only demonstrated a puerile petulance but also demeaned both himself and his office.

He later apologised, apparently, pleading the need to attend a meeting. Well, maybe; and should not May, out of office now for only 15 or 16 months, also not have realised from her own experience that a PM necessarily has a very busy schedule? All the same, and though I’m no fan of May, she is after all a former PM, albeit an especially dire one, so was surely entitled to be listened to for four minutes by the present incumbent, if only out of courtesy.

Anyway, near-universal acclaim, some of it verging on the hyperbole, greeted May’s speech. According to the Daily Telegraph’s chief political correspondent, it was a case of “May leads the charge” against Johnson’s second coronavirus lockdown. This was intriguing, to say the least, to those, like me, who have long felt that leadership, on the one hand, and the notoriously uncommunicative and taciturn Theresa May, on the other, are such mutually incompatible concepts as to constitute an oxymoron.

She had become the unlikely “Joan of Arc of lockdown scepticism“, in the eyes even of former Brexit Party MEP Alexandra Phillips, who was at least discreet enough not to mention that Jeanne d’Arc ended up taken prisoner by her own side before being burned at the stake by the English.

Prominent and respected political tweeters were effusive in their praise.

But, watching and listening to May’s speech live, I had some niggling doubts, and then especially later when reading it on Hansard, I found myself starting to wonder: just where had this apparently quasi-libertarian Theresa May, suddenly concerned about the loss of Britons’ economic and societal liberties as a result of Lockdown 2.0, sprung from?

The Government today making it illegal to conduct an act of public worship….sets a precedent that could be misused by a Government in future with the worst of intentions.

Very true. But was this the same Theresa May who, as a reluctant-Brexiteer PM, unnecessarily pledged to keep the UK within the scope of the illiberal, authoritarian European Arrest Warrant, despite its jurisdiction expiring on Brexit? Was it the same Theresa May who, as a closet-Remainer Home Secretary for most of the relevant period, had presided over the UK executing more EAWs than any other EU country?

For many people ​it looks as though the figures are being chosen to support the policy, rather than the policy being based on the figures. There is one set of data that has not been available throughout.

Again, very true. But was this valid criticism about the lack of both published data and transparency really coming from the same Theresa May who, again as that reluctant-Brexiter PM, presided over the covert No. 10 operation to collude with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her infamous Chequers Plan for an ultra-lite BRINO, keeping it secret from her Cabinet, the Brexit Department, her MPs, her Party and the British public, and bounce it on to her Cabinet on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis with barely an hour’s prior notice?

Were we really seeing a new, changed Theresa May?  No, alas we weren’t. Because at 10.30.am last Wednesday, a mere 3 hours 8 minutes before she rose to speak in the Commons at 1.38.pm, May had tweeted thus:

This, I suggest, was, and is, the authentic voice of Theresa May and the one with which we’re more familiar. Her instinctive reverence for unaccountable supranationalist bureaucracy self-insulated from the need to secure democratic consent. Her disregard for the astronomical cost to Western economies, energy users, and taxpayers of a predicted reduction in temperatures of a mere 0.05°C, and then only by 2100.

Her arrogant presumption that truth on ‘climate change’ is something to be negotiated via political consensus rather than discovered by strict adherence to Popper’s scientific method. Her delusion that challenges like a global pandemic and economic downturn, burgeoning government deficits and debt, and Islamist-Jihadist terrorism somehow pale into relative insignificance alongside a gentle 200-300 year recovery in temperatures from the nadir of the Little Ice Age.

So why the quite remarkable contrast between the allegiance to anti-democratic globalism confirmed by May’s 10.30.am tweet and her professed deep concern for personal liberty and government transparency expressed in her 1.38.pm Commons speech?  Let me suggest a two-word solution: Boris Johnson.

I suspect May’s Commons criticisms, entirely valid though they conveniently were in context, originated not so much from principle or genuine ideological conviction as from a long-simmering personal pique at her 2019 forced removal from office, which she still appears to think was an unconscionable injustice and thus still has some scores to settle.

