Views

Eton Mess

So at the moment some in the Tory party are sharpening their knives. 

When you sharpen a knife in the kitchen it is usually because you have a recipe that you want to try. Ironically Eton Mess hardly needs much knife work. The question is what kind of  political meal might we expect ? 

When I woke up today I was absorbing the news of the resignation of Lord Frost. Someone who has been able to do his extraordinarily damaging dismantling of the UK’s overseas reputation without the inconvenience of being in the Commons to be held to account, and who now feels his job is done . You might guess I’m no fan of Brexit, pretty much everything Frost has done has confirmed my position.

But here is the thing, he resigned because he is not happy with the direction of government. He wants to see less control over the public in COVID, more opening up of the economy, less tax more protection of business and privilege less. Less “ coercive” measures on COVID.

One explanation behind his resignation is that in adding to the “ Nightmare Before Christmas” for Johnson, Frost is on a promise from his choice of the next Tory leader that he will have high(er) office in the next administration. A thought is that this might be led by Rishi Sunak because Frost has been associating with Sunak’s ideology. But in what direction might this go? 

I personally despise the political position of  Jacob Rees-Mogg but a friend of mine who was in Parliament with him said, in fairness with a degree of astonishment, that at a personal level he has times when  he is charming and considerate. So I try not to judge someone’s character purely by their politics. Having said that I’ll return to the subjects of privilege later. But right now we are on a political knife edge and that position tends to illuminate the intentions of politicians in a rather useful way. In posturing their views they give us an insight that is more usually covered in a camouflage of cautious nuance. But not when you want a new leader.  Not when you need to take sides. Not when you may have personal benefit at stake. Then you have to break cover. 

Last week’s vote on “ Plan B “ restrictions was illuminating. Ninety plus Tory “rebels .” 

There used to be a time when the word rebel was applied to the left wing comrade, those who were pushing for more equality, against the status quo. It is a definition of our times that these rebels want a libertarian state that emphasises personal opportunity, personal preference at the detriment of “ Big Society.”  I was going to say “ ironically” but actually it is totally logical, the same people  were pushing to have the Standards  under which they operate diluted. They would wouldn’t they? The notion of personal liberty is far more politically acceptable than the reality that the strong and the privileged will benefit from the weak and disadvantaged. 

At the moment the PM is walking around looking like a hunted man, probably because he is. 

One issue after another. hardly I’d guess an accident, much more likely to be orchestrated by one, or more  of his rivals. That is how they work. But his comments after  the Oswestry by-election ( a place I know, I lived there until we came to Scotland, Patterson was my MP) was a fascinating example of self deception He “ takes personal responsibility.” Yet his next statement was that it was the fault of the media for concentrating upon the wrong issues, “ they keep talking about politics and politicians not the things that really concern people.” As if the standards of those people who govern us is not an issue we should worry our little heads over. As if he is best placed to tell us what should concern us. Bless him, several have. 

Apparently we should expect new revelations this week akin to “ Allegra-gate. “ Now there is a name we could guarantee would not be considered by the Johnsons for the new baby. Allegedly these will be about Boris’s private life, about which all I can say is please spare us the details,  it is nearly lunchtime. 

But a last lurch towards exit for the tousle haired bumbler? I’m minded of the exceptional performance of Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar :- 

“ infamy infamy , they’ve all got it in for me .”  

“ Et Tu David? ( Lord Frost) 

Not withstanding the temptation to suggest that this is a contradiction in terms, Lord Frost was referred to as Boris’s Brexit Brain, without him indeed he stands vulnerable in the Forum. Should it be the end for Boris he will see this as sad, probably because the ending is closer to Roman than Greek. 

Vatican Museums, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

His admiration of Pericles the Athenian leader is well documented but this, typically, is selective, a bit like Brexit. Consider Plutarch’s criticism of Pericles’ leadership: “many others say that the people were first led on by him into allotments of public lands, festival-grants, and distributions of fees for public services, thereby falling into bad habits, and becoming luxurious and wanton under the influence of his public measures, instead of frugal and self-sufficing.” Any parallels? Pericles’s friend and ally Phidias was imprisoned  for embezzling gold ….humm. Perhaps it has always been the way that people that lead are surrounded by opportunists who look for moments that are opportune. 

