Following his disclosure in the Sunday Times at the weekend that he will vote Liberal Democrat at the European election taking place on Thursday, Tory peer Lord Heseltine has had the Conservative whip suspended in the House of Lords.
Following a meeting with the Government Chief Whip in the Lords earlier tonight, a Conservative spokesman said:
“Lord Heseltine has given more than half a century of service to the Conservative Party and his long-standing and sincerely held views on Europe are well understood. But, with his long experience, he will know that publicly endorsing the candidates of an another party is not compatible with taking the Conservative whip in Parliament.
“As a result, the Chief Whip in the House of Lords has informed Lord Heseltine that he will have the Conservative whip suspended. This will be reviewed if he is willing to support Conservative candidates at future elections.”
However, despite Tory HQ issuing a warning last month that “endorsement of any other political party is incompatible with membership of the party,” I can disclose that the former Deputy Prime Minister’s membership of the Conservative Party will not be suspended and he will not be subject to any further disciplinary investigation, following a meeting of the Party Board at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) today.
It was a regular meeting of the party’s governing body which by coincidence occurred the day after Heseltine’s intervention in the Sunday Times in which he confided that he will “lend” his support to the Lib Dems on Thursday because of “the Government’s position on Brexit”.
A source from the Board tells me it was decided that he could remain a Conservative member because he had merely stated his personal preference for supporting another party rather than actively campaigning for another party or encouraging others to follow suit – actions which would have resulted in disciplinary action.
“It’s a pretty fine line, but technically he has not gone over the line,” adds my source.
I gather that there was even discussion that the CCHQ-issued guidance contradicts what is written in the party constitution.
The ConservativeHome website’s regular survey of Tory party members earlier in the month found that 60% of them intended voting for The Brexit Party on Thursday.
But tonight’s news would suggest that, following Rebecca Ryan’s call on BrexitCentral, the Conservative Party will effectively turn a blind eye to any rank-and-file party member simply declaring their support for another party at Thursday’s election (although not if they are deemed to be encouraging others to vote for anyone other than Conservative candidates).
Nonetheless, today’s events would appear to confirm that publicly advocating voting for another party is not compatible with retaining the Conservative whip for those holding public office.
CCHQ has not yet provided me with a further formal statement on the matter.
Photocredit: Julian Mason
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As the ruling party of the United Kingdom slumps to just 10% by the measure of some recent European election polls, a colourful spectrum in varying levels of self-reflection descends across its parliamentary representatives. A stark, immediate and pressing question of political direction faces the Conservative Party.
Currently, its MPs are reaching different conclusions as to the phenomenon taking place in British politics; Steve Baker, Lucy Allan and Andrea Jenkyns recognise the threat Nigel Farage and his ilk pose and the necessity for renewal. His success is only explained by Conservative failure in handling Brexit, whether it be in complete reluctance to leave on WTO terms, a capitulating negotiation strategy or (as some Tory MPs would profess) an inability to pass Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons.
What is for certain, however, is that Farage’s no-deal Brexit proposals are rallying support quickly, most of it from the Tory base – and at an unprecedented rate. If polls are to be believed, in a matter of a few weeks, the Brexit Party has managed to consume half of the Conservative vote. This would put the possibility of the Conservatives remaining in government close to zero. Forecasts have furthermore predicted that Secretary of Defence, Penny Mordaunt, Tory chairman, Brandon Lewis and countless more would be among some 150 Tory MPs to be unseated at a general election.
Whereas some of the more resilient European Research Group MPs have considered the looming electoral threat appropriately, the likes of James Cleverly, Brandon Lewis, Steve Barclay and Theresa May herself apparently believe the phenomenon at hand can be put to rest by ‘delivering’ Brexit with the Withdrawal Agreement. Others accept the need for a fresh face as leader but believe that another corporate centrist May 2.0 candidate such as Amber Rudd or Rory Stewart (who espouse continued close affiliation with the European Union) would save the party.
For the latter two, political reality seems to have escaped. A naive misreading of the situation has led them to overlook the hyperpoliticisiation that has taken place recently among the voting public. This is evident in Change UK’s rapid collapse into obscurity and irrelevance, despite mainstream outlets largely hailing support behind them. Gone are the days when good spin could determine public opinion.
