Conservatives are Doomed
Yes, things really are starting to get that desperate and scary in UK politics right now. But Conservative MPs “think it's business as normal," Jacob Rees-Mogg tells me as he sips tea in his office above the Palace of Westminster.
"I've been a loyal Conservative party member all my life. But I am NEVER voting Conservative again." If I had a penny for every time someone had said this to me in the last six months I would not only be a very rich man - but I'd also be following the smart money: exiting the UK as quickly as possible before Jeremy Corbyn gets into power, closes the borders and turns Britain into the next Venezuela.
Yes, things really are starting to get that desperate and scary in UK politics right now. And what's making things so much more frightening is that the party we British have traditionally relied on to rescue us in times of crisis - the Conservatives - is on the verge of total collapse.
In the local elections earlier this month, the Conservatives lost over 1300 council seats - their biggest defeat in 24 years. But in this Thursday's European elections worse, much worse, is to come. Not only are the Conservatives certain to be trounced by the runaway favorites - Nigel Farage's Brexit Party with 35 per cent of the vote - but it's quite possible they'll even be beaten into fifth or sixth place by those perennial no-hopers the Greens. Indeed, if the polls are correct, then this Sunday when the results are announced, the Conservatives will record their lowest vote share in a national election since their formation in 1834.
Could the Conservatives still pull back from the brink of oblivion in time for the next - possibly imminent - general election? Well, of course, it's not impossible. We are talking, after all, about the world's oldest political party, with a track record of uncompromising ruthlessness and pragmatism when it comes to survival. But if they are going to pull something out of the hat, they've left it pretty late. And when I met one of the party's most loyal and distinguished MPs in Westminster last week, he wasn't sounding all that optimistic.
"Do [my fellow Conservative MPs] realize just how dire things are? No, I don't think they do at all. They think it's business as normal," said Jacob Rees-Mogg, sipping from a cup of Willow-patterned china in his office above the Palace of Westminster. Coming from the normally unflappable Mogg - known as the "Honourable Gentleman for the 18th Century" because of his courteous manners and traditionalist views - this is portentous stuff. And it gets even worse when he admits that he's not even sure that this coming Sunday's Euro election results debacle will act as the necessary wake up call.
If Rees-Mogg's worst fears are proved correct, then this is very serious indeed. What it will mean is that Britain's oldest and most successful political party - home of great statesmen from Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli to Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher - is on the verge of consigning itself to the dustbin of history. The resultant power vacuum could in turn usher into office Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opposition - the most radically left wing government since at least the era of Oliver Cromwell.
How on earth did things go so badly wrong for the party that likes to congratulate itself on being the "natural party of government"? The short answer is: Brexit. In June 2016, 17.4 million British people voted to leave the European Union - in a referendum whose decision, they had been promised beforehand by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, would be honored whatever the result.
But instead of keeping that promise, Cameron resigned in shame (because he had always supported Remain) before handing the reins of power to yet another Conservative Remainer, Theresa May. In the nearly three years since, May too has failed utterly to deliver any kind of meaningful Brexit. Many who voted Leave believe that she cynically and deliberately sabotaged the negotiation process, with the help of her overwhelmingly Remainer civil servants, and the complicity of her Conservative MPs, most of whom are also Remainers.
The result of these "stop Brexit" machinations is that Britain has been brought close to constitutional crisis, with the electorate's faith in democracy shattered. After all, if your government promises you that your vote is going to be honoured but then fails to deliver on that promise what is the point of voting for anything ever again?
You might have thought - given its traditional knack for self-preservation - that the Conservatives would have woken up to the anger and frustration now manifesting itself in the wave of public support for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party. Instead, the response of Prime Minister May and her epically complacent Cabinet colleagues has been not dissimilar to that of Marie Antoinette during the French revolution: "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche."
Which is to say that May's Conservatives have continued doggedly, stubbornly and defiantly on the path to electoral suicide. Their failure to deliver Brexit is part of a much deeper-seated malaise, which set in after they foolishly ditched their last truly effective Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Since then the party leadership has been a succession of Conservatives-in-name-only - typified by the dismal Cameron who rejected Thatcher's legacy and instead boasted that he was the "Heir to [Tony] Blair."
