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Mark Wallace: How Eurosceptics survived the wilderness years, and returned to win the day

Looking at the full story of Brexit, in the longer sweep of modern history, there are two really important achievements which made it possible. And, perhaps unusually, they operated in tension with one another.

The first is the simple fact of the survival of the Eurosceptic or anti-EU movement at all. The fact that the movement which lost the 1975 referendum so heavily, which was rebuffed so resoundingly in the 1983 election, and which stood every chance of dwindling away to nothing actually kept going for all those years is itself quite remarkable.

For a long time, there were more bleak years than warm days. The mid-1980s saw the Eurosceptic left in full retreat, both inside and outside the Labour Party, while Margaret Thatcher, the dominant force on the right, pushed on with the ambition of cementing market principles at a European level.

In 1988, Jacques Delors pulled off the feat of flipping the trade union movement from a Eurosceptic to a pro-integration position, essentially by holding out the prospect that a federal EU could entrench left-wing policies just as easily as it could embed the competitive ideas which Thatcher advocated. Here was a way to bypass the difficulty Labour faced in actually winning elections.

The rise of Blairism brought with it EU-enthusiasm as an article of faith for anyone who considered themselves ambitious and modern in a Labour Party which was extremely keen to reject the errors – and defeats – of the past.

Things weren’t much better on the Conservative side. Through the disastrous Major years, the institutions of the Conservative Party in particular developed an ingrained dislike of Eurosceptics – “the bastards” had caused endless trouble over Maastricht, supposedly accompanied by “the flapping of white coats” – and there was a concerted effort to follow Labour in equating opposition to the EU with division and unpopularity.

David Cameron uttered his complaint about Tories “banging on about Europe” in 2006, in his first conference speech as leader, but he was expressing a frustration picked up in the 1990s. On both sides of politics, the anti-EU position was associated with defeat and navel-gazing; the prevailing cultures and dominant institutions in both main parties actively worked to prevent people who espoused that view from getting elected.

These were the background conditions that produced the extraordinary situation that Philip Davies recounted yesterday: in 2005, he found himself elected to a Parliament in which there were no MPs publicly saying the UK should leave the EU.

The wilderness years

How did the idea itself live on through those hostile conditions? A core of activists, donors and politicians kept it alive, on life support, perhaps, but alive nonetheless, through dogged persistence. Some of the organisations founded before the UK’s entry to the Common Market fought on after the 1975 referendum – the Campaign for an Independent Britain (CIB), the Anti Common Market League, Labour Euro-Safeguards – despite a dwindling hearing in Westminster.

They held speaker meetings, and ran newsletters, and wrote to the papers, sold merchandise and organised raffles to keep themselves going and keep their cause alive. While the flare-ups of new-found Euroscepticism in countries like Denmark and France tended to be young, and media-friendly, the UK’s longer history of opposition inevitably made for a more aged movement, a scourge which affects organisations as much as individuals.

Their persistence required a sense of humour as well as determination. I remember visiting a branch of one such organisation as a guest speaker some time at the tail end of Tony Blair’s premiership, to find that the meeting would be recorded – not as a podcast, as it might be now, or for YouTube, but on a gigantic two-reel tape recorder which looked older than me. I was warned in advance that a chap in the front row would signal if the tape needed switching, at which point they would greatly appreciate it if I could pause mid-speech to wait for them to change the reels. They sold copies of the audio tapes to members, to support their next leaflet drop. (I could fill a column with similar anecdotes; for now I simply refer readers to the words “Godfrey Bloom stamped on my face”.)

Being anti-EU wasn’t cool, or something anyone did to get ahead in their career. It was easy for shiny Blairites, and equally polished Cameroons, to mock the Eurosceptics and take their unfashionability as confirmation that they were wrong.

Easy, but mistaken; because they had another powerful asset to sustain them in addition to a stubborn refusal to give up. The EU kept proving its critics right, and rallying people to the Eurosceptic cause. The sacrifice of democratic control involved in the Maastricht Treaty alarmed many people; the obvious risks of a Single Currency reached millions more; the insistence that referendums be repeated if they didn’t go the ‘right’ way began to rankle, and the lesson became obvious over time that this was a ratchet, operating inexorably in only one direction.

That process kept the original activists motivated, provided a growing source of new recruits, and also drove the creation of new organisations. Outfits sprang up like the Bruges Group, an expression of Thatcherite disenchantment with the European project; the Referendum Party, Jimmy Goldsmith’s timely effort to save the pound; and the UK Independence Party, originally the Anti-Federalist League. The emergence of new political parties was a symptom of the hostile environment facing Eurosceptics in Labour and the Conservatives.

For those inside the main parties, it seemed to be a confirmation that this was now a fringe interest. But the fact that these new competitors were capable of winning election-changing numbers of votes should have inspired at least a little reflection. The Referendum Party was sufficient threat in 1997 that it secured referendum pledges from both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, while UKIP won its first MEP seats in 1999. They had an audience.


If the first achievement which served as a pre-condition for Brexit was the survival of the Eurosceptic idea through the long wilderness years, then the second achievement was just as hard-won: the development and implementation of a route back from that wilderness to the mainstream and then on to victory at the ballot box.