It is the same for public rejection of May’s Withdrawal Agreement, which is unlikely to budge. The deal is an objectively poor position for our country to be in, a customs union would prevent us from pursuing self-deterministic free trade away from the European Union while still being beholden to its laws. The public appear to clearly recognise this. Additionally, after the BBC’s airing of Brexit: Behind Closed Doors (a fly-on-the-wall documentary from the European side covering the negotiations that led to the Agreement) revealingly depicted EU negotiators celebrating and declaring that the UK had been turned into ‘a colony’, there is little spin that is likely to convince an ever-observant public otherwise.
Most of the parliamentary Conservative Party remain committed to the deal, yet in a pragmatic sense their doing so seems totally irrational. A clear majority of Conservative Party members prefer a no-deal Brexit, despite loud and conceited fear-mongering in political discourse consistently describing the option as a ‘cliff edge’. This suggests the electorate and Tory base is engaged and is analysing for themselves, not apathetically settling for the orthodoxy. No matter how many fabricated, wishfully-thinking polls Rory Stewart cites, the parliamentary party’s passion for the deal is highly unlikely to ever be matched by voters or the grassroots any time soon.
This disconnect, alongside the continued appraisal of deeply unpopular Brexit agreement, is the reason for the haemorrhaging of support to the Brexit Party. A party abandoning a majority of its base represents unquestionable political stupidity. The political narrative from Remainers used to cite the possibility of a no-deal Brexit as a financial catastrophe and cliff edge – yet it is in fact the Tories who have come to find themselves staring over the edge of an increasingly volatile cliff. Perhaps this repeated prophecy was not meant for Britain in the eventuality of a WTO Brexit, but for its ruling party without one. The near 200-year-old party is enduring, but it is becoming quickly apparent that it is certainly not invincible.
Factional infighting, especially over the topic of Europe, has long been the bane of the Conservatives. Yet this time it is different. The oldest party in British politics may not be facing potential electoral oblivion yet but the Brexit Party is already polling considerably higher than UKIP ever did – and there is a feeling we have not yet seen it peak to its full potential. Further polling has suggested Nigel Farage’s new party has risen to become Britain’s most popular party for the European elections and could well attain second place at the national level.
As academic Matthew Goodwin puts it, the Tories have themselves to blame. It is their ineptitude to address adequately issues such as democracy, sovereignty and demand for free trade whilst in government that has far from quelled populism in the United Kingdom – it has put it on steroids. Farage has tapped into where the Tories, by all measures, should be – into long-deprived mainstream centre-right opinion. Patriotism and ambition is something that has long seemed vacant since the current Prime Minister took office.
The party’s own cliff edge situation now means that without embracing No Deal – the most popular Brexit option – what we have seen so far suggests they could be democratically replaced by the new right-of-centre party on the block. Currently, the Conservatives seemingly hold no ideological foundations. Under May the party has sold itself purely on pragmatism and competency. Its ineptitude in office suggests neither and ideologically inspires none, which is a dangerous position in which to be.
Trends in Europe show that traditional right-of-centre parties are susceptible to collapse and crash from their position in mainstream politics: France’s Les Républicains did in 2017, Italy’s Forza Italia did a year later, whilst Germany’s CDU and Spain’s Partido Popular are also currently looking like they are on their way out. First past the post has been often stated to be Britain’s structural defence of the two-party system; the public are well aware that without their tactically voting for their left-right preference they could well end up with their ideological opposition in government. This, then, is likely a sign that patience is wearing thin.
What’s more dangerous than Nigel Farage saying the things Conservative voters think, is that the Brexit Party’s strong polling means they are fast becoming a viable political option for the vast number of those the Tories neglect to represent.
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Lord Heseltine will be voting for the Liberal Democrats. This will come as no surprise to many Conservatives – the less generous amongst us may suspect this isn’t the first time – but to publicly endorse another party goes directly against our party rules; rules which are being used to intimidate and shut down Conservative Brexiteers who are threatening to vote for The Brexit Party on Thursday. As things stand, there has been no response to Heseltine’s outburst from CCHQ. [Since publication it has been announced that Lord Heseltine is being suspended from the Conservative whip in the House of Lords – Ed.]
Darling of the Tory grassroots, Ann Widdecombe, was treated quite differently. She received her letter of expulsion – after 53 years of service, including a period as a minister – merely a day after she announced her Brexit Party candidacy. Of course, standing for an opposition party is different to simply endorsing it. But it is not Ann Widdecombe who’s changed her position; it’s the Conservatives. On social issues, public opinion has developed and Widdecombe doesn’t reflect this. But she reflects other important Conservative principles, particularly in her bracing commitment to free enterprise, free markets and democracy. It is we who are failing to honour democracy, not her. She is a great loss and many Tory activists will have been encouraged to give Nigel Farage a second look because of her departure.