After such a focussed, if richly hypocritical, attack on the Johnson-led Cabinet, one might have expected May to join the rebels who voted against the Government’s second lockdown. Curiously, in the event she didn’t, but merely abstained.

Was she anxious to spare the Government from the political embarrassment of a former PM joining a backbench rebellion? Unlikely, surely, after roundly criticising it from the green benches. Was it too much for her inherent authoritarian-statist instincts to side with the lockdown sceptics in favour of freedom? Or was it just a case of wanting to wound, but afraid to strike?

Whichever, Hell, it would seem, still hath no fury like a former PM scorned.

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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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The Partisan Mainstream Media, and Bias-by-Omission

‘Tory rapist’ allegation: how hypocritical, virtue-signalling, point-scoring MPs and a selectively reporting, biased, partisan media combined to undermine further both the presumption of innocence and the rule of law.

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Sunday 09 August, 2020

Despite a plethora of stiff competition, ranging from Covid-19 to the post-Brexit trade talks and beyond, there really was only ever going to be one contender for the lead story on which our fearless Fourth Estate turned its forensic, objective and impartial gaze last weekend.  And that was the Conservative MP arrested in connection with an alleged sexual assault.

Although it ought to be axiomatic, I suppose that in the current atmosphere of febrile, intolerant, censorious Wokery where silence is automatically deemed to be conclusive evidence of acquiescence, I must for the avoidance of doubt declare right away an absolute abhorrence of any kind of unwanted sexual assault, or even attention.  Particularly in the workplace context of boss and subordinate, it’s often not so much an expression of sexual interest as an exercise of presumed status or power.  So, for the record, if the arrested Tory MP is eventually found guilty by due process of law, I want him both expelled from the Commons and imprisoned.

But equally, that should in no way impede the expression of legitimate reservations about how his arrest has been reported and subsequently treated.

Tory ex-minister arrested over rape‘ splashed the Sunday Times, notably omitting the word ‘alleged’ from its headline, and helpfully informing us firstly, that the man was an ex-minister and secondly, that the alleged assaults took place in Westminster, Lambeth and Hackney – both of which might be interpreted as narrowing the possibilities down somewhat.

From the Sunday Telegraph‘s headline, we learned, further, that the man was a ‘senior Conservative‘ – whatever that means these days – and was in his 50s.  It then took me only approximately 10 minutes to establish there are 89 male Tory MPs currently ‘in their 50s’, i.e., born between 3rd August 1960 and 2nd August 1970.  Without laboriously checking the parliamentary careers of each, to anyone interested in contemporary politics, it was obvious just from the list of names that not all were ‘former ministers’ by a long stretch.  One was, therefore, probably looking at a shortlist of no more than 30 possibles.  So much for anonymity.

Already, the Times, the Guardian, and the Financial Times were either demanding that the Tory MP in question be named, suspended, have the whip removed, or even sacked, or going further by additionally criticising both the party (and by extension the Government), for not having done so immediately.

This pressure intensified over the following days. ‘Row grows over failure to suspend Tory MP accused of rape‘, protested the Times.  ‘Tory MP arrested on rape charges should have whip withdrawn‘, scolded the Guardian, purporting to report the words of Labour MP Jess Phillips. ‘Tories criticised for not taking sexual misconduct claims seriously‘, chided the Financial Times. 

On Monday 3rd August’s edition of BBC Newsnight,  the ever-willing rent-a-quote Phillips let rip.  Living up to her uncomplimentary – but not entirely inaccurate – ‘Midlands Motormouth’ sobriquet, she condemned the Tories’ failure to name and suspend the accused MP, and declared Parliament was not doing everything it could to make itself a safe workplace.

Chief whip defends lack of action against Tory MP accused of rapefollowed in the Guardian on Tuesday 4th August.  As did the predictable call from ‘a coalition of women’s charities and unions‘ for the accused MP to be suspended while facing investigation, on the grounds that failing to do so represented ‘another example of minimising violence against women‘.

Then, on Wednesday 5th August, it was the turn of the Spectator‘s Isabel Hardman, with an implied criticism of the Tories’ parliamentary whips as ill-suited to deal with disciplinary issues like misconduct, particularly of a sexual nature.