Survival was itself a victory, but by the turn of the millennium it was reasonable to wonder which victories anti-EU campaigners had actually won. The threat of the Euro had been forestalled, but beyond that the previous 25 years had largely been a story of rearguard actions and defeat. In every strand of Euroscepticism, some people began to grow impatient, and wonder if it was possible to grow beyond the accustomed tactics and functions which had sustained their campaign so far.

Nigel Farage was one symptom of that impatience; UKIP’s rising star experimented, essentially in public, with new ways to communicate his message and to campaign. Dominic Cummings, too, was studying and trying out new approaches, first as campaign director of Business for Sterling, intended to be the No campaign in a possible referendum on the Euro, and then in the North East Regional Assembly referendum. Similarly, the centre right’s new media outlets in the age of the blogosphere – sites like ConservativeHome, Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale’s Diary – also came with a more Eurosceptic tone than the more establishment voices they were disrupting.

The disruption applied to the existing culture of Euroscepticism, too. The experiments of Farage, Cummings and others were starting to show potential, but they produced some challenging conclusions about what was necessary in order to win.

Within UKIP, a debate raged about how far to professionalise; while they cultivated an image of happy-go-lucky relaxation about gaffes, Farage also developed a steely (and sometimes brittle) intolerance of people he saw as playing at politics to the expense of the end goal. When he finally felt free to speak his mind without restraint, he famously described UKIP’s NEC as “total amateurs who come to London once a month with sandwiches in their rucksack”, and carefully designed the Brexit Party not to feature any such encumbrances on his decision-making.


More broadly, the question was what was the best strategy and message to advance the anti-EU position?

The tight-knit subculture which had developed in the wilderness years had its own language and hobby horses. The problem was, they were of limited appeal beyond those who already agreed.

I remember sitting in on focus groups run by James Frayne, over a decade ago, in which he asked potential swing voters to discuss and define the word ‘sovereignty’. They all agreed they liked sovereignty, and wanted to defend it. They also, almost universally, defined it as referring to the Royal family and the existence of the monarchy.

That was the Eurosceptic challenge in microcosm. Sovereignty is at the heart of the anti-EU case, but the jargon, the terms guaranteed to fire up the base, were of no use – or, worse, were actively damaging – among those voters whose support would be needed if they were ever to win. Combine that with the inherently negative position of a movement formed in opposition to a project, and there was a clear need for a new message: a positive pitch, in terms that people understood and found convincing.

As Philip Davies kindly mentioned, that was the thinking which underpinned the Better Off Out campaign which he and I helped to co-found in 2006. Others, like Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell, came to the same conclusion, as had Cummings and Matthew Elliott.

It wasn’t universally popular on their own side; they were asking people to give up the things they found fun to do, or which they’d always done, or which got them the easiest round of applause from the existing audience, and instead to challenge themselves to do what might actually work to win over the electorate. For some that was a perceived insult to their experience – something Vote Leave ran up against with some Conservative MPs in the referendum campaign. For others it was a weak compromise – the critique deployed by Leave.EU against people they felt were insufficiently robust. And most difficult of all, it was simply a change from what Eurosceptics had grown used to doing.

And yet, to their lasting credit, when the referendum came enough of them weighed up the opportunity to finally win, and bit the bullet. When it was presented to them, they recognised the effectiveness of the ultimate and decisive answer to that need for a positive, clear and convincing message which communicated the Eurosceptic case to the required mass audience: “Take back control”. So they did.

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Could Farage’s ‘Reform Party’ carve him a new role in post-Brexit British politics?

It is understandable that, with the fulfilment of his career-defining ambition perhaps only months away, Nigel Farage might look ahead with some apprehension to the prospect of our actually departing the EU.

The cause of Brexit has, since long before the word ‘Brexit’ was coined, been the issue that gave the Brexit Party leader his prominent place in the national debate. Moreover he and his MEPs derive their personal salaries and status from the EU institutions, not to mention substantial funding used to support both his current party and UKIP before it.

Amongst those Brexiteers angry or baffled by Farage’s decision to throw the Brexit Party into this general election campaign, there is often a sneaking suspicion that its institutional interests, as it were, might be trumping its ideological ones.

The wheels very quickly came off his attempt to re-run the UKIP 2015 playbook. Boris Johnson’s exhortation to ‘get Brexit done’ proved much more in tune with the public mood than ongoing demands for a purer Brexit (however cosmically unjust that is), and the new-look People’s Army has pulled its troops out of hundreds of Tory-held seats.

With the polls now suggesting that the Conservatives are likely on course for a majority (if not a landslide) which will allow them to take us out of the EU by January, Farage is now clearly trying to find a new political role for himself.

So far, he seems to be looking at something like a right-populist equivalent of the Liberal Democrats. His ‘Contract with the People’, a riff on the Republican Party’s 1994 manifesto, features a selection of old favourites from the constitutional reformer’s chocolate box: a codified constitution, abolition of the House of Lords, and a more proportional voting system for starters.

According to the Daily Express he plans to rebrand the Brexit Party as the ‘Reform Party’, a move which invites parallels to the split on the Canadian right in the 1990s, which eventually ended only when the traditional conservative party merged with the new pretender to form today’s Conservative Party of Canada.

Farage does not think this is a short-term bet. Apparently he’s comparing his situation to that of the Labour Party at the turn of the last century, which started small before breaking into the system and eventually eclipsing one of the major parties.

