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 plea 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.

Rules for conservatives?

In 1971 Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals transformed political discourse. Do conservatives realise what is being done every time a new, mad radical campaign appears? Have they read the playbook and know how to respond, and do we need “Rules for conservatives”?

In 1971 Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals transformed political discourse.  Do conservatives realise what is being done every time a new, mad radical campaign appears? Have they read the playbook and know how to respond, and do we need “Rules for conservatives”?

The Rules were written to empower powerless communities, but empower activists, whose ideas are not always benevolent, or sensible even if meant well.  In the final rule, “polarize” encapsulates the division caused, leading to hatred.  Taken as a whole, the Rules are wise, effective and frightening in their implications and effects.  Maybe they encapsulate things that have gone before in politics, which are most effective when stirring hatred and division, and we might be grateful for Alinsky’s honesty about that.  We still have to see it for what it is though.

Creating resentment, creating a belief that the other side hate you and conspire against you, and that therefore they are an enemy to be treated as vermin – that is the Marxist approach assuming all human relations are about class war and class oppression, and it is evil.

An American commentator did write a “Rules for Conservatives” in response.  Apparently it is written from a particular American perspective, and a couple of reviews suggest it is more a jeremiad than a programme for action, but without reading it I cannot comment further.

How would Rules for conservatives be framed and how would they differ from Rules for Radicals?  We could cut out the hatred and division, the demonization of the other side, but that is the most effective part of the Rules.

A key approach surely must be to stay calm so as to portray yourself as the calm, rational side, then to combat assertions with facts and statistics, and to expose expressions of hatred for what they are.  From this, some rules might emerge.

Another approach is the establishment one; namely to welcome the radical in, appear to embrace their idea, examine it and take it in hand, for taxpayer’ money to be spent on it, so the radical can go away and work on something else, while the establishment smothers the idea they took on.  Brexit has been like that.

Downing Street: and so it begins

It is always a funny race, for the Conservative leadership, all affect politeness and reluctance. Looking at the leading contenders:

It is always a funny race, for the Conservative leadership: the candidates are all affect politeness and reluctance, while behind them are teams hell-bent on getting their man, or woman, over that line, without seeming to do so.

Amongst all the contenders, the first commentary on each has been about where they stand on leaving the European Union, and it rarely goes much beyond this, but after Exit Day finally passes, with a new Prime Minister in place, the focus will be on how they approach Conservative concerns on reducing tax, free commerce and curbing the bullying state.

Looking at the leading contenders so far (and others will follow) –

Boris Johnson (Uxbridge, formerly of Henley): the bookies’ favourite.  Born in New York to a Somerset family, served two terms as Mayor of London where he proved popular.  His Brexit credentials are riding high:  he was the leading public voice of the Leave campaign and resigned rather than accept the Chequers proposals, although as this permitted him to resume his paid career in journalism there may have been more to that.  He is popular amongst the wider membership, if not amongst his parliamentary colleagues. The strong social conservative wing of the party dislikes his apparent social liberal stance, noting his speech in support for gay marriage in 2013, and his notorious ways with the fillies.  Said to be the most intelligent candidate in the field, nevertheless his public persona as bumbling clown has ensured that nationally he is loved and hated in equal measure and for some reason the latter prevails in Scotland.  His position on Brexit has overwhelmed all other analysis of his positions.

Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton): the nearest behind Boris in the betting. Born and raised in Buckinghamshire, he had a career as a high-flying solicitor.  He has been in Parliament only since 2010 and was almost unknown to the public until he was appointed as Brexit Secretary when David Davis resigned following the Chequers Summit.  Raab burnished his Brexit credentials by himself resigning rather than support the Withdrawal Agreement.   He may be ‘Boris with his trousers on’.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath): born in Edinburgh and adopted and raised in Aberdeen, he was with Boris Johnson the public face of the Brexit campaign.  He is only a recent politician – like Johnson, he is a journalist by trade, but unlike his was at the top end of the national press, rising to the assistant editorship of The Times in the 1990.  He is a long-time friend of Boris Johnson’s.  Extreme-end Brexiteers have spoken against Gove for remaining in the Cabinet through all the resignations, and for appearing to stab his friend in the back at the time of the last leadership contest (though the circumstances, not widely known, acquit him).  His public persona is more reserved such that he has not attracted great public affection, which may not play well in the media.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire):  a candidate for leadership last time round and the last firm Brexiteer standing at that point.  She was seen to lose her place with a gaffe about childbearing but overall her lack of recognition amongst the public was more telling.  Since then, Leadsom has attracted great admiration for her conduct as Leader of the House of Commons in a troublesome time. The question remains whether the BBC would accept her.

Liam Fox (North Somerset): also a candidate for leadership last time and another firm Brexiteer, but who has not hinted at another run at the position. A doctor by trade, born in East Kilbride and educated in Glasgow, he served in the army medical corps and has sat in Parliament since 1992.  He is firmly in the Thatcherite camp and indeed he served in the Cabinet of John Major.  He has been since 2016 the first and so far only Secretary of State for International Trade, in which capacity he has been busy negotiating across the globe.  He has been criticised for failing to sign any major trade deal in this time, although as that would be barred by EU law until actual exit, this is muted.  He may be crippled politically by the mysterious Werrity scandal from his time as Defence Secretary.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and the Border); a recent declaration of interest.  He is a soldier, and served in Afghanistan – his slight demeanour belies the reality of his physical achievements, recorded in his books.  He is respected for his military past but hampered by having supported the Remain campaign.

Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey):  Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary since Boris Johnson’s resignation and before that the longest serving Health Secretary ever.  He also supported Remain in the referendum campaign but says that his has since changed his mind.  He is well regarded in his current role and did well also in the thankless job of Health Secretary and, remarkably, seems to have got through it without becoming a pariah.  Well liked and perhaps seen as a safe pair of hands, he is saddled with his previous support for Remain, and a reputation as a social liberal.

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove): Home Secretary, talented certainly, if lacking in warmth, but tainted by having been on the Remain side at the referendum.

These are not the only declarations so far.  Time will tell how expose to the race affects perceptions.  The wider membership of the party has strong opinions within it, but they only get to choose out of the final two – it is Conservative MPs who draw the shortlist up, and if they knock out the most popular candidates, little can be done about it.

There has been talk that this time there will be no coronation; that the members will have a genuine choice of two, but it is still open to MPs to choose their preference and a cypher as his rival to fix the result.