Finally, on Saturday 8th August, the Times‘ Esther Webber contrived to add a bit more unsubstantiated innuendo to the pot, suggesting that the Conservative whips’ office had been aware of concerns relating to the alleged behaviour of the arrested MP dating back to 2010 – which would, of course, narrow the range of possible arrestees down even further, in excluding by definition anyone not elected before 2015.  So much for anonymity.     

However, there’s one rather large elephant in this particular room-full of indignation; one which both protesting politicians and harrumphing hacks alike overlooked, or perhaps more likely, chose to ignore.  It was hinted at early on in the imbroglio by Tory MP Michael Fabricant, but seemed to gain no traction whatsoever.

It is that, on 10th February 2016, the House of Commons itself voted to change its procedures so that any arrested MP would not be named or otherwise identified (which either suspension or removal of the whip would undoubtedly do).  Moreover, the proposition was passed with only one vote against (the then Labour MP and now recently ennobled John Mann), which implies that among those voting for the change was – yes, you’ve guessed it – Labour’s current Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence, one Jess Phillips MP.

Although the Commons’ decision to abandon naming an arrested MP appears superficially to confer on MPs rights which are not available to others, it’s easy to see the logic behind it.  Once the arrested MP was named and suspended, in such a relatively small workplace, the identity of the alleged victim would quickly emerge.  Is that what the ardent namers and shamers in Parliament and the Press want?  Or are they happy to throw the victim’s anonymity under the bus for the sake of some political point-scoring?  So much for anonymity.

Nor should it have gone largely unremarked that some of the MPs who were shouting the loudest for the accused Tory MP to be named and shamed are also usually among the first to argue for anonymity for alleged rape victims in other circumstances.  The double standards on display are nauseating.   

Yet not only did the Newsnight presenter not challenge Phillips with this inconsistency, much less suggest that, by condemning the application of the very procedure for which she had herself voted, she was guilty of both rank hypocrisy and blatant political opportunism.  From what I can see, in the reportage contained in all the supposedly ‘quality’ press articles linked to above, that 2016 decision of the Commons itself, to prohibit the naming of an arrested MP is mentioned nowhere.

To assume that every single political reporter or lobby correspondent involved in the production of all this material would have either been unaware of that 2016 change or had forgotten about it, especially on such a clearly sensitive subject, seems to be stretching credulity beyond its limit.  It’s hard, therefore, to dispel the suspicion that it was specifically and deliberately not mentioned, because that would have diluted or negated the narrative which the media wished to convey.  In other words, bias by omission.

Not that the media alone are deserving of criticism.  The ‘Conservative’ Party, which currently appears to be frightened of its own shadow, reacted by giving its now-familiar impression of a rabbit frozen in the headlights of an oncoming truck, and allowed the opportunistic ‘Liberal’-Left a virtual monopoly of comment. 

Where was any immediate statement to the media by any Tory MP that, with a police investigation under way, the matter was effectively sub judice, and that excessive both public speculation and premature assumptions of guilt could jeopardise a successful prosecution?  Were I the accused MP’s lawyer, I would have been screen-grabbing every tweet issued taking his guilt as a given and demanding his head, and compiling a portfolio of them to present as evidence prejudicing the possibility of a fair trial.

Why was four days of Trappist silence allowed to elapse before Boris Johnson managed to deliver a semi-apology for his party neither identifying nor suspending the arrested MP

Where, also, irrespective of the details of the present case, was any forceful riposte that the non-naming of any arrested MP is specifically the direct consequence that 2016 House of Commons decision for which many of the zealous self-appointed Pestfinders-General themselves voted?  Not to mention a sharp reminder that the presumption of innocence still applies until a guilty verdict by a jury?   

Which leads to another point worth making: that the importance of upholding the presumption of innocence is so readily either disregarded or dismissed is an increasingly disturbing feature of the Woke witch-hunt.

Ever since the advent of the #MeToo movement, no longer are the finger-pointers content to wait for due process to take its course; they demand instant condemnation and punishment of the presumed guilty perpetrator based on (often one single) accusation alone. Woe betide he or she who objects, especially if facing the likelihood of a viciously aggressive social-media pile-on. 