Another criticism of Pericles, although in fairness this was hardly his fault, was that having been seen as the saviour of the state he left a vacuum behind him where leadership was hard to find. So what has the modern blonde haired  “ Pericles light” left behind him ?

Shall we look forward?  The first day of any PM’s tenure is also the beginning of the end. It could be that the “ men in  grey suits” are already buttoning their jackets ( might we ease ourselves into the current century and suggest that some could be women?) But it could also be that possible alternatives are ducking out of sight. Certainly they might well want him to take the can for whatever goes wrong with Omicron. 

Michael Gove seems to be very conspicuous by his absence. Either “ the time is not right ‘ and he is “ happy to serve in whatever capacity the country needs , or truly the skeletons in his particular cupboard are spectacular. And he knows who keeps the key to the cupboard where they are kept. Or he is working behind the scenes . Who, in Westminster’s cocaine ridden ( according to the Speaker) corridors of power, knows. 

Today we heard that the leading contenders are: Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak and …..Jeremy Hunt . Liz Truss….sigh, we move from “ Nightmare before Xmas “ to Nightmare in Downing St “ I haven’t got past her speech about cheese. 

Sunak? Logical. How much of an ideologue is he? The libertarian right hope he is one heck of an ideologue who will lead them into the promised,  low tax low, small government , low  moral compass, land of opportunity. Jeremy Hunt? I didn’t see that one coming and yet there is a logic to it. 

If the Tory Party has two wings, the libertarian far right and the Centre then he is of the ( relative) Centre. The Conservatives are no longer a “Broad Church” not unless you have a Church that is wholly acceptant of schismatic messianic factions of true worshippers. Religious history suggests, not.

But pause for a second and the remnants of the Broad Church are there in the Centre elements that Hunt represents. Can he heal the Party  in Westminster and bring the two wings together? It seems unlikely, the far right considers itself in the ascendancy, why should they back down?  But then again we are talking Westminster here, it isn’t up to them entirely. The Conservative Party has a two stage leadership election process. First they vote amongst the MPs, gradually whittling the selection down to two candidates who are then put to the membership of the Party. 

So the leadership of the UK  will then ( again) come down to around 180,000 people, the vast majority of whom have no connection with Scotland. How Scotland would vote right now is pretty clear. Electoral Calculus predicts that if the Westminster  election was  held now, 56 of  the 59 seats in Scotland would go to the SNP. So once again, and again and again, in fact since the 1950s., Scotland will get political leadership  they did not vote for . 

But perhaps there is some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. 

Admittedly this relies possibly too much on the Labour Party eschewing their unique capacity for self harm. 

What this current process is doing is to shine a light on the divisions in British politics. 

The libertarian right is foaming volubly from their cupboard. Their votes to accept  sleaze and their belief that the best way to deal with COVID is to open everything up and just take the consequences, is in a pretty obvious collision course with  those who think that dying is an unacceptable trade off for proving their modelling .  

I mean,  they asked us to trust them on Brexit and that has gone so well hasn’t it ? 

Astonishingly there are others who think that protecting Society ( not a subject well known to libertarians ) and protecting the economy can be achieved together. Ask the Danes, ask the Dutch ask the Germans, ask New Zealand  Australia, I could go on.

This is an area where “ British Exceptionalism” could be literally,  lethal. 

I take my hat off to  the libertarian right. Thank you for illustrating the political difference in   ways that Labour for instance have failed to do. 

Image credit Angus Fraser Angus Fraser, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3 replies »

  1. Yes, I was delighted that Tories were ’rebelling’ – but then realised why and what about.

    This piece of writing needs to have a very wide readership – TON has a very wide readership.
    Good.

    Eton Mess? – bang on target!

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