Perhaps there are explanations for Heseltine’s increasingly bitter position. He is, in many ways, an anachronism; an old patrician who is watching his country move in a global direction which he loathes. His recent Telegraph article revealed his long-held contempt for Margaret Thatcher; a grudge based more in his own failure to replace her than anything she did to him. Most Conservatives would choose Thatcher over Heseltine. Indeed, many blame him for her defenestration and, thereby, generating the circumstances for our protracted mid-1990s march into the wilderness. As I write, Heseltine is still a Conservative member. So the question is: why should there be one rule for Michael Heseltine and another for everybody else? [BrexitCentral has since learnt that the Conservative Party Board has decided to allow him to retain his Conservative Party membership on account of him merely stating a voting preference for another party but not campaigning for them or encouraging others to do so, and that any party member simply expressing a preference for another party at this European election will be treated likewise – Ed.]
It is no secret that the Conservative Party is in a bad way. The disconnect between the grassroots and the leadership has never been more profound. Associations are holding no confidence motions in the Prime Minister. Activists are downing tools. The relationship between the ordinary membership and much of the Parliamentary party – particularly the self-styled, Ruddite “one nation” wing – is at breaking point. There is a clear reason for this: Brexit.
Repeatedly, Theresa May promised us we would be leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. Repeatedly, she promised us we would be leaving on 29th March. Repeatedly, she told us no deal was better than a bad deal. All of these promises have now been broken. There is a collective sense amongst not just the activist base but the wider country that we’ve been wilfully misled.
It should be no surprise that the Brexit Party is trouncing us in the polls. What is a surprise is the way our leadership seems to be reacting to this. CCHQ is threatening activists who show sympathy to Farage’s pro-Brexit movement with disciplinary procedures, including suspension and expulsion. Is there really anything to be gained from throwing out Brexiteers simply for sticking to their principles? Why encourage further splits in a party which is already split? Clearly, there will be a leadership contest soon and a new Prime Minister installed. Given the Herculean task they will face, they will need all the support they can get from the grassroots – including Brexiteers, who, we mustn’t forget, make up the majority of the membership.
The solution to this mess is obvious. Rather than be seen to favour Remainers over Brexiteers or grandees over activists, the Conservative Party should announce an amnesty. These elections were never supposed to happen; indeed, we were repeatedly told they wouldn’t happen. Emotions are running high. Now is the time for CCHQ to be circumspect. Activists who have supported the Conservatives in many cases for decades deserve a degree of respect and a chance to make their voices heard. Let’s park the internal acrimony and stop trying to intimidate an already seething base. The Conservative Party should allow Conservatives to be honest about their vote this Thursday.
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Politics had never been a big ambition for me, but I always viewed it as one of the most effective ways of making a difference for the things that I care about, such as LGBT rights, fighting poverty, supporting refugees and tackling climate change. Which is why getting on the Conservative Party’s Approved List of Parliamentary Candidates was a really big deal for me.
For most people not fortunate enough to be independently wealthy, getting into politics is a passion and a hobby, and making the move onto the Candidates’ List is a big commitment. It costs time, money and energy that people with jobs and families have in short supply. That sacrifice is too great when instead of fighting for what you believe in, you suddenly find yourself being asked to fight against it.
The Conservative Party is explicitly laying the blame for Brexit not being delivered on those MPs who have fought for a Brexit that cuts the legal and financial shackles with the EU that we have already explicitly said we want gone. We are being asked to blame our own people for committing the heinous crime of standing up for what the country asked for, what our party membership believes is the right thing to do and what our Prime Minister committed – time and again – to having had sorted by 29th March 2019.
Like many who campaigned for us to Leave the EU, such was my faith in the strength of our democracy and the inherent decency of those whom we elected to represent us, that once the result was announced I stopped campaigning and decided to let our politicians get on with the job that we asked them to do. The manifesto commitments at the 2017 General Election from both main parties further assured me that there was no point in refighting a battle that we had already won.
That faith was clearly misplaced.
Labour apparently support Brexit but not a “Tory Brexit”; the Conservatives decided that they didn’t want to break bread with Labour MPs who represented some of the most passionate Leave areas of the country until it was too late. Now the only two options being put on the table both consist of us remaining in some form of terminal lock with the EU and all the ramifications which come from that. This is conspiracy, not cock-up, with the end result being that we voted for something and Parliament is refusing to do as it said it would do.
