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Westlake Legal Group > Theresa May MP

Nick Hargrave: As a Tory moderate, I’ve been tempted to give up on Johnson’s Conservatives. But here’s why I’m sticking with them.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

For all the talk of a new age of populism, many senior Conservatives seem to have fallen for that very Westminster myth of a binary culture war. That the British people fall into two neat camps of Leave and Remain. That both sides foam at the mouth with passionate intensity for these causes. That the country is fraying through this division. That we’re angry and we all hate each other. And that no political party in this country can ever win power again unless it squarely picks a side and tells the other to get stuffed.

Now, of course there is a values divide in our country today on the issue of identity. But if you really think that this trumps everything else in the daily lives of the British people then, frankly, you need to get out a bit more. There is a reason why Holly Willoughby, Gareth Bale and Ed Sheeran have much bigger social media followings than Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson. Only a few years ago, we used to say that the average voter spent just a few minutes each week thinking about politics. Now we argue that it is all-consuming.

Go to any focus group right now, or better still talk to an ordinary voter, and you will find that bemusement trumps bellicosity almost every time. Westminster has gone mad, but most people in the country just want this nightmare to be over – and for politicians to get back to tangible, relatable, deliverable, aspirational, outcomes-based policies that help them and their families live a better life.

We won an election on this platform in 2015 a mere 13 months before that supposed turning point referendum. It is crackers that Conservative MPs are spending more time now talking about free ports and SPS checks on agri-foods – than they are about making childcare cheaper for the parents of zero to two-year olds.

If you are a Tory – an anti-No Deal MP, a Cameron-era member or a wavering Lib-Dem switcher – who yearns for a return to this moderate normality then there are more reasons to be optimistic about the future of the party than you might think. The party leadership has done a good job of trying to alienate you since the summer with their words and deeds. But for people still weighing up whether to stay or go elsewhere, I still believe there is a clear case for sticking with the Conservative Party in the years ahead.

First of all, contrary to appearances, the Prime Minster is actually on your side of the argument. He backed Leave in 2016 because he wanted to position himself with the party membership for the future – rather than because of a neuralgic obsession about our customs relationship with the EU. He ran a leadership campaign aimed squarely at the party’s Brexit-centric voting shareholders because he knew that was the only route to Number 10. But as well as being a political opportunist, Boris Johnson has always had an intuitive grasp of the public mood. As said recently, once we leave the European Union he wants to focus with “an absolute laser like precision on the domestic agenda”.

These are not the words of a man who is looking to spend the next decade grappling with dramatic divergence or Government by Operation Yellowhammer. He knows there aren’t very many votes in it. He patently wants to get a withdrawal deal done, go to the country with a sensible retail domestic platform, win a decent majority  – and then use that mandate to put trade talks in the second tier, minimally divergent in the short-term box they belong.

All the while he will focus on schools, hospitals, housing and crime as domestic priorities instead. For those who say this is impossible given the pressure from his backbenchers – Canada good, Norway bad – I would only say that it is amazing what a healthy majority can do for your powers as Prime Minister. And who knows what the EU itself will look like in five years’ time.

Second, the prospect of leaving the European Union with a deal by October 31 – or shortly after with a brief technical extension- is under-priced at the moment.  It is the least politically difficult for Johnson of all of his options now.

The UK and the EU27 are also less far apart on the substance than suits either side to say. There is a way through on the much obsessed backstop that puts lipstick on the original proposal of limited future divergence in the Irish Sea. So much of the reason that this was a non-starter for Theresa May was that she knew she would never fight another election and her future was bound with the favour of the DUP. That is not true for Boris Johnson in quite the same way. That is before you get to the logical argument that Northern Ireland’s history since its construction in 1921 has been based on evolving and imaginative constitutional flex – that recognises the profoundly unique circumstances of the past.

Third, with a bit of strategic direction in the 2020s, it is perfectly possible to make the Conservative Party’s membership more reflective of the country at large. This in turn has an impact on what front rank politicians in the party end up saying and doing. Boris Johnson beat Jeremy Hunt by a margin of 45,497 votes in the last leadership election. The numbers involved are not enormous. If you want the next candidate of moderation to overturn that deficit then that is the equivalent of recruiting 70 odd supporters per constituency in England, Scotland and Wales in the intervening period. At £2.09 a month by direct debit, with minimal obligations for boots on the ground activism, that is a pretty sellable insurance policy for the future of your country.

Finally – and simply – the perfect should never be the enemy of the just about bearable in a first-past-the-post electoral system. This is not a time to take any chances. If you don’t think Jeremy Corbyn running the fifth largest economy in the world is a good idea then your vote at the next election should be exercised wisely.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that I agree with everything the Conservative leadership have said and done in recent weeks. It would also be dishonest to claim that the thought of voting Liberal Democrat did not flicker momentarily as we’ve veered towards knuckle-head, pound-shop Orbanism – rather than the finest traditions of Conservatism. But for all that noise, I am not sure the task of recapturing those traditions is as out of grasp as commonly supposed. That’s why I’ll be voting Conservative at the next general election and retaining my membership; I’d thoroughly recommend you do too.

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

Why the best course open to Johnson may be for him to resign as Prime Minister

It wasn’t the failure to deliver Brexit that did for Theresa May.  It was something even bigger: breaking her word.  She pledged over a hundred times that Britain would leave the EU on March 29, and it didn’t.  She then said that she was not prepared to delay Brexit later than the end of June, but did.  She declared that it would be “unacceptable” for European elections to take place, but they happened.  She denounced Jeremy Corbyn as a threat to the country, but then sough to deliver the Withdrawal Agreement by making a deal with him.

The most elemental trope about politicians, as Lord Ashcroft’s latest focus groups confirm, is that they are all liars.  So it came about that May dragged the Conservatives down to nine per cent and four MEPs in those Euro-elections.  Tory poll ratings slumped to 20 per cent.

