“Tories are lying to the voters and themselves”
Headline above the Matthew Parris epistle to the readers of The Times, February 3, 2018
This Parris epistle is the text for the following Holdenforth blog.
The gist of the Parris column
Matthew Parris was in fiery, combative mood from start to finish. He began by wading into the mild polyphiloprogenitive Jacob Rees-Mogg, and proceeded to excoriate the Tory Brexiteers:
“With a complicit Prime Minister and a supine cabinet trailing in its wake Europhobia – this mutant gene in the conservative body politic now spreading its cancer through the whole government – is moving from idiocy to dishonesty…. Isn’t it now clear that the government doesn’t believe in what its doing, can’t even decide how to do it, hasn’t the guts to say so, and is trying to creep forward under cover of fog, wretchedly hoping something will turn up?”
Parris rounds off his tirade by comparing the morality of Mrs May as regards Brexit with that of Mr Eden over Suez and to that of Mr Blair over Iraq – in each case to the disadvantage of Mrs May – on the reasonable grounds that Eden and Blair believed in their respective policies.
His final two sentences sum up his position – “ A special kind of guilt attaches to the sane majority of the Conservative Party. It is written across their faces.”
In his epistle the normally urbane, rational Parris displayed the notorious bad temper of Dickens’ Dr Slammer – “he would have added more but his indignation choked him.”
What then has happened to trigger his outburst against Jake Mogg, the Bertie Wooster of our time? Mr Mogg is portrayed as a cad and/or a bounder – I am not sure where the one ends and the other begins. Such insults, such invective! The voters have grown accustomed to hear GOBO, the notorious pair of Gove and Johnson being so described – and deservedly so -in these terms, but not Mr Mogg.
Mr Michael Winner, had he still been with us, would have suggested that the blessed Matthew calm down. What has Holdenforth to say?
Notes on the Brexit war front as perceived from the fringe of the edge of the margin
In no special order:-
- The outbursts of Anna Soubry : A modern Tory – albeit a left wing Tory – version of La Passionara (the fiery anti fascist fighter in the Spanish civil war) had evidently had more than enough of the GOBO and Jacob Rees-Mogg when she urged the Tory Party to sling out the hard line Brexiteers. More turmoil in the ranks.
- The Chief EU negotiator, Michel (Aggro) Barnier is getting warmed up. As the Daily Mail noted on February 12, he “warned that the EU could reject Theresa May‘s request for a transition period if substantial disagreements over its terms remain” and “has been accused of trying to take advantage of the UK by imposing a so called punishment clause that would allow the EU to sanction Britain at will until 2020”. Those on the EU side of the negotiating table are evidently running out of patience – and who could blame them? I suspect that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better – if indeed they ever do get better.
- Mr Soros and his generous gesture in supplying that most useful of lubricants – cash – to the remain cause. The support of George Soros for the remain cause triggered an irate response from Paul Dacre ( I take it that the Mail editorial in question was him: “obscenely wealthy ….. Made a fortune destabilising sterling ….. Using his hedge fund wealth – undermining elected government … unelected elite incarnate trying to impose their views on the majority of British voters”. You can‘t accuse the Mail of opacity – that is, telling it like it is.
- The verdict of the House of Lords. A clear victory here for the remain cause. Their Lordships and Ladyships turned out in force to attack the Brexiteers and support the remain cause. The atmosphere was civilised but the broad collective thrust was clear – they want to stay in the EU. There were a few discordant voices but that’s Lord Tebbit for you.
- Cabinet Unity on its approach to Brexit. Mrs May was adamant that the cabinet was united but it did not seem so from my remote observation point. At times it seemed as if Cabinet Meetings might as well have been recorded given the rapidity with which the various disputants sought out and secured platforms to express views that were not easy to reconcile with the party line put out by various apologetic and confused spokespersons.
- Professor Anthony Grayling. Who he I hear you ask? Well, he is an academic philosopher and also a hirsute, crazed latter day John the Baptist bellowing in the wilderness to any one that will listen that Brexit is a gigantic fraud and that the UK should simply stay put in the EU.