Voting is a binary process. Your vote is either worth one, or it is worth none. Yet it now seems acceptable to openly disparage the equal value that should be afforded to the vote of someone who is white working class on the basis that they are white and working class. It now seems acceptable for the Liberal Democrats, only recently a party of coalition government, to call democracy “bollocks” on the front page of their manifesto. It now seems acceptable to accuse someone who is LGBT or BME or in any other way not part of the standard Brexit stereotype as a traitor, an idiot and a self-hater for standing up and saying that they’re perfectly capable of making up their own mind. Our political class has nurtured and participated in this behaviour because by weakening the validity of our vote it strengthens their ability to ignore us.
It was that concept of democracy acting as our ultimate insurance policy against oppression and inequality that got me involved in Brexit in the first place.
We were told during the referendum campaign that LGBT rights and freedoms came from EU membership and that they would be under threat if we left. It was a lie – and one I felt was pretty crucial to counteract through the Out & Proud LGBT Brexit campaign that I decided to set up. The reason why the UK is one of the best countries in the EU – and the world – to be LGBT is because as a society we support these rights and so we elect politicians who make laws which support these rights too.
I asked myself: “If you do not know where your rights and freedoms come from, how can you defend them if they ever come under threat?”
That question seems ever more pertinent today. If we cannot hold true to the fundamental principle of democracy in this country then every future manifesto or party platform is rendered bogus. Trust in politics is at an all-time low and people are doubting if voting really makes a difference at all. So if we are to salvage anything out of this sorry situation, it must be to send a message to every current and future politician that you play games with our democratic rights at your peril.
I cannot do that as a candidate as it would mean I would have to deliver leaflets blaming those who have stood up for our democracy for the failings of those who failed to deliver on what was expected of them. It feels like a terrible waste after all these years of campaigning for a party that I still fundamentally think has the most to offer this country. But without the guarantee that this is all underpinned with democratic accountability, I feel it is pretty meaningless.
You cannot ask people to vote for you when the message you’ve sent them through your actions is that their vote is only a guise to allow you to do what you’re going to do anyway. And for that, with great regret, I am out.
The post The Conservative Party’s attacks on honourable Brexiteers have driven me to quit its Candidates’ List appeared first on BrexitCentral.
As the first full week of campaigning for the European Elections draws to a close, what have we Conservative candidates been up to? Well, a surprising amount – given that we did not start until we were in what would normally be the GOTV (Get Out The Vote) stage of the election.
Working with our national party the five Conservative candidates in the East Midlands have produced a leaflet for our region with local content and local messaging. Clearly there will not be enough time to get copies to every household, but we are doing our best. Local Conservative Associations are pitching in by going out delivering copies in their patch. If you live in the East Midlands, keep an eye open for one popping through your letterbox. That is, of course, on top of the national freepost leaflet which is going out to all voters.
We have also been knocking on doors. Inevitably we knock on far fewer doors than we deliver leaflets. It is more time-consuming and there are always fewer volunteers for canvassing than there are for delivering. Nevertheless we have managed several sessions, with – it must be admitted – mixed results. In some areas we have been met with what could best be described as apathy – although one of my colleagues termed it ‘voter fatigue’. Elsewhere there was outright hostility and undoubtedly many voters are very angry indeed. I’ve had more doors slammed in my face this week than any other week when I’ve been out canvassing – and that includes the 1997 election. One gentleman did not even allow me to say “good afternoon”. He took one look at my blue rosette, told me where to go and shut the door.
More positively, once we can get engaged in conversation with a voter, they are proving to be receptive to our message. It is, after all, true that it was the Conservatives who delivered on the promise to hold a referendum on the EU back in 2016. Since then, my East Midlands colleague Emma McClarkin and I have worked tirelessly to achieve Brexit and to explain the British position to colleagues, diplomats and business leaders from across the continent. Only the British government can deliver Brexit, and it will need MEPs in Brussels willing to support that ambition. And a vote at this election will not change the situation in Westminster, where the delays have originated. And above all we must not give Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party a boost that will take them closer to Downing Street. We have a good story to tell and when we can find someone willing to listen, they seem persuaded.