Is it too fanciful to suggest that the prevalence of the New Puritanism is conducive to the mainstream media feeling it can abandon impartial and accurate journalism for partisan activism with impunity?

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Who Best to Spy on the Spies?

The background to the Lewis-Grayling Commons Intelligence & Security Committee chairmanship imbroglio, and some possible reasons for what really lies behind it.

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 17 July 2020

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It’s one of the oldest questions in the world, relevant in dictatorships and democracies alike.  Literally meaning “Who will guard the guards themselves?“, it voices the perennial dilemma; who can best be trusted to watch over those whom we in turn trust to watch over us so as to keep us safe?

Now, you might think that someone who successfully ran an undercover operation to get elected as Chair of the House of Commons Intelligence and Security scrutiny committee – thus defeating in the process the reliably compliant stooge whom the Government had hoped to shoehorn into the post – without anyone from the Government knowing or its parliamentary whips finding out, thereby demonstrating both a fine understanding of intrigue and the ability to keep a secret, would possess the ideal qualifications for the job.

Boris Johnson’s Government, however, disagrees.  Because its reaction to New Forest East Conservative MP Julian Lewis’s securing the chairmanship of this important and influential scrutiny committee, by secretly nominating himself and then caucusing with Opposition who subsequently voted for him, was petulantly to accuse of him of duplicity and even withdraw the Tory whip, thus effectively sacking him from the party.

What could have prompted such a fit of childish pique?  Resentment at having been outmanoeuvred, coupled with a sense of entitlement that such a key chairmanship ought axiomatically to be in government hands? Perhaps. Exposure to public view of what was clearly a massive failure of parliamentary management?  Maybe.

Or was it frustration because the unsuccessful government nominee, Chris Grayling, widely known as “Failing Grayling” for being unusually accident-prone and for an unimpressive record both as Transport Secretary and Justice Secretary, but who was also Boris Johnson’s campaign manager in his party leadership bid, had been impliedly promised the chairmanship as a reward?

It can’t be a matter of much dispute that Lewis is eminently more qualified for the role than Grayling, who has been criticised for his lack of experience of Intelligence and Security matters by even his fellow Tory MPs.  In contrast, Lewis, in the manner of Right-leaning long-standing backbenchers whom the Conservative Party’s ‘liberal’ hierarchy finds embarrassing and routinely keeps hidden on the back benches, has tended to make Defence, Intelligence and Security his specialist subject.

Lewis is also a confirmed Eurosceptic and Brexiteer, which may also be a clue as to why his chairmanship seems to be so discomforting to the Party hierarchy, as will be explored further below.

Julian Lewis

In the immediate aftermath, the ‘Conservative’ Party’s anger shows no sign of abating. The much-diminished Jacob Rees-Mogg has accused Lewis of ‘playing ducks and drakes’ with Labour MPs – a curious charge if Number Ten still denies any intention to shoehorn Grayling into the Committee chairmanship – and yesterday refused to rule out the Government blocking Lewis ascension to the role.

Johnson has been warned by senior Tory backbench MPs not to try and remove Lewis from the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee, or even from membership of it. Clearly, their rebellion earlier this week against the Government for not going either far enough or fast enough on the removal of Huawei from our telecommunications infrastructure has emboldened them.

In the meantime, Lewis has provided his own version of events, stressing that-

  1. the chairmanship of the Committee is a parliamentary appointment and not within the gift of the PM:
  1. he did not give any undertaking to support Grayling: and
  1. contrary to Number Ten’s denial of any interference, it evidently preferred to have Grayling as Chair of the Committee, as Lewis himself received a text asking if he would vote for him.

And as he wryly observes, if it wasn’t the Government’s intention to parachute Grayling as its preferred candidate into the chairmanship, then its decision to deprive himself of the Tory whip for not voting for Grayling looks like a massive over-reaction.

2020.07.16 Julian Lewis statement

So what’s going on?