It is Boris Johnson’s promises to take Britain out of the EU by October 31, “do or die”, that has dragged the Conservatives up the polls by their bootstraps.  If he backtracks on it, there can be no doubt that, once again, the Tory ratings will slide into the abyss, and drag him down with them.

By the time the Party crawls out, it would not only find a Marxist Labour Party in its place as the government but, in all likelihood, that the Brexit Party has supplanted it as the county’s main right-of-centre electoral force.  And the Conservative Party’s century-and-a-half run as the most enduring governing party in the world would end.

So it comes about this morning that the Prime Minister writhes amidst the grandmother of all pincer movements.  One the one hand, he cannot implement an extension.  On the other, he cannot (or rather, must not) break the law.  He must choose between the unspeakable and the unthinkable.

Now it may be that he can somehow slip out of the pinch.  Some ingenious means of doing so are being floated.  One is use of the Civil Contingencies Act.  The latest is that Johnson send a letter with the letter of extension contradicting the letter of extension.  Some are reduced to hoping that an EU state simply deploys a veto.

One suggestion put to this site by a reader, apparently in all seriousness, is that he send the first by carrier pigeon, so that it arrives after the deadline.  It may be that the Prime Minister and Dominic Cummings have a plan instead that will really fly.  But when matters reach this pass, you know that the game is up.

A Cabinet Minister this morning is reported quoting Sherlock Holmes: “how often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”  Quite so, though not perhaps in the context that the Minister intended.

If Johnson cannot deliver Brexit by October 31, and is barred from doing so by law, there is only one practicable course left open to him: to resign as Prime Minister.  “I won’t break the law,” he must tell the British people.  “But I won’t break my word either.  If Corbyn wants to sign this surrender document, so be it: I won’t.”

Johnson’s hope would be that the Labour leader requests and obtains an extension; that the Commons keeps him in place only for as long as it takes Corbyn to do so; and that it then brings him down in a no confidence vote, paving the way for an election in which Johnson marginalises the Brexit Party and sweeps the board.

There are problems with this course.  The first is that the plan might not work at all.  The anti-No Deal majority in the Commons might of course not let Corbyn become Prime Minister – even briefly, to request and obtain an extension.  It might settle on someone else instead (Ken Clarke?), with unforeseeable consequences.

The second is that it might work too well.  Corbyn indeed becomes Prime Minister, requests an extension and get it.  But the anti-No Deal majority in the Commons, fearing a Johnson victory at the polls, does not then no confidence Corbyn.  Instead, it props him up and keeps him in place, at least for the time being.

And as the weeks drag on, Johnson himself is subjected to a leadership challenge – in which the voluntary party, which backs him, would have no say.  It might well not be successful.  But even so, the consequences for the Party are necessarily unknowable.

It will also be asked: what’s the point of seeking to avoid a Corbyn Government by trying to put in a Corbyn Government?  The question is a good one.  But as so often in politics, we must find the least bad answer rather than search for the perfect one, which doesn’t exist in any case.

The choice may come down to the possibility of Johnson resigning as Prime Minister, Corbyn succeeding him briefly to agree an extension, and Johnson then sweeping a general election…or the certainty of Johnson, were he to agree an extension, consigning himself to the disposal dump of history, and perhaps the Conservative Party too.  Some will say that instead of disdaining the Brexit Party as a competitor, the Tories should embrace it as a colleague instead, and merge the two into an electoral alliance.

We will probe the matter later this week.  But one thing’s for sure: such a pact would have no bearing on the choice that now Johnson seems to face: request an extension, and you destroy yourself (and perhaps your Party too).  Don’t request it, and you break the law (and it doubtless happens anyway).   If there is an escape from this trap other than resignation, we would love to know what it is.

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

Jonathan Clark: Brexit. Is democracy at risk?

Jonathan Clark was a Fellow of Peterhouse; at Oxford, he was a Fellow of All Souls College; latterly he has been Visiting Professor at the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago, and Hall Distinguished Professor of British History at the University of Kansas. His latest book is a study of Thomas Paine.

Observers agree that this is the most impassioned episode in British politics for over a century. But it has been so under David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson alike. The last alone is not to blame. Why, then, is it so bitter? We ought to be able to debate whether GDP will be slightly higher or slightly lower in 15 years if we leave or if we remain in the EU without expulsions, mutual denunciations, threats, and lawfare. Other things are at stake, far beyond economists’ guesswork. At least two are at issue, for the Brexit crisis is at its heart a proxy war.

The first is democracy itself, for two conceptions of it are widely held in the UK, representative and direct. In 2019 they collide. What are they?

Representative democracy assumes that Parliament once seized sovereignty from the King, and the Commons then seized it from the Lords; or, alternatively, that if the People once had sovereignty, they surrendered it completely and for all time to members of the Commons, who, collectively, now have absolute authority. Being wise and restrained patricians, MPs rule in the national interest. This theory looks more unpersuasive the more one explores it.

Direct democracy assumes that sovereignty resides with autonomous individuals thanks to God’s gift or to Nature – thoughtful individuals who know all they need to know in order to govern, and who exercise their authority just as they please via universal suffrage. Again, this theory is not wholly plausible. Which of the two predominates is likely to depend on practice more than on theoretical argument.

Practice depends on logistics, and these continually develop. Representative democracy seemed obvious in days when communication was slow and expensive. Members of the Commons might visit their constituencies seldom. The franchise was restricted, newspapers reported little, the actions of most MPs at Westminster were seldom in the public eye. Members were unpaid, so normally had to be rich: they were seldom inclined to defer to the poor. But all that was long ago.

