Tag: Political-History

Brexit-Watch: Thursday 23 April 2020

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 21 April 2020

Choosing five recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines 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.)

 

Frost and Barnier agree UK-EU FTA TimetableGuido Fawkes

Far from acquiescing to the persistent, disingenuous pleas of the Continuity-Remain lobby for the suspension of negotiations with Brussels and the deferment of Brexit via an extension to the Transition period, the Number 10 team appears to be both ramping them up and tightening the schedule.  Perhaps it was lucky that our chief negotiator had his brush with coronavirus early on during the outbreak, rather than now.

It’s also maybe no coincidence that this happened during the week that the PM’s top adviser/chief of staff Dominic Cummings returned to Downing Street after his own bout of COVID-19, and almost immediately upped the pressure on Brussels by not only categorically ruling out an extension but also gearing up preparations for a No Deal Brexit on 31 December.

 

Government rejects IMF advice to extend Brexit transition periodTelegraph (£)

We will not ask to extend the transition period, and if the EU asks, we will say no.’

How gratifying it was to read such an unequivocal response from Number 10 to the unsolicited ‘advice’ of the same IMF which, in 2016 when headed by the Christine Lagarde now spooking the financial markets by failing as head of the ECB to deal adequately with the burgeoning euro crisis, participated enthusiastically in George Osborne’s anti-Brexit Project Fear, and endorsed his Treasury’s wildly inaccurate forecasts of the economic Armageddon which it claimed would surely ensue from merely a vote to leave.

The IMF has no formal relationship to the EU, and certainly has no, in effect, locus standi in UK-EU negotiations.  In addition, the present incumbent, Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva, being a former both Eurocrat and Vice-President of the unelected EU Commission presided over by the invariably well-refreshed Jean-Claude Juncker might suggest that its ‘advice’ was not entirely impartial, and had more to do with pro-Brussels politicking than a concern for trade uncertainty.

Even if this were not the case, the IMF itself is much diminished and discredited; it has been ever since its own watchdog revealed in 2016 the extent to which its management had played down the structural flaws and unemployment effects of the Euro because of its ideological commitment to the EU Project, and allowed European Union insiders to exploit the Fund’s resources to rescue their own deficient currency union and banking system.

 

A Brexit TutorialBriefings for Britain

Amid the demands for an extension of the Brexit Transition period from unreconciled Remainers/Rejoiners shamelessly seizing on the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to at least defer, but preferably halt, Britain’s full and final exit from the EU, comes a timely reminder of why the millions of people who voted for it, but whose opinions are under-represented in the political, media, cultural, business and academic environments where EU-philes cluster, did so.

Despite the vote for Brexit having been dismissed by its opponents as a somehow democratically illegitimate expression of insular ignorance and prejudice, the serious psephological and sociological analysis that now exists shows it to have been the predictable consequence of major social and political changes, occurring over a long period, which disproportionately benefited a minority metropolitan elite and managerial overclass.

As the political beneficiary of the ballot-box revolt against that overclass, the current government should be aware that to accede to its current demands to halt Brexit would be the first step on the road to political defeat.

 

Europe apologises to Italy: von der LeyenAnsa English edition

When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.

With –

  1. the UK’s resolve that, come what may, there will be no extended Transition period showing that Brexit is not going according to Brussels’ preferred script;
  1. the EU’s centralised authority in pieces as its member countries’ governments unilaterally decide their individual coronavirus response policies to protect their citizens at nation-state level without even consulting it; and
  1. the Eurozone facing imminent crisis as its more fiscally-precarious economies struggle to cope with the effects of their COVID-19 lockdowns,

von der Leyen could well have contemplated the inherent truth of Claudius’ words in Shakespeare’s Hamlet as she felt the need to apologise in the EU Parliament for its cavalier treatment of Italy during the early stages of the outbreak.