Current Concerns of a Committed Remainer
It must be admitted that Holdenforth has been and remains uneasy about some of the support that has made its way into the ranks of the Remainers.
Holdenforth readers – I am confident that the number is more than one – will recall that in recent blogs I have argued passionately in favour of the Remain cause, but for those of you new to the blog, the gist of the Holdenforth case to remain in the EU can be summed up in a few bullet points:
- In recent decades the EU as an organisation had been doing a reasonable job.
- There had been steady progress in improving the effectiveness of the various branches of the EU, but there was and is much to be done to curb corruption and to improve the accountability.
- The political movement in the UK to withdraw from the EU had been led by politicians whose dislike of the EU and all that it represented was of long standing and commendably consistent – let us cite William Cash and Nigel Farage as examples from this group.
- All the main political parties with the exception of UKIP were broadly supportive of staying within the UK. Brexit was and remains the raison d’etre of UKIP – as ex and current members will ruefully confirm.
Prior to general election held in June, 2015 Mr Cameron, apprehensive about the possible future threat that might be posed by the would be leavers foolishly and unnecessarily committed the Tories to holding an in/out referendum should the Tories win the election. Prior to making this foolish and unnecessary commitment Cameron would have carefully assessed the views of those big hitters across the political spectrum , who would campaign for and who would campaign against. Bill Cash and the unelected Paul Dacre would campaign for Brexit and Ken Clarke would campaign against.
What Cameron did not expect was that Boris Johnson would not only campaign for Brexit, but that he would be the most effective of the Brexit campaigners. He would have based the former opinion on the fact that Johnson had never been known for his Brexit views, but he should also have remembered that the views and actions of Johnson were guided by just one fiercely held principle, namely that he, Johnson, would always act in the best interests of Johnson.
In short – two fatal errors of judgement by Cameron.
- To commit to a referendum – no need – there was no need to do so.
- To rely on the most dishonest politician of our time to support the remain cause.
Following Cameron’s resignation in the wake of the Brexiteers’ victory in June 2016, there followed a confused interval in which Mr. Gove put the knife into Johnson, triggering the departure of Johnson from the battlefield.
A short time later Gove was given the bum’s rush by the Tories eligible to vote – oh joy – and finally Mrs May made her way through the confusing melee into No 10.
A year later, and after much further confusion and an abysmal political performance by Mrs May, the outcome of the snap election was the loss of the Tory majority and the emergence of the DUP to prop up the shambles that now constitutes the Tory Party
At this point -and to borrow a phrase from Churchill – “ You ask – what is the policy of Holdenforth as regards Brexit?”
1. The policy of Holdenforth remains clear – to stay in the European Union.
2. How exactly does Holdenforth think that this admirable aim might be achieved?
This is where it all gets a bit tricky – just ask Mrs May.
Let us see if we can suggest how the situation might develop?
We will return to our text as supplied by the Blessed Matthew Parris on February 3 for inspiration.
- “They (the Government) know (most of them) that the referendum placed voters in an impossible position” – but who placed them in that impossible position?
- “They know that narrowly the voters made a mistake” – you betcha
- “They know that our party is now acting against the interests of our country” – agreed
- “ And nobody has the spine to say so” – not quite true – one or two heads have appeared above the parapet
One more quote from the Blessed Parris, this time above his column published a few days earlier, on January 27, 2018:
“ One well – aimed speech could topple Mrs May”
A most promising suggestion – the Remainers from across the political spectrum should get in some vocal target practice to trigger the toppling of Mrs May.
Where do we go from here?
“Depend on it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Dr Johnson to Mr Boswell, 19 September, 1777.
Holdenforth sees only 3 possibilities.
1. Mrs May and her government stagger from crisis for the next 4 or so years. Not impossible but not very likely.
2. Mrs May loses a vote of confidence and this would trigger a general election. For this to happen just 10 Tories would be required to vote against. Quite a strong possibility. A slight variation on this option is that the DUP withdraws from the current support “arrangement” , something which could happen at any time given the volatility and unpredictability of politics in Northern Ireland.