From the mid-1990s, and increasingly every year, the internet has transformed everything. For the first time, it is possible to conduct opinion polls in a shorter time than it takes MPs to file through the division lobbies. For the first time, I can watch my MP speak live in the Commons, or in a recording. I can monitor her every vote. I can email her almost instantaneously (I have even exchanged brief emails with one distinguished MP while he was in a debate). Thankfully, my MP is admirable, in her labours both in Parliament and in her constituency. But for voters who differ from their MPs, the potential for active involvement is far greater than ever before.

Kenneth Clarke speaks for the old school of Parliamentarians in insisting that the referendum of 2016 was merely advisory. But he is out of date. The European Union Referendum Act 2015, which made the arrangements, nowhere said that. Nor did the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. No legislation has ever provided that votes cast in general elections are merely advisory either. On the contrary, the electorate decides things.

We can only deduce the advisory status of referendums by implication, from the premise ‘Parliament is sovereign’. But no Act of Parliament can establish parliamentary sovereignty, any more than Kenneth Clarke can rise into the air by pulling on his shoelaces. Since the People elect members of the Commons directly, by binding votes, and of the Lords indirectly (via elected members of the Commons), it might plausibly be argued that the People are sovereign.

Yet representative democracy is widely championed, and here lies the second great point at issue: a culture war, over what might be called the recent hegemony of social democratic values. It was not so in 1962 when Anthony Sampson published his famous Anatomy of Britain; it shaped the subsequent understandings of ‘The Establishment’ as a closed social circle of the public school and Oxbridge educated who staffed the boardrooms, Parliament, the judiciary and the church.

But a wind of change has swept over Britain as well as over Sampson’s beloved South Africa. The public schools and Oxbridge are still there, but captured for other purposes. Rank derived from birth and class now derives from style and political correctness. The old boy networks are replaced by the luvvie networks. Sampson himself (Westminster and Christ Church) became a Social Democrat during the 1980s.

Set aside the party label; its opponents perceive a state of mind shared by larger numbers of people. They are the commentariat. They allegedly run the media, the universities, the civil service, the judiciary. They are not, indeed, socialist: that would be too uncool an ideology for the twenty-first century. But they are not democrats either, and instinctively reject the outcome of the largest democratic exercise in British history, the referendum of 2016. To them this is ‘populism’, the opposite of themselves.

In this sense, say their opponents with ever clearer definition, social democrats are ‘anywheres’ rather than ‘somewheres’: they have no particular loyalty to a country, let alone Bolsover or Sunderland. They encourage mass migration and multiculturalism. They have places in the sun. They countenance divorce, sex change, and gay marriage. They are secularists who favour religions that are loud against religious establishments. The EU suits them perfectly. Its Roman Law tradition fits their world view, since it works down from grand statements of principle; England’s common law tradition worked up, from specific concrete entitlements. In their eyes, social democrats champion correct, modern, enlightened values. These entail membership of the EU.

Against this perceived social democratic hegemony have developed two great protests: Momentum, and the Brexit movement. To simplify, Momentum wants real socialism; Brexit wants real democracy. They can only achieve either by championing an old ideal that now becomes a new one: the People are sovereign.

Both these conceptions of democracy are plausible, but flawed. They have historic force, but they are contradictory. A collision was inevitable sooner or later. What better ground on which to fight than the UK’s membership of the EU?

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

The Jo Johnson resignation: not fratricide, but the most logical and honourable response to an intolerable conflict of interest

Jo Johnson supports his brother’s One Nation domestic agenda. He strongly approves of the new Prime Minister’s plan to recruit more police officers, teachers, doctors and nurses, while also promoting the dynamic economy needed to pay for them.

The new administration’s friendlier attitude to foreign students, and emphatic backing for science, likewise meet with his warm approval.

In 2016, when Boris Johnson announced at what was expected to be the launch of his leadership campaign that he would not after all be standing, there was Jo Johnson among the relatively small group of MPs who had turned out to support him.

And at this summer’s launch, there was Jo among the by now far larger number of MPs who had decided to back Boris, and who see him as a brilliant leader who will be a brilliant PM.

Why then is Jo standing down as a Conservative MP and minister? The answer for him as for a number of others is Europe. They are appalled by the risk of a no deal Brexit.

To them, the Conservatives ought not to be a party of ideological risk-takers.

Last November, Jo Johnson resigned in protest at Theresa May’s approach to Brexit. In his resignation statement, he said:

“Brexit has divided the country. It has divided political parties. And it has divided families too. Although I voted Remain, I have desperately wanted the Government, in which I have been proud to serve, to make a success of Brexit: to reunite our country, our party and, yes, my family too. At times, I believed this was possible. That’s why I voted to start the Article 50 process and for two years have backed the Prime Minister in her efforts to secure the best deal for the country. But it has become increasingly clear to me that the Withdrawal Agreement, which is being finalised in Brussels and Whitehall even as I write, will be a terrible mistake.

“Indeed, the choice being presented to the British people is no choice at all. The first option is the one the Government is proposing: an agreement that will leave our country economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business. The second option is a ‘no deal’ Brexit that I know as a Transport Minister will inflict untold damage on our nation. To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis. My constituents in Orpington deserve better than this from their Government.”

He went on to remark that he and his brother were “united in fraternal dismay”. But he also warned Boris that a “no deal” outcome simply would not do:

“A ‘no deal’ outcome of this sort may well be better than the never ending purgatory the Prime Minister is offering the country. But my message to my brother and to all Leave campaigners is that inflicting such serious economic and political harm on the country will leave an indelible impression of incompetence in the minds of the public. It cannot be what you wanted nor did the 2016 referendum provide any mandate for it.”

There is a striking strength of feeling in these words. Jo Johnson has spent most of his political career being singularly uncommunicative with the wider public, as I noted in a profile of him for ConservativeHome in 2013.