Yet her patently untrue, arguably even semi-deluded, assertion that ‘Europe has become the world’s beating heart of solidarity‘ suggested that, even in the present circumstances, a supranationalist, integrationist pan-Europeanism still dominates her Commission’s thinking.  Britain should not hesitate to emphasise to the Brussels negotiators that concluding a fast-track trade agreement with us will let the EU cross off Brexit as a subject and concentrate on addressing its internal troubles.

 

Four reasons why leaving the EU will help us recover from the lockdown quickerTelegraph (£)

The UK Government’s lockdown is deliberately inducing a severe recession; but already some of the support for small businesses announced by the Chancellor in his package of measures is reportedly being prevented by EU rules on state aid from reaching their intended beneficiaries, needlessly exacerbating their difficulties.  Furthermore, for as long as we remain in Transition, we remain subject to EU single-market regulations, when we might conceivably want to eliminate tariffs to counter a rise in food prices caused by falling production.

As if those factors weren’t enough, if Transition is extended, we remain liable for continuing financial contributions to the EU as a matter of routine, before any additional contribution to an EU bailout of the struggling economies on its southern fringe, as well as a rescue of the Eurozone itself.  If we are to have the least worst option of a V-shaped recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we can ill afford to be committing funds to an institution trying to make it as difficult as possible for us to complete our exit and to disadvantage us in the process.  There is every reason, not to delay our final departure, but to accelerate it.

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 28 March 2020

Note: longer version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 28 March 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing five 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.)

 

Coronavirus: Welsh Government calls for longer Brexit transitionBBC News 

Despite being content to sit in a Welsh Assembly which owes its existence to a devolution referendum won by a margin of only 0.6 per cent, Welsh-Labour, whose 29 Assembly Members comprise all but 2 of the current 31-member ruling coalition, has never really accepted the decision of the Welsh electorate to leave the EU by a margin ten times greater than that.  The call by current First Minister Mark Drakeford for a Brexit delay needs to be seen in that context.

In any event, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Welsh Government, which, on this issue, arguably does not even reflect the decision of the people of Wales who voted 53:47 in favour of Leave, much less represent them.  UK-wide constitutional matters are totally outwith the devolved competencies of the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government.

In all likelihood, either this is a smokescreen for Drakeford trying to deflect attention from the dire state of the Labour-run Welsh NHS, particularly with Gwent being a COVID-19 hotspot matching Italy in infection rates, or Drakeford is adding his voice to those hoping to stop Brexit by using the Coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to demand its deferral.

 

Coronavirus crisis demands extended Brexit transitionFinancial Times (£) 

Oh dear, they’re never going to give up at the irreconcilably Europhile Pink ‘Un, are they?  Tony Barber is the FT’s Europe Editor; a quick glance at his output on the FT Writers’ Page somewhat gives the game away about where he’s coming from.

Parsing the latest article, his clinching argument for claiming an extension to Transition is necessary is that the head of a Brussels-based think-tank [part-funded by the EU] claims that an extension to Transition is necessary.  However, he then somewhat undermines his own argument by stressing how far apart the two sides are on fisheries, financial services, and business-regulation in general, prompting the question that, if they are indeed that far apart, and likely to remain so given the negotiating intransigence Brussels has consistently displayed hitherto, what is the point of an extension anyway?

In his similarly-themed article of 11 March, Barber labelled anything other than an ultra-soft Brexit-in-name-only as ‘the radicalisation of Brexit‘.  Now he refers to opponents of an extension types as ‘Brexit millenarians‘.  It is hard to see this as anything other than yet more evidence that the COVID-19 crisis is being cynically exploited by Continuity-Remainers as an excuse to ‘delay’ Brexit with the ultimate aim, of course, of stopping it entirely.

 

Brexit in Hindsight: Historial ReflectionsBriefings for Britain

Another magisterial contribution from Professor Robert Tombs, separating two distinct questions which are often conflated: why, generally, did Britain vote to leave the EU, but also why specifically did it vote to do so in 2016?  Professor Tombs has little hesitation in locating the answer to the first question firmly within the very different experience of Britain compared with Continental Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, having neither succumbed internally to totalitarianism nor been militarily defeated and subsequently occupied by it, and therefore not seeing pan-Europeanism in terms of almost existential survival.

