Rudd, Amber: Green light for Boris

One speculation is dead then: Amber Rudd is not standing for the Conservative leadership. Neither at the moment is she supporting any particular candidate.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Rudd ruled herself out. The headline suggested support for Boris Johnson’s bid, but it is hard to read that in her guarded, reconciliatory tones.

Rudd is a serious player in that she has held a number of Cabinet position, not always successfully, and is currently the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, albeit as a demotion from the office of Home Secretary: however her known pro-EU sympathies and the support she recently expressed for a try-again-and-answer-nicely-this-time referendum has put her amongst the company of the damned as far as Brexiteers are concerned. Her performance too at the Home Office stands against her, so it is a sensible move not to be seen eyeing the top job.

As to Boris, we asked yesterday ‘Is Boris Good Enough‘ and had to conclude that judgments based on personality can miss the point entirely. Here then Amber Rudd sounds cautious: it may be that in a few weeks’ time she will be begging him to keep her in her job, as others bay for her blood and his supporters look for ministerial positions as their rewards. It is a smart move therefore. It is not in any way though a complete, personal endorsement of Boris nor a strike against other candidates.

We can expect a series of similar interviews from ministers and others as they watch the landscape of patronage changing around them.

Is Boris Good Enough?

The plates are moving.  I observed before that the run-away favourite in the leadership race even before it has begun is Boris Johnson, but that he is not popular amongst his colleagues, nor amongst those concerned for the social conservative heart of the party. 

Nothing moulds a man’s opinion of another quite like the prospect of their career depending on him. Liked or not, with movement in his direction, the plates are shifting around Boris Johnson. Some who previously said they would not work with Boris Johnson have softened and praised him, and brushed aside all the flaws in his character and conduct. 

This could end up with a classic Conservative Party coronation, with all dissenting voices hushed and a universal chant of ‘Slava! Slava! Slava!‘ as the chosen one ascends the steps of Number 10.  Two leaders have fallen; a third stands.  Before we look so far though, what of the man himself, and will he shine or make a complete hash of it?

We may in fact have mistaken his promise.

He is a showman, no doubt, but then so was Tony Blair, and he won three elections on the trot.  He should in theory do better for the country than Blair simply because he and his team are sound Conservatives with, between them, the sort of experience of the real world that Blair (and in fact Cameron) lacked.

The downside was examined recently on ‘The Conservative Woman‘ (our colleague Fay reads it: she’s not written anything for us yet, at least nothing Master Hobbes found decent and proper to print).  Their article ‘Anyone But Boris’ is sobering.

Nonetheless, Blair made a go of it because he had Gordon Brown as a sobering influence.  Cameron had George Osborne and Theresa May (and although both have since undergone a damnatio memoriae, before the mechanics of Brexit so overwhelmed politics they were the steadying influence a fresh-faced new governed needed). Who will Boris have?  That depends on whom he calls to his side:  Michael Gove, David Gauke, James Brokenshire and some more reticent souls not yet in the government may be persuaded to bring the stability which an impulsive character requires.

The real division in the party and politics is not Brexit but character.  A judgment of character is always wrong, and my worries are of character, not of ability.  Boris is the brightest in the pack, no doubt about it, and that chummy, clownlike attitude affected since his university days is off-putting to those of us who prefer a sober mien.

However, I go back to something Jordan Peterson has discussed, on differing character traits: we need both the sober, exact, conservative disposition and also the messy, creative, liberal disposition in our body politic.  Boris shows the latter characteristic in spades, just as Theresa May shows the former.  The two types perceive the world about them in completely different ways, neither wrong but different.  They might not get on, and will annoy each other intensely, but if they can work together in government then with two eyes not one they will see the nation in three dimensions.

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By Boris Johnson:

The vote and the trust issue

My hand should not hover uncertainly over the ballot paper, but this time it does. In any normal election, at any normal time, the Conservative candidate has my vote, but I have to ask why. It is a matter of trust.

Party loyalty is a shorthand only – we have no loyalty in the world but to Queen and country. Conservatives win my every vote because I trust those who stand under that label, but if that trust is gone there is no reason for my vote.

This is a weird election, with no campaigning, no election literature (apart from a pleas by e-mail from one candidate) and no interest. It should not be happening, and sheer incompetence is the reason, which itself saps at that trust, and although the candidates themselves are not to blame, it harms the value of that label – if a candidate stands as a Conservative they must be a sound, sensible, patriotic individual not given to ideological madness, and that is the only reason for partiality. If there is another slate of candidates equally evidencing their soundness for the task for which they are to be chosen, then they too have a right to be considered. Then it is a question of who those individuals are, and what is the task which is to be entrusted to them.