High taxes (especially for high earners); nanny state overregulation (such as the pointless sugar tax); restrictions on free speech; politically correct police who'll nick you for saying hurty things on Twitter but who are apparently incapable of dealing with the explosion in knife crime; green energy policies copied from Labour; drastically reduced defence spending; a crumbling, Socialistic health service; delayed, watered down Brexit... These are some of the things for which the current Conservative party stands. Is it any wonder that so few of their natural supporters fear the Conservatives are doomed beyond repair?
Interview with Jacob Rees-Mogg
“We are facing the wipe out of the Conservative party”
Member of Parliament Jacob Rees-Mogg talks about Britain Brexit, Donald Trump and how to save the Conservative party from disaster. By James Delingpole
I'm a natural Conservative, you're a natural conservative, we know lots of natural conservatives - and almost every one I speak to tells me this: "I'm never going to vote for the Conservatives again. What would you say to them?
Well there's usually a qualifier. That they're never going to vote Conservative as long as Theresa May is the leader of the party. And I think that has become an issue - that the Prime Minister isn't popular with Conservative voters or Conservative members. I speak to Conservative associations and I spoke to one a fortnight ago and I said: 'Who here would like Theresa May to lead the party into the next general election and not a single hand went up.
But that doesn't mean people have abandoned their conservative values. You haven't become a Corbynista overnight. Nor have I. We just want a party that's leading us in the right direction. I'm not expecting great results for the Conservatives in the European elections. And that may be the warning we need that parties don't have a right to be in power or to hold seats in parliament. They have to earn it by connecting with the electorate and doing things that voters want. If we do very badly in the European elections as we did in the local elections that may be a reminder of our need for a democratic base.
Let's accept your analysis that people will come back once you've ditched Theresa May. Beyond delivering Brexit - which is obviously a given - what else does the Conservative party need to do to win back the affection and trust of all the people it's lost.
Your question gets to the heart of the matter because our failure to deliver Brexit is a symptom rather than the totality of the situation. We had the Chancellor of the Exchequer [Philip Hammond] saying it's a jolly good thing that the rich were complaining about tax rates because that meant tax rates were about right. Unbelievable nonsense. Lower tax rates produce more tax revenue. We've just seen the fantastic results of Donald Trump's tax cuts which have revived the economy, mean people have more money in their pocket, that they therefore spend it and the economy grows, tax revenue grows with it but at lower rather than higher rates. We need to stand for Conservative principles - and what are these? Helping people to do what they want to do in their lives rather than the government telling them what they ought to do. So, the Conservative party is the party of home ownership.
We need a program of house building that doesn't run on the basis of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act which is a piece of socialist legislation that doesn't work. We've got this idea that we should register all parents who want to home educate their children as if children belong to the state not to themselves and to their families. We need to move away from being mini-me Socialists, to have a program of conservatism. And then we may be popular. If we're going to be mini-me Socialists then people may say: "Well why not have the real deal?"
I agree with every word you say. But you are but one man. Is the structure of the party and the way the party has been infiltrated by what I would call 'squishes' from the Dave Cameron era and earlier not going to make reformation rather difficult?
I don't think so. Most Conservatives in the 1980s were not ideological Thatcherites in parliament. They went along with the drive and the direction of Margaret Thatcher because she could win elections and she made it clear what conservatives believed in and she took the country with her. I think a lot of people who came in with David Cameron are very capable individuals but not necessarily very ideological. Therefore if there's an ideology that is working and can be shown to work then they would be likely to support it.
Nigel Farage's Brexit Party is going to clean up in the European elections. He's said that he wants to put forward candidates for a General Election. It's surely going to split the conservative vote. What are your thoughts on that?
Well first I like to call it Annunziata Rees-Mogg's Brexit Party because she has become a leading figure of it and my sister is quite brilliant and making a great success of her campaign. She's terrifically charismatic and a great loss to the Conservative party. It's all about Brexit. If the Conservative party delivers Brexit - we leave on 31st October on WTO terms - then the job of the Brexit Party will be done. And the job of the next leader is to reunite people who are broadly on the right of British politics. If you look at the polling the Tories were running about 40 percent. They've lost slightly over 75 per cent of that to the Brexit Party. Neither party can win an election without recombining. So that 30 percent needs to come back to the 10 percent of that is remaining with the Tories - and then we have a chance of winning an election.
