Crisis of identity in the UK Conservative Party

Two years and two months after the historic Brexit vote of June 23rd 2016 the United Kingdom government finally made a declaration on its practical proposals for leaving the EU without the  formal agreement envisaged under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Some 20 position papers giving practical guidance to various sectors of the economy were introduced in a speech by Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab.

The speech may well represent a historic moment for the Brexit process and outcome.

The government finally backed up its ‘No Deal’ Brexit option with practical guidelines. Mr Raab stated that the government was behaving responsibly as good government should. But he was also putting pressure on the EU to compromise its doctrinaire stance and come to a practical compromise with the UK about Brexit.

Mrs May has always spoken of  the possibility of NO Deal as a real option, and she also said that “Brexit means Brexit”.

However, with the publication of the Chequers White paper last month, it became clear that Brexit did not quite mean the total withdrawal.

So, two senior government ministers resigned, stating that the fine words of Lancaster House in January 2017 were not now being carried into practical effect; and the term Brino is now in the political vernacular   – Brexit in Name Only.

In fairness to Mrs May, the disastrous outcome of the 2017 General Election placed her in an extremely difficult position, obliged to appease die hard Conservative Remainers. This is  the likeliest explanation for the damaging degree of compromise she made on Brexit in her Chequers White paper.

Damaging because she immediately lost the support of the parliamentary Right and grass roots members of the Conservative Party. A leadership challenge is increasingly likely this autumn from Brexiteers fearful of a Brino Brexit.

But Mr Raab’s speech on 23rd August 2018 has far greater significance than the immediate issue of No Deal with the EU on leaving.

Firstly the European Union.

That the practicalities of NO Deal now must be laid out two years after the Brexit vote demonstrates just how recalcitrant the EU is on Brexit. It has patently resisted, refusing any fundamental compromise in its negotiations with the UK.

In fact, it has adopted the approach of undermining Brexit. Their approach to the Northern Ireland border is but one example.

Of course the EU’s long term intention is the break up of the United Kingdom because its raison d’etre is to supercede nation States in Europe.

It cannot afford to lose the UK net contribution of £10 Billion per annum because that leaves it with a crisis in how to spread the revenue burden across its members. Members who joined up originally as net takers will now have to become net payers – very significantly Eire is one such member.

Nor can the EU  allow a great nation such as the UK to set a precedent of successful exit from the European Super State project. With the rise of real resentment against the EU across Europe, the EU as conceived by its idealistic,  authoritarian authors is under serious threat.

Its culture and its structure are ideological, not practical or democratic. As such it consistently fails to adapt,  but instead reinforces its own conception of itself and its rectitude. It thereby fuels democratic resentment, reiterating its problems.

Far from adapting after the warning from the unprecedented Brexit vote, the EU persists. This is the worst of both Left and Right thinking in action – the slavish adherence to Ideology,  and the reactionary refusal to contemplate the change necessary to survive.

These same ideological and reactionary attitudes are reflected in UK Remainers rejecting the Brexit Referendum result. It was this mentality which for 3 decades refused to give the British people a Referendum.

They knew they’d lose, so they refused to allow one. Cameron even  reneged on his ‘cast iron guarantee’ of 2007, but was later forced to allow a Referendum because of the existential threat to the Conservative party from UKIP after the Euro Elections in 2014. 

The recent conversion of the EU minded political elite to holding Referendums on the issue is a  last ditch attempt to scupper Brexit.  And they know it.

Doctrinaire Remainers patently pursue an inflexible ideological cause, despising democracy itself. The EU is, of course, fundamentally un-democratic, and operates as an oligarchy of technocrats and plutocrats. Lobbyists on behalf of large corporations negotiate with bureaucrats behind closed doors to formulate both policy and legislation.

So the Remain campaign has renewed itself this year with talk of a People’s Vote because the June 2016 People’s Vote gave the wrong result; and EU culture and practice requires that we vote again until we give the answer the ideologues demand.

On such a premise,  every General Election would have to be re-run when it gives us a government the opposition parties don’t like.

This is to make a mockery not just of the political process but of democracy itself.

We have a democratic process in order to settle deep rooted differences peaceably and practically. To continue to refuse the result of that process is to place democracy itself at risk.

Which brings me to a further significance of Mr Raab’s speech. The UK government still hopes for a deal with the EU – a deal based on the already discredited Chequers White Paper.

Chequers represents a compromise with the Remain position – to stay in the single market. As such it rejects the absolute position of Leaving the EU which the 2016 vote demands.

The choice on the ballot paper was an absolute, so-called binary choice: Leave or Remain. No Deal will clearly respect the Referendum result but any Deal based on Chequers leaves the UK partially within the EU set-up. Which is why the Brexiteers in the Conservative parliamentary party have relaunched campaigning and are preparing for a party leadership challenge to Mrs May.

The Referendum called by Mr Cameron to solve the problems of the  Conservative party has merely served to fuel internal tensions.

So the principal party of the Right in British politics continues to suffer a debilitating schizophrenia.

The grass roots members of the party and the unashamedly Right wing element of the parliamentary party go one way, while the Left of the parliamentary party goes another.

It is of  philosophical and strategic signifiance that former minister and die-hard Remainer Anna Soubry openly flirted with the idea of a new Centrist party coalescing the left of the Conservative party and the troubled Right of the Labour party in recent months.

Such a proposition arose because David Cameron failed to impose just such a vision on the Conservative party once and for all when he called the referendum on Brexit.  He expected to win – and he had a significant track record of winning: in 2011 with the AV Referendum and in 2014 with the Scottish Independence Referendum.

This crisis will not go away. Why ?

Because it is fundamentally a crisis of identity and core belief – it is a crisis of philosophy.

How long can the Conservative Party go on harbouring the internationalist, interventionist, Statist and fundamentally materialist thinking of the Left within the parliamentary party ?

How long can it continue to live at odds with its gut instincts and its historic role as the Party of an identifiably proud and unapologetic Right wing philosophy based on prizing the historical, moral, practical, responsible and individual ?

Ray Catlin

Copyright © 2018 Ray Catlin All rights reserved