I do not know the candidates on the list before me. I have seen some of the good work by the Conservatives already MEPs, but then the first-ranked candidate, Eurosceptic as he is, voted ‘Remain’, and while I trust him not to endeavour in his folly, it causes my pencil to hover. The candidates for the Brexit Party are all Leavers, to a man and woman, but only one of them have I heard of. I do not, incidentally, like to label people as ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ as if the nation could be divided that way, but it has got into the thinking.

The task with which elected MEPs will be entrusted is to stop daft regulations and encourage common sense, and in this Conservatives have a good track record, though they will also represent the face of Britain’s voters to the European Commission, and in this we need those who will not face mockery as weak in their purpose, in which task the Brexit Party slate may on balance do better, and if regulatory scrutiny is of little importance in a tenure of a few months, if that, then the consideration of representation becomes of more importance.

There is a great deal in what ‘Archbishop Cranmer’ said yesterday, but my pencil is still wavering. The argument there and from my pleading MEP is that only the Conservatives can actually get Brexit done. Yes indeed, and were this a national general election that would ensure a Conservative vote without doubt, but it is not: British MEPs will have no power over the Brexit process unless to approve amendments to arrangements, and on that both the Brexit Party and the Conservatives can both equally be trusted to do the right thing, or in normal circumstances there would be that trust, if I knew the individuals.

Party loyalty is a function of the trust we have in the label when there is no equal alternative, but here there is one.

Theresa shoots for an open own-goal

I actually like Theresa May and admire most of what she has done, but her legacy will fall on the mishandling of Britain’s departure from the European Union.  She is in a difficult position and her replacement with a more Brexit-friendly leader will not remove all of that, but there have been fatal mistakes, which I have recounted before.  Mrs May deserves a better write-up in history than she will receive, but her chief characteristic is to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, which she has done several times.

It would have been possible to rescue the Withdrawal Agreement.  The analysis on this site shows that it is not as bad as hard-line Brexiteers have portrayed it, with the Transition Period shrinking to what would be just 18 months (and after 40 years of membership, that is not much).  Mrs May’s speech yesterday was intended to bring a reconciliation, but it appears to have had the opposite effect.

Logic would dictate that the Withdrawal Agreement should get through: for Brexiteers, an early agreement means an early departure, and no more games from the Remoaners; for Labour, they have argued that there must be a deal and that no better deal with come to the table; for DUP, the deal would ensure exit and an open border with the Republic, and the backstop can simply not be enacted; for the LibDems, they want close relations with Europe and the Deal is the best way to continue relations.  The Nationalists alone would logically oppose as stirring hatred and discord is their sole aim anyway.  However, logic does not govern in the House of Commons.

As with other speeches, most of it is fine, but it contains its own destruction.

It is a pitch for Labour votes, quite openly.  It points to their own manifesto pledghes.  Then comes a half-truth: “if just 30 MPs had voted differently we would have passed the Withdrawal Agreement and we would be leaving the EU” – actually, while the mathematics is correct, it is Mrs May’s decision to ask for an extension which stopped us leaving the EU.

The new Brexit deal is the heart of the proposal

  • A legal obligation to seek to conclude Alternative Arrangements by December 2020 so as to avoid the backstop coming into force:  good, and necessary for backbench Conservative and Unionist votes.  Legally unenforceable if the EU, does not play ball, but necessary.
  • Should the backstop come into force, Great Britain to stay aligned with Northern Ireland: which is to say bound by all relevant EU rules.
  • Prohibit the splitting of Northern Ireland from the UK’s customs territory: already in the Agreement actually.
  • The Northern Ireland Assembly to consent for new regulations which are added to the backstop:  well, yes, but better still if the Assembly could have a veto EU rules that would be added within the backstop.
  • A new Workers’ Rights Bill to ensure UK workers enjoy rights that are every bit as good as, or better than, those provided for by EU rules: fine, and what has been argued from the beginning, namely that primary legislation should be required to change laws which affect ordinary working people.
  • No change in the level of environmental protection when we leave the EU:  thank you Mr Gove, and Greta.
  • A legal duty on the Government to seek as close to frictionless trade with the EU in goods as possible, subject to being outside the Single Market and ending freedom of movement: good, and just what every Brexiteer has been arguing for.
  • To deliver this, the UK will maintain common rules with the EU for goods and agri-food products: Ouch: that requires a form of vassalage.
  • Parliament to have a vote on a temporary customs union or a more fixed customs union:  this idea was rubbished by Mrs May as she said it, even though she also contradicted that rubbishing in relation to the proposals affecting Ulster. Procedurally we may consider that the debate would have to be a debate – define a “customs union” and the endless variations that may be contained within it, and that itself will delay the process by months. It may be in vain anyway:  Parliament may be sovereign within our shores, but it cannot command a foreign power to sign a treaty it does not want to.
  • A Second Referendum to be an option for Parliament to decide, which must take place before the Withdrawal Agreement can be ratified.  – and there we have the point which has alienated all sides.  It gives extreme Remainers the chance they want, has legitimised what was always a lunatic-fringe idea, and if chosen would delay Brexit itself for a year or two., closing in on a General Election with the Conservative vote hovering around 20% if that.