But that does not mean he lacks convictions. He has resigned because his profound loyalty to his brother cannot be reconciled with his profound opposition to a no deal Brexit.

The press interprets this as fratricide, betrayal, a Shakespearean tragedy. It is actually the most logical and honourable response to an intolerable conflict of interest.

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

Interview. McLoughlin – Hunt’s former campaign Chairman, lifelong One Nation Tory – backs Johnson’s suspensions

Sir Patrick McLoughlin has defended the Prime Minister’s right to withdraw the whip from Tory MPs who refused last night to support the Government.

McLoughlin, who chaired Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaign and is the only person ever to have served both as Conservative Party Chairman and as Chief Whip, said “Leadership is about making some very tough decisions” and Tory MPs cannot “just carry on ad nauseam debating this issue”.

He said with deep emotion during this interview, carried out yesterday morning so before last night’s Government defeat, that “I just don’t think we can carry on like we have been doing”.

He added that what is happening to One Nation Toryism is “terrible”, and the party must not become a Brexit party, but in order “not to become a Brexit party we have to deliver Brexit.”

McLoughlin defended David Cameron against the charge that calling the referendum was just a way to fix the problems of  the Conservative Party. He pointed out that Tony Blair and Jack Straw had previously raised the idea of a referendum, the Liberal Democrats had committed themselves to one in their 2010 manifesto, and Labour as well as the Conservatives voted for the referendum which was actually held.

ConHome: “You are the only person to have been both Chief Whip and Party Chairman?”

McLoughlin: “I think I probably am. I don’t think anybody else has been punished like that.”

ConHome: “What’s your view of the Government’s proposal to withdraw the whip from those who don’t support it today?”

McLoughlin: “I regret very much that it’s come to this. But the truth is that if the Prime Minister decides something is a matter of confidence, having just got the overwhelming endorsement from his party to lead it, then I think he has the right to do that.

“Leadership is about making some very tough decisions. I think this is a very tough decision and I wish it wasn’t necessary.

“So I don’t come to it with a sort of ‘Yes, let’s do this, bring it on.’ It’s very much a regret, and it’s very much with sorrow, because some of the people we’re talking about have been good, loyal Conservatives.

“But I just don’t think we can carry on like we have been doing. That is part of the problem.”

ConHome: “Friends of ours like Alistair Burt make the point that ‘we’ve been through the lobbies three times to support this deal, and there are all these characters who haven’t, including the Cabinet ministers who abstained on key votes and helped to bring about the deterioration in discipline.’

“They’ve got a point, haven’t they?”

McLoughlin: “Yes they have got a point. I won’t publicly go, but there are some people who I find absolutely staggering, what they’re calling for.

“But the job for the Prime Minister is not necessarily to look at individuals. And sometimes life is tough. But he is taking the position that we promised…

“All these people voted to implement Article 50. And, you know, we’ve had a six-month delay which cost us very dear. They’re now talking about another three-month delay.

“Well I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the next three months that’s not happened in the last six months.

“And I just think we’ve got to move on from this. I’m sorry we’re leaving the European Union. I still remain sorry we’re leaving the European Union.

“But we gave the people a chance in the referendum. And I just would like to say one other thing as well.

“Everybody says the reason David Cameron did this was to try to a) thwart Farage and b) to reunite the Conservative Party.

“It is just worth remembering that in 2010 the Liberal Democrats had an In/Out referendum in their manifesto, and when we actually moved to the referendum the referendum was supported by the Labour Party as well as by the Conservative Party.

“It was never just in my view a ‘try and fix the Tory Party’ scenario.”

ConHome: “When the whip’s removed, the tradition is you remove it on a vote of confidence, and without trying to peer too far into the future, if the Government loses, do you expect the PM to go immediately for a general election if he can, or wait for Second Reading, or wait for the Lords to get its teeth into the Bill, or what?”

McLoughlin: “Well ‘I don’t know’ is the answer to that.”

ConHome: “I’m just trying to establish if it’s really a vote of confidence or not, even if the Fixed-term Parliaments Act…”

McLoughlin: “Well I think the Prime Minister can say I regard this as a vote of confidence in my leadership, and that’s what he’s doing.

“It is not in the technical sense of the word a motion of confidence, as required by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

“But it is a motion of confidence, because the Prime Minister says ‘I regard this as a motion of confidence’.”

ConHome: “I mean presumably without encouraging you to speak up for the deselection of endless numbers of Conservative MPs, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander here.

“And if he comes back with a deal, and it’s opposed by some Conservative MPs, he would be entitled to remove the whip from them, would he not?”

McLoughlin: “One step at a time. We’re dealing with today at the moment, and tomorrow will be a different day. The logic of that, which is what your article basically says today, is that would be the case.

“I think one’s got to be always cautious about using these things, and I’m sure that a lot of thought has gone into it, and I hope they’ve considered all the consequences.

“Because as I say I very much regret it has come to this. But I also don’t think we can just carry on ad nauseam debating this issue, which we seem to have done, some people say for the last three years, actually it’s been more like the last four years, following the 2015 election when the referendum was first promised.”

ConHome: “If a very senior member of the party is reselected by their association, as the former Chancellor was last night, but they vote against the Government today, they could be finding that reselection vote is in vain, could they not?”

McLoughlin: “That’s my understanding, but I know Philip Hammond seems to have a different view.”

ConHome: “Is there going to be a general election this year, and if so, when?”

McLoughlin: “I think it’s looking very likely there will be a general election, and I only know from what everybody is saying, October 14th, a Monday, which would enable the Prime Minister, whoever he is, to go to the [European] Council that weekend.”

ConHome: “Though that’s not been said on the record.”

McLoughlin: “The only thing I know about this election, unlike the last election, is what I’m reading in the newspapers.”

