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Westlake Legal Group > Conservative history

Richard Ritchie: It is futile to ask where political giants of old would have stood in today’s chaos

Richard Ritchie is the author of a recent history of a secretive group of Conservative MPs called The Progress Trust (Without Hindsight: A History of the Progress Trust 1943-2005). He is Enoch Powell’s archivist and is a former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate. He was BP’s director of UK Political Affairs

Anyone who has had the privilege of a close association with a political Giant of Old must be accustomed to the question “And what would ‘X’ or ‘Y’ be saying or doing now?”

Normally, it is possible to give a reasonably objective answer, and always with the important qualification of “all things being equal”. But of course they never are “all equal”, which is why nobody knows for certain how any figure of the past would react to a contemporary event.

Some politicians, however, are more careful than others to provide future generations with material on which to speculate. For example, one might argue from Churchill’s past speeches on Europe that today he would have been either a fervent remainer or brexiteer – both sides of the debate have indeed claimed as such. It is difficult, however, to banish the suspicion that their selection of the great man’s quotes are largely driven by their own political objectives, and often with less regard to when they were actually said.

In the case of Enoch Powell, with whom I worked, I always add the qualification, when asked “what would Enoch be saying now”, that it depends on what stage of his career you are speaking. When Powell started off in politics, he was an imperialist. He wished to govern India and maintain the Empire. But being young with a political future ahead of him, he abandoned this principle when it was no longer tenable – and being Enoch, he abandoned it dramatically, logically and conclusively.

I have sometimes wondered whether he would have acted similarly over Europe, had he embarked upon a political career in the 1970s. I have always thought it possible that he would have adapted to a loss of sovereignty in the same way as he adapted to loss of Empire. Of course, nobody knows. But there is at least enough material on which to construct a case for the possibility.

There is one sense, however, in which the question “what would they be saying now?” is especially difficult to answer at the moment. That is because we can no longer rely on the conventions of the past, which in turn is mostly due to the European curse – for better or worse, membership of the EU has eaten away at Britain’s unwritten constitution. And that is why we now seem to be confronted on a daily basis with one constitutional aberration after another which, only a few years ago, would have been considered unthinkable.

In the space of a matter of weeks we have had a Government accused of breaking the law, in contempt of the courts, and in contempt of Parliament; but at the same time we have a minority Government with no control of its business in the House of Commons but denied its right to hold an election in order, as it would argue, to honour the result of a referendum.

Were they alive, the great Parliamentarians of the past – the Powells, the Foots, the Benns – would have been at the forefront of these events. But nobody can be sure of what they would be saying. Perhaps it’s helpful to consider Powell again in this context – not because he is more important than many others, but because he vividly illustrates the difficulty of making parallels with the past.

Most people would surely assume that were he alive today he and his supporters – MPs like Ronald Bell, Dick Body, Nick Ridley and possibly John Biffen – would at this juncture have supported leaving the EU with no deal, although even that is uncertain had they believed in the veracity of the Yellowhammer document’s warnings. It’s worth recalling, for example, that the reason why Powell supported Macmillan’s effort to join the Common Market in the 1960s – unlike many in his Party who were already objecting to the political implications – was that he feared that our trade with Europe would be threatened outside the group.

With the global liberalisation of trade and the developing political ambitions of the European Union, his mind changed. But given his extreme distrust and dislike of America and his championing of Ulster, one shouldn’t assume that even Powell would have been sanguine over the economic dangers of leaving “without a deal.”

But whatever his views on this, it’s hard to believe he would have challenged Parliament’s right to try and prevent it. He and his friends would have been aware of every legitimate political trick and device available to thwart the Government, and provided their perpetrators acted in accordance with precedent they would have upheld their right to do so, however much they disagreed with their purpose. After all, that was the concept of Parliamentary sovereignty which all shared at the time. However dangerous and unwise it might be, Parliament has the undoubted right to ignore the result of a referendum and repeal any Act it has passed. Retribution, if deserved, will follow at a general election.

Except that now we are denied a general election – and this is something Powell could never have conceived. I am sure he would have considered it unconstitutional for a minority Government, having lost control of the business in the House of Commons, to continue in office. It is not without precedent for an Opposition leader to refuse to take over from a Prime Minister in difficulties. But for a failing Government without a majority to be denied a general election by its opponents would have been unthinkable to Powell or any of his contemporaries.

Neither could any of them have conceived of a Speaker who only respects Erskine May when it suits him and who regularly criticises the Government, even when on holiday. Powell often criticised the Speaker of his day for failing to observe precedent or to preserve Parliamentary standards of behaviour, but always in private. However, I think with Speaker Bercow he would have moved a vote of censure against him.

Above all, neither he nor any politician of his generation could ever have imagined a measure such as the Fixed-terms Parliament Act of 2011 reaching the statute book. They would have regarded this Act as madness from the start – they would not have needed the benefit of hindsight.

That does not mean, however, they would have approved of this particular prorogation. Powell and most Tories of the past would surely have been concerned that the precedents created today would prove extremely dangerous under a socialist government. Whether they would have agreed that this was a matter properly to be considered by the courts is a different matter – of course, for Powell the Supreme Court did not exist, and the high court was Parliament itself with a proper Lord Chancellor in office.

But when it comes to how we ended up in this situation, what would Powell, Foot, Richard Crossman, or Tony Benn have said? Powell would have started off by saying, unhelpfully, “I told you so”. Conservative governments are not expected to meddle with the constitution. But that is what a Conservative Government did when it acceded to the Treaty of Rome in 1972: from henceforth it’s been downhill all the way, and now Heath’s (or should I say the Nibelung’s) curse continues to wear away the Norns’ thread of destiny. Powell would have undoubtedly believed this.

