“The Conservatives are criminally incompetent”
“Even in the bad times I felt proud of my party but this scarcely believable Brexit shambles has left me deeply ashamed”
Heading and Sub Heading from The Times July 29 – Matthew Parris
“And you call that statesmanship. I call it an emotional spasm.”
Nye Bevan responding roughly to hecklers at the Labour Party conference in 1957.
My text for today is the Parris column which appeared under the dramatic headlines referred to above.
It is one thing for – let us say Mr John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, – to talk airily about the criminally incompetent Tories. It is rather more worrying for Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues to see themselves described as criminally incompetent by the thoughtful Mr Parris, a lifelong Tory and former MP, albeit one of the Tory left persuasion.
What has happened to trigger this Parrisian emotional spasm?
Parris makes it clear at the start of his column that the target of his ire is “not the government’s incompetence, Whitehall’s ill preparedness, the Prime Minister’s inadequacy, Labours disunity or even Europe’s aggressiveness ….. Do the voters even begin to understand how this mess is entirely of the Conservative Party’s creation – The fingerprints for this crime of mismanagement are Tory fingerprints- ”
Thus the Parris opening statement for the prosecution.
A couple of observations.
Polonius – My Lord I will use them according to their desert–
Hamlet – God’s bodykins, man, much better.
Use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping”
Hamlet shrewdly points out to Polonius the consequences of applying too rigorously the adage of each according to his deserts. The whippers would need to operate a 24/7 system to ensure that the those performing below par got the treatment.
I have only the shakiest grasp of the criminal law but I would surprised if mismanagement is defined anywhere as being a crime. Let us be charitable and assume that Mr Parris got carried away at this point.
After a couple of paragraphs of fairly feeble criticism of Messrs Johnson, Fox, Davis and Tory MPs, Parris returns to splenetic mode.
“I call this criminal; irresponsible to the point of culpable recklessness towards their country’s future….. Do we yet understand, has it yet been born in on us, that it is we and we alone who have led the whole country into the predicament it now finds itself – I return to England ashamed to be a Conservative.”
Well – there you have it.
Let me go further than I did a couple of paragraphs ago.
- There is no such crime as mismanagement – just as well as the already malfunctioning prisons would struggle to cope with the hundreds of thousands of new inmates from HMG, from Whitehall, from the Town Halls, from our Universities – but note that the behaviour of some Vice Chancellors may well be verging on the criminal as they loot the funds placed under their control placed there to fund higher education.
- The hysteria that is such a prominent feature of this particular Parris column obscures rather than clarifies what went wrong and why, and, crucially, Mr Parris fails to spell out or even to suggest the possible steps that are available to retrieve the situation. The former MP generates heat where light would be more appropriate. In all the matters discussed in his column Mr Parris shirks the challenge of fleshing out his generalisations – which are mostly sound; he uses a metaphorical shot gun to back up his assertions, when a precision rifle is called for.
“All animals are equal”: the 7th commandment in the first list issued by the animals following their takeover of Manor Farm in Orwell’s Animal Farm. As the revolution turned full circle the commandment was later amended to read- “All Animals are equal – But some Animals are more equal than others”.
I would like to borrow the amended version and further amend it to read – “All Conservatives are guilty – but some are more guilty than others.” Mr Parris clearly wishes it to be understood that he personally is not guilty as charged – by himself – but he is not quite as understanding of and as forgiving of the great majority of his fellow Tories.
Let me offer a version that combines a good deal more charity towards the silent majority of Tories with a rather more damning but also plausible indictment of the guilty Tory brexiteers.
The silent majority of Tories – caught up in a bitter conflict that was not of their own making – used the plausible excuse that the people had spoken and that the verdict arrived at by the people in the June 23, 2016 in out referendum must be not only respected but implemented.
The key point is that some Tories are more guilty than others.
A glance back at what happened before the May 2015 General Election
Prime Minister David Cameron, fearful that he and his party might be outmanoeuvred by UKIP on the delicate issue of EU membership, rashly committed his party to an In / Out referendum should he be in a position to do so after the election.