ConHome: “Just as a former Chief Whip who’s used to watching the Opposition the whole time, what do you think the Labour Party’s going to do if it comes to a general election vote?

“Because part of the point of having an election before October 31st, if there is one, is Labour can’t say ‘We’re not voting for this, because if we do there’ll be a no deal Brexit’. That excuse has been removed from them, so they’re going to have to vote for this.”

McLoughlin: “I would have thought so. I don’t understand this new nuance that somehow we should wait until after 31st October.

“Because if there was an election on 14th October, then that allows for the Prime Minister, whoever he is, to go to the European Council on the 17th.”

ConHome: “And if the election comes before Brexit, presumably the Brexit Party will stand as many candidates as they can, arguing you can’t trust the Tories.”

McLoughlin: “Well look, all that we can do, if the Brexit Party stand in every seat, which they may well do, they may take some votes.

“But it’s a bit like at the last general election, when everybody thought the UKIP vote would come to the Conservatives. It didn’t wholeheartedly come to the Conservatives, it was quite mixed, and in some areas it did, you know the Mansfields and the places like that.

“I remember talking to you after that election, pointing out we’d won some seats that we haven’t won for 70 years.

“So look, this next election will not be like the 2017 election and it won’t be like the 2015 election. No elections are. They’re all individual entities, fought very much as things are then.

“And this will be a very quick election. The 2017 election was too long.”

ConHome: “How comfortable do you feel about where the party is now?

“If there’s an election, going in on a manifesto that’s pro-Brexit, possibly, actually, with a reasonably good relationship with the Brexit Party, Leave voters might find this prospectus attractive, but there would be tremendous problems with former Remain voters, London, the south.

“You’ve been a One Nation Tory all your working life, and you’re seeing that bit of the Tory coalition in peril.”

McLoughlin: “It’s terrible. It is not a nice scenario. I’m not doing any of this with glee.

“But I also think that governments have to govern, and you know, that’s what we said in the referendum, what we would do, and I don’t think we can rejudge that.

“I famously used that line at the Cabinet meeting, which David Cameron’s used since, saying I’ve always wanted to live in Utopia – the only trouble is I’d wake up and find the European Union was still there.

“But I also respect the right of the Prime Minister to say, ‘We’ve fought an election, that election was on leaving on the 31st October, I’m determined to deliver that.’”

ConHome: “How do you think he’s doing? As Jeremy Hunt’s former campaign chairman.”

McLoughlin: “I think he’s doing very well. He’s trying not only to address the Brexit issue, but he’s also trying to address the other issues that needed addressing anyway.

“Such as education funding and also what he’s saying about the Health Service and other issues.

“So I think what you see in Boris is someone who does actually want to move on to the other agendas as well, and perhaps he feels we’re being sucked into one issue and one issue alone.

“I said a few months ago the Conservative Party must not become a Brexit party. I definitely believe that. But for us not to become a Brexit party we have to deliver Brexit.”

ConHome: “That suggests you think under the previous regime all collective discipline by the end had completely broken down.”

McLoughlin: “I wouldn’t say all discipline. I almost think, looking at this now in hindsight, and with the benefit of hindsight, I almost think we had to go through that to get where we are.

“And don’t forget, Theresa May became Prime Minister because everybody else faded away. That’s how she became Prime Minister. And I think she carried out the job with incredible dignity, and I will never criticise Theresa, because I think she was trying to do an incredibly difficult job.”

ConHome: “How is she now? I saw you talking to her yesterday.”

McLoughlin: “I saw her briefly yesterday. She seemed fine. I think when you consider for nine years she’d either been Home Secretary or Prime Minister, with all the constraints that has on life, I look at Philip and I look at Theresa and I think they are people who are of the Conservative Party, were the Conservative Party, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for her.”

ConHome: “You’ve already touched on David Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum. It was in fact disastrous, would you say?”

McLoughlin: “No, because I think again, that is something we probably needed to do… Blair was the first person to start talking about referendums, Blair and Straw.

“So this isn’t something that DC woke up one morning and thought, ‘This’ll sort everything out.’ It rarely does.”

ConHome: “You are going to stand again, aren’t you?”

McLoughlin: “I very much hope to stand again.”

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The end of the Conservative Party as we have known it