But whilst there is a fascinating discussion to be had about what the ideology and long-term prospects of such a party might be, the big question mark is whether or not Farage can keep his show on the road long enough to make the pivot. It is the EU, rather than ‘reform’, which motivates his activists, and the European Parliament – which its low-turnout, PR-based elections and generous allowances – is a lifeline to small parties which is, barring an upset, about to be cut.

And if the Conservatives do contrive to lose this election, it is almost certain that they will elect a leader even more Brexit-y than Johnson and work very hard to own the issue in opposition, again putting the squeeze on the Brexit Party.

Farage’s best shot at ongoing relevance is if Johnson does form a Government and then somehow sells out, or can be portrayed as having done so. His talk about ‘keeping the Tories honest’ suggests he recognises this. But whether or not that comes to pass is not up to him – Farage’s future is in Johnson’s hands.

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

Ten questions about entryism in the Conservative Party

I’ve written several times before about claims that the Conservative Party is being infiltrated en masse by organised and hostile entryists. Every time the allegation has come up, it hasn’t borne very much scrutiny.

Nonetheless, like Chris Williamson or the DFS sale it keeps coming back. This week it has returned yet again, following the recent confidence vote in David Gauke’s constituency association and Baroness Wheatcroft’s breathless claim that the Conservative membership has “changed horrendously” and has “been taken over to a large extent by the far right”.

So it falls to me once more to look at the central facts of the matter, this time by answering the most common questions in the hope of bringing a bit of reason to a discussion which generally lacks it.

Membership has risen, hasn’t it?

Yes, it’s up from 124,000 in March 2018 to 160,000 as of late May 2019.

Surely that’s a sign of entryism in itself?

Not necessarily. For a start, the Party carried out its own recruitment drive, particularly in late Spring-Summer of 2018, targeting potential new members from its own data. That will have contributed to the increase. And the implementation (at last) of a centralised membership system around the end of 2018 meant that for the first time every Conservative member automatically receives a renewal reminder when their membership is up – something previously left haphazardly to associations, and which routinely led to members being lost in large numbers every year. Better retention alone has helped the Party to keep thousands of members on board.

Then there’s the fact that it has been obvious for quite some time that there was a leadership election coming, 14 years since the last contested race to lead the Party and the first time ever that a sitting Prime Minister has been chosen by a party’s members. Plenty of people have been attracted to join by the simple prospect of getting a say in that decision. That makes it a riskier time for entryism than normal, but it doesn’t make someone joining to get a vote on the leadership inherently an entryist.

But Arron Banks says he has 25,000 infiltrators in the Conservative Party, doesn’t he?

He does indeed say that. (He also said he would run in Clacton against Douglas Carswell, and that he was going to revolutionise British politics with a party called the Patriotic Alliance, but hey.) When I wrote about this last time he was saying that his entryist army was 30,000 strong, not 25,000. For either figure to be correct, it would mean between 70 and 85 per cent of those new 36,000 members were ordered to join by Leave.EU, and the other pull factors mentioned above – not least getting to vote on a new leader – had attracted only a small minority of them. That seems unlikely.

What’s more, there’s still no concrete evidence that these supposed proxies exist. CCHQ tracked incoming traffic from Leave.EU’s email and promotional campaign, and rejected the membership applications arising from the click-throughs. They reportedly totalled not much more than 100 applicants. Elsewhere, much-publicised campaigns against named MPs, like Damian Collins, have simply fallen flat. It’s not unreasonable to ask: where’s the proof for these grand claims about numbers and influence?

Could they have got in another way?

While Leave.EU’s online links do not seem to have generated many direct applications for membership, it’s possible their publicity could have spurred likeminded people to join the Conservative Party through another, less direct, route, which might be harder to spot and track. Indeed, I expect it’s likely that some people did so – but it’s inevitable that the higher effort involved, when compared to simply clicking through an email, would have limited their numbers severely.

Even had they done so, there are further barriers to cross. Every new membership applicant pings through on VoteSource, the party’s voter contact tool, to the relevant officer or agent in the local association. They have the right to approve or reject any new member within 14 days of their application, and they are regularly reminded by CCHQ of their responsibility to check up on who these new members are. That involves checking their past canvassing responses, and where possible doing a social media sweep. Neither dataset is perfect, or complete, but from those I’ve spoken to it seems that many associations are quite strict in rejecting people automatically if they had told canvassers they support any other party in recent years.

Some may slip through the net, either by being discreet, or applying to an association which is either too busy to look closely or less strict in its enforcement. But tens of thousands? Really?

So why are there ex-UKIPers and other proven hostiles in the ranks?

The example that often springs to mind is the former UKIP candidate who played a prominent role in the No Confidence vote against Dominic Grieve. Similarly, one of Nick Boles’s critics in Grantham and Stamford was a former UKIP councillor, and David Gauke tweeted about a self-declared Brexit Party member attending his association’s No Confidence vote. They’re important examples which deserve scrutiny.

In the latter case, if it was known that this guy was a member and was so flagrantly in breach of the rules, it’s hard to work out why he wasn’t simply reported (by Gauke or others) and promptly expelled. In Grantham, as I reported at the time, the former UKIP councillor on the Association executive had been welcome to the Party by Boles himself as a defector. In Beaconsfield, the former UKIP candidate was previously a Conservative, who had rejoined post-referendum on the basis that UKIP’s job was done.

