Tag: UK-Brexit-Party

Arrogance, Snobbery and Complacency

The Tories’ reaction to their Brecon and Radnorshire by-election defeat was to deny their culpability for their own glaring mistakes, and contemptuously dismiss the very idea of a pro-Leave alliance, despite their own precarious Parliamentary position     

Note: This article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 6th August 2019

How to sum up the “Conservative” Party’s reaction to the by-election loss of its Brecon and Radnorshire seat, which reduces the Party’s already wafer-thin majority in the House of Commons to near-invisibility? Well, consider this communique from Party HQ:

“We just can’t work out why 3,331 people would have voted for the Brexit Party. We didn’t leave the EU on 29th March, despite Theresa May, when Prime Minister, promising no fewer than 108 times that we would: and we chose as our candidate the very same MP who was formally recalled after being convicted of expenses fraud. It’s a complete mystery.”

The foregoing paragraph is, of course, a parody. But not by very much.

From the early hours of the morning of Friday 2nd August when the result was declared, the Tories’ reaction to losing the by-election was firstly to blame anyone but themselves, and secondly recoil in complacent horror at the mere suggestion that they might need an electoral pact with the Brexit Party, not only to deliver Brexit and prevent the advent of PM Jeremy Corbyn, but even to survive as a credible electoral force.

“If you vote for the Brexit Party, you make Brexit harder”, intoned newly-arrived Tory chairman James Cleverly on Sky News’ Sunrise programme: “a constituency which backs leaving the EU now has an anti-Brexit MP”.

2019.08.02 Sky-Cleverly Brecon

Curiously, the likelihood that if, as your candidate for a by-election, you select the very same Tory ex-MP Chris Davies whose conviction for expenses fraud led to the Recall Petition which triggered that by-election in the  first place, then you make actually voting for the Conservatives much harder, appeared not to have occurred to him.

Even normally staunchly Conservative commentators were, to say the least, unimpressed. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that re-selecting a convicted fraudster was a considerable error of judgement, said Adrian Hilton, wondering why swindling the taxpayer wasn’t sufficient grounds for excluding the candidate from the Approved List.

2019.08.02 Hilton Brecon comp

Others were quick to point out that the re-selection of Davies to fight the seat would have taken place under the regime of the hapless Brandon Lewis as Party Chairman, and the equally hapless Prime Minister Theresa May as (still at that time) Party Leader, who presumably could have vetoed it, but didn’t.

It’s worth recalling some of the other takeaways from the result, not always given prominence by the media, for whom tittle-tattle about who’ll be up and who’ll be down in the Westminster bear-pit as a result is always preferable to more forensic analysis.

Screenshot Brecon by-election results 02-Aug-2019

Despite an alliance with the Greens and Plaid Cymru, who both stood down, the LibDems still only scraped it. With a fraud-free candidate, and more campaigning effort – in his dispatch from the by-election campaign front line, Paddy Benham-Crosswell of The Conservative Woman referred to the Conservatives being “deafeningly silent” – the Tories might even have retained the seat.

A point that was also noted by Brexit Party MEP Martin Daubeney. It’s important to remember, said Daubeney in a telling analysis, that the LibDems had in effect been throwing the kitchen sink at the seat, resources-wise, ever since its Tory MP Chris Davies was convicted, while the Tories in effect gave them a green light by re-selecting him.

2019.08.02 Daubeney Brecon

For Labour, the result was little short of a disaster. Up against a convicted Tory MP re-standing, its vote was down 13%, and it garnered just 0.3% more votes than the 5% threshold below which it would have lost its deposit. It was the party’s worst result in that constituency in its history. And in Left-leaning Wales, of all places.

The greatest focus, however, not unnaturally, came on the relative performances of the Tories and the Brexit Party: together with the need for, and likelihood of, an electoral pact between them, immediately dismissed out of hand both by the Party hierarchy and PM Boris Johnson himself.

But a Leave alliance would have won the seat. And, as former Number Ten adviser under PM Margaret Thatcher, John O’Sullivan, noted, there could be several hundred more Conservative Party reverses like this if the Tories under Boris Johnson were to repeat their betrayal of Brexit under May.

The lesson of Brecon and Radnor, asserted O’Sullivan, is that the Tories can’t win, and maybe not even survive, unless they deliver Brexit or, failing that, join with the Farage Irregulars to do so.

2019.08.02 John O'Sullivan Brecon

The Brecon by-election was “a screeching wake up call that, even with Boris, the Tories can’t win a General Election without a Brexit Party pact”, said the Daily Telegraph’s Sherelle Jacobs.

2019.08.02 Sherelle Jacobs Brecon

Even Conservative Party activists recognised this. The Tories must overcome their innate arrogance & snobbery towards competitor parties and reach a tactical voting deal with the Brexit Party if they really do want to deliver a clean Brexit, said long-time supporter and campaigner Molly Giles.

The most savage criticism, though, came in this searing polemic from Reaction’s Gerald Warner. The Conservative Party, blinded by entitlement, he thundered, is now comprehensively dysfunctional. In a full broadside, he condemned the Tories for their arrogance, snobbery & complacency in still covertly pursuing a soft Brexit, while refusing even to consider even local electoral pacts with the Brexit Party.

He has a point. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that members of the Conservative Party hierarchy resemble nothing so much as First-Class passengers on the Titanic, who’d rather go down with the ship than be seen being saved in a lifeboat rowed by those awful Third-Class passengers in Steerage.

He has a point, too, on the accusation of a soft-Brexit being covertly pursued. Just in the previous week, we saw Boris float the idea of a further two years in the Customs Union and Single Market, while Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay recounted his talks with the EU’s Guy Verhofstadt on an “agreement we can get through Parliament”. That points to May’s (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement, less the Northern Ireland backstop, re-branded.

So this is where I’ll stick my neck out. In a tweet as long ago as 5th July, I suggested that the Tories were preparing to sabotage the Brecon by-election. It wasn’t hard, I speculated, to deduce what might be going on. By re-selecting its own disgraced and recalled MP to contest the seat, the mainly-Remain “Conservative” Party hierarchy was deliberately throwing the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election, knowing that the loss of the seat would further reduce its Commons majority, and thus impede Brexit even more.

2019.07.05 Me on Brecon by-election

By that time, the already-resigned and on-her-way-out Theresa May, still hankering after her Remain-Lite BRINO and wanting to make delivering a proper Brexit as difficult as possible for Boris Johnson as her probable successor as PM, acquiesced in throwing the disgraced Tory candidate under a bus, thus handing the seat to the unashamedly Stop-Brexit “Liberal” “Democrats”, reducing his Commons majority by one more.

Let’s face it, the Party’s conduct of the election doesn’t look as though they were trying especially hard to retain it. . . . .

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Singing The Conservatives’ Euro-Blues: The Flawed Peterborough By-Election

Despite having been significantly disadvantaged by it, the Tories have been virtually silent about the credible allegations of electoral fraud surrounding the curious Peterborough by-election   

Note: Updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 12th June 2019

Do you remember the general tenor of media reaction after the European Parliament Elections just five weeks ago? Admittedly, the (now permanently mis-labelled) “Liberal”-“Democrats” did reasonably well in them: but despite coming a distant second on 19 per cent to The Brexit Party’s 30 per cent, the overwhelmingly-dominant media narrative in reporting the results was “Lib-Dem surge”, or even – stretching mathematics far beyond anything Archimedes might have envisaged – “the Lib Dems were the real winners”.

Euro-election final results 28-May-2019

Something similar was seen in the wake of Thursday 6th June’s Peterborough by-election, in which Labour managed, by the wafer-thin margin of 683 votes, to retain the seat, which had fallen vacant because of a successful Recall Petition by voters against its disgraced previous MP. The result has since been attacked as potentially fraudulent due to electoral fraud based on abuse of postal-voting, but more on that later.

Actual Peterborough result via Sky

From sections of the initial media coverage, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Labour had actually captured the seat, defying expectations, and against all the odds. “Labour shows Farage the exit”, rejoiced one Guardian commentator. “A major blow to Farage’s ambitions – the Brexit Party has a major problem”, burbled one report in the Daily Telegraph. “Nigel Farage’s swift exit is significant as Brexit Party bid fails”, exulted Sky News.

Less remarked upon, if at all, was the fact that the Brexit Party was formally launched only on 12th April 2019, which made coming from non-existence to within a whisker of winning a by-election and securing its first MP in a mere 8 weeks unprecedented. In comparison, the Labour Party took six years, from its formation in 1900 until 1906, to acquire its first MP.