  • The roll-call of 21 rebel Conservatives from whom the whip has been removed includes two former Chancellors of the Exchequer, one of which held the office only a few weeks ago, the other being one of Margaret Thatcher’s public service reformers; four other former Cabinet Ministers (plus one “entitled to attend”); a former Attorney-General and a former Deputy Chief Whip; all the others bar one have been Ministers.
  • Their expulsion leaves Boris Johnson 43 votes short of a majority.  This suggests a general election sooner rather than later, and one which may well take place without Brexit having been delivered.
  • Some of the 21 will stand down when it comes (including, we now read, Rory Stewart); others may might their seats as independent conservatives; some may seek a coupon arrangement with the Liberal Democrats; some may get a coupon and others, since the LibDems will already have many candidates in place, won’t.  Some may win; most probably won’t.
  • Other Conservative MPs of roughly the same outlook may also go, as Keith Simpson announced he will yesterday.  So will a slice of Association members – though not a large proportion of the whole, given the pro-Brexit views of most activists.  The Tory MPs of the immediate future looks to be more pro-Leave than today’s are.  In broad terms, the balance of the Parliamentary Party will shift rightwards.
  • To be more precise, the Conservative Party’s appeal at the coming election will be pitched, even more than in 2017, to northern, older and Leave-backing voters.  In a nutshell, the Party will become less economically liberal (a change that Ryan Bourne worries about in his debut column on this site today) and less socially liberal (on, say, crime and immigration).  Rejoice, Nick Timothy. Despair, Liz Truss.
  • If this appeal works, Boris Johnson, whose family background can fairly be described as liberal elite, will become Prime Minister of a more Trump-flavoured party, with Dominic Cummings presumably hovering in the wings: bent on delivering Brexit, more northern infrastructure, cash for “our NHS”, tough policy on crime, “an Australian-style points immigration system” and tax cuts for poorer workers.
  • And it is quite possible that Johnson will succeed – at least in England, which in turn could pave the way for a second independence referendum in Scotland and a border poll in Northern Ireland.
  • If he doesn’t, there will probably be no Brexit.  But the Conservative membership and Parliamentary Party as both stand are unlikely to let the project go.  Expect both to cling to it, as debate gathers about a permanent arrangement with the Brexit Party, for at least one more Parliament.  And popular support for leaving the EU is likely to remain substantial for the forseeable future.
  • It is hard to see this kind of profile playing well in London, most cities, among ethnic minorities, younger voters and in the prosperous parts of the greater South-East in which there was a high Remain vote in 2016.  The libertarian-flavoured bits of the centre-right, no less than what survives of the pro-EU Tory left, is going to struggle to have internal impact.
  • It is wisdom after the event to blame Johnson for a prorogation-and-whipping gambit that seems to have failed, and which looks to have profound consequences (after all, Philip Hammond and company are now unlikely to regain the whip).  But, frankly, Johnson was dammed if he did and dammed if he didn’t.  The Conservatives have tried the Theresa May way – seeking to please everyone.  That didn’t work either.
  • The recently-appointed Prime Minister deserves his chance to put his case to the people.  We backed him for the leadership precisely because we felt that, in the event of a snap election, he has the projection to pull off a surprise win – with the Brexit Party coming at him from one end, the Liberal Democrats doing so from another, the SNP on his back in Scotland, and Jeremy Corbyn waiting in the wings.
  • But the Party is going to have to think very hard about what to do if Johnson doesn’t succeed, Brexit is thwarted – and a Marxist Government takes office.  Maybe it should be beginning to mull about what to do if the voters won’t swallow a Canada-type approach.
  • In which event, it might want to start thinking again about an option which this site has always treated respectfully but critically: EEA membership.  Yes, as a policy it is deeply problematic.  But in a polarised Britain in which an a la carte arrangement with the EU won’t work, but the country retains its broadly Eurosceptic orientation, a future government might have to reach for a solution which is table d’hote.
  • Perhaps we are wrong in thinking that yesterday’s vote marked the end of a chapter in the Conservative story.  Maybe the expulsion of the 21 will have no wider effect.  Perhaps they and Johnson will kiss and make up.  Maybe Tory MPs will suddenly unite around a common position.  No: like you, we think none of that sounds remotely likely.  Today, Conservatives walk between two worlds, “one dead. The other powerless to be born”.

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Daniel Hannan: How to keep our pledges to the EU nationals who live here

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

Amid all the angst and acrimony, let’s cling to one area of agreement. All sides concur that EU citizens already in the UK should be allowed to stay here with the right to work and claim benefits as now. Labour and Conservative, Leave and Remain, everyone signs up to the principle. During the referendum, both the official Leave campaign and Arron Banks’s spoiler operation declared that, whatever happened, nothing should prejudice the rights of EU nationals who had already made their lives in Britain.

Indeed, the only politicians who seemed to have a problem with the idea were Theresa May and, oddly enough, Philip Hammond, who insisted on seeing the issue as part of a bargaining process. Not until 2018 did May finally agree to grant settled status to EU nationals, and months more were to pass before she was prevailed on to waive the £65 processing fee.

Boris Johnson, by contrast, always saw the issue in terms of trust and decency. At no stage has he wavered in that view. So what is the problem?

Like other politicians, I have been hearing complaints from EU nationals in in my region who believe they have had their applications turned down, despite being resident in Britain – in some cases for many years.

In fact, what we are seeing is a degree of bureaucratic friction. No one has a claim “rejected”; but some are asked for further proof of residence. Typically, a National Insurance number will do but, in some cases, other evidence is required: a bank statement, a council tax bill or similar.

Rather as when you open a bank account, it can be a pain to get exactly the right documentation together. Sometimes, even when you think you have done everything correctly, you run up against a “computer says no” glitch. In normal times, you would simply grit your teeth and submit whatever else was being asked for. The Home Office, after all, is known to be useless at little things.

These, though, are not normal times. Many EU nationals are still upset about the referendum result, and can interpret a request for more paperwork as a “no”. Some campaigners have, unhelpfully, sought to weaponise the issue. False claims about Brexit being driven by anti-immigrant hostility, rising hate crimes and so forth, have created a febrile atmosphere.

For what it is worth, Britons are likelier than almost any other EU nationals to see immigration as a net good. The number of us who view immigration as largely positive has risen significantly since the 2016 referendum. And despite claims of a “Brexodus”, there are more EU nationals here than ever. The newcomers plainly don’t believe that they will face a hostile atmosphere; nor, indeed, that economic growth is in jeopardy.

Still, the fact that some European citizens feel rejected, or even believe that they might face repatriation, is intolerable. We must fix it. What should we do?

We need to give people a clear sense of legal reassurance. Europeans who haven’t submitted the relevant paperwork should not feel that they have thereby missed the boat, or are somehow in danger of deportation. Imagine, for the sake of argument, a child of French parents who came here in infancy, and is currently in primary school. We must not allow a situation where, through oversight, such a child, years from now, could face a Windrush-type debacle.

How? I am no lawyer, but my sense is that we should emphasise the distinction between having a legal entitlement and exercising your rights under it. Alberto Costa, the Conservative MP who has led the campaign to establish the rights of EU nationals more clearly, gives the example of applying for a passport. You are British by right, but when you apply for a passport, you still need to establish that you are who you claim. In the same way, EU nationals should have settled status by right, though they will similarly have to prove who they are when they wish to (say) acquire a National Insurance number.

