Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Tory Leadership Jockeying

Death is in the air argues Richard Seymour in his write up of Tory party conference. Even before Theresa May takes to the podium for what could be the last time, malaise hangs heavy and cluelessness, if not defeat, is the tone. For the hard Brexiteers, who've hardly distinguished themselves these last few days with energetic interventions from the fringes, despair arrests them as it increasingly dawns that their flush is well and truly busted.

Meanwhile, no one knows what Brexit is going to look like even though May pretends, as per, nothing has changed. Indeed, if you want a so-called clean Brexit no deal is the only way you're going to get it. We learn May has tried bouncing the DUP into accepting some sort of Irish sea border, despite repeatedly saying no UK Prime Minister could possibly accept such an arrangement. And we're due an indefinite stay in the customs union too. Things are starting to look very tricky.

But it's May's turn tomorrow. Using the term advisedly, let's look at some of the highlights so far. Noted was the unexpected pitch Esther McVey made for the Tory leadership. She told the world of being in foster care for the first two years of her life, before going on to praise the Disability Discrimination Act and attacking the appalling suffering Tory cuts to social security have caused as "fake news". In further red meat for the thinning party faithful, she attacked Labour and singled out Momentum in particular, arguing there are "three M's in Momentum - Militant, Militant, Militant." There's an attack strategy sure to work.

Sobriety won out over inanity in Philip Hammond's address. Suggesting Labour offered the wrong solutions, they were nevertheless recognising the right problems to which the Tories must respond. If only Hammond with his hands on the levers of Britain's economic policy was in a position to do something, eh? Well, we know what he intends to do: more of the same. To Labour's plans to rebuild public services, restructure the economy, and introduce the beginnings of industrial democracy he pledges more cuts, more austerity, more of the same old crap that are destroying his own party. Never interrupt an enemy while they're making a mistake, so carrying on running that knife against the throat of Tory electoral chances, Phil.

Jeremy Hunt, fresh from his undistinguished spell at Health delivered his speech as Britain's number one diplomat. And what did he have to say? Taking a cue from the sort of stupidity normally the preserve of Gavin Williamson, Hunt pulled out more ropey-looking flesh at flung it at his hungry audience. "I was a remainer!" he cried "but now I'm not because the EU are bastards!". Or words to that effect. To underline the confected contempt he has with the folks he's presumably trying to charm into an advantageous post-Brexit arrangement, he went a step further and compared the EU to the late and unlamented Soviet Union. Hmmm. I remember writing an article years and years ago that took the piss out of UKIP for selling a book called EUSSR or something like that in its e-shop. From the unhinged fringe to the mainstream heart of the Tory party, it's enough to tell you all you ever need to know.

We can't forget Bozza Johnson, the man, the legend, the titan of Tory fever dreams. Well, he gave a speech too and reportedly made the Prime Minister "feel cross". Not surprising as he implied she was a traitor to the country (*innocent face*). Yes, the conference goers loved it (they're easily impressed) as he reiterated every boring article he's written since dropping the foreign office. Brexit means opportunity, he purred. "We can export bus stops to Peru!" about summed up his inspiring vision of a global Britain. He also said Labour were rubbish, said Tories are the only ones who can deliver more homes (where are they then?), and defended his record as Mayor of London. One supposes because he has no achievements as foreign secretary to boast of. In all, it was classic Johnson. Bumbling and disassembling masquerading as spontaneity and fluidity, it was as choreographed to dance around a void. Johnson knows how to appeal to the members, but to do what?

It wasn't just the conference hall, the fringes were equally vacant. This on how the Tories can win the under 40s is completely bereft. Another meeting addressed by Owen Jones acknowledged Corbynism had all the ideas and the Tories had none. And this on the London mayoral campaign has to be read to be believed.

What a disaster. No new initiatives, and nothing on show except for neurosis. Say what you like about Dave, when he took over the Tories and formed the coalition government, he had a plan of sorts. It might have been warmed over Thatcherism with a LibDem meat shield, but the direction of travel was there. Even Theresa May in her imperial honeymoon affected some sort of one nationist trajectory, albeit with a dollop of hard Brexit. And since the election and the shattering of Tory discipline, they're all over the place. But it's not different politics that are driving the wings of the party apart, it's personal ambition with only an episodic relationship to ideas, let alone principles. This is the long-term decay of the Tories manifesting in full effect. And as we enter the most crucial period of the Brexit negotiations, the possibility of a terminal crisis cannot be ruled out.

No comments: