Sunday 21 May 2023

Not A Week For The Weak

What a week and a bit. People who professed to believe in lower taxes and a smaller State gathered to demand the restoration of Boris Johnson, whose Premiership they must have missed, or failing that for Priti Patel to become Prime Minister.

Then Patel's archenemy, Suella Braverman, made her own pitch for the top job with the old favourite that it was not racist to want to control immigration. No one has ever suggested that it was. Nor has there ever been a taboo against discussing immigration. Or was I once in a coma?

To the best of my knowledge, the only country ever to have had no restriction on immigration, rather than on naturalisation, has been the United States until 1875, practically a century after its foundation. Until the forthcoming latest British figures, it retains its immemorial distinction of having the highest foreign-born proportion of any population on earth. Nowhere else in the world encourages immigration more aggressively than Israel.

That said, Rishi Sunak has just lifted any even vaguely specific net limit on immigration, previously "tens of thousands" although nothing had ever been written into law. He expressly declined to repeat that long laughed out commitment, much less to set a more precise target.

Unlike Liz Truss, Sunak understands that all economic arrangements are political choices. But like her, he understands that there cannot be a "free" market in goods, services or capital but not in people, and vice versa. Like her, he is therefore in principle in favour of unrestricted immigration. And now, like her, he has said so.

To remove any notable obstacle, Sunak, having always known about Braverman's traffic-related difficulties, has planted that story on the front page of the Mail on Sunday, thereby injecting it directly into the bloodstream of Toryland. She may hold on for now, but she is finished.

Asked by Beth Rigby how it felt to lose, Sunak should have said that he did not know. When Truss beat him for Leader, then he knew that he was going to be Prime Minister within two months. The loss of local council seats is remote from his world, and Conservative losses to Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, but not to anything expressly to the Conservatives' right, suit him down to the ground.

"Those are the threats," Sunak can accurately point out, "but none of them is a national threat. We are not facing a threat from the right, and we are not facing a national threat of any kind." Quite. Even Kemi Badenoch has cancelled her Brexit bonfire. Who is to object?

Just in case, though, there is an attempt to take down GB News. Half or more of Conservative Party members are nightly viewers of Jacob Rees-Mogg, giving him a huge head start in any election for Leader of the Opposition late next year or early in 2025. But the 1922 Committee would reprise its insistence last time that candidates receive so many nominations as to render a contested election effectively impossible; Labour has gone one better, and written that into its Constitution.

Still, Rees-Mogg alone addressed both the Conservative Democratic Organisation and the National Conservatism conference, where he made one of the most startling admissions in modern British politics, so the Tory Deep State that that admission has thoroughly enraged wants GB News gone. If it went, then that would be the reason why.

National Conservatism seems to be based on the notion that fusionism went awry when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher went away. But its faults were fundamental, and no critique of what it had become would be possible without a recognition of that. What have Reaganomics and Thatcherism ever conserved? What has foreign policy hawkishness ever conserved? How could a small State have an interventionist foreign policy, or even just a large defence capacity?

In the last few days alone, the Left's points have been proved or conceded on water privatisation, the National Grid, the Royal Mail, BT, freeports, leasehold, no-fault evictions, Comrade Richard Holden's cheap bus fares, and what was once derided as "broadband Communism". A million households have already had to cancel their broadband. How are their members supposed to apply for work? Even Universal Credit can be claimed only online, because this is 2023.

Inflation continues to soar, while the continuation of the strikes into their second year demonstrates that it was certainly not being caused by rising wages. There never were going to be "nationalised sausages", but plenty of people would have been glad of those now. The lack of economic growth is pitifully blamed on the seasonal weather.

Thieves refuse to pass on increased interest rates to savers. If the dividends from the utilities and other privatised industries are being paid to pension funds, then show me the pensioners who were benefiting at all, never mind more than they would from, in particular, cheaper energy. The Russian economy grows healthily while the small minority of the world that is our "international community" sanctions itself into shivering starvation.

What's that you say? "Anti-Semitism"? Jeremy Corbyn failed to stand up for himself, although unlike anyone beyond the Conservative Party to its right, he is going to be a Member of the next Parliament. But the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which any Burkean would despise, could cite only two examples to support its absurd preordained conclusion, and both of those are now subject to judicial review.

The world knows. The third episode of The Labour Files is The Hierarchy, about the hierarchy of racism in the Labour Party. It is no wonder that that has won the Gold Award for documentaries at the New York Festivals TV and Film Awards. Those awards, those festivals and that city may be many things, but they are not anti-Semitic.

