The Rage Against Rumour

In a moment of glorious irony, the Iron Lady once praised a certain William Whitelaw, faithful Deputy and Leader of the House of Lords, with the phrase “Every Prime Minister needs a Willie.” But in recent days and weeks, it seems this gem of Parliamentary wit may have more relevance than ever before. And certainly not in the way Mrs Thatcher would have expected – the British People’s biggest beef with their premier appears to be a small matter of pork.

This unsubstantiated rumour must be music to Bernard Cribbins’ ears, but, in keeping with the honest, sincere style of leadership now infiltrating Westminster, his somewhat discordant Labour Party hasn’t made capital out of it. To do so would dig an even larger hole for himself, and to avoid the jaws of farce is at least slightly commendable. But the media have delighted in tales of Bullington Club antics of late, and it’s coming perilously close to the sort of received wisdom which shrouds Tony Blair’s largely noble premiership and Mother Teresa’s rather suspicious rise to international fame.

It’s all the more sickening when the source of this cheap gossip and cheaper satire is considered. In fact, he’s the exact sort of exorbitant donor despised by Corbynites across the land: one who pours money into the Conservative coffers, sulks for a while about the supposed insignificance of his reward, then publishes an unauthorised biography to claw a bit of cash back from the indiscriminate cesspool outside his realm and embarrass the top of the party he’d given so much to. Apparently, PigGate found its way in as “it would make people smile.” Yes, the great British public who’ll believe anything they’re told are yet again the target of good old-fashioned backstabbing. It’s pathetic.

And yet the sort of people who call for transparency and decency in affairs of state, the new wave of radicals and free-thinkers, the deeply moral individuals who yearn for a political culture in which opponents are treated with honour and respect – it seems that those who would apply such labels to themselves are also the main propagators of profoundly unpleasant fairytales, ones which will leave a generation of schoolchildren unable to look at William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ in quite the same way again. All this with a blissful, self-imposed air of absolute ignorance which dispels any hint alluding to self-centred distortions of the few self-evident particulars.

In truth, this whole business is a fantastically trivial one. However, the wider issue which it illustrates is considerably more substantial: an unprincipled, hypocritical and frankly dangerous form of double-edged criticism pervading British politics like mayonnaise in a shop-bought sandwich. It isn’t even justifiable in the face of perhaps the most nauseating claim Ashcroft’s made in his new pot-boiler, even more disgusting than that which has received the greatest amount of tabloid attention. The prospect of our Prime Minister exposing the homeless to Thatcher’s monetarist crusade head-on is one with truly serious ramifications, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe it’s anything less of a porky-pie than his brief encounter with a pig, no doubt set to a tuneful blast of Rachmaninoff on the gramophone.

Essentially, there’s a decision to be made here. Either ‘Call me Dave’ is innocent of all charges, or the word of a controversial Tory politician is to be taken at face value. The choice is yours.

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Nicky for the Nation

This week’s Tory conference put the party squarely in the centre of British politics – exactly where it needs to be. Despite a somewhat bombastic speech from Teresa May, some questionable remarks from ‘Call Me Dave’ and the best efforts of the loony left, it seems the Blues are back in business, perhaps a little sanguine and pretty self-assured. But, as previous articles have no doubt explained, the job description for next decade’s leader is looking rather lengthy.

“Heir to Thatcher and Cameron legacies wanted. Obliged to win election and inspire confidence. Must appeal to left, right and floating voters with a sizable dollop of backbench appeasement. Corbyn-thrasher, absolutely non-negotiable. Charm and appealing personality vital but must remain genuine. Most difficult post in the UK up for grabs. Experience essential. No gaffes please.”

Personally, I’d prefer a socio-economic liberal from the moderate wing of the party, and such an applicant would be much better suited to eat into an inevitably stronger Liberal vote and distribute an effective vaccination to Socialism. Though any future Prime Minister should be judged on their abilities and not their gender, it would also be rather good to have a woman at the head of the operation, giving the centre-right a fine opportunity to play their ‘Iron Lady’ card without acquiescing to some of her more divisive policies. An impossible job? Step forward Loughborough MP Nicky Morgan.