Of those three, one – seeking to stand for a rival party – is obviously unacceptable, but the other two seem to me to be entirely in keeping with the Conservative Party’s stated aim of wooing people back to the Tories as a way of healing some of the harm done by the UKIP boom. And, indeed, with Rory Stewart’s desire to broaden the Party by reaching out to people who do not currently support it.

Simply being an ex-Kipper is not in itself evidence of hostility, still less entryism. After all, many Kippers were previously Conservatives. If we take the view that they should never be welcome – or that they would be welcome to cough up their £25 but should never participate in the democratic processes of the Party – then we guarantee the divide on the right will never be healed.

But what about all the deselections?

You might not know it from the coverage, but there still haven’t been any deselections. Yes, really. It is five years since the last two Conservative MPs (Tim Yeo and Anne McIntosh) suffered such a fate. To hear some discussion of this topic you’d imagine there was a small army of unseated MPs. But there aren’t. Some of those who have left voluntarily – Boles, Allen, Wollaston, Soubry – might in time have faced an attempt. It’s possible that they felt compelled to leave by the prospect of deselection, of course, but the fact still stands.

Ok. But what about all the deselection ballots?

This is another misleading idea: that there’s a host of deselection ballots taking place where members vote to get rid of their MPs. This isn’t the case. As this site warned anyone dreaming of deselections back in October, and as I wrote at greater length when the Boles row blew up in January, the Conservative Party rules don’t even provide rank and file members with a vote on deselection in almost any circumstances. In fact, the only time a member would get a vote on the deselection of a sitting MP would be if that MP exercised their own special right to demand a full ballot of the local membership as a measure to save themselves – something Crispin Blunt used successfully back in 2013. Anyone joining the Party with a view to forcing and then voting in a deselection ballot has wasted their money.

So what are these votes we keep hearing about?

There are two types of proceedings underway across a small number of associations.

The first is a simple No Confidence vote. These are non-binding and have no effect to deselect the MP (see Grieve and Philip Lee, for example, who are still in place despite losing them).  When passed, they are embarrassing and a warning about grassroots discontent, but they aren’t deselections.

In various cases – such as Gauke’s – they haven’t passed, which should give further pause for thought about believing claims of secret armies or the party being “taken over” by sinister forces. Elsewhere – in Sam Gyimah’s constituency, for example – the local and regional party machinery has opted to reject them as invalid to even debate.

The second form of proceedings is what you might call accelerated readoption. In the Tory system, only an association executive – the core of officers, councillors and senior activists – actually get to decide whether an MP is readopted as a candidate at the next election. That is normally done at a time of the MP’s choosing. But in some cases disgruntled execs have formally asked their MP to apply early for readoption – a pretty clear threat that they intend to crack the whip, or get rid entirely. However, this process falls into a grey area of the Party rules. Cleverly, Boles simply refused to send such an application, effectively creating a stalemate. A couple of other MPs have followed suit – though they’re really just postponing a clash, it remains the case that the idea of ruthless associations voting out their MPs all over the place is a major exaggeration.

But aren’t the meetings full of people who’ve never been seen before?

This is line has come from a few embattled MPs, keen to dish out a bit of doubt about their local critics. It’s perfectly possible that it is true, but it doesn’t amount to very convincing evidence of entryism.

Spend any amount of time inside a Tory association and you’ll witness an eternal battle to persuade members to come to events, buy tickets for things, and come out campaigning. There are plenty who pay their subs and then never come to anything. In momentous times, and with something as controversial and unusual as a no confidence ballot, for example, more of them will turn up. I’m aware of several people who have been relatively inactive members for many years but who have even been stirred by recent events to sign a motion calling for a confidence ballot. The test for a Conservative member to be allowed to attend a meeting or vote in a ballot is not whether their MP recognises them.

There will no doubt be newer members turning up to these meetings, too. Some, as I’ve noted above, may indeed have joined up wanting to support a change – of MP, or policy, or the Party’s structure. Some might even be former UKIP supporters or members. But aside from the three-month period after joining, there is no limit to a member’s participation in party democracy just because they are new.

Watchfulness is healthy, but paranoia is not. It would be absurd for the Conservative Party to spend years lamenting its falling membership, only to panic and try to forbid new members from getting involved just as the numbers start to rise.

Where is all this anger from, if not entryists?

You don’t need to be a Banks-controlled entryist to be displeased at the failures of the Government or the behaviour of some Conservative MPs. A majority of Conservative Party members in 2016 voted Leave, and like the rest of the 17.4 million who did so, they’re more than a bit brassed off at the current situation.

Is it really so impossible that genuine members might truly be angry, on their own accord and with no entryism required?

It’s also important to note that there simply isn’t a direct correlation from an MP’s views on Brexit to open revolt in their association. A topical dispute might light the touch-paper, but more often than not an MP with serious association problems is in trouble because they had already lost some degree of popularity due to longer-standing issues. As one Grantham and Stamford activist told me of Boles: “If feeling towards him was warmer generally in the association, people would say ‘oh, move on’, but instead, he doesn’t have that electoral goodwill in the bank.” In the reverse situation, there are MPs who have proved troublesome to the progress of Brexit but who have not faced an association rebellion.