But the existence of a legislative Parliament in Scotland; a referendum result which opposed the policy of a Government on a fundamental matter of principle; a partisan Speaker; a fixed-term Parliament; the island of Ireland now divided not only between Unionist and Republican but between the competing political regimes of the EU and the UK – this means that any revered Tory politician of the past would, today, be completely out of his depth. No point in asking what Enoch, or anyone else, would have done in today’s circumstances. We just don’t know.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

A big question about Hong Kong – and even bigger ones about migration and China

We have been here before – at least, in a manner of speaking.  In 1989, the then Conservative Government granted British citizenship to some 250,000 people from Hong Kong.  There was a paradox to the decision: Ministers’ intention was not that they should enter Britain under the scheme.  Rather, this was that it would encourage them to stay in Hong Kong, by giving them certainty about their future, thus halting a mass exodus.

The gambit was sparked by doubts about whether China would honour the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, under which the two countries agreed terms for the transfer of Hong Kong, and which was due to come into effect in 1997.  It worked.  Tensions simmered down, and there was no mass take-up of UK passports.

But there has always been a giant questionmark against China’s honouring of the “one country, two systems” provisions within the declaration.  It is highly visible now.  Two years ago, the country’s Foreign Ministry described the declaration as an “historical document, [which] no longer has any practical significance, and does not have any binding effect on the Chinese central government’s management of the Hong Kong”.

It is unlikely that China will presently send troops into Hong Kong, and formally tear up the commitments enshrined in the join declaration.  But the possibility exists, now or in the future: it is currently showing videos of troops massing on Hong Kong’s borders.  This is part of its response to pro-democracy protests, which were concentrated originally on opposition to an extradition bill, under which suspects could be sent to China for trial.  But the aims of demonstrators spread wider: they demand the free election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and legislature.

In essence, the settlement left by the joint declaration is unstable. For example, Hong Kong has a legislature of which only half the seats are directly elected.  And although China has powerful incentives not to tear up the “one country, two systems provisions” – which would do its Belt and Road initiative abroad no good – the people of Hong Kong cannot be sure what the future will hold.

Hence the proposal by Tom Tugendhat and others to grant British citizenship to the 169,000 or so British Nationals Overseas in Hong Kong.  Some want a bigger offer: the Adam Smith Institute also proposes to “open up the application process to the 4.5 million Hong Kong nationals”.  Some, a smaller one: the Sun wants Britain to admit “the best and brightest in the small territory”.  It might be that such a scheme would have the same effect as that of 1989: in other words, to encourage people to stay in Hong Kong rather than leave for the United Kingdom.

Then again, it might not – either now or, far more likely, in future.  And the context in Britain has changed since 1989.  Some, very largely but not exclusively on the left, support all migration, pretty much.  Others would welcome a big influx of hard-working, family-orientated, Hong Kongers: this has an appeal for parts of the right.  But even though public concern about immigration seems to have eased off recently, there is reason for caution.

As the Migration Observatory puts it in one of its headline findings: “British views are not favourable towards immigration and a substantial majority would like immigration to be reduced”.  Furthermore, Government policy is in flux.

Boris Johnson wants to scrap Theresa May’s unmet pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, and promises Dominic Cummings’s fabled Australian-style points system instead.  But it is far from clear what numbers this plan would produce – and numbers, though not everything in immigration debate, are much.  And the system faces a daunting challenge in any event.

The Government now says that in the event of a No Deal Brexit – arguably now the most likely outcome – free movement will end immediately, which would certainly be popular with many voters.  However, it isn’t apparent what system will be used to distinguish between EU nationals who have applied for the new settlement scheme and those who haven’t, to name only the most obvious of the problems bound up with immediate change.

In 1989, Norman Tebbit led a backbench revolt against the passport plan for Hong Kongers. It was less successful than advance publicity suggested.  But there is no guarantee that the outcome would be similar this time round, were the more ambitious of the Hong Kong schemes to be tried.

Ultimately, the problem of how to respond to China over Hong Kong is a sub-set of the problem of how to respond to it more broadly – which points to the wider debate over Huawei, China, our infrastructure and national security.  We could and should, as in 1989, offer some passports to Hong Kongers.  But, as then, the should and must be strictly limited.

Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that the Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty, registered at the United Nations.  Which means that third parties have an interest in upholding it, however distant.  In the case of Donald Trump, this might not be remote at all, given his stance on China.

Boris Johnson is due to see Trump soon – and frequently, given the mutual interest in a trade deal.  The former ought to put Hong Kong on the agenda.  Admittedly, the President is no fan of more migration to America.  But it just might be that there is an Anglosphere offer to be made to Hong Kongers on a bigger scale than Britain could make alone.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

A big question about Hong Kong – and even bigger ones about migration and China

We have been here before – at least, in a manner of speaking.  In 1989, the then Conservative Government granted British citizenship to some 250,000 people from Hong Kong.  There was a paradox to the decision: Ministers’ intention was not that they should enter Britain under the scheme.  Rather, this was that it would encourage them to stay in Hong Kong, by giving them certainty about their future, thus halting a mass exodus.

The gambit was sparked by doubts about whether China would honour the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, under which the two countries agreed terms for the transfer of Hong Kong, and which was due to come into effect in 1997.  It worked.  Tensions simmered down, and there was no mass take-up of UK passports.

But there has always been a giant questionmark against China’s honouring of the “one country, two systems” provisions within the declaration.  It is highly visible now.  Two years ago, the country’s Foreign Ministry described the declaration as an “historical document, [which] no longer has any practical significance, and does not have any binding effect on the Chinese central government’s management of the Hong Kong”.