Well, Eurosceptic and Brexiteer Lewis, I suspect, would be far more likely as Chair to probe and interrogate the Government on the security and intelligence implications of any continuing below-the-radar co-operation and tie-in to with the EU.  And that, of course, might lead to similar probing on any continuing below-the-radar tie-up with the EU’s developing Defence Union and the PESCO mechanism.  Perhaps Grayling, having been rewarded for running Johnson’s successful leadership campaign, could have been trusted to ensure the Committee did not enquire too closely into such matters?

Grayling had also been thought to be much less likely to pressure the Government for an early public release of the 2018 report on alleged Russian interference in British democracy, (although personally, I’ve always suspected this allegation to be yet another desperate attempt by the anti-Brexit, Continuity-Remainer faction of Britain’s political and media establishment to delegitimise both the vote for Brexit and those of subsequent general elections confirming it).

However, the fall-out in that direction from his failure to secure the chairmanship has already started.  In what’s possibly a pre-emptive move, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday accused the Russian State of hacking UK vaccine research and attempting to influence last December’s general election.

Theoretically, the ‘Conservative’ Party might possibly try to thwart the Lewis chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee, on the spurious grounds that for such a pivotal appointment to be held by an Independent MP not affiliated to any party, much less the governing party, is inappropriate.  In doing so, however, it would risk making itself look even more petulant and dictatorial, as well as making others wonder just what it might be trying to hide.

Its best course would be for the Government to accept a self-inflicted defeat, for MPs to press for the restoration to Lewis of the whip, and for the party console itself that a key Commons committee was in the hands of the MP best suited to the job.

Homo scit exterriti custodes spectemus – only a man who knows guards can watch the guards.

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The Conservatives’ radically changed electorate may mean some awkward policy choices

The much-changed shape of the new Tory electorate means that PM Boris Johnson, if he wants to retain enough of its votes to secure a second term, will have to pursue some policies which are anathema to his party’s metropolitan ‘liberal’-‘progressive’ wing 

Just after his victory in the Tory leadership contest last July, I suggested eight key tests by which we might judge whether Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would delight or disappoint us. Then, just before the 12 December general election, I tentatively assessed his performance against each test, and overall.

However, the largely unexpected scale of the Tory election victory – net gain of 48 seats, largest overall majority (80) since 1987, and breach of Labour’s Red Wall in the Midlands, Wales and the North – has changed the rules of this particular game. The size of the Tories’ overall majority, coupled with the markedly changed character of the Tory electorate, means that Boris’ approach to both party management and policy in the new Parliament will have to become somewhat different.

The past three-and-half-years showed starkly the problems in trying to enact the democratic mandate for Brexit with first a small, and then subsequently no, overall majority, especially with a Parliamentary party whose MPs were mainly anti-Brexit, and Opposition parties’ MPs almost exclusively so. A large majority, however, isn’t necessarily a panacea: it merely creates a different set of potential problems.

Irrespective of the size of the majority, the payroll vote remains at around 110-120; if Dominic Cummings’ plans to reduce the number of Whitehall departments by scrapping some and amalgamating others come to fruition, it may even reduce to around 100. That means approximately 265 Tory MPs, including the 109 newly-elected ones, who are destined to be mere backbenchers for the foreseeable future, with limited prospects of advancement to even junior ministerial rank.

As time goes on, the numbers of ambitious but promotion-denied, or resentful, or sidelined, or disaffected, MPs will tend to grow, increasing the potential for trouble-making. With a large majority, rebelling or abstaining to try and ensure a harder Brexit becomes politically cost-free, since it carries no risk of bringing the government down. Or, going in the other direction, Boris could pursue an ultra-soft Brexit with impunity, knowing that the votes of the clean-break Brexit ERG-‘Spartans’ were no longer crucial.

Unlike most general elections, last month’s was arguably seismic, on a par with those of 1945 and 1979 for the way in which it represented a shifting of the political tectonic plates, rather than just a normal swing of the pendulum of volatile public opinion. Millions of working class people who previously had always voted Labour, either from a combination of family and community habit stretching back generations or from tribal loyalty, abandoned the party and voted instead for a wealthy, privileged, Old Etonian Tory toff.