Grieve and Gauke are interesting exceptions to this rule. Both had good relationships and reputations locally prior to their recent troubles. The former has managed to burn through a lot of that trust and positivity in a short time, by the sheer radicalism of his political position on Brexit and his refusal to be moderated by his association’s advice. He duly lost the confidence vote, for that reason. By contrast, the Justice Secretary certainly blotted his copybook by failing to vote with the Government at a crucial time, but he won his confidence vote because his critics’ annoyance about it simply wasn’t shared by enough of their fellow members. He had, after all, abided by his promises at election time.

In a sense, the Gauke ballot is an instructive case with something to say about this whole panic: yes, he faced a no confidence ballot. Yes, that means some of his local members are very displeased. But that isn’t the end of the story: he then won the vote comfortably. The all-powerful entryist takeover we keep being told about would hardly let that happen.

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.

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

Why the ’22 Executive must tell May to go this week

“As Prime Minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June,” Theresa May, Hansard, March 20.

By the time the Prime Minister said these words, in answer to a question from Pete Wishart at Prime Minister’s Questions, it was very late in the day for her.  A week earlier on March 13, the Commons had voted down the Withdrawal Agreement for the second time.  75 Conservative MPs had opposed it in the lobbiesThat week also saw the passing of the Spelman amendment “to take no deal off the table”, and the announcement of a forthcoming vote on extension. Anthony Wells’ YouGov table of opinion polls confirms that the Conservatives have not polled above 40 per cent since that week.

But let us now imagine that, after the EU rebuffed May’s date on April 11, thereby necessitating next week European elections, she had refused their alternative of October 31.  You will say that the Commons would not have tolerated a No Deal alternative – as it had indicated by passing a statutory instrument on March 27 that took the March 29 exit date out of legislation.  And you would almost certainly be right.

However, she could have gone to that lectern outside Downing Street, and said roughly the following: “I told the Commons a few weeks ago that I was “not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June”.  I also said that a consequence of such delay – elections to the European Parliament in Britain – would be unacceptable.”

“Here are my precise words from Hansard on the same day: ‘the idea that three years after voting to leave the EU, the people of this country should be asked to elect a new set of MEPs is, I believe, unacceptable. It would be a failure to deliver on the referendum decision that this House said it would honour’.”

“I believe that politicians should keep their word, and I am therefore resigning as Leader of the Conservative Party.  The Party will now hold a leadership election to replace me, and I expect a new Prime Minister to be in place by the beginning of this summer’s Parliamentary recess.”

Now such an announcement would not have rendered the European elections null and void.  But it might just have persuaded a section of disillusioned voters that, although Brexit had not been delivered on time, at least one politician keeps her promises.  The Iraq War, the expenses scandal, the economic crash: all have, over a span of over 15 years, helped further to lower trust in the system.

As we write, May’s failure to keep her word looks like an addition to that list.  She promised that Brexit would take place March 29 over a hundred times.  It didn’t happen.  She said then she was not prepared to delay it further than June 30.  That end-date won’t happen, either.  Extension ends on October 31.  And she said that elections to the European Parliament would be “unacceptable”.  Then she accepted them.

The point is really very simple.  Voters don’t follow the ins and outs of Brexit – indicative votes, customs arrangements, John Bercow’s rulings, and all that – but they have an unerring nose for smelling out politicians.  The Prime Minister promised that we would leave on March 29 and we didn’t, they think.  Ergo, we won’t vote for her.  So two possible futures for the Conservatives now open up.

The first is that it is too late for a new leader.  May’s stubborness in bringing back her deal for a third time; her refusal to face up to the Commons’ rejection of it; the attempt that has followed to strike a deal with a man she rightly denounces elsewhere as a menace to freedom – all that has poisoned the well for any successor.  The week of March 15 was an ERM moment.

The second is that modern politics is extraordinary volatile.  Consider the rise and fall of UKIP, the overthrow of David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 election performance.  So a new Conservative leader could turn events round, though he or she might well have to come from outside the Prime Minister’s Government altogether, and force an election sooner rather than later.

The first could be right.  But the Conservative Party cannot presume so – and simply hand the future over to Corbyn and Nigel Farage.  It has to work on the basis that the second might hold.  It follows that the longer May remains Prime Minister, the deeper the damage to the Party and the country.

The 1922 Committee’s executive has a big decision to make this week.  On Thursday, it will meet May to seek to extract a date for her depature.  It should not be sentimental.  Her hanging on might be attributed to a sense of duty.  But to borrow the language that Robert Halfon used on this site last week, it is utterly selfish.  Prime Ministers want to leave a legacy behind them.  May clearly sees hers as the Withdrawal Agreement.  But the Commons will not pass it as it stands.

It might do so, with or without Corbyn’s formal cooperation, were MPs to take Customs Union membership on to it.  But such a decision would force yet more resignations, were May to support it, and split the Conservative Party in half.  However unpalatable it may be, the Committee must, if she refuses this week to go by the end of the summer, change the leadership challenge rules immediately – perhaps with a trigger ballot threshold of 40 per cent or so.  We are well aware that the most painless course for them is to opt for mañana.  But the wait for tomorrow risks marginalisation – even oblivion.

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Stewart Jackson: In Peterborough, one Tory candidate once floored an opponent. The coming contest may be no less exciting.