I've had my Westminster lobby pass for two or three months now and what has struck me is the incredible complacency of many Conservative MPs about just how dire the situation is. Do you think the self-preservation instinct is going to kick in before it's too late?
I share your concerns. The local election results [the Tories lost nearly 1400 seats] showed that there was complete change in British politics. It wasn't the normal 'We don't like the Tories so we're voting Labour.' It was 'We don't like any of you and we will vote for anybody to get rid of you. We'll vote Green. We'll vote Lib Dem. We'll vote for Independents we've never heard of.'
I do a program for LBC [London radio station] and I had somebody ring up and he said he and his wife had gone to the polling station, they'd looked at this list, there was a Conservative and an Independent he and his wife had never heard of and they both separately voted for this Independent because they were so cross with the Conservatives. Do people in this place, in the Palace of Westminster, realize that? No I don't think so at all. They still think it's business as normal. Which is why the Government's reaction - which was 'We must now try and do a deal with the Labour party' - could not have been more wrong. The last thing people were voting for was a stitch up between the two main parties to avoid delivering Brexit cleanly. It was a cry for clarity and delivery on the [Referendum] vote in 2016. Do I think self-preservation will kick in? Well it might do after the European elections but it hasn't yet...
Can you envisage a situation where there might be a coalition of the right between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party?
Prior to the 2015 election I suggested a coalition between the Conservatives and UKIP then led by Nigel Farage. And I think in a first past the post system you need to ensure that the wing of politics that you are on fights elections in a united fashion. If we do our chances are living are very good because we're up against the Labour Party, the Lib Dems, the Greens, and the Change/TIG/whatever they happen to be calling themselves today party, which divides the opposition very neatly.
Supposing you win, what would be your dream job in government?
Being the Honourable Member for North East Somerset. Being re-elected for the county that I love representing.
I'd love you to be Chancellor. You'd be pretty sound.
Well you're very kind. It is one of the great offices. But I know this sounds a bit pious, but it's not about me, it's about whether the Conservatives can deliver Brexit and do things which are genuinely conservative and improve the condition of the people. Can we have the economic policies that do that? Can we get the tax rates that help economic growth? Can we allow people to keep the money that they earn? Can we allow people the houses to live in that they want to be able to buy? Can we ensure that year in year out the standard of living rises? If I can help from the backbenches I'm more than happy to do that. If I can help in a different way I'm more than happy to do that. But it's so not about me. It is about leadership and I do think there's one person who can provide that.
You're one of the very few MPs of any hue who have admitted they admire Donald Trump. What is it that you like about him and why are other MPs so reluctant to say nice things about him?
First of all I think it's important to say nice things about your allies and whatever way you cut it the U.S. is the most important ally of the United Kingdom. It's bigger and more powerful than any other country in the world and our interests are very closely allied to the interests of the United States. But Donald Trump does conservative things. He had a fantastic budget that cut taxes. He was Reaganite in his approach. He's got drive and enthusiasm for what he does. His judicial appointments are really well thought through. He's much more deliberative and thoughtful than people give him credit for.
But he's also got a fantastic popular touch. Now most politicians, I think oddly, are very sniffy about populism. Surely the whole point of democracy is to be popular. And Donald Trump is very good at it. He does it through Twitter, which wouldn't necessarily be my chosen medium, but nonetheless he does it very well. So he's an effective, charismatic politician who is doing good conservative things. Sometimes his language is language I would not use. But he's appealing to an American audience not for the people of North East Somerset.
Who is your preferred candidate to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader?
It has to be Boris Johnson. The Tory party has got lots of capable people who would make good prime ministers in ordinary times. Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, even Amber Rudd, though I disagree with her on Europe, is a very capable person, Dominic Raab I'm particularly close to in opinion terms. But we need more than that at the moment. We are facing the wipe out of the Conservative party. There's no point in shilly-shallying about. The local election results were disastrous. We're polling about 10 percent for the European elections. We need somebody who is, perhaps, a bit of a risk but is really charismatic, who can win in Labour heartlands, and who deeply believes in Brexit. It has to be Boris.