Cameron was obviously confident that he would win any referendum and his main concern was to secure a result that not only kept Labour out but would also enable him to shake off the encumbrance of his Lib Dem coalition partners.
To the surprise of many he succeeded in achieving a narrow but perfectly workable Tory majority over all the other parties in the May 2015 election – so – a prompt goodbye to the Lib Dem Mr Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister in the pre-election government, who was soon to be followed into the wilderness by the leader of the Labour opposition, Mr Ed Miliband.
More joy was to follow for Cameron – in September 2015 Ed Miliband was succeeded as Labour leader by Mr Jeremy Corbyn – widely and understandably regarded as a no-hoper by the commentariat.
May 2015 to June 2016
The main political feature of this period was the contest between the Ins and the Outs in the referendum campaign.
The various prominent figures on both sides on both sides of the argument were in the main clear as to their respective positions from the start.
Most MPs from the main parties were in favour of remaining in the EU. The prominent Outs were Mr Nigel Farage – the referendum was largely for his benefit – together with long time anti-Europeans such as Bill Cash.
Mr Paul Dacre of Daily Mail fame/notoriety could be relied on to support the out campaign and he duly did so. Mr Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of The Sun and The Times, could be relied upon to make mischief and he duly did so.
It was said that significant numbers of voters voted to leave because they were alarmed by reports of large scale uncontrolled immigration, but immigration was always likely to be an important issue in the referendum campaign and one must presume that Mr Cameron factored this into his calculations.
In the early stages the debate was not about the outcome but rather about the scale of the In majority. Mr Cameron knew or thought he knew which Tories would support the Remain cause and which would not. He failed to foresee that Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were men of deeply held principles and that they would stick to their principles by supporting whichever outcome would best further their own career prospects.
As the debate proceeded and the referendum date drew near a new issue emerged with the appearance of two hitherto unknown elements – the respective consciences of Messrs Johnson and Gove. Their damascene conversions followed by their admittedly effective campaigning were significant factors in swinging the balance away from Remain and towards Leave.
Cameron paid a heavy price for his inability to spot this pair of charlatans despite his supposed in-depth knowledge of their respective characters.
He resigned as PM on June 24 – the day after the referendum – as soon as it became clear that the in case had been defeated.
(A request to Mr Parris – please note that the behaviour of Johnson and Gove was despicable but NOT criminal. Please note also that Mr Cameron got the whole affair badly wrong, unfortunate for him – and for the UK – and for the EU – but not criminally so.)
The circumstances of Cameron’s resignation recalled to my mind a story that appeared in the autobiography of Bobby Windsor, the third and most boisterous member of the Pontypool Front Row. The other two members of this illustrious trio were Graham Price and Charlie Faulkner. Windsor wrote about payments made at the time to players at Cross Keys RFC. “Charlie was getting £3.50 and I was on £5. Before my first season as captain I was invited into the committee meeting to discuss plans. Charlie says to me, Tell them I want a fiver same as you. If they don’t agree to that, I’m f****** off. When I came out of the meeting, he said – What’s happening? I said – You’re f****** off.
What happened after DC resigned in June 2016
- There was an intriguing and entertaing campaign as to who would become the one to replace DC as leader of the Tory party and, rather more importantly, as our new Prime Minister.
- The two main Tory turncoats – from In men to Out men – excelled themselves, with Gove edging ahead in terms of sheer treachery. BOJO withdrew from the race when Mr Gove announced his decision to stand.
- The latter defection proved too much for Tory MPS and Mr Gove came a poor third to Mrs Andrea Leadsom – mother of 3 – and Mrs Theresa May – childless. Mr Gove then also withdrew from the race.
- The contest then became a walkover after Mrs Leadsom made some ill considered comments about the advantages of having a mother as Prime Minister.
- Mrs May entered Number 10 but not before making a speech from the front door, a speech carefully designed to be all things to all people. Her subsequent cabinet appointments were a source of qualified delight to BOJO, who had clearly not expected any favours. He did appear slightly uneasy, though, about having to job share at the Foreign Office with Messrs Liam Fox and David Davis, but beggars can’t be choosers
- Mr Gove was awarded the consolation prize of becoming a messenger boy for Mr Murdoch.