Stewart Jackson was MP for Peterborough from 20015-2017, is a former President of Peterborough Conservative Association and is a Peterborough resident.

So the battle for Peterborough has begun, with the Parliamentary by-election fixed for Thursday 6th June: D Day. It will be an historic event – the first Parliamentary election triggered by a recall petition arising from the Recall of MPs Act 2015, following the conviction of Fiona Onasanya for perverting the course of justice, the second Labour MP to fall foul of a law court in the last 20 years.

Soon, Conservative MPs and other party activists will be implored to travel to the city to help out our candidate, Paul Bristow – who, as it happens, is a proper dedicated Brexiteer, having been a borough organiser for Vote Leave in London in 2016. Paul is a local, however, having been brought up in nearby Whittlesey, and is a former Chairman of Peterborough YCs. He has pledged to campaign on our 2017 manifesto, not the Prime Minister’s substandard Withdrawal Agreement “deal.”

As the MP for the city seat for twelve years between 2005 and 2017, I suppose I am as good a guide as anyone to the constituency, local issues and the campaign ahead.

Perversely, having secured the second best vote share increase of any defeated Conservative MP and polling almost 47 per cent of the vote, plus recording the highest Tory vote since 1992, I did none the less lose! This was partly a function of my or our own (slight) complacency, but mainly a consequence of the antipathy of the significant BME population, and of previous blue collar UKIP voters returning in high numbers to their ancestral Labour home, having been promised that the party would honour the referendum result…and of course, of the lamentable Conservative national campaign.

However, Peterborough is still a viable prospect for a Conservative gain – or indeed a strong Brexit Party challenge or even a Labour hold. Brexit will dominate the hustings, since the city voted 61 per cent to Leave. It’s no longer the Middle England bellweather seat it once was during the 1960s and 1970s, when it was a much more divided Town v Country constituency, holding the record in 1966 for the smallest Commons majority for Sir Harmar Nicholls – three votes after seven recounts!

Twice since it has gone with a party that didn’t form the government (in 2005 and in 2017). Casual observers will have assumed from last week’s local election results that the Conservative Party fared badly – but it wasn’t so. Although we lost overall control of the city council, the losses were in North West Cambridgeshire. In Peterborough, we actually outpolled Labour in the cumulative popular vote and swopped one council gain for one loss. The seat is almost wholly urban with just one rural ward east of the city centre.

Historically, Labour have underperformed in the city, and only in one year (1997) have they achieved more than 50 per cent of the vote. Their council group as little as ten years ago was down to low single figures.

The constituency is made up of twelve wards (two thirds of the Peterborough City Council area) on the north bank of the River Nene, at the heart of which is the medieval magnificence of Peterborough Cathedral. Every January, the Spanish Ambassador travels to the city to lay a pomegranate wreath on the tomb of both an English and Spanish Queen – Katherine of Aragon. It’s a regional hub with good train and road links and so there’s no excuse not to pay a visit….

Peterborough doesn’t look much like a Tory seat. It has a few pleasant suburbs and some rural hinterland, but the four or five wards in central Peterborough are a tough landscape for Conservatives. It is much poorer, less healthy and more unskilled than most Conservative constituencies, and has a big black and minority ethnic population – mainly Pakistani diaspora as well as several thousand Eastern European economic migrants exercising their free movement rights.

Indeed, it has fewer White British residents than Huddersfield, Leicester West, Derby South and Dewsbury – all solid or safe Labour seats. Employment is in warehousing, retail, logistics and food processing and packaging. It was one of only two urban areas (the other being Swindon) which never achieved the aspiration of establishing its own bespoke university, although Peterborough now has a satellite campus of Anglia Ruskin University.

That said, we have low unemployment and falling welfare dependency. The city centre has been rejuvenated in recent years and we have some of the finest open spaces of any British city, a legacy of Harold Wilson’s New Towns policy and Peterborough Development Corporation. Peterborough is home to Thomas Cook, Perkins Engines and the Meerkat (i.e. BGL Insurance) was born in the city.

Big local issues, as in other urban areas, are housing and education. Peterborough’s primary school results are terrible, and have been for many years. This is a problem that has proven intractable, not least because of the proliferation of academies which have yet to drive major improvements, but nevertheless blur the lines of accountability and make strategic coordination by the City Council extremely challenging.

In addition, mass EU migration and other demographic challenges have a big impact: seven in ten primary school children in the constituency don’t speak English as their first language, and that is a tough nut to crack for even the most inspiring educational leaders. Crime and in particular drugs-related offences and county lines are ever present as policing issues.

Undoubtedly, the by-election will be the scene of one of the most exciting electoral contests since the war. We’re used to rough and tumble, having been electing MPs to the Commons since 1542. In 1906, one candidate for that year’s general election had their carriage set alight by opponents and, in 1970, Harmar Nichols knocked out a trades union shop steward at a lively outdoor hustings at an engineering plant.

It just may be as exciting in the run-up to polling day this year too.

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Garvan Walshe: A lesson from Spain. If a conservative party moves to the right, it fails.

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

What if you called a culture war and nobody came?

That’s the question faced by the leaders of Spain’s Partido Popular (the mainstream conservatives), and Vox (a new hard right party) as they contemplate the wreckage of an election campaign in which the opponent they had demonised (the socialist Pedro Sanchez) increased his party’s seats by a third and looks set to govern for the next five years.