How Britain voted 2019 social grade-01

The awareness that one of the most momentous electoral upheavals in many decades was taking place crystallised in the early hours of Friday 13 December, as former bastions of Labour voting in the Red Wall were demolished, and swathes of the map of England’s Midlands and North turned from red to blue. This was not so much an election as an earthquake, just as The Daily Telegraph’s Sherelle Jacobs predicted in advance on BBC Question Time.  

The data tells the story. Former rock-solid Labour mining-area seats like Bishop Auckland, Redcar, or Blyth Valley went Tory for the first time in many decades, in some cases in almost a century, often with double-digit swings. It’s now possible to cross Northern England, on a more or less direct route, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, without ever setting foot in a Labour-held constituency. 24 Labour-heartland seats voted Tory for the first time ever

Fall of the Red Wall GE 2019

Labour lost votes in no fewer than 616 seats: the biggest swings came in those where the the Leave vote in the 2016 EU Referendum exceeded 60 per cent – an intriguing symmetry with the fact that 60 per cent of all seats held by Labour in 2016 voted for Brexit. Labour’s performance was actually worse than in 1983 under Michael Foot: then, it at least retained seats and thus a presence in Scotland, whereas now it is as good as wiped out north of the Border. Overall, it was Labour’s worst performance since 1935.

The commentaries are no less persuasive. Working-class voters abandoned Labour, wrote former Tory adviser Nick Timothy in The Daily Telegraph, primarily because they recoiled from what it has become: a party almost exclusively of first, the relatively-affluent woke metropolitan ‘liberal’-left in university towns, and second, of the welfare-state dependent poor in inner cities.

The Party’s leftists’ scorn for working-class attachment to patriotism and democracy, damning it as ‘far-right’ and ‘racist’, got its just deserts, observed Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times. Doorstep canvassers and opinion-pollsters alike were near-unanimous in citing Labour’s betrayal of Brexit and its eccentric Corbynista nonsense as voters’ quoted reasons for deserting Labour in droves, noted Spiked’s Brendan O’Neill in The Spectator.

This was not just a recent development. For a deeper insight into how Labour got it so wrong, and came – gradually but deliberately – to drive away its traditional working-class base, and the consequent electoral and political implications, I’d recommend two conversations: first, this illuminating one-hour discussion between political scientist Professor Matthew Goodwin and the editors of Triggernometry. . . .

. . . and second, this fascinating dialogue between Spiked’s Brendan O’Neill and Blue Labour’s Maurice Glasman. The Labour Party’s and the working-class’ mutual abandonment and disconnection was both predictable, and long predicted. 2019 was, after all, the fourth consecutive election in which the size of the Tory working-class vote increased since 2010. Growing anti-EU feeling was not the sole cause of it, but Brexit was the catalyst for the dam finally bursting electorally.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic, though. The Tory vote suffered considerable attrition across Remain-voting areas. They lost votes in no fewer than 254 seats, and actually lost their seats in Putney (to Labour) and Richmond Park (to the LibDems).

Furthermore, although Corbyn was emphatically rejected by the voters, that isn’t necessarily also true of some aspects of Corbynism. As one of the more thoughtful and less, euphoric analyses reminded us, some of Corbynite-Labour’s policies, like rail and water-supply nationalisation, or enhancement of workers’ rights, are still popular. And, against the background of a Tory party which has for years shied away from making the classical-liberal case for consumer-capitalism and free markets, Corbyn’s ostensibly bizarre claim that Labour had partially ‘won the argument’ can’t just be dismissed out of hand.

Labour policies popularity YouGov 09-Nov-2019

If I seem to have covered this at length, it’s to try and emphasise the extent of the quite dramatic and psephologically significant change which 12 December 2019 produced in the Tory electorate. As commentators observed, this election really did represent a major political re-alignment. It’s partly as if there’s been almost the political equivalent of a reverse takeover, with anti-Brexit Tory votes in the richer southern territory of Remainia leaking away to either the LibDems or (presumably) the Greens, but being replaced by working-class pro-Brexit votes in the poorer Midlands and North. 