For that, you need "Cultural Marxism", how the Germans had merely "mucked up twice in a century", and talk of "inducing fainting fits from Hampstead to Hackney". I have written about Cultural Marxism in the past, but I never shall again, because there are other ways of making the point about the Frankfurt School and all that. Braverman was not giving us the benefit of her insights into Theodor Adorno.

As for any Jewish roots of National Conservatism, that does not answer the question, and National Conservatives seem to think that any religion will do, with one probable exception, and with militant atheists such as David Starkey, Douglas Murray and Anthony Daniels (Theodore Dalrymple) allowed in if they approved of the right sort of churchiness. That is a thoroughly inadequate philosophical basis, and if they really did want either or a more religious or specifically a more Christian country, then at least as a tactic in the short to medium term, they would support a very great deal more immigration.

Likewise, if you must argue over the legacy of Edmund Burke, then ask yourself what he would have made of the privatisation of the Royal Mail, such that it had passed into largely foreign ownership. Its larceny laid the ground for the frauds and fiddles arising out of Covid-19. Like the blank cheque to Ukraine, those give perspective to complaints about the cost of the Coronation or of Queen Elizabeth's funeral.

The absence of Peter Hitchens from the National Conservatism conference said it all. He does not even deign to mention it. But while on balance I am not in favour of lowering the voting age, I cannot see why he would want more power for Baby Boomers, or for whoever would decide who had earned extra votes, nor why he would be so set against more power for the anti-war young at any time.

As Hitchens mentions, the first General Election at which 18-year-olds could vote was in 1970. The Conservatives unexpectedly won that, and the social changes of the late 1960s had already been enacted, mostly with something not very far from unanimity, by a House of Commons that had been elected by no one who had been any younger than 21 at the time. Thatcher's economic policies, and Tony Blair's economic and foreign policies, were endorsed at three General Elections apiece after the lowering of the voting age, with the strongest support for both of them coming from those who had been enfranchised in 1969.

Keir Starmer's policy of giving the vote to overwhelmingly white EU nationals was short-lived even by his standards, but Sunak's own wife does vote in this country as a citizen of a state that does not reciprocate. Either parliamentary candidates and voters should have to be British citizens in Great Britain, or British or Irish citizens in Northern Ireland. Or there should simply be no nationality requirement either to vote or to stand for Parliament. Either would do, but it does have to be one or the other.

Beware of tying the franchise to the payment of income tax. 42 per cent of adults have incomes that do not reach that threshold. No, not "before benefits". Those are taxable income. Two in five adults have gross incomes of less of than one thousand pounds per month. If that does not sound like the Britain that you know, then you need to get out more. And if a Polish full-time cleaner could not vote because her income was too low for the taxman, then why should a British full-time cleaner be able to vote? So it would begin. So it is already beginning.

Like the monarchy or a higher voting age, First Past the Post does not guarantee any of the things that its proponents say that it does, and indeed they spend the rest of their time bemoaning the absence of those things. But like a republic or a lower voting age, Proportional Representation does not deliver any of the things that its proponents say that it would, so the case for change has not been made.

Yet while Owen Jones wants a hung Parliament next year, he wants it only for the tired reason of hoping that it would deliver PR. Two of the last four General Elections have resulted in hung Parliaments, and there have been two more in my lifetime, but PR has never happened, not even after five years of the Lib Dems in the Cabinet. Somehow, running the country seems to get in the way.

Look, we could make PR work. We could make having a politician as Head of State work, and if you contest an election, then you are, by definition, a politician. We could make the loss of the Prerogative powers work. We make a lower voting age work. Although I am less convinced, we might even be able to make re-joining the EU work. But that is not a reason to want any of those things. Instead, in the face of very pressing needs, we should be using what we had.

And 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 Sunak became Prime Minister, I predicted that a General Election between him and Starmer would result in a hung Parliament.

Labour is the party of Ruth Kelly, who expects us to be grateful for the privilege of paying extra still to have 70 per cent as much sewage in our water in 2030, as the dividends and no doubt her own remuneration increased accordingly. Labour is the party of Wes Streeting, who is faithful to the spirit of Blair, of Alan Milburn and of Paul Corrigan, in calling for the privatisation of the National Health Service while insulting its staff and while attacking its very principle.

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.