It is unlikely that China will presently send troops into Hong Kong, and formally tear up the commitments enshrined in the join declaration.  But the possibility exists, now or in the future: it is currently showing videos of troops massing on Hong Kong’s borders.  This is part of its response to pro-democracy protests, which were concentrated originally on opposition to an extradition bill, under which suspects could be sent to China for trial.  But the aims of demonstrators spread wider: they demand the free election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and legislature.

In essence, the settlement left by the joint declaration is unstable. For example, Hong Kong has a legislature of which only half the seats are directly elected.  And although China has powerful incentives not to tear up the “one country, two systems provisions” – which would do its Belt and Road initiative abroad no good – the people of Hong Kong cannot be sure what the future will hold.

Hence the proposal by Tom Tugendhat and others to grant British citizenship to the 169,000 or so British Nationals Overseas in Hong Kong.  Some want a bigger offer: the Adam Smith Institute also proposes to “open up the application process to the 4.5 million Hong Kong nationals”.  Some, a smaller one: the Sun wants Britain to admit “the best and brightest in the small territory”.  It might be that such a scheme would have the same effect as that of 1989: in other words, to encourage people to stay in Hong Kong rather than leave for the United Kingdom.

Then again, it might not – either now or, far more likely, in future.  And the context in Britain has changed since 1989.  Some, very largely but not exclusively on the left, support all migration, pretty much.  Others would welcome a big influx of hard-working, family-orientated, Hong Kongers: this has an appeal for parts of the right.  But even though public concern about immigration seems to have eased off recently, there is reason for caution.

As the Migration Observatory puts it in one of its headline findings: “British views are not favourable towards immigration and a substantial majority would like immigration to be reduced”.  Furthermore, Government policy is in flux.

Boris Johnson wants to scrap Theresa May’s unmet pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, and promises Dominic Cummings’s fabled Australian-style points system instead.  But it is far from clear what numbers this plan would produce – and numbers, though not everything in immigration debate, are much.  And the system faces a daunting challenge in any event.

The Government now says that in the event of a No Deal Brexit – arguably now the most likely outcome – free movement will end immediately, which would certainly be popular with many voters.  However, it isn’t apparent what system will be used to distinguish between EU nationals who have applied for the new settlement scheme and those who haven’t, to name only the most obvious of the problems bound up with immediate change.

In 1989, Norman Tebbit led a backbench revolt against the passport plan for Hong Kongers. It was less successful than advance publicity suggested.  But there is no guarantee that the outcome would be similar this time round, were the more ambitious of the Hong Kong schemes to be tried.

Ultimately, the problem of how to respond to China over Hong Kong is a sub-set of the problem of how to respond to it more broadly – which points to the wider debate over Huawei, China, our infrastructure and national security.  We could and should, as in 1989, offer some passports to Hong Kongers.  But, as then, the should and must be strictly limited.

Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that the Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty, registered at the United Nations.  Which means that third parties have an interest in upholding it, however distant.  In the case of Donald Trump, this might not be remote at all, given his stance on China.

Boris Johnson is due to see Trump soon – and frequently, given the mutual interest in a trade deal.  The former ought to put Hong Kong on the agenda.  Admittedly, the President is no fan of more migration to America.  But it just might be that there is an Anglosphere offer to be made to Hong Kongers on a bigger scale than Britain could make alone.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Asher Glynn: One-nation Conservatives should stay and fight for our Party

Asher Glynn is a Conservative Party member and founder of the Liberal Conservatives.

Since the resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister, one-nation Conservatives have had a tough time in the Conservative Party.

Theresa May wanted to be a one-nation Prime Minister, but was at the mercy of the European Research Group throughout her time in government and failed to implement any policy with the cloud of Brexit over her premiership. The election of Boris Johnson has caused many one-nation Conservatives to leave the Party, and in some cases, join the Liberal Democrats.

However, we one-nation, Liberal Conservatives want you to stay and fight.

To those who have left us, or are considering leaving, we understand your frustrations with the party. We find it difficult that our Home Secretary has previously supported capital punishment. We find it difficult having a Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State who has called feminists “bigots”. We find it difficult that the government is fully championing a no-deal Brexit. We have the same frustrations as you.

However, we are optimistic about the future of the Conservative Party. Despite not leading government anymore, the official One Nation Caucus, led by MPs Nicky Morgan and Nicholas Soames, among others, now make up over one third of the parliamentary party. This group of MPs also includes some senior cabinet ministers such as Matt Hancock, Amber Rudd, and Robert Buckland, leading their departments in a one-nation way.

This group is working very hard to win the battle for the soul of our party, and they need our support.

In the leadership contest, Boris Johnson and many of his supporters, such as Johnny Mercer, pledged that he is a one-nation Conservative, and would govern as one. He also responded to letters from the caucus and the Tory Reform Group about his one-nation credentials and plans. In these letters, Johnson claimed to be “liberal”, “progressive”, “compassionate” and “moderate” and with 66.4 per cent of the Conservative party membership, and over half of Conservative MPs, supporting him on this pledge, he has a clear mandate to govern in this manner.

As one-nation Conservatives, our mission is to unite people. Benjamin Disraeli talked about how Britain had become two separate nations: one poor and one rich. His idea about One-Nation Conservatism was to re-unite these two nations in order to create one harmonious country.

Brexit can be seen in a similar way with our country separated into two nations: the 52 percent and the 48 per cent. As Disraeli proposed in 1845, one-nation Conservatives need to follow in our founder’s footsteps and re-unite Britain with a one-nation Brexit. We Liberal Conservatives have taken the view that the best way to do this is to do Brexit as quickly and as well-managed as possible, with a deal. If we are to get out of this mess as unscathed as possible, we all need to compromise and step back from our ideological positions to come up with a solution.