We have also been doing a good deal of media interviews and interaction. Emma McClarkin has been leading us there, but I have swept up when she has been unavailable. Two interviews stand out. The first was with Channel Four News who wanted to interview me in a café in Leicester. They chose the patio, which was rather chilly and explains why I am wrapped up in an overcoat. To be fair, we did talk about the European Elections, Brexit and EU policy. However, they seemed most interested in a book that I wrote some ten years ago.
The second came when a reporter and photographer from the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel came to Northamptonshire. Having interviewed me in another café (inside this time), they announced that they wanted to come out on the doorstep with me. The first door revealed a Labour voter who was going Brexit Party, the second a Green voter, the third a Conservative who was going to abstain, the fourth a young man who had just stepped out of the shower and was annoyed to find a canvasser and the fifth a Conservative voter going Brexit. It was not until the eighth doorstep that I found a Conservative voter who was going to vote Conservative.
“I’m glad that I have got my job, and not yours,” laughed the German reporter as he scribbled away in his notebook.
Bizarrely we have only just started campaigning, and yet are heading towards the finishing post at great speed. There is not really enough time to get a clear picture of the electorate, their hopes, fears and attitudes. The omens are not good for we Conservatives – and the opinion polls are downright depressing; but the opera is not over until the fat lady sings.
Onwards to the final week of campaigning in these most peculiar elections…
The post The omens are not good for we Conservatives at the European election, but we have a good story to tell appeared first on BrexitCentral.
It has been over one thousand days since the EU referendum: over one thousand days since the biggest mandate at a referendum in UK history; over one thousand days since a staggering 17.4 million Brits put a cross next to the Leave option on the ballot paper. Yet over one thousand days later, the United Kingdom is still a member of the European Union and we are still having the Remain/Leave discussion.
It should no longer be a question of Remain or Leave. That debate was settled on 23rd June 2016. It should now be about respecting the result of a democratic process. Democracy is at the heart of British values and to hold another referendum would be a brutal blow to such an important principle and an insult to the people of Britain.
Political apathy is already a problem in the UK: nearly one in three did not cast a vote at the 2017 General Election and if the result of the referendum were ignored, I fear the democratic deficit would only worsen.
I think it is a common misconception by Remainers that Brexiteers fear a second referendum. We are definitely not scared. We just think it would be wrong. In fact, if the referendum was not a big enough mandate for Brexit, let’s not forget that over 80% of current MPs were elected on manifestos saying they “respect the referendum result”.
Of course, the biggest elephant in the room is how on earth we secure Brexit after Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was voted down three times. However, the truth is that this wasn’t Brexit at all. There were too many unnecessary strings attached — most obviously the backstop issue and that staggering £39 billion divorce bill.
Nearly every Brexiteer is united around the belief that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. However, at this point I don’t think any deal will get through Parliament — partly due to that Remain majority in the Commons of around 300. What did get through Parliament, however, was Article 50. Article 50 clearly stated that we would be leaving the European Union on 29th March 2019, two years after it was triggered — irrespective of whether we got a deal or not. Therefore, the United Kingdom should have left the EU on 29th March. But we didn’t.
The Conservative Party has let me down. I have been a loyal member since I was sixteen, spending many an evening canvassing for my local elections. Theresa May promised she would deliver on Brexit; however, allowing “No Deal” to be taken off the table, any chance of a respectable deal was gone. There seems to be no room for negotiation left. Why on earth would the EU budge on anything once they knew Parliament would not accept No Deal? Regrettably, it has come to the point where it seems to be a choice between Remaining or Leaving with No Deal – and the latter is definitely the better option.
This betrayal has led me to make the drastic decision to vote against my own party at the European election. I will be voting for the Brexit Party. I encourage other Conservative Party members, Labour Party members, people who were on the Remain side of the argument and indeed anyone else who truly believes in democracy to do the same. If the Brexit Party succeed in these elections, the likes of Change UK will be left with no line of argument — after all the only thing they seem to determined to change is the result of the referendum!
Wake up parliamentarians! The British people are strong and resolute. I urge you to join me in voting for the Brexit Party on 29th March. Democracy must prevail.
The post The Brexit betrayal has left me no choice but to vote against my own party next week appeared first on BrexitCentral.
Would anybody have predicted the catastrophe that has been Theresa May’s premiership? Standing outside Downing Street during her first speech as Prime Minister, many – including me – were excited about the prospect of her leadership. She was a Remainer, yes, but I understood why that had happened at the time. She was well-liked, a ‘unifier’, someone who was fairly silent during the referendum and was careful not to polarise herself on either side of the debate.