It is not an exact parallel, but the Spanish government ruled in 2015 that Sephardic Jews with Hispanic connections were entitled to citizenship – belated restitution for the expulsion of 1492. Those wishing to avail themselves of that right – as several thousand have done – still needed to submit documentation to prove that they had Sephardic Jewish heritage. But the right itself was not in dispute.

Whether we need primary legislation, or whether there is a neater method, others can judge better than I can. If, as rumoured, Priti Patel is about to announce a softening of the abrupt cut-off for EU nationals on 1 November, so much the better: it gives us the time we need. A clear legal entitlement will, I hope, settle the minds of the EU nationals resident here. It is the least we can do.

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Johnson’s critics are confronted by the dreadful possibility that he will make a success of Brexit

It is dawning on Boris Johnson’s critics that they may have underestimated him. Until recently, many of them were content to think, or at least assume, “Boris Johnson disagrees with me, therefore he must be stupid.”

There are innumerable variants of this argument. A favourite version runs, “Boris Johnson wrote articles for and against EU membership, therefore he must be an opportunist.”

Often the holders of such views are people of some education. Richard J. Evans, until 2014 Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, states in a piece published yesterday in Prospect that “Conservatives know Johnson is lazy, chaotic and superficial”.

Do Conservatives know this? I have often quoted Charles Moore’s description of Johnson as “a lazy workaholic”, but that is not the same thing.

Moore coined that expression in The Spectator in April 2012, near the end of Johnson’s successful campaign for re-election as Mayor of London. The whole paragraph is worth quoting, for it gives a better insight than Evans has yet acquired into Johnson’s conservatism:

“Like everyone, especially his old friends and colleagues, I can think of unkind things to say about Boris Johnson. He is a lazy workaholic — too busy doing things to do them thoroughly. He can be exasperating. But as the mayoral election campaign reaches its climax, I must dispute the central current criticism of Boris — that he does not really stand for anything. He may not have yards of clear policies, but his essential message is important and genuine. He believes in freedom, and has a strong preference for letting people get on with their lives without official molestation. He is equally genuine in seeing his voters as Londoners, rather than blacks, whites, Muslims, gays etc. In all this he remains the opposite of Ken Livingstone, who sees politics wholly in terms of groups who can be made his clients with public money and then enlisted for his relentless assault on this country’s liberty, identity and tradition. It is actually more important now that Boris should win than it was four years ago.”

But what of the claim by Evans that Johnson is “chaotic”? At the start of his mayoralty in 2008, things certainly were rather chaotic: he did not have competent people lined up for the key jobs at City Hall.

It appears to me he has learned from that mistake, and from the disorganisation of his abortive leadership bid in 2016. This year’s leadership campaign was professional, and he had competent people lined up for the key jobs in Downing Street.

Mujtaba Rahman reported at the start of this week on Twitter that “it seems the PM did manage to impress his German & French counterparts last week”, and quoted a “senior official” who said of Johnson:

“In terms of substance, it is clear he has dived into the issue far more than people think. The Boris that visited us was serious; the Prime Minister of a big country with a political problem he needs to resolve, well briefed, talking like a statesman.”

Nick Gutteridge, a Brussels reporter, endorsed this view, also on Twitter:

“PM Johnson has made a (some would say surprisingly) positive impression on the EU side in early contacts. There is some relief in Brussels and capitals to be working with a real political operator compared to Theresa May.”

When Johnson was Foreign Secretary, the press searched with energy for gaffes, and found some. The then Prime Minister gave him little responsibility, which meant gaffes were pretty much all that could be hoped for.

The buck now stops with Johnson. He bears a heavy responsibility, and it seems to suit him. Interviewers ask me sometimes (as one of his biographers) whether he will succeed.

The answer is that I do not know, so I tend to reply that he has been underestimated by his critics. His chances are better than their scornful verdicts would lead one to think.

A hysterical note enters their denunciations – see Stephen Fry, Hugh Grant, Philip Pullman et al on Twitter after the prorogation story broke – because they are trying to suppress their own growing doubts. The Prime Minister has not lived down to their estimate of him.

They are confronted by the dreadful possibility that Johnson will make a success of Brexit.

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Jonny Piper: Personal, unfiltered – and in your own voice. How politicians can use social media to speak to millions.

Jonny Piper was Head of Video at CCHQ between 2014-18, and most recently has been advising Jeremy Hunt on his leadership campaign.

As we touch down at Heathrow, my iPhone pings into life with hundreds of missed WhatsApp messages, reminding me I’ve not had signal for the past hour. After a quick scroll through Twitter, I pass my phone to the man sat next to me. Jeremy Hunt looks up after reading the tweets that I’d pulled out – ‘I’ll reply to those’ – and proceeds to start a Twitter conversation with Tim Montgomerie about his great aunt’s lemon drizzle cake.

Even after six years in digital communications working as part of the Conservative Party’s digital team, this was new. I’ve worked closely with Prime Ministers and senior Cabinet Ministers, yet I’d never seen such a refreshingly hands-on approach to social media, or its use in a relatable and personal way.

In Theresa May’s Number Ten, an op-ed in a newspaper meant hours of preparation, yet a tweet would always be an afterthought. I always found this bizarre – when a single tweet or Facebook post of pure and unfiltered messaging has the potential to reach millions of voters. At the end of his premiership, David Cameron’s Facebook page had over a million followers, with Facebook’s algorithm showing his posts not only to those who ‘liked’ his page, but to their friends and family too – meaning that a single post might reach millions of the UK electorate. In sheer numbers of people reached, there is simply no comparison to print.

There was one moment when I thought things had changed. Soon after the then Prime Minister stepped off stage in 2017 after coughing through her conference speech, I was called into her suite. I took a photo of her red ministerial box and the copy of her speech that she had been reading from moments ago, surrounded by cough sweets and throat medicine. Tweeting simply ‘*coughs*’, at the time it became her most liked tweet ,with over 30k likes and retweets, and was reported on by Sky and the BBC.

