Watching the rapturous reception for Boris Johnson at the Conservative Party conference, I was reminded of a line from the film Nixon, starring Anthony Hopkins. At one point, Nixon looks up at a picture of JFK and says:
‘When they look at you, they see what they want to be; when they look at me, they see who they are.’
OK, it is not a perfect analogy. Boris is no saint (but then neither was JFK): highly ambitious, status-driven and personally amoral he certainly is, but he also has confidence, optimism, vision, charisma. When the activists look at Boris, it is who they think their party can be.
But May is who it really is: blank, timid, myopic, selfish and cowardly. Note how her every misstep and moral failure has been mimicked by the vast bulk of Tory MPs. An abomination like the vassalage of Chequers, an insult not only to the 17.4million who voted leave but to more than a million dead in the wars of the last century, should have instantly earned the Prime Minister her P45.
But the horrible reality is that her every step down the road of betrayal, her every moment of cowardice or cynicism or downright lies, has been met by a failure of nerve to remove her, or collectively challenge her direction, or to confront the reality of where she is going. The European Research Group may make a lot of noise, but it is the far greater phalanx of the ‘Bums on Green Benches Group’ sitting silently and unmoved, scared stupid of a threat to their seats and careers, who determine the ultimate fate of Brexit. For most Tory MPs, it is themselves, Party and then Country every time.
Last week in TCW I opined that May as an individual specifically lacks the masculine qualities that leadership requires. However, she also personifies the generic weaknesses of her party that stem, I think, from their roots both in society and the religion of established High Anglicanism: a belief that life has a natural (divinely inspired?) hierarchy and the preference for empty ritual and form over intellectual enquiry; blank but entitled; servile to those above her such as the EU, contemptuous of the ‘little people’ who voted to to leave it.
Crucially, such a societal view allows you the fantasy that your naked ambition is really a calling to public service: the ‘little people’ must be governed, and you will nobly sacrifice yourself to do it! The cover that this seductive, comforting delusion gives justifies whatever moral depths the party has to stoop to. How else to explain that May, a supposedly devout Christian, sees it as perfectly acceptable to be a duplicitous liar? How else to explain that her party doesn’t have a problem? It is not only for socialists that the ends often justify the means.
We should, therefore, never underestimate Tory cowardice. Whatever the damage to the nation or the degree of national humiliation due to May’s Brexit capitulation, the various mantras of Tory MPs will continue to be: ‘now is not the right time . . . risk of instability . . . letting in Corbyn . . . blah, blah, blah’ when what they really mean is ‘bums on green benches . . . bums on green benches . . . bums on green benches’.
With that in mind, let me tell you how Brexit will pan out. May will circumvent the intransigence of the DUP and the ERG by offering to allow Britain to stay in the Customs Union. Labour will vote with the government because being outside the Single Market but within the Customs Union will allow them the latitude for their Marxist project. The Tories will not only have defenestrated Brexit but opened the door to Marxist revolution after they are kicked out of office. Not that they care: in the short term at least, a Tory bum gets to sit on a green bench for at least another day.
May, by all accounts, had a good conference, her speech at least being no disaster. No matter how much Tories may dream of being Boris Johnson, at the end of the day they are satisfied just being Theresa May.