Promising to tackle the “burning inequalities” within our society and deliver Brexit, many were duped into thinking that after David Cameron’s sudden departure, the Tories would continue to offer up political and economic stability, whilst steering us out of the European Union on the mandate that was given to them on 23rd June 2016.
Oh, how wrong I and many others were. Fast forward to 2019, and not only have we still not left the EU (despite the repeated empty assurances by May), but we are even further from any kind of consensus. The Conservative Government has resorted to begging Labour to get any semblance of Brexit through Parliament in order to save May’s failing premiership, even if it means betraying 17.4 million people voters by signing up to a customs union that ‘doesn’t sound like a customs union’.
The glittery ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ soundbite was only said ‘in abstract’, apparently. It’s clear that the Prime Minister had no intention of honouring that pledge at all. In her world, we either force through her soft Remain deal or get nothing at all. Looking back at all of her bravado three years ago and continuing today, it is clear that this Prime Minister is the mistress of hyperbole and dishonesty.
Unsurprisingly, the appetite for Theresa May to leave has grown greater than ever. Conservative activists are planning to issue a vote of no confidence in her and the 1922 committee are hot on her heels – yet she continues to cling on. She just won’t get the message. It seems she is completely adverse to any sort of criticism of her handling of the Brexit negotiations, despite the fact that damning evidence against her mounts more and more each day.
Guy Verhofstadt told the BBC documentary Brexit: Behind Closed Doors, that May’s Chief EU ‘negotiator’, Olly Robbins, said to him that he’d like to become a Belgian citizen after we left the EU. Anybody else would have been sacked, but not Olly Robbins. Worse still, in this same BBC documentary, a member of Verhofstadt’s team celebrated our surrender by crowing: “We’ve got our first colony!”
Even after the loss of more than 1,300 Conservative councillors at the local elections (surpassing the expectation of 800-1,000 seats being lost), and the 1922 Committee demanding a timetable for her departure, May had the audacity to say: “This isn’t about me”. I think Andrea Jenkyns spoke for all of us when she wondered of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons last week: ‘Why she won’t leave?’ More and more people are asking this question, and any authority the Prime Minister used to command has disintegrated. The truth is that May’s intransigence has got nothing to do with what’s good for the country or ‘delivering on the will of the people’.
Her contesting the vote of confidence in her leadership, us participating in the European election and our departure being delayed until 31st October is not about the country. This is about what’s best for May and what’s left of her political legacy. In her mind, if she can just get Brexit out of the way in the softest way possible, she can then fully embrace her domestic agenda without being plagued by Brexit and save her political career.
One failure after another, May is seemingly impeccable at worming her way out of any difficult situation by threatening the prospect of Labour, or demonising those in opposition to her agenda, all to fulfil the end of convincing us her ‘deal’ is Brexit. Only time will tell where this disastrous road ends, potentially damaging the reputation and morale of the Conservative Party irreparably.
The post How wrong we were to trust Theresa May to deliver Brexit appeared first on BrexitCentral.
And so to Conservative Campaign Headquarters for an in-depth briefing on how our party is going to run the European Election Campaign. I was greeted by one of my fellow Conservative MEPs who took me by the arm and steered me aside to a quiet corner.
“Have you heard our campaign slogan for these elections?” he asked. I hadn’t. “It is ‘Vote Conservative because everything is going wonderfully’,” then he burst out laughing. The gallows humour was kicking in early.
As it turns out we will not be having a campaign slogan as such, but instead a number of approved lines to use. And given that there are only two weeks left to voting day I would not be giving very much away to say that we are skipping a lot of activity that usually takes place and going straight for the Get Out the Vote activity. So no national campaign launch, no manifesto and no policy announcements.
Briefing over, the 50 or so MEP candidates prepared to leave, only to find that we were all locked in the conference room. Who had the key to let us out? Nobody seemed to know. Eventually the right chap was found and we were let out into the London twilight. There must be a metaphor there somewhere, but I can’t find it.
Of course, the big news this time last week was the local election results. We Conservatives received an absolute hammering. Regular readers will recall that while I predicted a bad day for the Conservatives, I spectacularly missed the true extent of the disaster. I will excuse myself on the grounds that in the East Midlands, which I represent, we had some very good results – notably in North East Derbyshire – which may have misled me rather.