Finally, I thought, her team are starting to get it: they’re seeing the potential of showing some character through social media. But I was wrong. It would be one of the only instances in which her team allowed a glimmer of humour or personality to come through on her social account.

In politics, personality matters. We may wish that it’s purely policy or competence that makes one electable for high office but, to succeed in politics, people need to like who you are.

In the recent Conservative leadership campaign, one candidate was a political superstar, known for his newspaper columns and appearances on Have I Got News For You, a man who could find himself stuck on a zipwire but whose personality allowed him to weather any embarrassment. The other, a personality largely unknown by the electorate.

Yet I’d argue that in this campaign, free for the first time to talk policy and politics after nine years of collective responsibility, it was Hunt whose personality shone through. And it did so because he embraced a medium that allowed him to talk in his own voice – social media.

There is no other platform that is so direct. Speak to a newspaper, and a journalist can editorialise your quote. Speak to a broadcast camera, and the interviewer will press you on everything except your pre-planned lines.

But social media lets you have direct and complete ownership over your messaging and tone. You are in control. You can be funny, sassy, or start a debate or discussion. It’s the easiest platform on which to tell the world who you are, and in your own voice. To use it well, however, you have cut through the noise and talk to your audience, not at them. Sadly, too many politicians miss the mark by just regurgitating a press release into 280 characters.

Donald Trump has shown us that a single tweet has the power to make headlines, start debate and – if we’re not careful – international incidents. During the campaign, Jeremy pointed out to me that, for the first time in history, the entire United States wakes up knowing exactly what has kept the President awake that night. The US is perhaps more connected to a President than ever before.

In the private sector, such entrepreneurs as Elon Musk really get social media. Despite not owning a Tesla, I follow him because he keeps me educated, entertained and engaged. With each tweet, I learn what he’s thinking and feeling, and get a glimpse into the world of a billionaire. And if you ask him a question, he (or one of his team) responds.

And he’s not the only entrepreneur that gets it. Throughout the campaign, Jeremy would regularly tweet himself – a rarity at the upper echelons of politics, interacting with colleagues, members, journalists and the wider public.

An example of how effective this social strategy was was #BoJoNoShow. After Boris Johnson declined Sky’s invitation for a debate, Jeremy filled the void by hosting his own Twitter Q&A. Trending across the UK with over 34k tweets, Jeremy conveyed his style and humour while answering questions on Brexit, the Union and the mis-pronunciation of his surname. Despite the financial limitations of a leadership campaign budget (£150,000), this interaction and engagement meant we were leveraging organic social in the best possible way.

The effectiveness of a digital campaign is boosted immensely when the leadership is willing to engage. I was part of the CCHQ team that pioneered the use of highly-targeted digital advertising in politics all the way back in 2015. Every political campaign has since used the same techniques, but often without any direct input from senior leadership. But imagine how much richer our digital campaigns would be if they were enhanced by a leader who fully understood the power of social media, and used it to speak to the electorate directly.

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Is Patel’s pledge to “end freedom of movement” merely smoke and mirrors?

Priti Patel has stolen at least two days of headlines – far from all of them positive – with the announcement that she intends to end freedom of movement at the very moment of Brexit in the event of No Deal. What is not clear, however, is what exactly this means.

In theory, it means (or at least sounds to casual ears like it means) bringing EU nationals under the UK’s existing visa arrangements for people from the rest of the world. But even the positive write-ups can’t avoid alluding to the fact that such a policy seems impossible to reconcile with the Government’s commitment to giving EU nationals currently resident in Britain up until the end of 2020 to register for so-called ‘settled status’.

Were the Home Office to simultaneously honour this pledge and bring freedom of movement to an immediate end, there would be a period of more than a year when EU nationals eligible for settled status would be theoretically free to move in and out of the UK at will, but EU nationals ineligible for it would not – with no means of distinguishing between the two.

This is why Sajid Javid, Patel’s predecessor, went on the record as saying that an immediate end to freedom of movement was impractical, and called for “some kind of sensible transition period”.

Nowhere in the papers is an answer to this conundrum offered. Instead, there are reports that Home Office officials have been sent to Singapore to see how their ‘tough’ immigration computer system operates. But it isn’t obvious how ‘counting people in and out of the country’, the task the city state has apparently solved, addresses the core problem with an immediate end to freedom of movement outlined above.

It is also worth noting that, rigorous as it might be, Singapore’s system is geared towards admitting an exceptionally high number of foreign ‘workers’ and ‘talents’ – a policy in keeping with Boris Johnson’s decision to tear up Theresa May’s net migration target, but scarcely something voters might characterise as ‘tough’.

What detail we have suggests that Patel is employing smoke and mirrors: the Guardian reports a ‘senior Home Office source’ as claiming that “the only change that had so far been confirmed by the Home Office was additional criminal record checks on those entering the UK, while other potential changes were still being assessed.” The Daily Express also reports that Patel intends to introduce tough new criminality rules and at least implies that this will not affect those EU nationals eligible for settled status – although again, the question arises of how the new system will recognise these as such.

One can therefore see the germ of a strategy here: tough talk, and a high-profile crackdown on obvious abuses, providing cover for a general shift to a more liberal (but perhaps better-regulated and more rigorously policed) system. Alternatively, this is simply intended to sit alongside more police officers and a boost to NHS spending in a whirlwind of retail offers the Prime Minister means to bank sooner rather than later, and help him buy the political breathing room for a more considered alternative.

The danger is that by talking grandly of ‘ending free movement’ the Government ends up raising expectations it cannot meet – or sowing chaos and uncertainty in the attempt to meet them.

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