3. Around 50 or so Tory MPS would have to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to request a leadership election. This is the second plausible possibility, especially given the shaky record of Mrs May in her brief but turbulent stay in Number 10.
A word on the mechanics of this last option.
To trigger a leadership election disaffected Tory MPS are required to write to Mr Graham Brady, the discrete Chairman of the 1922 Committee. It has been reported that Mr Brady never gives the slightest indication to anyone of the number of requests – if any – that lie in his potential explosive in-tray.
Doubtless actual and potential conspirators have some idea of who might join their movement but – a muttered word in the corridor is one thing – a signed letter delivered to Graham Brady is something altogether more positive and more traceable.
Which of our two plausible two options would have the greatest appeal to disaffected Tory MPS.
Quite simply the leadership challenge, even if successful, would solve nothing because the successful challenger would face the same formidable catalogue of problems.
This leaves the only realistic option of lancing the boil as being for a sufficient number of brave MPs either to vote against or abstain on a vote of confidence to trigger a general election.
- There are currently 314 Tory MPs in the Commons.
- 10 or so Tory votes to support the opposition would be enough to dislodge Mrs May.
To put the arithmetic slightly differently – just over 3% of the entire Tory membership in the Commons would be enough to do the trick.
Might we have enough Tory MPs with the required amount of intestinal fortitude and/or a private income and / or a job offer in their pocket?
Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!
We urge the required 3% to follow the example of Henry V before Harfleur as he urged his followers to “imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise nature with hard favoured rage, and so on and so forth” by putting their heads above the parapet during and at the end of the confidence debate.
There would then be a repeat of the 2017 General Election – sorry about that, Brenda from Bristol – a single issue General Election which would be a second referendum in all but name.
Our legislators would then be required collectively to decide how to proceed and the voters would be entertained by the spectacle of the elastic consciences of the thousand or so candidates competing to be elected to the House of Commons being stretched to breaking point.
Mr Corbyn and the Labour Party
“In those days – the 1960’s or thereabouts – The Young Trotskyites in Liverpool hated capitalism, they hated imperialism, but most of all they hated each other.”
Will Mr Corbyn wake up, grasp what is happening, and ask the adherents of the late Leon Trotsky to butt out and allow him to develop a Brexit strategy that will attract rather than alienate the voters?
Holdenforth fears the worst if Mr Corbyn were merely to follow the advice of Mr Micawber and wait for something to turn up.
This passive policy lacks both vision and energy- it just won’t do.
“Either poverty must use democracy to destroy the power of property, or property in fear of poverty will destroy democracy”
Thomas Rainsborough, Putney Debate, August 1647, quoted by Aneurin Bevan in “Why not trust the Tories”
Mr Corbyn has argued that “The Labour party should serve the many, not the few.” I hope that when the time comes – and it will come quite soon – he and his colleagues will realise that the case to serve the interests of the many against the interests of the few is much more powerful in the wider context of the EU than in the parochial context of the UK.
Go for it – JC!
For now – Holdenforth suggests an approach along the following lines.
The key policy elements of the remain camp to be:
- Persuade enough dissident Tory MPs to trigger the toppling of Mrs May.
- A intent to reverse the events of recent years and a wholehearted wish to get back to business as usual within the European Community.
- The subsequent general election / second referendum to be fought in a spirit that would combine a readiness to acknowledge that the two main parties have made some appalling errors of judgement in the past few years – a point made powerfully by Matthew Parris – and a readiness to debate the issues rather than to swap slogans.
One last point. Sadly the irate response from Brenda from Bristol back in the spring of 2017 struck a chord across the country. I sadly suspect that the perception of many voters about ALL politicians – from committed remainers through the apathetic middle to the committed leavers – is that since politicians don’t worry about the voters why should the people worry about political matters – even when the key political issue is the future of the UK.
Many voters resemble apathetic observers of a mega spectacular acrimonious divorce.
Image Courtesy of The Times