I stand by what I wrote then about the reasons. Where a Conservative campaign was targeted on a popular local issue then the doorstep conversations [and apparently the votes] concentrated on discussion of that. Where there was no obvious local issue then talking to voters tended to drift to national issues – and so Brexit dominated. In Leave areas that meant we did badly. In some places our voters stayed at home and turnout was down; elsewhere votes were actively cast against us – in some parts for Independents of one kind or another. And there were unprecedented numbers of spoilt ballot papers – hundreds of them in some places. None of which bodes well for our results in the European Elections.
Anyway, social media is now full of Remainers claiming that the boost in councillors for the Lib Dems and Greens [fanatical Remain parties both] shows that the British people have turned their backs on Brexit. All I would say is that the view from the streets here would indicate something different. Lib Dem leaflets in this area did not mention Brexit at all – except in one corner of Leicestershire where the Lib Dems very noticeably failed to win. “Their anti-Brexit leaflets helped us enormously,” the winning Conservative candidate told me yesterday.
And so the European Election Campaign begins. I’m out on the doorstep today. I’ll report back on my experiences in my next column.
The post Off I head on the Euro Election campaign trail without a manifesto or a slogan appeared first on BrexitCentral.
My European election campaign began at 7.35 am on 26th April in a debate between four of the main parties on Radio Five Live.
I had, of course, listened to endless Brexit debates, but it was the first time I found myself participating as a frontline protagonist.
When the Plaid Cymru representative started to re-run arguments from the referendum campaign about why we should Remain and suggested the time had come for a ‘People’s Vote’, I was (even though I had of course heard such arguments before) deeply troubled.
As I reflected more on this afterwards, I concluded the reason I felt quite so strongly about this was that the Plaid spokesperson had effectively sought to diminish a core part of my identity and I suspect that will be true for many others, regardless of whether we regard ourselves as first British or first Welsh or first English etc.
In order to explain why, I need to back up a bit.
Some years ago, I listened to an Argentinian speaking to a group of Brits about our national character. It was quite a tough call for him, but the truth is that, while these exercises inevitably involve crude generalisations that are not true of everyone, they can be quite insightful, especially when coming from someone who is not British – looking in from the outside.
Our South American friend was very honest, and not everything he said was complimentary, but what he said about our positive attributes really resonated with me. He said (and this was particularly striking given that he had lived through the Falklands War) words to the effect: you Brits have a very keenly developed sense of fair play and because of this you are very good at performing the role of an honest broker.
I think this generalisation contains within it a lot of truth which has been exhibited on numerous occasions during our history, including in the aftermath of the September 1997 Welsh devolution referendum in which the Yes vote won with a majority of less than a third of a single percentage point.
If ever there was a time to suggest that perhaps there should have been a second referendum, that was surely it.
In truth, however, the rules had all been set out in advance and everyone knew them. They clearly stated that if either the Yes or No vote got over 50%, they would be deemed to have the majority and have won, be it ten or twenty percent, or just 0.3% as was actually the case. It was because of this that the result was accepted and the Assembly established a year and a half later. There was never a second referendum for the purpose of just checking that people hadn’t changed their minds, even though it would only have taken a tiny fraction of people to change their minds to create an entirely different outcome.
In this context, the decision of Plaid, the Lib Dems and now Labour to entertain the possibility of a second referendum on our membership of the EU, even when a) the 2016 referendum secured a majority more than 9 times that of the Welsh referendum and b) each party accepted the Welsh referendum result, constitutes the manifestation of blatant double standards.
As I have reflected more on this, it seems to me that what is proposed is not only wrong, but it also seeks, in a very real sense, to disinherit us from a key part of who we are – kicking our keen sense of fair play into touch. To the extent that Brexit itself is an attempt to regain control, to re-inherit, if you will, what it means to be British, the fact that this tactic of disinheritance from a core national characteristic is being deployed by those advocating remaining in the EU is surely fitting?
I am, of course, keenly aware that in seeking to defend their position, advocates of another ‘People’s Vote’ state that inaccurate claims were made during the 2016 campaign. That is probably true of both sides. We all remember, for example, the emergency budget we were told would be needed to follow immediately after a Brexit vote. It never materialised.
The truth is, however, that if making an inaccurate claim in the context of a democratic vote invalidates the result then, sadly, many votes should be invalidated. The 2017 General Election is a case in point. The 2017 Labour manifesto resulted in the election of an additional 30 Labour MPs to Parliament on the basis of a huge programme of additional public spending, amounting to £49 billion, to be delivered by increasing the tax burden on just the top 5% of earners.