Brexit, however, is not what one-nation Conservatives are in politics for. There are people on both sides of the EU debate that share our values, but it is not what drives us in politics. We have a vision for a pragmatic and liberal Britain with equality of opportunity at the heart of every policy we make. Only under a one-nation Conservative government will you see a strong economy, social freedoms and sound public services, and this is what drives us to remain in the party and fight for our values.

We created our page to counter the infiltration and blatant entryism seen by Leave.EU and former-UKIP members. Arron Banks, co-founder of Leave.EU, boasted about putting 20,000-25,000 members into the Conservative party to vote for the hardest Brexit candidate and to deselect one-nation Conservative MPs.

We are clear that we don’t want to be Blue-UKIP, and that these people that have joined our party just to kick talented MPs out are not Conservatives and should be kicked out. If centrist members leave the party, the only people left in are the hard right, who would like to see Nigel Farage as Prime Minister and wouldn’t mind our precious Union splitting up.

This is why we are writing to you today, to stay in the party and fight for our party to return to being a one-nation Conservative party again, rather than turning into a UKIP tribute act.

We recently set out our ten Liberal Conservative values on our Twitter page, and we invite you to go and read them.

We do not want people who are not Conservatives to join. That is the entryism that Leave.EU and Arron Banks have inflicted on our great broad-church coalition. But, if you are not a member, but support our values as shown on our twitter page, please join the party to support our vision and aims.

To those members considering leaving, the only way to avoid a Jeremy Corbyn government and to make Boris Johnson govern as a one-nation Conservative is to stay and fight from within, where we have real influence and power.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Sunder Katwala: What Onward’s new report really tells us about the prospects of a post-liberal conservatism

Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.

“You know there are times, perhaps once every 30 years, when there is a sea-change in politics”, said Jim Callaghan, the last Prime Minister to be forced to the polls by losing a vote of no confidence, during that 1979 campaign. “It then does not matter what you say or do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of. I suspect there is now such a sea-change – and it is for Mrs Thatcher”.

Forty years on, the think-tank Onward detects another “sea change” in attitudes, away from freedom and towards security. The Onward report, ‘The Politics of Belonging’, targets libertarian “freedom fighters”, perhaps worrying that Boris Johnson’s liberal instincts may give them more of a hearing than Theresa May ever did.

Onward do present compelling evidence of broad public scepticism that the free market is working fairly. The public are sceptical about globalisation, about privatisation, what technology means for working life – and whether the rich have earned their rewards.

Leave out party brands and the reputations of political leaders, and public intuitions lean leftwards, across generations, social classes and referendum divides. Lecturing those who were born decades later about the Winter of Discontent will preach only to the converted; those who believe in the market are going to have to do rather more to engage with those who feel that opportunities to earn and own do not extend to them.

The findings on social attitudes are a mixed bag. Presented with a set of binary choices by the pollsters, people would prioritise “security” to “freedom” by two to one – but prefer “change” to “tradition” too (with the over-55s narrowly disagreeing), despite regarding the growth of cities as rather more a bad than good thing. Asked to attribute lower marriage rates to either a decline in family commitments or more personal choice, respondents chose the former, combined with a strikingly broad consensus across generations that gender equality has not gone nearly far enough yet.

The poll framing sometimes steers pretty hard: respondents unsurprisingly prefer “gradual change that preserves what matters” to “embracing radical change” (with no countervailing reason cited).

Frustratingly, the Onward report does nothing to try to stand up the central claim of a ‘sea change’ in attitudes, since it contains no information of whether or how any of these attitudes have changed over time. This snapshot poll of 2019 attitudes can offer eye-catching findings about what people think now and maybe some clues, in comparing views across generations, about the direction of travel.

But the Onward narrative depends heavily on an untested assumption that “freedom” would have trumped “security” had the public been asked that across the last few decades. That premise appears implausible.

Public attitudes can be cyclical – favouring more attention to inequality and public services when Margaret Thatcher was in power, before becoming more sceptical of taxation and redistribution under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The dramatic dip in the public salience of immigration since the 2016 referendum may reflect a similar “thermostatic” dynamic. What is almost certainly the case is that the British public in 2019 are as socially liberal as they have ever been, while having never been nearly so socially liberal as the political and professional classes.

Some attitudes shifted slowly. The death penalty may have been abolished in 1968, but three-quarters of people approved of it into in the last 1980s, before support finally dipped below 50 per cent in 2014. Attitudes to gay rights changed later and much faster: two-thirds of people feel same-sex relationships are “not wrong at all” but fewer than a quarter held that view when Tony Blair came to power. These social changes sometimes accelerate or mildly slow down, but the long-term sea-change towards these foundational liberties does appear irreversible.

Casting Thatcherism as a libertarian project leaves a lot out. The Iron Lady may have carried a copy of Hayek in her handbag, but she combined economic liberalism with a vigorous social conservatism, underestimating the tensions between these two strands of her project. British Conservatives no longer fight all of the cultural battles that she did. Legislating “section 28” against the pro-lesbian “loony left” has given way to declaring solidarity with those celebrating Pride.

The British right is also keen to disavow the ugly overt stoking of racial grievances that increasingly characterises Donald Trump’s Republican takeover – without yet fully unravelling the puzzle of why Tory suggestion that commitments to family and faith should appeal to socially conservative ethnic minority voters has often been received with mistrust.

If Trump’s populism offers an identity politics of grievance and resentment, a new politics of belonging on the British right might eschew an arid “bring backery” and attempt the more challenging task of a moderate, post-liberal communitarianism, now seeking conserve liberal advances against discrimination, while meeting the appetite for shared identity and integration in a liberal society. If the Onward report is structured around binary choices, the appetite for freedom has always depended on a foundation of security, as reflected in responses to both 9/11 and the financial crash of 2008.

The shadow of an imminent general election looms over this report. If two-year parliaments become the norm, longer-term relationship-building which might expand electoral coalitions in time risk becoming a deferrable luxury.