Pablo Casado had taken over the PP last summer after his predecessor’s minority government had been ousted by Sanchez through parliamentary maneouvering following the culmination of an eternal illegal party funding scandal. He ran in the leadership election as the change candidate. In reaction to his the centrism of his predecessor Mariano Rajoy, Casado promised una “derecha sin complejos”, a spanish phrase we would recognise as “sound” Toryism. He won decisively and made the fight against Catalan secession his leitmotif.

He continued with a solidly conservative social policy agenda, proposing to tighten abortion laws and questioning other social changes that had taken place in Spain. He married this with a strongly Thatcherite economic programme, promising lower taxes and deregulation.

This was probably what he always believed. It was also a way to carve out clear blue water from the centre-right Ciudadanos party that had been nipping at the PP’s heels. He might lose votes to Ciudadanos to his left, but his unrepentantly sound position would keep his right flank secure.

Reasonable though this plan may have seemed, it would founder on the appearance of a party even more sound: Vox, which played UKIP to Casado’s Conservative Way Forward. Vox’s emergence at first appeared to help Casado, because though Vox took the “ultra” vote for itself, and in regional elections in Andalucía took some 12 per cent of the vote, it, together with PP and Ciudadanos and enabled PP and Ciudadanos to sustain a coalition in what has long been a traditional socialist bastion.

Vox itself is loud, nationalist, and deliberately offensive in style — its manifesto of 100 proposals was long on sexism, bullfighting, and ancient glories of the Spanish empire. Fronted by Santiago Abascal, who had been a target of the Basque separatist ETA, Vox grabbed attention by condemning “feminazis” and the “Islamic invasion” of Spain. Abascal became an aficionado of Soros conspiracy theories, but considers himself pro-Israel. When a Vox candidate was found to be a Holocaust denier, he was swiftly dismissed, to the consternation of activists.

The difficulty this posed Casado was that he couldn’t out-Vox Vox. His right turn not ended up not only losing his votes to his left, but was insufficient to stem the flow to his right wing. Rather than expand the right wing coalition, Vox helped itself to support which Casado thought was rightfully his.

On election day Casado failed to staunch the loss of votes, not only to Ciudadanos, but even to the socialist PSOE. He legitimised Vox’s culture war without reaping any of the benefit.

It was a culture war fought on decidedly ill-chosen territory. Vox decided to concentrate on immigration, the so-called Islamic threat, the “feminist supremacists”, and alleged threats to bullfighting. Topics that excite a few Spaniards – but only a minority. They even jumped the shark when Abascal decided to make gun ownership an issue, as though importing a carbon copy of the US right wing movement. He ended up being condemned by the police, who said they did’t want any more school shootings.

In the end Vox’s obsession with Islam far exceeded that of ordinary Spaniards. Abascal even launched his campaign in Covadonga, in the northern region of Asturias, famous as the first victory of the Christians against the Moors (in 722!). Casado rushed rightwards to try and match this extremism, further alienating centrist voters and motivating the left to turn up to the polls.

Casado was guilty of the most basic political sin — failing to design a campaign based on what the people actually think. Opinion polling has consistently shown that Spaniards’ main concerns were corruption and unemployment (even Vox voters were not predominantly worried about immigration). Given that the corruption scandals were the PP’s own, it would have been difficult for the PP to make running there, but economic policy has been their strong suit. It was the PP that brought the country out of the crisis, restored healthy rates of economic growth and brought unemployment down. It should have run on that record, and developed policies to target the specific problems the Spanish economy faces (which include young men who gave up school to work on construction sites during the boom but who became unemployable in the bust). To do that, however, Casado would have had to endorse his predecessor’s work.

Instead, he finds his party reduced to 66 from 137 seats, and his opponents increased to 123 from 85. Ciudadanos at 57, are nipping at their heels, while Vox only got 24, fewer than the Catalan separatists.

Pablo Casado has a new nickname now: Fracasado. It translates as “failed”.

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Down by the frozen fen. The Peterborough by-election test.

The logic of Theresa May’s Brexit policy, such as it is, has led to her to turn to Jeremy Corbyn.  It is unlikely that the two leaderships will band together to let her deal pass: there is institutional pressure from Labour MPs for a second referendum, and from Conservative Ministers against the Customs Union.  But Downing Street is still holding out against the first, and Team Corbyn still pressing for the second.  This takes us to timing.

Number Ten’s best chance of spooking Labour into backing the deal, actively or passively, will come if and when the latter is sufficiently terrified by the Brexit Party’s electoral progress.  At this point, the party’s leadership might, at a minimum, let the deal through Parliament, hoping thereby to draw the sting from Nigel Farage’s electoral threat.

Some Ministers believe that Corbyn and company are likely to discount the European election results.  The D’Hondt proportional representation system used may shelter Labour from the very worst.  And, like some Conservative bigwigs, some Labour ones may say that it has all been seen before.  UKIP won the Euro-elections of 2014, gaining 28 per of the vote.  But the hurdle of first-past-the-post proved too high for it to vault at the general election a year later.  Douglas Carswell held on to Clacton.  And that was it.

Those Ministers think that a Brexit Party win in a by-election might have a different effect.  And lo and behold, we have one: in Peterborough, where that party has just selected Mike Greene, a local businessman and former Conservative donor.  It will be interesting to see what effect his background has on the city’s Labour voters, if any.