The logical response would be for Labour and the ERG both to vote for the Bill; Labour to protect their tumbling poll ratings by getting Brexit out of the way, and the ERG to ensure that Brexit happens, and for both to vote down the two final, mad ideas.

If though the debate on the meaning of a customs union would take the Commons past Reformation Day (31 October) 2019, it could trigger yet another delay, and kill the Conservative Party, so voting it down early or voting it through early would be the choice.

Logic though is not governing any of this process.

Where it all went wrong for – Theresa May

On 29 March 2019.  Some declines begin over a period, Theresa May’s has a single date: that was when Brexit should have happened and did not, and all on her personal decision.

Pundits puzzled over how consistently well the Conservatives were doing in the polls; after the 2016 election the party had been in convulsions over the terms of Brexit, which in normal time should have been the death of the party’s reputation, as it had been to John Major, but the party was riding at 40% and more in the polls.  The Cabinet might have taken this as proof that there is no such thing as bad publicity – the chaos ensured that the Conservatives led every news broadcast and were all across social media.

There was more though:  only the Conservatives were promising to leave the EU according to the decision of the referendum.  The LibDems wanted to reject the vote, which was unpopular even with Remain voters who accept it as a democratic decision, Labour were all over the place even in comparison with their usual troubles, and the Nationalist were spreading hatred as usual, so only the Conservatives were in the game.  All we had to do was wait for 29 March 2019, a date fixed in an Act of Parliament, or so we thought.

The Withdrawal Agreement was troublesome, and here cabinet members made their private arguments public, which was a mistake.  When a group of ministers said they would find it hard to serve in the government if its policy became on of “no-deal” they got headlines but were on fairly safe ground: the government was never going to make it policy to have no deal, even if that were the reluctant result.  Here though in panic Mrs May made her fatal miscalculation.

The Withdrawal Agreement could not be negotiated.  Theresa May was single-mindedly set on a course of getting it signed, and so focussed on the one goal that she failed to see the charging elephant bearing down on her from the side.  She went for a delay in Brexit.  In that action she retrospectively lied 108 times to the electorate and blew away all the goodwill of the electorate’s trust in the Conservative Party.

This might have been survivable, had the delay been the short delay she said, but it was not.  In the delay period she put the Withdrawal Agreement to the Commons again, with the timetable structured so that Brexit would come earlier if they voted it down, which accordingly they did.

Then came the crowning idiocy:  a second delay.  The poll ratings crashed immediately, to below 20%:  even at 20% (allowing for the unusual, unwanted election) that is a loss of one half of the party’s electoral support, and in additional breach with the DUP sent her Ulster votes off.  Had it not been the fear of Jeremy Corbyn, this would have caused a vote of no confidence, a general election and complete wipe-out, and potentially the Conservatives out of power for a generation or more, on a loss of trust.

Could it have been avoided?  Certainly, and it would just have taken a little creative thinking, courage and common sense. These three qualities, though core to the British character, are collectively lacking in the inner cabinet.

If Mrs May had done nothing, 29 March 2019 would have come, Exit Day would have come, the United Kingdom would be out of the European Union and the polls secured.  The Withdrawal Agreement could then have been signed in spite of Parliament, because a vote is only needed for a Withdrawal Agreement, not a post-withdrawal agreement.

Tunnel vision has caused political disaster and can still cause more. If you meet a cabinet minister, ask them this:  Would a no deal Brexit be more economically damaging than a Marxist Corbyn government?  There should be no need to ask.