Tuesday 4 April 2023

Littlewood's Catalogue

The question of which benches Mark Littlewood would occupy in the House of Lords is a reminder that Liz Truss was the only Prime Minister who had ever been a member of the Liberal Democrats, and that she had changed her party but not her mind. 

Truss remained, and remains, in the tradition of Oliver Smedley, Arthur Seldon and Alfred Roberts. The mini-Budget was that in full effect, requiring mere suggestion, and not even enactment, to damage the British economy to an extent that will not be fully corrected in the lifetime of anyone now alive. At the next General Election, Truss and her guru, Professor Patrick Minford, should be made to explain to the voters of South West Norfolk why he thought that the United Kingdom should have no agriculture, and why she agreed with him. Even Nigel Lawson recognised that she was an economic illiterate.

Deciding which party to the Coalition was the moderating force depends on one's definition of moderation, but it was only after the Lib Dems had left office that there was even the mildest relaxation of the austerity programme, and since then there has been nothing like the invasion of Libya, which not a single Lib Dem MP opposed.

In that mould are the Labour candidates who are now being selected. If they have any objection either to the austerity or to the wars, then it is that those things, including the attacks on civil liberties necessary in order to enforce them, have not gone far enough. Yet they have not joined the party that has been inflicting these miseries for 13 years, in some cases longer than they have been old enough to vote, because they hate country house Tories and the conventionally private sector middle class. Of course, they hate everyone else, too. But the Labour Party is their device for lording it over the rest of us.

And it is true that the parliamentary boundaries are being redrawn so as to restore normal service and stop General Elections from being decided in places that never voted for Thatcherism. Thatcherism at the time was a force both of and for social liberalism, and it was ferociously Eurofederalist, with any opposition to that project derided as "Loony Left". The Thatcherite heartlands became the backbone of the Coalition, and they expressed their approval of its record by giving its Prime Minister an overall majority in 2015.

The South then largely voted Remain, in accordance with Conservative Party policy at the time. That party installed a Thames Valley Remainer as Leader and Prime Minister without any sort of election, and if the 2015 Parliament had run its course, then scores of seats would have turned from blue to yellow in 2020. That would also have been true if the 2017 Parliament had run its course, with the overall result that Corbyn's Labour would have been the largest party in the hung Parliament of 2022. Unsurprisingly, those Thatcherite, liberal, pro-EU areas are now preparing to return Lib Dems in 2024. Matters are being arranged so that theirs would once again be the votes that mattered. The smug, entitled New New Labour Party may simply be irrelevant.

That is the background to the fight of Suella Braverman's political life as she faces the very real prospect of being deselected in favour of Flick Drummond. Strongly in favour of EU membership and of gender self-identification, Drummond is an entirely typical Conservative, which is one of many very good reasons not to vote for that party. The deselection of a Home Secretary would be highly unlikely, but Braverman is a complete outlier politically, who had she not been a Minister would have joined all of 22 Conservative MPs, plus Andrew Bridgen, in voting against the Windsor Framework.

The rest of the votes against, plus the tellers, came from a party that wants walled cities in which to teach creationism, and which, since Ulster Resistance has never even declared a ceasefire, maintains a paramilitary organisation to bring that about. If Braverman can be brought this close to deselection by exasperated local activists, then MPs who have gone so far as to keep such company stand no chance.

There are indeed going to be more such Conservative selection battles. The final decision rests with the House of Commons, so the Boundary Commission would not bother suggesting anything that the Government would not get through Parliament, and the Conservatives have redrawn the boundaries so that they need to see off the Lib Dems, thus forcing their activists to prefer liberal, Greeny, pro-EU candidates. Most of its MPs already are like that. Who did you think was normal? Braverman? Jacob Rees-Mogg? Who? Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, the normativity of someone like Drummond is just a fact. And when it comes to that Conservative norm, were they beamed down from outer space? Did no local associations select them, and routinely do so several times in succession?

The Windsor Framework's case for Northern Ireland to be in the Single Market, though conveniently without any danger of even the remotest popular influence, is also the case for Great Britain to be in the Single Market, though conveniently without any danger of even the remotest popular influence. Give it five years. Under any party.

Nothing about the CPTPP affects that in the least, or the Government would never have signed up to it. If you have to keep saying "See Pee Tee Pee Pee", then you need a better name for it. But we already had free trade agreements with most of the countries in it. All that joining it gets us is its attacks on public services and on workers' rights, and its low consumer and environmental standards, all due to its anti-democratic system of arbitration. Much like the Single Market and the Customs Union. We were in the EU when we privatised our water and started pumping raw sewage all over our beaches, with the profits rolling into the campaign and other coffers of our rulers. The EU or the CPTPP? Who says that they cannot do both? Watch them.

Just as AUKUS will take until 2040 to send submarines to the other side of the world, long after any war against China would have been fought and lost, so the CPTPP is supposed to take until 2050, Twenty Fifty, to deliver even a tiny economic return on its surrender of democracy and of democracy's fruits. The best that can be said for it is that the conduct of several existing members proves that it is not some ludicrous attempt to stop the inexorable rise of China. Even Saudi Arabia has recognised which way that wind is blowing. With Iran, it will be on the Belt and Road soon enough; it already accepts yuan for oil as the world de-dollarises. Be at the table, or be on the menu. Be on the train from Shanghai to the Atlantic, or be under it.

Like the rise of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, and like the vote to Remain of those places which did so, the resurgence of the Lib Dems in the monied shires of Southern England bespeaks that the vote was a nice thing to have, but that people who got their way by other means every day did not really need it. If 60 per cent of the laws to which they were subject were made without the formal participation of their elected representatives, well, those were still going to be the laws that they themselves wanted, because that was how the world worked.

But when I tell you that there is going to be a hung Parliament, then you can take that to the bank. I spent the 2005 Parliament saying that it was psephologically impossible for the Heir to Blair's Conservative Party to win an overall majority. I predicted a hung Parliament on the day that the 2017 General Election was called, and I stuck to that, entirely alone, all the way up to the publication of the exit poll eight long weeks later. And on the day that Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, I predicted that a General Election between him and Keir Starmer would result in a hung Parliament.

To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.