Few Conservatives anticipated the scale of generational polarisation which arose out of Brexit in 2017 – and Onward have been at the forefront of worrying about the long-term existential headache that this creates. Yet the party may find itself in a snap Brexit election pragmatically conceding the cities and the under-40s graduate vote to their opponents, this time at least.

This volatile political context puts a more foundational question to a politics of belonging. Is this mainly an instrumental exercise in party strategy and vote maximisation – or is there a broader social motive, which might seek to reduce the intensity of political polarisation too?

There is an appetite for a politics of belonging in a society as anxious about social fragmentation and division as Britain today – especially one which seeks to close the identity and contact gaps between the towns and the cities, across the generations, social classes, and ethnic and faith groups. Politicians across all parties recognise that by using the rhetoric of One Nation in polarising times – but may decide they need to fight and win one more campaign before embarking on the task of trying to bring people together again afterwards.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Sheila Lawlor: Johnson, like Churchill, must seize the chance of his lifetime

Sheila Lawlor is the Director of Politeia, a historian and the author of Churchill and the Politics of War, 1940-41.

In the battle for the Tory leadership there has been one focus for attack: Boris Johnson’s judgement. We’re told he can’t be trusted; he lacks judgement; he is irresponsible, unpredictable. Though politicians and press can be a jealous bunch, the vendetta against Johnson has been in a class of its own. But now, as the contest reaches its close, their attack raises a serious point – which is in Johnson’s favour.

For what Britain needs now is not a safe pair of hands, but a leader who can seize the moment. A leader to bring this country the freedom from the EU for which it voted in 2016, just as in May 1940 Churchill – himself having been written off as a failure and political opportunist – seized his moment. It should be looking for a prime minister who has the head, the heart and the sheer boldness to cast himself in the historic role to rally the nation to win its freedom in the biggest test since that time.

In 1940, Churchill’s CV read like a litany of failures. He had switched parties (twice), causes, allegiances, political tunes. There seemed to be only common thread – opportunism. He had played to the gallery, deployed a language that broke the rules, and time and again misplayed his hand in a bid to move ever closer to the power that eluded him. From being the enfant terrible of his party, Churchill had become a grown-up liability.

Then came the chance of his lifetime.

French and British troops massed in France waited for Hitler’s next move westwards – a stalemate broken only by the disastrous British raid on Narvik. Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister on 10th May, 1940. The same day the ‘real’ war in the west began. Hitler invaded France, Holland and Belgium; German tanks could be at Britain’s doorstep in weeks. Of the two candidates, Lord Halifax, a remote figure in the upper chamber, had the extra disadvantage of being in the Government now under attack. Churchill, in the Commons, could command the support of its critics, Labour MPs and Tory ‘glamour boys’ who had parted with the Government, while also bringing most Conservative MPs, begrudgingly, with him. Besides, he could rally the nation, and what had been the failing of his lifetime, that he loved war, would now play to his strength.

Some things today will be trickier today for the new Tory leader than they were in 1940. The Parliamentary Conservative Party has had little leadership. Out of step with its membership, abandoned by its voters and at odds with the quiet and instinctively conservative sentiment of the nation, the Conservative-led governments and MPs have seemed to sidestep the great issues their party has always stood for – the constitution that protects freedom and order, sound money and a small state – pandering instead to the ragbag of fads and interest groups.

To make matters worse, MPs and ministers waged war on the constitution to defy the authority, derived only from the voters, over Brexit. Not only did the Government fail to honour the country’s Brexit decision, but it made common cause with its opponents.

The question for Party members is whether, as in Churchill’s case, Johnson can move on to shape the future, to be part of the history about which both men have written. Though opponents suspect Johnson, as they did Churchill, of being an opportunist, some nonetheless have turned to him. Is it a leap in the dark? Or is it a choice that in retrospect will appear both inspired and almost inevitable?

Johnson appears to understand what marks out Great Britain, irrespective of politics, irrespective of period: its voters are a quiet, obstinate lot, for whom a certain kind of freedom matters, not that of banners or marches, but the freedom to protect their way of life, their laws, their system of government. The freedom to be left alone. The battle for Brexit is a battle for the country’s, and their own, freedom – the right to determine how they are governed, by whom, whether they can shape the laws that forge and reflect their way of life – something Theresa May’s deal or its variants would not do.

As in 1940, the time has come to finish the job. But, unlike then, people today are angry, and their anger is directed not against the EU, which has only acted in character in seeking to do down a democratic decision, but against their own leaders who wanted to surrender sovereign power to a foreign state.

Had Churchill not become Prime Minister in 1940, the political obituaries would have written him off as too often on the losing side: a failure, in war, a failure in peace, a disreputable politician in coalition, a minister who stoked class hatred in the General Strike, a chancellor who ran down the defences to build houses, not battleships. By contrast, Johnson’s record is more promising, but it is not his record that now matters.

Does he understand that this is a time like no other for this country and its people? Is he, like Churchill, ready to ‘walk with destiny’? The signs are that he is.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

George Freeman: Our new book. In which forty Tory MPs band together to help revive conservatism

George Freeman is the founder of the 2020 Conservatives Group, the Big Tent Ideas Festival and Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum. He is MP for Mid-Norfolk.

The Conservative Party is in a hole. We need to stop digging. And start thinking seriously about the real causes of the EU referendum result, the grievances it spoke to – and set out a plan to honour that referendum result by leaving the European Union and setting out a bold programme of domestic reforms.