How Britain voted 2019 2017 vote sankey v2-01

In summary, the Tories’ new electorate for the 2020-2024/5 Parliament is older, less-affluent, more blue-collar, more northern, less university-‘educated’ (?indoctrinated?), more economically statist and collectivist, but also more socially and culturally small-C conservative, than at any time in living memory.

Crucially, it’s also much more pro-Brexit than was its previous iteration during either of the 2015-2017 or 2017-2019 Parliaments, the Conservative vote appearing to benefit from 2016 Leavers’ votes to a greater extent than Labour benefited from 2016 Remainers’ votes.

How Britain voted 2019 vs EUref sankey-01

But retention by the Tories of the votes of its new electorate can’t be taken as a given. Their recently-acquired voters’ future support is not guaranteed, but conditional on Boris’ government delivering what he pledged in order to get them to cast their votes for the Tories, many after breaking the habit of a lifetime. To be fair, Boris did himself acknowledge this in his victory speech, when he thanked first-time Tory voters for lending him their votes, vowed never to take them for granted, and admitted that they would have to be re-earned.

This is where tensions may arise. Assuming that Boris not only wants, but actually needs, to retain that new voter base through Brexit up to the next election and beyond, some of what he will have to do to achieve that goal may well jar with the fundamentally metropolitan, cosmopolitan, ‘Liberal’-Conservative instincts of both himself and his party’s more historic supporters – especially those acquired in its Cameroon ‘modernisation’ phase, some of whose promoters are still prominent in the Party’s hierarchy.

On Brexit, immigration, fiscal policy, multiculturalism, gender/identity-politics, and the Green agenda, to name but a few, it’s possible to see where the two discrete electorates making up the current Tory Big Tent could diverge, and where Boris could be forced to make some awkward and electorally-risky choices. The direction and success of Britain in the 2020s will depend on how successfully he is able to navigate this tightrope.           

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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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What price another Tory-LibDem co-habitation?

Highly unlikely, yes (and truly horrible), but not impossible: recent polling trends do indicate a theoretically possible route 

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 09 December 2019

At first glance the idea seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?

After all, LibDem leader Jo Swinson has built her party’s entire campaign around one thing: stopping Brexit, in a contempt for democracy so blatant that its shamelessness is matched only by its self-righteousness, and myopically oblivious to herself being the main reason for the LibDems’ popularity actually declining since the start of the campaign. The more voters have seen of her, the less they like both her and her party.

But the LibDems are no stranger to opportunistic, hypocritical U-turns. Even solely on the anti-Brexit side of the political divide, they’ve been inconsistent in their anti-democratic perfidy.

Only a month ago, on 5 November, Swinson categorically ruled out propping up a Corbyn-led government in the event of a hung Parliament, condemning his failure to tackle Labour’s innate antisemitism as a ‘total dereliction of duty’, labelling him ‘a threat to national security’, and declaring him ‘not fit for the job of prime minister’.

On 4 December, though, Swinson hinted at backing Labour in a hung Parliament in order to force a second Brexit vote, provided Corbyn was removed as leader. Not that much of a U-turn , you might first think, but think again. For Swinson to demand this as a condition of the LibDems’ support is as disingenuous as it is unrealistic.

Does she really believe that the Labour Party, having defied all expectations and polling estimates by getting enough seats to make forming a minority government feasible, would then oblige her by dumping the leader under whom it had achieved that?

Does she think a continuing hard-Left Labour Party still tightly controlled by Momentum would morph overnight into a non-antisemitic left-‘liberal’ social-democratic party, and suddenly become not ideologically-sympathetic to Britain’s enemies, merely by decapitating one head of its many-headed Hydra?

Does the ‘feminist’ Swinson regard the obvious immediate alternative, the same John McDonnell who evidently still favours lynching female Tory politicians, as ‘fit for the job of prime minister’?

Being prepared, after her unequivocal rejection of the idea only a month before, to accept all that baggage in order to get a second Brexit vote, counts, I would suggest, as a significant U-turn.

So, against the backdrop of credibility-stretching policy-reversals not exactly being a terribly unusual feature of the LibDems’ politics, it was intriguing to read in The Guardian of 6 December an opinion piece suggesting they could be about to do another tyre-squealing U-turn, and actually support a minority Tory government with some kind of DUP-style confidence-and-supply arrangement, in return for that second EU vote they are so desperate to bring about.