The second he sees as lying within the contrast between the pessimistic, lacking-in-confidence Britain of the 1960s which saw European integration as the remedy for economic decline, and the near-reversal of this perception by the early 2010s, in the face of visible and growing evidence of the bloc’s economic sclerosis and pursuit of political integration at the expense of democratic legitimacy.

What this suggests is that the popular determination among 2016 Leave-voters to leave the EU in fulfilment of the 2016 mandate persists at a deeper, more atavistic, level than the purely transactional considerations which Unreconciled Remainers condescendingly assume to be the main drivers of public opinion.  On this basis, the latters’ siren calls for an extension of the Brexit Transition ‘because of Coronavirus’, in the secret hope that Brexit can somehow thereby be diluted or prevented are destined for failure, making any delay superfluous. We should leave on schedule anyway.

 

EU Coronavirus summit exposes fundamental divisionsGlobal Vision

As if the EU’s hesitant response to the Europe-wide Coronavirus crisis – posturing but dithering impotently while sovereign nation-states’ democratically elected governments moved swiftly and unilaterally to meet the need to protect their own citizens – wasn’t bad enough, the third EU Coronavirus summit predictably revealed more discord than harmony.

Rather than micro-improvements such as facilitating the easier exchange of medical information or the freeing-up of supply-chains from bureaucracy, the Council instead proposed yet another comprehensive centralisation package, predicated on a common debt instrument, which has created the usual friction between the fiscally more conservative EU countries and its more fragile economies. The crisis is exposing how little nation-states can depend on an EU so often found wanting when it comes to action, despite all the talk of unity.

 

Downgrade warnings raise fears of European bank nationalisationsTelegraph (£)

Moody’s downgrade alert for banks in no fewer than six EU member-states, based on an anticipated slump in profits but a surge in bad debts linked to the Coronavirus-induced recession, comes on top of the burgeoning credit-crunch from the Eurozone’s bank-debt overhang. The author of the article, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. has also been reporting this week on the cracks appearing in the Eurozone’s institutions, now rapidly coming to a head with a stark choice between strengthening monetary union with fiscal union, with all that that would entail, or risking EMU unravelling.

The danger here for the UK is of an extension to the Brexit Transition leaving us still on the hook for a massive contribution if necessary to stave off a Eurozone banking collapse. There are numerous bad reasons for delaying our exit because of the Coronavirus emergency, and few, if any, good ones.

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The interests of the British monarchy demanded an even harder Megxit

The residual styles and titles of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex should have been relinquished or removed, to protect the institution of the monarchy itself from any risk of future damage by their abuse

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 23 January 2020 

After Buckingham Palace released its statement last Saturday evening on the terms of the Sussexes’ withdrawal from full-time working membership of the Royal Family, the immediate verdicts were mostly unequivocal.

This was the hardest possible Megxit, cutting them off from public funds as well as from membership of The Firm, insisted Camilla Tominey in the Daily Telegraph. It might just work, but it’s definitely a hard Megxit, declared the Spectator’s Fraser Nelson. There’s a vast chasm between what the Sussexes wanted and what they got, averred Victoria Ward, also in the Daily Telegraph.

Yet ‘hard Megxit’ seemed to be a slightly hyperbolic label to attach to a settlement in which the Woke-Harkles –

  1. retained their HRH handles, merely ‘agreeing not to use them’;
  2. safeguarded their Duke and Duchess of Sussex titles;
  3. appeared to give up only the 5 per cent of their income which comes from the Sovereign Grant Fund;
  4. consented to reimburse the taxpayer for the work on Frogmore Cottage, but courtesy of a gift from the Duchy of Cornwall in the near-equivalent amount,

but could still walk away from most if not all of their obligations. It was perhaps fitting that it fell to the Sun’s Dan Wootton, who about 10 days before had originally broken the story that they were about to up sticks and bail out, to give us a clue about this seeming conundrum. 