The EU referendum was a massive vote to reject the political status quo and embrace radical, small c conservative reform. The 17.4 million Labour, Conservative and unaligned voters who voted Leave were voting for radical change. The genius of the Leave campaign was its call to “take back control”. It spoke powerfully to huge swathes of the country feeling marginalised by a potent mix of globalisation, post-Crash austerity, an influx of low paid labour from Eastern Europe, the decline of traditional market towns and high streets, fear of economic marginalisation from automation and the gig economy and a deepening despair at a sense of injustice at the gap between the “unaccountable elites” and the ordinary citizen.

Brexit spoke to – and has enshrined – the principle divide in Britain which is no longer between Left or Right, or North and South, but between those with comfortable lives and those on the margin.

This is hardly surprising. After eight years in office overseeing painful local public spending cuts, in the wake of the £700billon bank bailout, MPs expenses scandal and Blair’s dishonest Iraq war dossier which have entrenched a sense of Parliament dangerously detached from the people it serves, the Brexit referendum was a roar for reform. A number of us had been warning David Cameron and George Osborne it was coming.

Handled properly it could – and should – have been a catalyst for that most difficult of political challenges: renewal in office. But Cameron misjudged the mood and treated Leavers with contempt. Theresa May misjudged the mood as a mandate for a toxic combination of hardline anti-business UKIP rhetoric and bureaucratic Brexit bungling.

Now we choose a new leader in the teeth of a deepening public anger and pressure – whipped up by Farage and Banks – the Dick Dastardly and Mutley of British politics – to embrace the “kamikaze” approach of an anti-business No Deal Brexit.

Get this wrong, and we risk the destruction of the Conservative Party for a generation: losing our professional, business, metropolitan and liberal supporters to the Liberal Democrats, our Leave supporters to the Brexit Party and those who just want competence in office to stay at home in despair.

If we are to avoid gifting a broken Brexit Britain to Jeremy Corbyn, John Mcdonnell and Len McClusky, the next Conservative leader has to do three things:

  • Deliver an EU Withdrawal which a majority of moderate mainstream British voters in the centre ground can support
  • Embark on some bold domestic reforms to tackle the legitimate grievances which fuelled the Referendum vote
  • Restore some grip, vision, inspiration and unity to a divided country and Party.

The scale of the revolt against the status quo demands bold reform. Not the technocratic tinkering and endless self-congratulatory initiative-launching of Ministers looking busy on Instragram, but real reform.

This is a 1975, 1945, 1905 moment of profound disruption. The old order will be replaced by a new order. The only question is who will shape it? Can the Conservative Party make this a moment of bold and inspiring renewal in the same way that Mrs Thatcher and Keith Joseph did in 1975, Attlee, Churchill, Beveridge and Butler did in 1945, and Churchill and the Liberals did in 1905 to see of socialism by creating pensions and national insurance?

Too often, we forget that the great institutions we cherish as permanent were once mere ideas – whether the NHS, the BBC, the London Docklands, universal suffrage, the Right to Buy or the privatisation of the old state industries. They were bold ideas which reshaped a whole generation and quickly became permanent fixtures.

When was the last time any modern politician had an idea on the scale of any of these? We now face a genuine battle of ideas with a resurgent hard left and we need urgently to rediscover the power of political imagination.

So what would a bold programme of Conservative reform look like today? In our book Britain Beyond Brexit: a New Conservative Vision for a New Generation, published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, I and forty MPs from all sides of the party – Leave and Remain, North and South, left and right, urban and rural – have set out a collection of pieces to frame that programme.

Our book sets out a range of policy proposals across six defining themes we believe must be at the centre of a coherent and compelling narrative for the New Conservatism: identity, opportunity, enterprise, social justice, security and citizenship.

Of course, many may ask: is the Conservative Party capable of that task, amid the seemingly endless and deepening divisions of the Brexit civil war?

The successes and failures of a post-Brexit new conservatism will be based on understanding the profound societal, economic and technological changes coming at us. Not how we return to the old dividing lines of the 1980s or 1950s, but how we address the profound challenges of our age: issues such as globalisation, digitalisation, genetic engineering, sustainable development, religious extremism and the traumatic rupture of the crash and its legacy on our public finances.

We have got to be brave enough to tackle the big issues of the day. Low and fragile growth. A fragmented health and care system. Structural deficit. Intergenerational unfairness. Deepening anxiety, disillusionment and despair. Rising pressure on weary public servants in creaking public services. Stubborn ghettos of low aspiration and deprivation. Housing unaffordability, homelessness and small town decline. Sluggish infrastructure. Bad planning.

For our elderly – and the families and community of carers who look after them, we need a fair system of funding and providing elderly care. For the young, the urgent priority is addressing housing and the wider issue of economic disenfranchisement. Put simply, we’ve built an economy where the principal mechanism for building economic security – owning a home – is getting beyond the reach of all but the most privileged. Is it any wonder that a whole generation of millennial voters – with little or no chance of acquiring a house or any capital – are seduced by the rhetoric of anti-capitalism?

We face a genuinely historic challenge: are we going to make Brexit a moment of catalytic renewal of conservatism and our nation? Or a moment of annihilation by a new alignment of a new generation of voters?

To avoid a decade of decline in a post-Brexit Britain run by Corbyn, we urgently need a new conservatism for a new generation.

I hope our book will help light the way.

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WATCH: 40 years ago today, Thatcher became Prime Minister

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Richard Ritchie: Brexit. Four great Commons debates that show how we got here – and what’s at stake.

Richard Ritchie is the author of The Progress Trust (Without Hindsight: A History of the Progress Trust 1943-2005). He is Enoch Powell’s archivist and is a former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

The reading of past debates in Hansard is a salutary exercise. I learnt this in researching my recent history of The Progress Trust where I was constantly impressed by how often political arguments seem to repeat themselves. But no more so than on the question of Europe.

