British politics is being warped by a tiny minority who will pick the next leader and a cast of candidates who refuse to face simple truthsby Guy de Jonquières / June 19, 2019 / Leave a comment
The surprise of the week so far has not been sprung by the mostly turgid televised Tory party leadership debates. It is the YouGov poll finding that most Conservative members are ready to accept serious economic damage, the breakup of the United Kingdom and the destruction of their own party in order to achieve Brexit. Only if Brexit brought Jeremy Corbyn to power would most not want it to happen—thereby contradicting the aspirant leaders’ repeated insistence that failure to deliver Brexit would produce precisely that result.
These, it appears, are the considered views of the estimated 160,000 people who will shortly anoint Britain’s prime minister—a number that has mysteriously swollen by a third as their party’s popularity has steadily slumped in the polls.
That the leadership of a nation of almost 70m people should be decided by a group representing less than 0.4 per cent of the electorate is, to put it mildly, anomalous. That that group has apparently abandoned the Tory tradition of moderate pragmatism and turned into a fervent modern-day cargo cult is downright worrying. It does, however, help explain the dismally low quality of the leadership contest.
The candidates face an impossible dilemma: trying to appeal both to the clique of Tory true believers clamouring for Brexit at literally any cost and to the half, possibly more, of voters in the country for whom that prospect is anathema. Most have responded by obfuscating, dodging the substantive issues, dissimulating, blustering and embroidering the truth. The question of what Brexit actually means and its impact on the country has vanished into a big cloud of hot air.
Most of the candidates’ claims have boiled down to breast-beating, brandishing their purported credentials and pleading “trust me, I’ll get Brexit sorted.” Hardly a persuasive pitch when none boasts an impressive ministerial record or has much, if any, experience of handling the heavyweight negotiations with the EU that Brexit will entail, deal or no deal.
Jeremy Hunt has insisted that his record—which includes founding three failed start-ups, along with provoking the first all-out NHS strike in history—makes him the man for the job; Dominic Raab, before he was eliminated, that after his short and undistinguished stint as Brexit secretary he alone could get the better of Brussels; and Michael Gove that…