The prophet Ecclesiastes once said (in 1,9, to be precise), that there is no new thing under the sun. Was his aphorism right as regards the history of the Tory party?
Well, then. Bernard Levin, while making clear his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, opined that: “There is one, and only one, political position that, through all the years, and all my changing views and feelings, has never altered, never come into question, never seemed too simple for a complex world. It is my profound and unwavering contempt for the Conservative Party.”
Levin had many reasons for his contempt – and delineated them within his peerless columns on a number of occasions – but one among the many was the squalid jockeying for position amongst political nonentities whenever blood was scented. It could be argued that the attitude of the modern Tory minister closely apes that of (here’s the irony) the nineteenth century Liberal politician Sir William Harcourt, described by Churchill as being “ambitious in a calculating style…. With an eye fixed earnestly, but by no means unerringly, upon the main chance.” (It should also be observed that here the resemblance between him and the shy contenders anxious to succeed Mrs May begins and ends, in that – to quote Churchill again – Harcourt was a “genial, accomplished Parliamentarian”, while the lack of accomplishments amongst his Tory successors is something to deplore.)
Their Tory forebears had form, of course. Beaverbrook wrote that:
“Between October 15 and October 19 (1922) the struggle became less like a battle than a series of single duels. Every mans’ political soul was required of him. Promises and promotions and honours were sprinkled from Downing Street on the green benches with a hose.”
Beaverbrook was writing about the meeting of Conservative MPs in the Carlton Club, a meeting which was to end the Tory – Lloyd George Liberal Coalition. This was just one of many internal struggles within the Tory party down the years, struggles that have enraged some and delighted others.
We find a more recent example (well, many of them, if truth be told) relayed gloriously in the diaries of the late Alan Clark. Encountering Edwina Currie in the Houses of Commons during the last, febrile days of Thatcher’s government, Clark congratulated her “on the combination of loyalty and restraint that [she showed] in going on television to announce [her] intention to vote against the Prime Minister in the leadership election.” Unsurprisingly, when Currie – whose devotion to self-promotion in the media was impressive even by modern Tory standards – suggested that they “argue this through”, Clark succinctly told her “to piss off”
Moving forwards a further two and a half decades or so, and we encounter Boris Johnson, of whom it could be said that he represents an embodiment of the sentiments that Wodehouse’s Ambrose Wiffen felt about the two small boys with whom he had been saddled:
“On his first introduction to these little fellows it had seemed to Ambrose that they had touched the lowest possible level to which Humanity can descend. It now became apparent that there were hitherto unimagined depths which it was in their power to plumb”.
I suspect that many observers of the UK political scene would readily apply similar views about BOJO as he moved effortlessly from pulling the rug from under his leader to denouncing those of his colleagues engaged in identical activities.
As May prevaricates and flounders in a mess of Cameron’s making (and compounded by her decision to call an election), we are now in a situation where, like Micawber, her advisors have nothing to offer but advice; As Daniel Finkelstein has recently observed, “The best we can do on Brexit is play for time”
The above quotes have been selected in an attempt to escape from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the tedious squabbles about Brexit, and about its unplanned offspring, Mexit.
Two preliminary definitions
- Brexit – common term to denote the scheduled departure from European Institutions by the UK.
- Mexit – author’s term for the possible departure of Mrs May from No 10 before the end of 2017
The state of play is confused even chaotic on both the issue of Brexit and on the issue of Mexit
To this outsider, the proceedings at the heart of HMG can best be summed as the ongoing effing fiasco. In no special order the collective performance of Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues can be described as faltering, floundering, foundering, failing, flailing, frustrated, fulminating, festering, furious and fractious.
Another eff word suggested itself but this is a family blog and the decencies must be observed.
To simplify matters I shall employ the device of bullet points – a device much loved by manager johnnies.
1. A Brexit update from the edge of the margin of the periphery of the action
- The situation here is not promising from the UK point of view.
- The 27 remainer counties appear to be hardening their resolve to make no concessions until the specified preliminary issues are resolved to their satisfaction.
- As I write, the top level dialogue is running along the following lines: Mrs May – “The ball is in in your court” The 27 remainers – “Oh no it isn’t” Mrs May – “Oh yes it is” And so on and so on.
- The drama takes me back many years to the pantomimes of my childhood when the hero/heroine engaged in a brisk boisterous exchange with the audience as to whether or not the baddie was or was not behind him or her. All good stuff but not the ideal way to make progress.
2. Thoughts on Mexit, again from the edge of the margin of the periphery
- An impressive show of unity within the Tory Party following its party conference
- On the debit side – If a party can’t organise a conference – what can it do?
- Peering through the fog of mendacity and delusion oozing out of No 10 – there is no obvious successor to Mrs M.
- The first malcontent to show his head above the parapet – Grant Shapps – was judged by the media pack and by most of his colleagues in the house – to be a lightweight, and he quickly retreated to the obscurity from which he had emerged.