The difference of course lies in the fact that all three articles cited above are based on their authors’ assessments of what both Harry and Meghan apparently wanted, whereas Dan Wooton’s tweet focuses solely on Meghan’s presumed aims. From that perspective, he has a point, hasn’t he?

So to assess the effect of the “titles” aspects of the couple’s departure settlement on their planned future, we need to recall what that future is likely to be. The Daily Telegraph’s Madeleine Grant probably came as close to summarising it as accurately as anyone has when on BBC Question Time she described it thus:

A strange hybrid, a woke celebrity Gwyneth-Paltrow-meets-Greta-Thunberg with a bit of Kardashian thrown in for good measure       

In other words, Hollywood-sleb self-promotion, rampant brand-monetisation, and virtue-signalling Woke Green-Left politics.

'Wokes Populi' coat-of-arms

The route to the money, whether billions, or even mere millions, is already mapped out. For a glimpse of the principal courtiers to the Court of the aspiring Global Queen of Woke, it’s necessary to look, not at expert-but-discreet advisers, but at the out-there-and-in-your-face lifestyle gurus, fashion stylists and Instagram-influencers. Plus of course the cohort of media and PR types who can be relied on to provide unfailingly fawning coverage, to seldom ask awkward questions, and above all, never, ever, to criticise. The Oprah sofa is already lined up for the tearful tell-all interview. It’s just a question of whether the book launch makes it first.

Now take the words Harry that used in his sorrowful but also self-pitying farewell quasi-abdication speech:

“I also know that you’ve come to know me well enough over all these years to trust that the woman that I chose as my wife upholds the same values as I do. And she does. And she’s the same woman I fell in love with.”

Is it just me, or does this subliminally channel some of the phraseology used in another, genuine, abdication speech just over 83 years ago?

“I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”

The omens are not good. Across the years, some notable points of similarity exist between the two sets of protagonists, as several biographies and histories of the 1936 abdication show.

A royal prince, still immature and selfish in early middle age, so utterly mesmerised by a social-climbing American divorcée as to petulantly reject all warnings and advice. A ruthlessly ambitious adventuress evidently capable of inducing him to alienate and then in effect abandon his family, friends, duties, obligations and public to throw in his lot with her; yet who went on to treat his besotted and abjectly self-demeaning devotion to her with withering contempt, even to the extent of pursuing other liaisons.    

Within a year of the Duke’s abdication, the Windsors had made an ill-advised and politically-embarrassing visit to Nazi Germany, handing Hitler a propaganda coup even as Britain was re-arming for the war by then looking increasingly likely. In the light of Markle’s reported inclinations towards political office with Michelle Obama as her lodestar, a similarly embarrassing political foray – possibly even to the EU in the final stages of trade negotiations, given her evident hostility to the UK and its people – couldn’t perhaps be ruled out.  No wonder Jonathan Haslam described Megxit in the Spectator as a “diplomatic nightmare”.

In the chapter of his entertaining but revealing “50 People Who Buggered Up Britain” entitled “Diana”, journalist and satirist Quentin Letts writes of Prince Harry’s mother:

“Diana was a danger to the stability of our kingdom. She mixed in circles that were disreputable and, in some cases, neurotically anti-British.”

In the interval between the couple’s hubristic original announcement of their relinquishment of royal duties so as to “work to become financially independent” and the relative parsimony with public funds reflected in the Palace’s recent settlement statement, fears were expressed that their real aim was even to set up what would in effect be a rival, overseas, politically left-wing branch of the UK Royal Family, with its attendant Court consisting mainly of Meghan-groupies. Their retention of their royal styles and titles would obviously be crucial to that, and thus another reason to withdraw them.

In view of Markle’s unabashed eagerness to leverage the pair’s royal status, both commercially and in promoting her favoured Woke-Left political causes, the decision to allow them formally to retain their “HRH” styles but merely “agree not to use them” also looks insufficiently robust, and to a risky degree.

