London, SW1, is not the nation. This might seem obvious, but recent events require me to make the point again.
The Palace of Westminster is seething at Boris Johnson‘s decision to sack 21 Conservative MPs who voted with Jeremy Corbyn to compel the Government to grovel to the EU for — yet another — extension to the UK’s membership.
But, outside Westminster, few care about the careers of those 21 parliamentarians, highly distinguished legislators though they may be.
London, SW1, is not the nation. This might seem obvious, but recent events require me to make the point again, writes DOMINIC LAWSON
The bulk of the public, including many who voted Remain in 2016, just want to end the uncertainty and, to quote the Prime Minister, ‘get this thing done’.
Thus, even after Johnson’s humiliation at the hands of Parliament last week, and the resignation of his brother, Jo, opinion polls in yesterday’s papers showed an increase in the Conservative Party’s lead over Labour: YouGov showed the Tories at 35 per cent, Labour on 21 per cent and the Brexit Party on 12.
As the trade unionist and Labour Party member Paul Embery warned: ‘The more Boris Johnson is seen to be confronting Parliament, the greater the Tory lead in the polls.
Labour is playing a very dangerous game. It needs to learn very quickly that there is a Britain beyond Westminster and Twitter.’
Those polls were conducted before news broke of Amber Rudd’s resignation from the Cabinet.
But my guess is the former Work and Pensions Secretary’s supposedly devastating resignation statement will not shift the dial one millimetre.
The shockwaves it generates in Westminster will not amount to a ripple in Wakefield. Indeed, Rudd’s justification on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday was the weakest of any resignation I have witnessed.
The Palace of Westminster is seething at Boris Johnson’s decision to sack 21 Conservative MPs who voted with Jeremy Corbyn to compel the Government to grovel to the EU
Amber Rudd’s resignation as Work and Pension’s Secretary will not amount to a ripple in Wakefield
She said she still backed the PM’s policy that we should leave on October 31, ‘deal or no deal’. And she still thought that ‘the Prime Minister is trying for a deal with the EU’.
Her policy objection was that ‘there is a huge amount of preparation and planning for No Deal, far less for a deal. About 80 to 90 per cent of the work is planning for No Deal, and that is disproportionate’.
Is it? Given the high likelihood that there will be no new deal — the EU says the current withdrawal deal is the ‘only one possible’, but Parliament has rejected it three times — and given that ‘No Deal’ will be highly disruptive, at least in the short-term, ’80 to 90 per cent’ is exactly the proportion of Brexit planning that should be dedicated to this eventuality.
No, it’s clear the real reason for Rudd’s feeling incapable of remaining in the Cabinet was Johnson’s defenestration of those 21 colleagues, which she described as ‘an assault on decency and democracy’.
I realise many of them are her friends. Indeed, the last time I saw Amber, in July, it was at a party at which a number of them were present.
But it is not of the slightest concern to the rest of the population if Boris is being beastly to Amber’s mates.
Least of all will they take seriously John Major’s exclamations that withdrawing the Whip — following on from Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament — was a disgraceful way to behave.
This is the man who described his own ministers as ‘bastards’.
And, not only did Major himself once prorogue Parliament in such a way as to forestall it from debating a report into the Tory cash-for-questions scandal, in 1994 he withdrew the Whip from ten Tory MPs when they merely abstained on a key vote related to the EU.
The general population will not take seriously John Major’s exclamations that withdrawing the Whip — following on from the proroguing of Parliament — was a disgraceful way to behave
This is also the same John Major who used a party political broadcast to declare to MPs: ‘Don’t bind my hands [in negotiations with the EU].’
Now, he is conniving with MPs to destroy what remains of the Tory Government’s negotiating position in Brussels.
As Mrs Thatcher’s official biographer, Charles Moore, observed of the Conservative rebels: ‘They would never as ministers have tolerated in others what they are now doing themselves.
A Rubicon is crossed when — as Mr Speaker Bercow again engineered — MPs take away from the Government the right to control the business of the House.
‘By acting as they did, they have defied the rules by which they have made their careers and drawn their salaries and in many cases been declared Right Honourable along the way.’
And, as the former Tory leader Michael Howard, who has been a friend for 60 years of the senior rebel and Father of the House, Ken Clarke, wrote in the Mail last week, we are heading for a general election, so the Conservatives can hardly afford to have candidates who oppose the party’s most central policy, and who, if the party were returned to Government, would continue to undermine it.
To fully understand the situation, we need to go back a few months, to the elections to the European Parliament.
As the former Tory leader Michael Howard, who has been a friend for 60 years of the senior rebel and Father of the House, Ken Clarke (pictured), wrote in the Mail last week, we are heading for a general election
The Brexit Party, founded by Nigel Farage entirely on the basis of public frustration at the Government’s failure to take the UK out of the EU on March 29 — as Mrs May had promised over a hundred times that she would — won more seats than any other party.
The Conservatives got just 9 per cent. I’ll repeat that: 9 per cent. Nothing remotely as bad had ever happened at the ballot box to Europe’s most durable political party. It was a near-death electoral experience.
It was that, and only that, which led to Johnson — a man hitherto (and probably still) deeply distrusted by Tory MPs — gaining a crushing victory in the parliamentary ballot for a new leader.
He had been the figurehead of the Vote Leave campaign. So the MPs believed he was the best chance to staunch the flow of Conservative votes to Farage’s Brexit Party; and, therefore, the best chance of retaining their own jobs as MPs after the next general election (which matters to them more than anything).
On becoming leader, Johnson, with the assistance of one of the founders of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings, has single-mindedly pursued the policy best designed to get Leave voters (from all political homes) to abandon the Brexit Party and support the Tories instead.
Judging by the latest polls, this is working. And the fact that Nigel Farage has now launched full-page ads pleading with Boris Johnson to join an electoral pact with the Brexit Party is further proof.
But imagine if Johnson were to do what Rudd and many other Conservative MPs are pleading with him to do and unconditionally reinstate the rebels who joined with Jeremy Corbyn to compel yet another delay in honouring — or to overturn entirely — the referendum result.
He would not only be seen as a weak leader (just like John Major, who led the Tories to their worst post-war electoral result in 1997), it would put rocket-boosters under the Brexit Party.
I don’t question the sincerity of the 21 sacked MPs in their protestations that they are acting in what they believe to be the national interest.
By supporting opposition plans to send Mr Johnson to beg the EU for an extension, Tory rebels are making it more likely that Jeremy Corbyn becomes PM
But, in supporting the Opposition’s plans to truss up a Conservative Prime Minister and to send him — to quote the great Labour Foreign Secretary from another era, Ernest Bevin — ‘naked to the conference chamber’, they will not just make our country look pathetic, but they are making it more likely that Jeremy Corbyn becomes PM.
How that would be in the national interest, if you are a Conservative, is a mystery only they can answer.
It is also a mystery what they think a further extension would achieve. What do they suppose the EU will offer that they haven’t to date? What do they say we should offer, that we haven’t already?
As France’s chief Brexit negotiator, Amélie de Montchalin, declared last week: ‘When I hear the British saying: “Give us three months more and we will solve the problem”, we can see that another six months would not solve the problem.’
The truth is, we need a general election to sort this out. And Westminster can’t even work out how to organise that.
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