Before joining the European Community, the Commons held three debates on the question of principle – four, if one includes the debate concerning the Labour Government’s refusal to countenance the Schuman plan in June 1950. All of them were considered historic by their participants. The final debate lasted six days (21st – 28th October 1971), sitting often until 2am and on one occasion until 7am.

In passing, it’s impossible to ignore changes in Parliament’s character between then and now. In 1971, speeches were still of unlimited duration, there were far fewer female contributions, and the Speaker (unlike now) was polite and impartial. The only time a Speaker came near to issuing a rebuke in all these debates was when Selwyn Lloyd on October 27 1971 exploded “It is really not tolerable that the Rt. Hon. Member for Leeds East (Denis Healey) should continue to interrupt from a sedentary position.”

But what strikes one most is how, with hindsight, the inevitability of today’s crisis is apparent. The issue of sovereignty was always acknowledged as crucial, and politics took precedence over economics from the start. Moreover, the Commons was always divided on the issue, with a constant sense from opponents of entry that the Government of the day was exceeding its democratic mandate.

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The debate on the Schuman Plan is instructive, because it shows how the Conservatives were as willing as Labour to say one thing in Opposition, and another in Government. Churchill criticised the Labour Government for its refusal to consider a plan which he himself, as Prime Minister, was to judge unacceptable. The kernel of the argument was whether Schuman’s plan necessitated a “supra-national authority” as claimed by Attlee, but denied by Churchill who described it as “an odious phrase.”

And yet, Churchill took Attlee’s view once he regained office. Incidentally, it was during this debate that Edward Heath made his maiden speech, urging the Labour Government to “go into the Schuman Plan to develop Europe and to coordinate it in the way suggested.” Heath, at least, was always consistent. The most striking comment was uttered by the left-wing intellectual, Richard Crossman – “The amount of enthusiasm for federal union in any country is a measure of its defeatism and of its feeling of inability to measure up to its own problems.”

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It was not until Harold Macmillan’s attempt in 1961 to join the ‘Common Market’ that the Commons again fully debated the principles involved – although only in respect of authorising negotiations. The debate contained many interesting statements, including Macmillan’s assurance that “it is quite unreal to suppose we could be compelled suddenly to accept a flood of cheap labour.”

Of special relevance to today was the distinction between applying for membership under Articles 237 and 238 of the Treaty of Rome. The Labour Party preferred the latter because it simply meant joining ‘a customs union’. But as Macmillan pointed out, this amounted to no more than becoming “country members” (it was typical of Macmillan to use a club analogy). He continued: “it would raise all the same problems without giving us any position in which we could share in the decisions of the Community in all its aspects.” In other words, precisely the same objection as is made today of Theresa May’s approach.

On the economic side, the debate was between those who feared economic exclusion from a large market, and those who felt this country was betraying its farmers, and the Commonwealth. On the political side, the argument was over sovereignty. Derek Walker-Smith was the main Conservative opponent of entry, urging the Commons to consider “the direction and destinations” to which membership would lead, and emphasising that “for the Community economic union is a prelude to political union.”

He was not alone in warning of what came to be known as the ratchet effect. The word ‘sovereignty” was discussed frequently during this short two debate in August. It’s a myth to suppose it was of lesser concern in 1961 than in 1971 or indeed today. And from the start, it was divisive. As the Conservative MP Sir Robin Turton warned, “there are hundreds of thousands of Conservatives who hold the views that I hold” on sovereignty, and continued “I fear that the Government will split not only the Commonwealth but the Conservative Party.”

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Because this attempt to join the Common Market was blocked by de Gaulle, the Commons was never required to debate the actual terms of entry. By the time Harold Wilson launched a second attempt to join the Community in 1967, there was a greater appetite to debate in detail the economic dimension.

A three day debate took place between 8th and 10th May, by which time Edward Heath was leader of the Opposition. While resentful of the lack of support offered by Labour to his negotiations in 1961, Heath offered the Government almost unequivocal backing on condition that, as he had stated a few months earlier, Wilson’s application was based on full acceptance of “the Treaty of Rome, the common external tariff, the abolition of the internal tariff, the common agricultural policy and the movement towards economic union.”

Wilson opened the debate with a speech lasting nearly one and a half hours, and most of it was devoted to economic matters relating to agriculture, the movement of capital and the Commonwealth. On the political dimension, Wilson was mostly interested in how membership would affect relations with Russia, and issues of peace and security in general. He was less concerned with ‘sovereignty’ although he did make the extraordinary claim that “by far the greater part of our domestic law would remain unchanged after entry.”

There was also greater concern than in 1961 over the dangers of exclusion. Sir Alec Douglas-Home argued “the country is in danger of being put out of business” although he conceded that “the difficulties of grafting Britain on to a Community which will achieve complete integration by 1970 are much greater than they would have been five years ago.” By 1967, immigration was also a much bigger issue than in 1961, but this did not prevent Wilson from echoing Macmillan in his emphasis that “the Government do not believe that there is likely to be any large net increase in the number of EEC nationals coming here to work.”

Backbenchers of both parties preferred to debate the issues of principle. Duncan Sandys, for example, was the precursor of Michael Heseltine in arguing that “in this age of super-states, Britain by herself is no longer in a position to exercise any really effective influence in international affairs.” Socialists such as Michael Foot feared a capitalist conspiracy (just as Corbyn does today). Internationalists argued that internationalism does not “reside behind tariff walls.” And it was the Ulster MP Captain Lawrence Orr who expressed most succinctly the sovereignty concern: “It is a loss of sovereignty which can never be regained. Once we sign the Treaty and are in, every kind of sanction could be used against us, and would be used against us, if we sought to abrogate it.” The Labour MP Manny Shinwell urged that more attention be paid “to what is being said on the other side, on the Continent”, a warning ignored by the Foreign Secretary, George Brown, who stated “we expect to get in.”