Or that the Labour vote had collapsed from 48 per cent of the vote in 2017 to only 31 per cent, haemorrhaging 17 per cent in under two years. Or that the “Conservative” vote had also collapsed, suffering an even steeper 26 per cent decline, falling from 47 per cent to only 21 per cent between 2017 and 2019.

Those figures aren’t inconsistent with polling since the local elections in early May. The collapse in both Tory and Labour votes does look to be getting entrenched – when was the last time both “main” parties were regularly polling at around only 20%? The UK’s major political re-alignment that I highlighted as long ago last August is definitely under way, with the new divisions solidifying. A two-party system seems to be morphing into a four-party system, raising the prospect of coalitions being much more likely to secure House of Commons majorities.        

Also downplayed was the advantage Labour enjoyed from its long-standing voter database and historic voting records, and its more superior on-the-ground organisation. I suspect that once the Brexit Party is on an equal footing with the established parties in those areas, we will see the effects.

In fact, merely entering the Peterborough vote-shares into the Electoral Calculus predictor of Westminster seats shows the Brexit Party as the second largest party in Parliament, and on nearly six times as many seats as the Tories. So quite where the two “main” parties apparent complacency, one in unexpected victory and the other in significant defeat, was coming from, was a mystery.

Electoral Calculus HOC off actual result Peterborough by-elex 06-Jun-2019

It soon became apparent that the Peterborough result was an outlier in several respects. First, it had defied most psephological predictions.

Peterborough by-elex prediction Election Maps UK 05-Jun-2019

Second the size of the Labour vote looked an outlier against the general run of polling. In the 2016 EU Referendum, Peterborough voted 61:39 for Leave. The estimate of its vote, contained within that for the East of England region, in the EU Parliament elections on 23rd May showed the Brexit Party on 32 per cent against Labour’s 22 per cent. The differences from the YouGov poll of Westminster voting-intention taken on the same day look marked.

Peterborough by-elex vs nearest Westminster poll

It didn’t take long for indications to start emerging of where the reasons for the apparent anomaly might lie. The lights started flashing amber even before the count, when the unusually high proportion of the turnout – which at 48 per cent overall was itself unusually high for a by-election – accounted for by postal votes was revealed, namely no less than 39 per cent, double the national average, and about 50 per cent higher than the largest ratio of postal votes to overall turnout previously recorded. Also noted was the 69 per cent return rate for postal ballots issued, which again looked unusually high.

Commentators soon picked up that among Labour’s local campaign team was one Tariq Mahmood, a convicted vote-rigger, as well as the appointment by Jeremy Corbyn to his Party HQ staff of one Marsha-Jane Thompson, herself possessed of a criminal conviction for electoral fraud.

Separately, a row soon broke out about the newly-elected Labour MP Lisa Forbes’ record of anti-Semitic racism, to the extent that some Labour MPs were calling for her suspension even before she had taken up her seat.

Pressure mounted on the Electoral Commission to mount a formal investigation, Peterborough Council was forced to launch its own investigation after numerous complaints, and the Brexit Party has now formally demanded an investigation into the numerous allegations of vote-rigging

A comprehensive summary of all these events and their background can be read here.

Yet on this, intriguingly, the “Conservative” Party has hitherto been noticeably silent, until finally, leadership contender Jeremy Hunt conceded on Wednesday 26th June that the Party must take steps to combat electoral fraud.

Up till then, the Tories appeared to be virtually ignoring the mounting evidence of Labour’s potentially criminal electoral-fraud via postal-vote abuse. One might reasonably have expected them, if not to raise objections immediately, then at least to have been joining in the growing expressions of concern and suspicion. After all, their candidate was affected by it too.

Is it right to assume they’re relatively untroubled about it, either because they also hope to profit from it themselves in some areas, or because they’re content to tolerate it as long as it adversely affects mostly the Brexit Party, which is as big a threat to them as it is to Labour?

Or is it something else? Do they still retain the hope, even intention, to try and get Theresa May’s Remain-Lite, Brexit-in-name-only, “Withdrawal” Agreement” through the House of Commons using Labour votes, irrespective of who wins the leadership contest and thus becomes Prime Minister? And therefore don’t want to be instrumental, or even prominent, in having the Peterborough by-election annulled and re-run, which would almost certainly see a Brexit Party MP in Parliament?

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

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

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

May back No 10 after resignation speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theresa May Downing St morning after 2017 GE

Much of this was manifested in her resignation speech last Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Euro-election final results 28-May-2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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