- Collectively – those who rushed to support the PM were not exactly heavyweights – but what of that?
- Whatever the wishes of politicians and media moguls – Brexit will continue to dominate the national political agenda until either The Brexiteers prevail and out we go or, by some most welcome development – not easy to discern at the moment – we come to our senses, ditch the Brexiteers and resume Business as Usual within the EU.
- The problem facing the Tories and, of rather greater importance, the country, is NOT the choice between Mrs May and AN Other, delightful though the prospect of AN Other ousting Mrs May might be to some us – to let us say – the reassuring self effacing Mr Hammond.
- The problem facing HMG is NOT to decide between the a hard Brexit and a soft Brexit – both options evaporated when subjected to analysis.
- The problem faced by the Tory party is quite simple: – Does it maintain its present Brexit policy to its only logical outcome – out we go OR does it procrastinate and defer and set up enquiries and working groups and independent enquiries – all with the objective of playing for time to allow the nation to come to its senses.
- A few Tory MPS – not enough at this stage – have been heard to whisper that maybe that the nice old timer, Dr Cable, had a good point when he suggested that there ought to be a FIRST referendum to decide if Brexit should proceed on the basis of the terms secured by HMG. This referendum might put the question, “Given the deal arrived at between the EU 27 and HMG – Should the UK stay in the EU or leave?” As with the June 2016 referendum – a simple majority to decide the answer. Alternatively, a far more sensible way forward would be to put the same question to the House of Commons with the vote to decide if we stay or leave on the basis of the deal.
3. A few points for the voters and their elected representatives to consider
- The word is that most MPs, being mostly of sound mind, would vote to remain within the EU if that option was available to them. This applies to Labour MPs as well as Tory MPs.
- Opinion polls indicate steadily diminishing support for Brexit as the disagreeable consequences become more apparent.
- One or other – or maybe both – of these options may in due course become available to the voters as more and more of them belatedly grasp the futility of Brexit, the scale of the deceit of BOJO and the baleful influence of the Murdoch/Dacre propaganda organs.
- The emerging pattern of voting intentions is that the young are increasingly aware of the strong case to stay in the European Community – and is their future that is at stake.
- I write these notes in my capacity as an old timer who sees BOJO as the most accomplished political fraud in my long life time – and there is a lot of competition for this dubious award.
4. A look at the possible outcomes to the Mexit problem
- At the optimistic end of the spectrum – Mrs May to be out by Christmas
- At the pessimistic end of the spectrum – Mrs May will still be PM up to the next election
5. Of David and Boris
- Those who follow these matters will recall that David Cameron committed the Tory party to hold an in-out referendum on our EU membership should the Tories win the 2015 election.
- Obviously Cameron had considered this commitment carefully and his conclusion was that he could win the argument and the referendum.
- He knew – or thought he knew – who were remainers and who were for leavers. Thus Mr Farage was clearly a leaver; Mr Ken Clarke was equally clearly a remainer; Messrs Dacre and Murdoch could be counted on to campaign to leave. And so and so forth as heads were counted.
- What about BOJO? Aye – there’s the rub. Cameron was obviously counting on the support of BOJO to campaign to remain given that that had been his previous position. However, it has been reported in The Mail on Sunday that “Boris only voted for Brexit to spite DC”. What does this little gem tell us about the judgement of Mr Cameron about the fickleness of his colleague of many years? More revealingly – what does it tell us about the judgement of BOJO, a man then as now devoid of any political principle save that of the advancement of BOJO.
6. The view from Brussels
- They, the other 27 countries, believe that they hold all the winning cards. I believe that they are right to hold this view.
- I would go further. Their views about what the response of the 27 remainers to the pitiful performance of the representatives of HMG across the table is likely to be broadly as per the riposte of Alan Clarke to Mrs Currie as per the exchange quoted earlier, namely, “Piss off”.
7. Of Brexit and the Blitz
- The Daily Mail has reported that “A Think Tank funded by the British Taxpayers sparked fury yesterday by claiming Brexit would wreak similar damage to the Blitz. In an extraordinary intervention the OECD also suggested reversing would boost the economy.”
- The intervention by the head of the OECD, Secretary General Angel Gurria, was sweet music to my ears, but not to the ears of Mr Paul Dacre and his raucous well trained pack of journalists. Mr Gurria received the standard Mail treatment handed out to those daring to disagree with Mr Dacre.
- I suspect that Mr Gurria would be quite relaxed about the predictable abuse heaped upon him.
- That is apart from the menacing threat by Tory MP to review (for review, read cancel) the £10 million a year that HMG gives to the OECD.
8. “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce” – Karl Marx
- In the present circumstances the tragedy and the farce are being enacted simultaneously
- The farce is Mexit
- The tragedy is Brexit
9. A closing thought. Help the aged.
- Give your support to Dr Cable as he struggles to rescue the UK from its self inflicted wounds.
- Now, more than ever, the UK needs its Cable Guy.
Image courtesy of Daily Express