Granted, the provisions of the settlement were stated to come into force only “from the spring of 2020” – incidentally, why not with immediate effect when the Prince-turned-Frog has already decamped? –  but the HRH styles were still being used on the Sussex-Royal website a day or so ago. What sanctions does the Crown have if they’re flagrantly abused, a possibility of which I’d suggest can’t be discounted?

Sussex-Royal statement still using HRH

I would have preferred to see the “Sussex” titles either relinquished or withdrawn as well, given the circumstances of their departure and their future intentions. Obviously, the point gets made that the Duke of Windsor was granted his title on abdication, and the Duchess of York wasn’t required to surrender hers, even on divorce from Prince Andrew – though in the light of recent events, she may wish she’d surrendered it voluntarily.

But the Windsors sought just to live a socially-exclusive life of luxurious banality, while Fergie merely tried to flog children’s books off the back of her title. Neither planned, nor attempted, to launch a multi-million dollar commercial empire via monetising their status, with a crossover into Hollywood-‘liberal’ Woke-celebrity politics.

However, removing or revoking a dukedom, isn’t easy. As far as I can see, it requires Letters Patent to be issued by the Crown and possibly, when a dukedom conferred on a member of the Royal Family is involved, approval of both houses of Parliament as well, so one can understand the reluctance of the Palace to go down that route.

But it’s perhaps a shame that an existing dukedom couldn’t be altered to be made morganatic. If (or rather, when) Markle decides that the Prince-turned-Frog has outlived his usefulness, the sight of a double-divorcée minor American actress using her “Duchess” handle either hustling in Hollywood for a big new movie role to re-start her relatively undistinguished acting career, or even running for political office on a left-wing platform , will, I reckon, stick in quite a few craws.

The concession to allow the use of “Royal” in the “Sussex Royal” brand, including both website and Instagram feed, is already beginning to be challenged as incompatible with the Woke-Harkles’ “agreement” not to use their “HRH” styles in consideration of withdrawing from royal duties, although they could apparently end up being allowed to use it in connection with charitable purposes only.

It isn’t difficult to see that compromise running into trouble. If its allowed “use for charitable purposes” extends to the “charitable foundation which [they] are expected to launch shortly”, then given that Markle’s planned charitable foundation on a typical US-celebrity model is arguably far more likely to also function as vehicle for her pet political obsessions, the likelihood is that that itself will endorse or promote über-woke left-wing political causes and could well still taint the Royal Family by association. Better, perhaps, if it was to be withdrawn totally at the outset.

The purpose of questioning the lack of more rigorous restrictions on the couple’s continuing use of any royal handles isn’t vindictive, though I’ve no doubt their woke groupies would disagree, and shrilly. Actually, it’s to put the greatest possible distance between them and the monarchy, so as to minimise the risk of the institution being tainted by either or both of them, if their promotion of themselves, their brand, their causes and, let’s face it, Markle’s profile, becomes politically embarrassing or descends into gaudy commercialism.

Despite the setbacks of the past few months, support in Britain for the monarchy as an institution remains strong, according to polling.

These results look encouraging, given the events of the past two weeks. It seems that Brits not only understand, but appreciate, the distinction between the monarchy as an institution and the personality flaws of some of its current, hopefully temporary, members; and that they recognise that, for all its faults, it’s still preferable to having some tainted, divisive, political has-been, or some washed-up grubby ex-“celebrity”, as an ‘elected’ Head of State.

It’s for that reason that the maximum separation needs to exist between the monarchy on the one hand, and the self-centred and aggressively acquisitive – both financially and emotionally – future that the Woke-Harkles have chosen for themselves, on the other. And it’s to fulfil that need that a harder Megxit should have been insisted on as far as titles were concerned.

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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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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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By Their Enemies Shall Ye Know Them?

The Tory Leadership Contest: With Enemies Like These, Can Boris Johnson Be All Bad?

Note: Updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 26th June 2019

In politics, as in history, there are times when it can be more instructive to judge a person by the identity and nature of their enemies, rather than by those of their friends.