Discount the partisan content you would expect anyway from a lefty Guardianista hackette, but one can’t help wondering if there might be a kernel of truth here. The reasoning is slightly convoluted, but please bear with me. The key could lie, firstly, in one of the latest Ipsos-MORI polling reports and secondly, in the most recent reported voter perceptions of party leaders and changes in party support over the course of the last 6 months and the campaign itself.

The more that the Tories seem to be on course for a majority, the more the apparent likelihood of PM Corbyn recedes; therefore, the more freedom that gives Remainer-Tories or reluctant-Tories in the South who approve of neither EU exit nor Boris Johnson as party leader to vent their anger and alienation at the prospect of both by deciding not to vote Tory and transferring their vote elsewhere.

However, the hash that Swinson has made of the LibDem leadership and their election campaign, leading to a Remainer-Labour polling bounce, means that Remainers and anti-Tories of all stripes who saw the LibDems as the best means of halting or cancelling Brexit may now write them off as the preferred anti-Brexit option, hold their noses and register their anti-Brexit vote in the Labour box instead.

Now Corbyn is of course highly unpopular: but many of his policies, like nationalisation, taxing ‘the rich’, or even expropriating the wealthy’s assets, aren’t unpopular, however misguided in concept and disastrous in practice they are.

Labour policies popularity YouGov 09-Nov-2019

Additionally, McDonnell is astute enough, and ruthless enough, to ditch Corbyn as leader if the latter’s personal unpopularity was the only thing standing in the way of trying Socialism.  McDonnell was, after all, part of the hard-Left Ken Livingstone cabal which in 1981 overthrew the moderate Leader of the former Greater London Council in a putsch, immediately after the latter had been elected, and installed Livingstone in his place.

So is this the paradox with which we could perversely end up?

That the greater the Tories’ reported polling lead, the greater the collateral risk that anti-Tory votes could migrate away from LibDems to Labour, thereby reducing the Tories to the status of largest party but lacking a majority, and simultaneously getting Labour close enough on seats to form a minority administration if it had LibDem and/or SNP support?

That, in which case, there could be a Dutch auction between the Tories and Labour for that LibDem rump support, despite the latter’s below-expectations election performance or even diminished numbers?

Swinson has dismissed the idea of ever again going into a coalition with the Conservatives, but specifically not a more informal confidence-and-supply arrangement. How safe would it be to assume that the Tories would never in any circumstances even contemplate it?

Even with the retirement from Parliament, or in effect expulsion from the Party, of many of the principal Tory-Remainers of the 2017-2019 Parliament, it seems likely that after Thursday 12 December’s election the ranks of Tory MPs will still contain a significant number of Brexit-sceptics, however much careerist inclinations and the prospect of retaining MPs’ perks of office may be currently muting them.

Many ‘liberal’-‘progressive’ ‘One-Nation’ Europhile Tory MPs were considerably less than pleased when the 2010-2015 Coalition ended, having found they had much more in common with their LibDem colleagues than they had with, not only the more neo-Thatcherite wing of their own parliamentary party, but also the vast majority of its rank and file membership. Quite a few of them are still around.

One can easily imagine a still significantly-Remainer Tory party then driving the cobbling together of an informal alliance with the LibDems and agreeing some BRINO-plus fudge to be put to a second referendum, but presented with fake regret as the only way to stave off a Labour/SNP government.

The chance, via conceding another referendum, to stop the Brexit which up to half of them probably don’t really want, and to load all the blame for it on to the LibDems? I suspect many would insist on seizing it, with the Party leadership torn between the likely consequences of betraying their voters and their own desire for office. With Tories, it’s always party before country.

Yes, of course this nightmarish prospect is only a remote possibility, even outlandish. Hopefully. But we live in strange times. Who in 2014 would have predicted that in 2015 the Labour Party would elect Corbyn as leader and that in 2017 he would come within a few thousand votes in a handful of constituencies of actually becoming Prime Minister?

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