The respected Institute of Fiscal Studies, however, produced a report pointing out that Labour’s proposals would necessitate taking money from many working families, not just the top 5%. Moreover, the IFS also made it clear that the proposed tax regime would not raise anything like £49 billion.
The additional 30 Labour MPs secured on the basis of this manifesto have had a direct impact on Brexit. Without them the Yvette Cooper Bill would never have passed. Should that vote now be deemed invalid?
The truth is that the 2016 referendum was the biggest democratic exercise in our history and the people of the UK voted by a majority of over 1 million people to Leave. Some people may think it OK to ignore this. Some people may think it OK to call for another referendum in the hope that we get a different outcome. At the end of the day, however, what is required is a reality check. The keen sense of fair play that many Britons feel won’t allow it and any attempt to squash that sense of fair play will diminish us and disinherit us from part of who we are.
The forthcoming European election provides a great opportunity to signal our opposition to those who would question the 2016 vote, and to support those candidates who really believe in Brexit.
This, however, is not the only relevant consideration in this election.
We also need Brexit-supporting MEPs who are connected directly with Brexit-supporting MPs at Westminster – where key decisions must be made – so they can work together to secure Brexit as quickly as possible. That simply won’t be possible if we elect Brexit-supporting MEPs from a party with no representation at Westminster, like the Brexit Party. In this context it is also important to appreciate that the chief consequence of any weakening of Conservative representation in the European Parliament, from a Westminster perspective, will be to strengthen the hands of Jeremy Corbyn even if he isn’t the overall winner. Given the centrality of the Westminster Parliament to our exiting the EU, that would actually weaken our Brexit negotiating position.
It is for both these reasons that as someone who campaigned for Brexit and voted for Brexit, I am pleased to be standing in these elections as the lead Conservative candidate in Wales at the European election.
It is astonishing yet not surprising that the Prime Minister and others in her party have taken the local election results as a signal to tell MPs that they must now come together and vote through her deal. Do the Prime Minister and her deal promoters think the British people are fools?
How many times have we heard this before from Mrs May? How many times did she tell us we would leave the EU by 29th March? How many times has she promised to ‘break the deadlock’?
To hear her plea for support from the Labour Party which – with the exception of a few – is crammed full of ultra-Remainers and has a leadership that is tilted to the far left is extraordinary and dangerous.
How anyone could countenance such negotiations to further the appalling Withdrawal Agreement is beyond most of us. Someone needs to tell her and her supporters that it is they (not the vote to Leave) who are damaging our country and our people.
The message must be clear and as follows: “Prime Minister, you may have heard what the British people have said, but you have not listened to them. We voted to leave the EU and all its institutions: the Single Market, the Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Your deal is rotten beyond belief, it is a betrayal of the referendum result.”
Despite this sorry saga, the media and some politicians talk of her tenacity and self-belief with a hint of admiration for her ability to resist pressure to resign. How much longer will it be and how much more damage will be done before the people in grey suits wake up to the reality that our PM and deal-backers have lost the plot?
As I said to a senior and highly-respected Conservative Member of Parliament only last week, the Conservative Party risks being obliterated if it maintains its current course.
Its only chance of salvation rests with changing the current leadership and leaving the EU now on WTO rules. To not do this would be the biggest act of self-harm for the Conservative Party in its history – not mention for the future of our country.
The local election debacle confirmed – if we needed any confirmation – that the public’s patience has worn out, to be replaced by frustration and anger at the damaging and embarrassing equivocation, indecision and inertia which has come to characterise Mrs May’s premiership.
She has clearly and quite categorically missed the point of the local election debacle. Does she really think that the ‘takeaway’ message is that we want her to get her deal through or ‘over the line’? Is this more disingenuous political rhetoric and capitulation or is she seriously in denial?
To be clear Mrs May: it is not that we want you to agree your deal or any deal merely for the sake of it, which would be Brexit In Name Only. It is that we are sick of the procrastination and betrayal; we want to leave, leave now, and leave with a clean Brexit, free of the EU and of any of its institutions and damaging directives.
There can be no face-saving departure, no resigning with dignity – as all of us would have much preferred. These opportunities passed many months ago, arguably as far back as the 2017 General Election result.
It’s time for the Conservative Party to face the facts: their leader and her willing crew believe in their deal and themselves so much that they have all gone off the reservation. It is time for them to depart now, before we all go the same way.
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