Even for me, who tends to oscillate between varying points on the continuum between agnosticism and atheism, Matthew 5: 11-12  – “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely” – increasingly seems to be the most reliable way to assess the avowedly pro-Brexit – on 31st October at the latest and on No-Deal if necessary – Boris Johnson’s campaign for the leadership of the “Conservative” Party.

Scarcely had the result of the 5th ballot in the Tory leadership Contest emerged just after 6.00.pm on Thursday 20th June, narrowly eliminating Michael Gove and pitting the transparently Continuity-May, Continuity-Remain candidate Jeremy “Theresa in Trousers” Hunt against Johnson in the final membership run-off, when the anti-Johnson attacks, from both the official and provisional wings of the Remainstream-Media Punditocracy, started.

Fewer than 200,000 people will decide whether Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt will be the UK’s next Prime Minister, averred Shebab Khan of ITV News, curiously ignoring that whether Frans Timmermans, Manfred Weber or Margrethe Vestager will be the next President of the unelected European Commission will be “decided” by fewer than 1,000 people – and those mostly MEPs in the European Union’s Potemkin Parliament with a power largely confined to rubber-stamping the selection probably made merely by the 3 or 5 most influential heads of government of EU member-states.

Next out of the traps was well-lunched political-class media-courtier Adam Boulton, decrying Johnson’s lack of comment, presumably to Sky News, on the leadership run-off, despite the result of the 5th ballot having been declared only about 45 minutes earlier.

2019.06.20 Boulton on Boris PM

Quite why this should be an implied deficiency of democracy in 2019 was not immediately apparent.

“Johnson for PM is Brexit incarnate. Nobody really thinks it’s a good idea. Everybody is embarrassed”, tweeted The Times’ Hugo Rifkind, impeccably bien-pensant epitome of its metropolitan-‘liberal’ stable of irreconcilably-Remainer hacks, before being reminded that there might conceivably be some shades of opinion, somewhere within the country, which could just possibly have eluded his omniscience.

2019.06.20 Carswell Rifkind

By the evening of Friday 21st May, the breaking news of the police being summoned to an altercation in the flat occupied by Johnson and his paramour prompted author and ardent Blairite Robert Harris to posit an ineluctable link, clearly indicative of Party-wide gross moral turpitude, between that incident, MP Mark Field’s timely ejection of a Greenpeace eco-protester who had gained unauthorised access to a private Mansion House dinner, and the Recall of a Tory MP convicted of expenses-fiddling.

2019.06.21 Harris re Boris PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fortunately, we have some prior indications of Harris’ views on the inadvisability of consulting the contemptible masses on constitutional questions, like membership of the EU, which they are clearly ill-equipped to determine.

2018.07.15 Robert Harris disdain for democracy

Hard on his heels followed Michael White, former Political Editor of The Guardian but now to be found mainly adorning the pages of The Weekly Remoaner, aka the scabrous The New European, clearly somewhat relishing, ironically, the prospect of coverage of a domestic fracas by The Daily Mail, no less, (PS, never mind the factual details) unseating Johnson’s ascendancy to the leadership.

2019.06.20 White re Boris PM

However, White’s relish at the possibility of a lovers’ tiff serving to derail Johnson’s chances paled into insignificance alongside the sight of lugubrious and reliably Remainer-Establishment hack Robert Peston positively salivating at the prospect.

2019.06.1 Peston re Boris PM fracas

He was followed by the FT’s Jim Pickard, thoughtfully likening people who’d be prepared to take the risks inherent in a No-Deal Brexit, so as to ensure a clean exit and the upholding of democracy – and by inference, therefore, presumed supporters of Johnson – to a mass murderer, rapist & paedophile.

2019.06.21 Pickard FT re Boris PM 1

How charming – and revealing. Less of a slip of the keyboard than an indication what the Remainer-Elite really think of 17.4 million Leave-ers? 

Next up came no less august a personage than the Editor himself of The Daily Remainer, aloof purveyor of haut-journalisme for the Europhile-Establishment-Elite and otherwise known as The Financial Times, gleefully anticipating the imminent defenestration of the Evil Brexiteer Johnson from the Tory leadership slate.

