Sunday 9 June 2019

On the Road to No Deal

It was significant, but hardly anyone noticed. In time, perhaps these words will come to characterise Theresa May's time in Number 10. But right now, they accurately capture her resignation, on Friday, of her leadership of the Conservative Party. Yes, sure, for a change she kept her promise but it is weird how it passed with nary a comment or headline. Oh well, she's yesterday's chip paper now and the focus of Tory watchers is on what her would-be replacements are saying and doing. And, interestingly, there's been a lot of movement going in to this weekend.

First of all, the Tories have reformulated their rules for the leadership election. Yes, I know, moving the goalposts once the game's under way is a bit suss, but more fool you for expecting fairness from the Conservative Party. Nominations for one's candidacy have to be submitted by 10th June, with the threshold of eligibility raised from a proposer and seconder to this plus eight other MPs. As they couldn't meet this meagre bar, no-hopers Kit Malthouse and James Cleverly have withdrawn their candidacies. There will then be a few days of jockeying and positioning among the qualified before the first round of voting on the 13th. Candidates with polling fewer than 16 votes will then get the chop. The second ballot requires a minimum of 32 votes, and will take place on the following Tuesday. If more than two pass through this round then the candidate with the lowest vote is eliminated. If three or more candidates remain in play, then another round of voting takes place on Wednesday, then Thursday, then Friday and so on until two are left standing. These are then put to the membership. Given the Monday deadline, is it any wonder all leading Tories have ramped up their presence in this weekend's press and politics telly?

Before this process began, surveying the field divided Tory hopefuls into two broad camps: the deals and the no deals. Thanks to revelations this week we find this cut across by deals of another sort: those leading to the consumption of controlled substances. Rory Stewart (opium), Michael Gove (coke), Boris Johnson (snow), Andrea Leadsom (draw), Jeremy Hunt (dope), and given her former career as a celebrity of sorts, Esther McVey has probably led a "worldly life" as well. None of this matters in the grand scheme of things, and I'm sure most people tuning in to Andrew Marr on a Sunday morning would be more interested to hear what Gove has to say about his leadership pitch than his faux contrition over snorting charlie. For Gove at least, there is some suggestion his cocaine confessions were a case of jumping before he was pushed. But what about the rest? It all has more than a whiff of authentocrat posturing about it.

Someone who was a very good boy and has never touched drugs in his life is Sajid Javid. While he has struggled to stand out from the pack, the backing of Ruth Davidson is a feather in his cap. While our Ruth is something of an empty cypher, her cultivated plebeian image and leadership of the Scottish Tories - which gave them their best election result since 1983 - confers her the kind of clout other "modernising" Tories lack. Writing in the Mail on Sunday, her endorsement amounts to him having come from a working class background and being an instinctive unionist. He also proposes a "£100bn infrastructure investment fund" that, a few short years ago, would have found him denounced as a crypto-communist. All told, it should be enough to prevent him from the humiliation of a first round rejection, but after that? There's still not a lot going for his candidacy.

Jeremy Hunt, inexplicably, is frequently tipped as a frontrunner. Heaven knows why. As someone who has distinguished himself as a no no-deal'er he's had to grub around in the Tory id for suppressed desires - in his case it's wanting to reduce the term limit for abortions from 24 to 12 weeks. However, interviewed on Ridge this morning, he was very quick to add it "wouldn't be government policy". A case of signalling his dubious virtue to the Tory membership without committing him to a position ponging of electoral bromide. Nice, cynical, work.

Despite the blowback over blowgate, Gove has grabbed the biggest piece of the action though. His headline announcement, "I would scrap VAT is certainly eye-catching. We all know how much prices have gone up, particularly when it comes to food, so cutting VAT has an appeal to all voters and throws down the gauntlet to Labour. As an indirect tax, VAT disproportionately hits poorer people (one of the reasons why Thatcher's governments were happy to ramp it up while cutting direct taxes on the wealthy), and likewise cuts and abolition would, on paper, benefit poorer people disproportionately too. Nevertheless, the devil is in the detail. What Gove is proposing is a variable sales tax that, in all likelihood, is abolition in name only and bringing in less money to boot. Well done that man.

Nevertheless, while Brexit dominates all, at least some candidates are prepared to talk about other things. Which cannot be said of Boris Johnson. There are two significant points he makes today in his long interview with "Shippers" in The Times. The first is the threat not to pay up the £39bn settlement bill the UK owes the EU for its pensions and other obligations. Whether this is red meat for the Tory selectorate or a serious position remains to be seen, but even touting the possibility is stupid in the extreme. As someone fully signed up to the swashbuckling fantasies of an "independent trading nation", how does Johnson suppose to strike deals with a variety of countries if the UK ostentatiously reneges on its legal obligations? And how does he propose to come to a trading arrangement with the supersized economy across the channel if he stiff them for monies owed? It's complete poppycock and he knows it, which brings us to the second point. As broadcasters are putting on their own hustings shows, as they did for the Labour leadership contests in 2010 and 2015, one candidate is less than enthusiastic about participating. Can you guess who that might be? Oh yes, Boris Johnson. Given the roasting Amber Rudd and Ruth Davidson administered during the EU referendum, he's obviously less than keen to be held to account for his litany of stupidities. On the podium he's vulnerable to Tories with one foot in reality, like Rory Stewart and Sam Gyimah, Tories who know their brief, like Gove and Javid, and Tories more no-dealy than he, like Esther McVey and Dominic Raab. The problem is, which everyone will point out, is if he can't face tough questions from colleagues, how can he hope to show he can negotiate with the EU, the US, or any other country to help get the UK out of its Brexit hole? It will severely damage him just as it severely damaged Theresa May, and could cost him the crown.

Such is the state of the Tory leadership contest just before the ballots open. There is nothing appealing here. It is a politics devoid of all hope, as well as ideas that can that can save the Conservative Party. Meanwhile, the clock remorselessly ticks down without a care for Tory shenanigans. An indifference matched only by the majority of the field.


Shai Masot said...

Esther McVey's nastiness dial goes all the way up to 11. She's gonna walk this election.

Dipper said...

wow you really have lost the plot.

Perhaps you would like to give us a breakdown ion the £39 billion amount that shows where it is all going and why we have to pay it. Otherwise, if you are happy just to accept the word of other nations when ever they give us a bill, then I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

PlebJames said...

You haven't lost the plot - the points you made about the £39b divorce bill are valid. You needn't provide a breakdown either - if anyone wants one, they can spend their own time doing researching it.

Dipper said...

this out the Lords have said it isn't legally enforceable, but what do a load of Law Lords know compared to the vast impartial knowledge base that is the left-wing bloggersphere.

The issue, for all you lefty dimwits out there, is not whether we pay it, but if we can get anything for it. If we are legally liable then it gets us nothing in negotiations. If there is some choice, then we can offer to pay it in return for something.

All this is nothing to pro-EU lefties though. They gleefully jump on whatever deranged Federalists like Verhofstadt say as gospel and beat the working class Brexit voters with it. Look how stupid you've been. Look what fools you are.You must be punished! Repent, and live forever under our scrutiny and direction.

Verhofstadt doesn't care. He and his ilk will not distinguish between good Brits and bad Brits. There is no reward waiting for you for doing the bidding of foreign powers. We will all be crushed under his Federalist jackboot, Leavers and Remainers alike.