At any rate, it just could be that, were Greene to win, Labour might re-think.  But even were that to be so, the timing wouldn’t be quite right for the Prime Minister.  The European elections take place on May 23. The by-election will be held on June 6, a fortnight later.  Some of those who want May out will dismiss the 1922 Committee Executive as ditherers.  An alternative reading is that it is slowly closing in on the Prime Minister, and could move as soon as the Euro-election results are declared.

Labour will surely be deterred from doing any kind of deal with May – assuming one entertains the possibility of it doing so in the first place – if her support on the Conservative benches is ebbing away further.  It ought to be off to the worst possible start in Peterborough, given the ex-Labour MPs conviction for perverting the course of justice, and the consequent successful recall petition.

Katherine of Aragon is buried in the city’s cathedral – “down by the frozen fen’, as Charles Causley’s poem puts it.  Nigel Farage will be hoping to bury both the major parties in Peterborough, too.  That his own has no members and no policies may not prevent him from achieving this aim.   The Conservative candidate is Paul Bristow.

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ConHome’s survey. Our panel and the European elections. Three in five Tory members will still vote for the Brexit Party.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-05-07-at-07.54.09 ConHome’s survey. Our panel and the European elections. Three in five Tory members will still vote for the Brexit Party. UKIP ToryDiary Theresa May MP Sir Graham Brady MP Local government and local elections Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Conservatives ConservativeHome Members' Panel Brexit Party Brexit

Note the bigger response this month compared to last month – a consequence not of more or less reader enthusiasm, but of improvements we’ve been able to make to the survey.

Essentially, we have about 1500 responses compared to some 1100.  But the bigger number makes no difference of any significance to the result.

Last month, 62 per cent of the panel said that they would vote for the Brexit Party, and only 23 per cent for the party of which they are actually a member – the Conservatives.

This month, those figures are 61 per cent and 22 per cent.  Party members have apparently made up their mind – and that this survey took place in the aftermath of woeful local election results has made no difference one way or the other.

As we said last month, the Mail on Sunday poll which found that two in five Tory councillors intend to back Nigel Farage’s party adds weight to our finding.

If 40 per cent of councillors plan to do so, it seems possible that 60 per cent of members, whose arguably have less at stake in terms of Party commitment, do so too.

It may be worth running through the reasons that we floated for this dreadful result for the Conservatives.  They are as follows.  First, anger at the postponement of Brexit after it had been promised over 100 times for March 29.

Second, a backlash against Theresa May’s talks with Jeremy Corbyn, which now seem to be nearing a climax, whatever happens.  This has infuriated and baffled many members.  Their view of them will be in line with our illustration right.

Third, the belief that they provide a free hit chance to protest – a free hit.  Fourth, the belief that Nigel Farage provides a respectable pro-Brexit alternative (backing for UKIP in the survey has collapsed).

Finally, the hope that a really bad result might prove to be a trigger for leadership change.  We publish today Andrew Sharpe’s letter confirming an emergency National Convention meeting. And Graham Brady meets with the Prime Minister today.

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Local elections 4) The minor parties: Greens surge, UKIP collapse, localists and independents thrive

11.30 am

A notable feature of the local elections has been the unusually strong performances for some minor parties, not to mention the sheer variety of them (something perhaps presaged by Newport West by-election). Here are the top lines:

  • The biggest beneficiary by far are the Greens, who at the time of writing have got 48 seats, a net gain of +42. They are likely beneficiaries (along with the Liberal Democrats) of Labour’s failure to make headway.
  • UKIP, by contrast, are having a torrid time of it, with the BBC reporting that at present they hold just 17 seats, a net loss of -54. They have managed to make a few pick-ups in places such as Sunderland, but have been wiped out in their former stronghold in Thurrock.
  • But the biggest surge is in what the BBC classifies as ‘Others’, who currently hold 367 seats – a whopping net gain of +230. With the Tories and Labour having shed between them over 500 council seats, and the Greens and Lib Dems picking up only 350 or so, this represents a significant weakening of the national party pattern in town halls.
  • Unfortunately, the ‘Others’ category can be unhelpfully imprecise at times. The bulk of the councillors in this group are either independents or ‘localists’ – representatives of hyper-local parties. In Bolton, for example, Labour lost a slew of seats to groups such as ‘Horwich and Blackrod First’ and ‘Farnworth and Kearsley First’, a result which the Bolton News reports could lead to the Tories taking control of the council for the first time in four decades. Some larger groups, such as the county-wide Lincolnshire Independents, also did well.
  • But sifting through this group more finely – and thank you in particular to Election Maps UK for so doing – we also find that a perhaps surprising number of very small national parties have gained new town-hall footholds. For example, the continuity Liberal Party picked up a seat in South Kesteven (no word on Patrick O’Flynn’s continuity SDP).
  • Perhaps benefiting from the weakness of UKIP, several right-wing and far-right outfits also managed to gain representation. Democrats & Veterans took two seats in Barnsley, whilst the Veterans & People’s Party and For Britain took a seat apiece. It remains to be seen whether one of these can consolidate these toeholds into a proper local government base in the years ahead, but this is perhaps an early warning of what might be in store for British politics if Brexit remains unresolved.

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