Since entering Parliament in 2005, Nicky has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the Conservative ranks, colleagues noting her competence, skill and determination. Ascending through the Whips’ Office and Treasury, she was finally appointed Education Secretary in 2014, taking over from the controversial Michael Gove with a deliberate air of freshness and light. Following the surprising General Election – in which she stood and fought for her marginal constituency rather than taking the easy road of a safe seat on the other side of the boundary – she’s kept her key brief and impressed with regular appearances on Question Time and her involvement with the Bright Blue think-tank, responsible for many of the best and most optimistic ideas influencing the modern Conservative party. Tuesday’s conference speech was of her usual, high standards.

If you’re thinking she’s too good to be true, I’ve dug up two small blemishes, just to address that concern head-on. The first little error of judgment was implying that STEM subjects which have lucid career paths are superior choices compared to artistic fields which reap the rewards of overemphasis; it’s conceivable that a point may be found there, but I don’t think it was a great choice of words. Secondly, the issue of same-sex marriage manifests itself before the court. Morgan voted against this bill of equal opportunity as “on the day of the vote, I had 285 people who had written asking me to vote against it and just 24 asking me to vote for it; at that point, it was clear to me that people in my constituency wanted me to vote against it.”

She also cited her Anglican faith and a few technicalities in the proposed legislation which led her to oppose the motion, but it’s the inference that letter-writing is the best method of determining public views which really bugs me. At risk of descending into the realm of lazy stereotypes, it seems much more likely that supporters of Equal Marriage will attend Pride Rallies, sign petitions or celebrate equality over social media than pen a letter to their Tory MP. The opposite’s probably true as well. Morgan failed to recognise how the diversity of the electorate is reflected in their methods of expression, which are equally varied and wonderful.

It wasn’t much of a surprise, therefore, that the ‘Women and Equalities’ brief was sliced in two during the last cabinet reshuffle, with Morgan getting a brief which I’d rather see go down the pan and the latter half going to rising star Sajid Javid. However, when the repentant Education Secretary voiced her change of heart, the posts were promptly recombined and she holds all of them today. But let’s face it: I’m nit-picking, really.

In Nicky Morgan, the Tory Party has its best shot at an election-winning figurehead who will see them extend their time in Government to at least fifteen years and oust the noble Mr Corbyn from the Labour frontbench. Under her leadership, I’m sure the Conservatives will go from strength to strength and might well exceed the unbroken streak of power which they enjoyed in the 1980s. I’d even suggest that the British people may have no better future leader in the two main parties of Westminster’s hallowed halls than her. But that probably isn’t a huge compliment with the Commons in its present state. Even so, she certainly has my vote.

Most of my ‘featured images’ are scrounged from a dingy, Public Domain corner of the internet. But this one’s from my own collection. In February, I was honoured to meet the Education Secretary as runner-up for the Lord Glenamara Memorial prize, a fantastic event in University College London which bookended my year as an MYP. NK

The Conservative Catch-22

In the wake of the silence which followed my commentary on the future Tory leadership, I decided I wouldn’t write a sequel to spell out my thoughts that bit more clearly. Here it is.

With the Conservatives reinvigorated by two successive terms in Government, it’s inevitable that some elements of the Parliamentary party will look to leave David Cameron’s mark on the country beyond 2020, much as Thatcherite backbenchers proved to be a persistent challenge for Honest John. But the Iron Lady wasn’t ever seen as replaceable; her fourth son most certainly is. While there wasn’t any clear successor in 1990, there’s definitely a viable contender in the next few years: George Gideon Oliver Osborne, our long-serving Chancellor who’s rapidly becoming the Brown to Cameron’s Blair. Perhaps he always has been.

Unfortunately, rather like the ill-fated heir to New Labour, Osborne lacks his compeer’s relaxed charisma or appeal to floating voters, an issue compounded what many view as decidedly right-wing sympathies. Even though his Dispatch Box performances have seen something of an improvement recently, he may well struggle when confronted with Corbyn’s calm, compassionate style. Most importantly, he’ll have to win an election before thinking about legacies or consolidation. And somehow, I doubt he’s the right man for that particular job.

Similar problems plague the foreseeable candidacies of Gove, May or Javid, who would almost certainly be able to run a whelk stall with perfect organisation and efficiency – but only if the town crier were paid a pretty substantial fee to draw in the punters. Certainly, the perception which asserts the contemporary Tory Party to be led by non-entities and ciphers for each other’s egos would hardly be alleviated by most of the potential leaders who spring to mind, however misguided the foundation.