But what distinguished this debate from its equivalent six years earlier was that Conservative opponents of entry tabled their own critical amendment, albeit unsupported by the official Opposition. While only 26 Conservatives supported the ‘rebel’ amendment (although 62 MPs voted against the application itself), it was the first manifestation of divisions to come. Before leaving the 1967 debate, the temptation to quote Percy Grieve, Dominic Grieve’s father, is too great to resist in illuminating the family atmosphere in which his son grew up: “The changes in law resulting from accession to the Community would not affect the ordinary man or woman in this country, who simply would not realise the changes resulting in the laws dealing with commerce and restrictive practices.”

– – –

Everyone was agreed that the final debate of principle, in 1971, was different from its predecessors because here Parliament was asked to approve a final decision to join “the European Communities on the basis of the arrangements which have been negotiated.” Inevitably, therefore, the debate was not just about the principle but also the terms of entry.

The consequence of this was an inordinate amount of time was taken up by a boring quarrel between the two front benches as to whether Harold Wilson and the Labour Party had again changed their minds and could have negotiated something better. Wilson denied the former, and asserted the latter. Heath and the Conservatives in turn accused Wilson of subterfuge and lack of principle. It was a forerunner of what we are seeing today. Wilson had no more chance of winning better terms in 1971 than Corbyn has in 2019. But the farce of pretending otherwise has to be enacted, while the issues of principle are evaded.

However, a six day debate afforded plenty of opportunity to debate every angle, and the arguments expressed on this occasion retain a resonance for us today. Dennis Healey described the debate “as the end of the beginning of an argument which has lasted for more than 15 years.” Peter Shore put it better in saying “I sense that neither here nor in this country are we at the end of this great debate but rather at the beginning.”

When it came to the economic dimension, the quarrel was over familiar ground, although regional policy had assumed greater importance for Labour because of its radically different approach. Also, this debate contained for the first time detailed discussion over Britain’s net contribution to the EEC Budget, which the Government was keen to downplay but where Labour was ultimately vindicated – culminating in Margaret Thatcher’s struggle to reduce this country’s net contribution in 1984. Nevertheless, much of this argument was about statistics, growth rates and forecasts about which, like today, neither side had any justification for certainty. One could almost substitute the numbers cited then for the numbers extrapolated now, and be none the wiser. As in 1967, for Sir Alec Douglas-Home the question was simple: “Where do we find the jobs for our people unless we take advantage of an opportunity like this?”

But the political implications were not to be crowded out by disputes over “the terms” or economic projections. These implications now included to a greater extent than before the issue of defence, as Heath was suspected by an increasingly unilateralist Labour Party of planning an Anglo-French nuclear force. Essentially, the sovereignty argument was still between those who, like Keith Joseph, believed “it will never be requisite upon us once we are in the Community to take any decisions, or to join in any decision, against our national interest”; and those like the Labour MP Michael English who pointed out that “if every member of the Cabinet had a right of veto, there would be no Cabinet decisions.”

A Conservative MP called Peter Trew predicted “The British people could find themselves on a bandwagon travelling in a direction not of their choosing and at a speed which they could not control.” Tony Benn argued that defence and foreign policy “are to be put in for harmonisation with tariffs and taxation.” Derek Walker-Smith referred to “the new fashionable expression” of ‘elitism’ and concluded “If this is the product of elitism – government by community decree, with Parliament a rubber stamp – new elitism is old autocracy writ French. If this is elitism, then give me democracy.”

– – –

So, what are the main lessons of these debates for today’s MPs? It was Benn who said in the debate: “I think that history is unlikely to confirm any of our certainties expressed, and that what the historians will want to know is how deeply we thought about the possibilities.” Events have occurred which were not fully perceived. Perhaps the most important is the unification of Germany and the break-up of the Soviet Union. The second is the enlargement of the EU. It is harder now than then to argue that the EU does not embrace most of Europe. Another development not fully acknowledged was Scottish nationalism, although the Tory MP Lieutenant Colonel Colin Mitchell (known to his contemporaries as “Mad Mitch”) got it right when he argued that “nation states are being eroded, but are being eroded not only from above but from below as well, and with the weakening of nation states there are supra-national groupings and sub-national independence movements.” The Northern Ireland border was hardly discussed, although Stanley McMaster, the Unionist MP for Belfast East, feared the movement of labour from Eire to Ulster.

But just as striking are the similarities. For example, then as now there was concern over Britain’s influence in any alternative grouping. The Labour MP Ronald Brown, who was George Brown’s younger brother, stated “I object to this country joining any grouping (such as EFTA) in which we have a subordinate role. This is the great value of our joining Europe, that we will be on equal terms with our partners.” This is precisely what is argued by today’s critics of ‘Norway-plus’ and its variations. It was also frequently argued that the Government failed to listen to the Community. One can’t help wondering whether it would not have been better for everyone if the advice of “people of some authority” in the Common Market, quoted by George Brown in 1961, had been followed: “If you are coming in believing that this is no more than an economic arrangement, we would much rather that you did not come in.”

Finally, there is the issue of public consent. There were just as many complaints then as now over the Government’s attempts to influence public opinion and the illegitimate use of taxpayers’ money. There were frequent calls for either a general election or a referendum. Benn again put it best when he said “There are such sharp differences of opinion within each party that it would not be possible to decide the issue at a general Election, even if the leadership of the two major parties were taking contrary views.”

That was the dilemma then, as it is today. Parliament and Parties have always been divided on this issue. ‘Sovereignty’ was always the key concern, despite arguments over its meaning. The question now is whether those divisions within the Conservative Party which have been apparent ever since Macmillan made his first application (and before) are finally bringing about its destruction. If so, nobody can say they weren’t warned.

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