2019.06.21 Barber FT re Boris PM 1

Yes, you read that right – the Editor of the FT, succumbing to a case of premature exhilaration at the hands of The Guardian’s Media Editor.

Barber was at it again early on the Saturday morning, evidently having commissioned a waspish hit-piece about prominent Tories’ days at Oxford: clearly an infallible guide to the fiendish ability of one of them, 30 years later, (but strangely not the other) to inveigle 160,000 Party members into voting for National Self-Destruction and The Collapse Of Civilisation As We Know It. 

2019.06.22 Barber FT re Boris PM 2

The 2016 Remainers were almost all PPE-ers, it will inform you, having “chosen the degree in search of the cutting-edge knowledge needed to run a modern country”, while most 2016 Brexiteers “studied backward looking subjects” (no bias there, obviously): and that there is, apparently, “a curious parallel between the 1980s Oxford Tories and the 1930s Cambridge spies”.

Which might strike you as an odd analogy, to say the least, given which of the two groups now prides itself on its allegiance to the unelected supranational Brussels technocracy, and which of them advocates the supremacy of sovereign nation-state Westminster democracy.  

The prints soon caught up with the tweets, and have continued to do so. History will wonder how we trusted Boris with Britain, agonised Sir Max Hastings in The Spectator, before vouchsafing to readers of The Guardian that Johnson is utterly unfit to be Prime Minister – which I suppose is as near to preaching to the converted as it’s possible to get. 

Now Sir Max is a very fine historian, several of whose books are to be found on my shelves, but also an implacable Establishment-Remainer. I wonder why he felt it expedient to omit, firstly the reason, if Johnson was so useless, for employing him for so long when Editor of The Daily Telegraph: and secondly, why he so enthusiastically backed Johnson’s 2008 campaign to become Mayor of London?

Lower down in the journalistic pond, among the bottom-feeders, come coarser, rather more dubious fish. This tape will always threaten Boris Johnson, insisted James Kirkup in The Spectator, signally failing to predict that the opprobrium resulting from it would instead be poured in bucket-loads over the deserving heads of the insalubrious, foul-mouthed, EU-subsidised, Lefty-Luvvie Remainers who recorded it and then, having been told by the Police that the domestic fracas in the flat below had involved no harm or offence and thus merited no further action, thoughtfully sent it to The Guardian. As you do.

Finally, and yet again in The Spectator (hardly the Boris-sycophantic lickspittle of Leftist myth, is it?) came the curmudgeonly Alex Massie – a misanthropic Caledonian whom, to paraphrase P G Wodehouse, it is seldom difficult to distinguish from a ray of sunshine – pontificating that Boris’ backers “have a lot to answer for”. I guess that might be true if you regard presiding over the retrieval of self-governing nation-state democracy as a crime warranting almost incarceration in the Tower.

All the above represents only a small selection of the myriad examples available from the anti-Johnson – and by proxy, anti-Brexit – mass pile-on which followed the disclosure of the Tory leadership race’s final two. Readers will doubtless have their own examples.

Which brings up back to Boris Johnson and Matthew 5: 11-12, about being judged by the extent to which your enemies revile you. Is this a case of “By their enemies shall ye know them”?  

With such an egregious line-up of the Great and the Good of the anti-democratic, referendum-denying, Remainer Establishment-Elite ranged against him in ire and indignation, can Boris possibly be all bad? Because the more they fulminate and plot against him, the more grows the suspicion, even in the minds of the initially sceptical, that, in spite of his evident flaws and drawbacks, you know what? – he might just be exactly the man for the job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Govt leaflet EU Ref once in a generation decision

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

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

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

Cameron Chamberlain 2

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

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

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

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

Cameron resigns 24-Jun-2016

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

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

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

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

 

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Defectors From Democracy Itself

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

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

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

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

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

Soubry quits for SDP 1981

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

2017.01.26 Soubry on respecting Referendum result

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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