Boris Johnson provides a welcome exception to this view, but another foul dust of sleaze and distrust floats in his wake. In many respects, he suffers from the opposite problem to that which Osborne is facing: voters might crack a smile when he appears on stage, but some wouldn’t trust him to run the country or thrive on the diplomatic circuit. To put it another way, Westerners will be wondering what their little world has come to when the blonde bombshells of President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson are sat side by side at an international peace summit. Marching into the conference hall to the Peter Gunn Theme, no doubt: the Conservative Chums, the Blue Brothers, Partners in Crime.

There’s just one certainty about the next few years in British politics: they’re uncertain. It’s the only certainty, really. And that, I can tell you, is for certain. But anyway, we live in interesting times, and there are quite a few people who might have a stab at power come 2020. A mirror image of Corbyn’s sudden ascent to prominence, perhaps. I can just imagine the day when Peter Bone is greeted by rapturous cheers at a special Conservative conference, ready to lead his party into the upcoming election and beyond. What a horrible thought…

The Dave of Reckoning

I’m not the first person to work out that the Conservative Party has found itself in a pretty good position following their somewhat unexpected election victory. With Labour mired in cavernous divisions, UKIP smarting from defeat and the Liberals wounded in their worst result since the alliance’s jubilatory inception in the early 80s, the Tories are left with a clear choice: run wide to leave the legacy for which the famished backbenchers are pining or go for the apex and enjoy an unbroken streak of fifteen years in power. Only one tiny little problem stands in the way of a clearly signposted, win-win situation: our tactful premier.

David Cameron has, of course, announced plans to step down in 2020 and set in motion the election for a brand spanking new successor. I don’t blame him; it’s probably the right decision. By the time he leaves office, he’ll have led his party for fifteen years, nibbling at the Iron Lady’s high heels. But even John Major, the criminally underappreciated golden boy of Mrs. Thatcher’s latter reign, admits you’ve got to move on from that most prestigious of posts after a while – the stresses and strains of an indescribably important job, combined with the inevitable disconnectedness of high office, forces a sell-by date upon any self-respecting Prime Minister. Tony Blair chimes with him on this one, admitting that there’s a time for everything, not least power, not least perception, not least concession.

So ‘Call Me Dave’ is set to pull off a very rare trick and go out on a high, no matter what. But it’s inevitable that the pre-election appetiser he’s arranged for television viewers across the land will be a mêlée of competing ideas and principles, a battle for the life and soul of the party exemplified in just a few contenders. Nevertheless, obvious names are few and far between. Mighty acorns rarely prosper in the shadow of the great oak.

For those of you who are checking opinion polls and scratching heads at the sight of the words ‘great oak,’ bear in mind Michael Train-Spotting Portaloo’s really rather perceptive point about the types of people who we choose to lead the nation. There are, in fact, only two. One is the jobbing Member of Parliament who finds himself next in line to the throne whether he likes it or not – yes, they’re exclusively male so far. The other – and you’ll have no trouble guessing one divisive figure that fits into this category – are the ‘destiny’ politicians who enjoy a meteoric rise to power and the most sensational downfalls when they eventually manifest themselves.

In some ways, this mirrors the struggle between monopolists and competitors which keen students of capitalism and players of ‘Anti-Monopoly’ will certainly grasp. To this observation, I’ll add one of my own: since the era of media-fuelled British politics began with the Profumo Affair and ascent of pipe-smoking Yorkshireman Harold Wilson, the highest office of Government has alternated between these groupings without fail. Standing on the shoulders of their respective giants are Heath, Callaghan, Major and Brown.

It seems we like change in this country, played out like a soap opera fuelled by the Daily Mail. So we’ll probably end up with a suitably dreary man in a suit if that highly unreliable method is anything to go by. And I can tell you it probably isn’t. Come to think of it, Portillo’s curious admiration for Wilson suddenly seems somehow appropriate. But I’m straying from the matter in hand.

David Cameron was only elected Tory Leader after four years in Parliament, and from there he revolutionised his party with an injection of vigour and the pleasant, open face of an airbrushed fashion model or well-sandpapered cricket bat. From the depths of ridicule, the Conservatives rose to become a truly electable force in a remarkable comeback almost worthy of Nelson Mandela, Slade or Lazarus. When the architect of this return to form finally steps down, it’ll be the end of an era. And that’ll be equally remarkable in itself: a political career that doesn’t end in absolute failure, and a ‘destiny’ Prime Minister who passes the baton with dignity and pride.