- Mrs May quickly decided to respect the verdict of the voters by arranging for the UK to leave the EU. She also stated that she would not call an election until 2020, ie 5 years after the 2015 election won by the DC government.
July 2016 to May 2017
The main points to note by way of explanation about what happened next are:-
- In the referendum campaign Mrs May had been a clear but muted advocate for the In cause. This track record did not prevent her from asserting that the will of the people would prevail, and that she would make all necessary arrangements for Brexit.
- Progress towards the implementation of Brexit proceeded at a leisurely pace for the rest of 2016 and for the first few months of this year
- Mrs May then announced in early May to a startled country that she would call an election to be held on June 8th in order to strengthen her position at the forthcoming discussions to finalise exactly how and under what conditions, the UK would sever its links with the EU.
Main features of the June 8 Campaign
- The Tory campaign was all about Mrs May – said by Mrs May to be strong and stable – as opposed to Mr Corbyn who possessed neither of these attributes.
- The commentariat debated the range of possible outcomes – given the widely perceived – by the commentariat – unelectability of Jeremy Corbyn – say from a Tory majority of 50 at the bottom end to 150 at the top end.
- As the campaign proceeded Mrs May was seen to be making what we old manager johnnies would call a bollox of it – remember the fiasco of the dementia tax.
- Finally and sadly the voters – showing all the reliability and consistency of BOJO and Gove – reduced her parliamentary majority to vanishing point. Effectively the outcome was a clear indication of the falling support for Brexit and the bum’s rush for Mrs May. As I write she is dependent for her very political existence on a shaky platform built on shit and quicksand – an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party.
Features of the current situation
- Most of the main movers and shakers are basking in the baking heat of Southern Europe. It may well be the case that the political tempers of the movers and shakers will be mirroring the ambient temperatures.
- I suggested in a recent blog post that Mrs May will not be in No 10 by the end of Sept – the instinctive desire of her Tory-party colleagues for political self preservation will see to that.
- A lot of professional politicians with faultless records of suitably docile service to their respective parties are said to be looking anxiously at the ease with which the new French President sacked a whole generation of party hacks and replaced them with… who? You tell me.
“Then – why the hell this defeatism?”
Nye Bevan deploring the feeble response to election defeat by the Labour Party in 1959.
A few closing points to convert Mr Parris from being a moaner-Remainer in a plaintive muted minor key to a fortissimo Remainer.
In recent months there have been some faint hopes stirring among we dogged Remainers that all may not be lost
In no special order:
- The outcome of the June 8 General Election was a clear sign that electoral support for Brexit was and is waning.
- Dr Vince Cable, a passionate Remain advocate, has secured the leadership of the Lib Dems.
- There are encouraging signs that Mr Corbyn may decide to spend more of his time on matters of UK importance and rather less to the distressing but remote problems that are exciting people in Venezuela. We should recall that Mr Corbyn was a tireless advocate for the Remain cause on many platforms prior to the referendum.
- Mr Tony Blair has cautiously raised his head above the parapet to suggest that all is not lost and that ways can be found to build a new coalition to campaign for a second opinion.
- Tory government ministers Davis, Fox and Hammond are on occasions taking time off from denigrating their colleagues and each other to hint that the task of securing brexit may well turn out to be rather more protracted than originally predicted.
So speaking only for myself but hoping that Matthew Parris may be listening:
What do we Remainers want?
A- A reversal of the decision arrived at by the In/Out referendum of June 23, 2016.
When do we want it?
What is our policy?
A- To initiate an energetic campaign to reverse the decision to leave the EU; to demand that the government put country before party; to apologise to the EU and get back to Business as Usual within the European Union.
What advice do we have for the whining Remainers as typified by Matthew Parris – he of the emotional spasms?
A- Shape up and follow the advice of that great Tory Winston Churchill and cut out the flinching, the wearying and the despairing.
What about the threat posed by Paul Dacre?
Follow the instruction of Rupert Murdoch back in 1983 – namely, F*** Dacre.
(On this last point honesty compels me to acknowledge that Murdoch was referring to a different Dacre but the instruction remains valid and free of ambiguity in the context of the Remain / Leave debate.)