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The Laura Perrins interview: Brexit is a chance for a new socially conservative party, says Hitchens


Laura Perrins: How did you feel when it became clear Vote Leave had won the referendum?


Peter Hitchens: I realised this in early June when a chance encounter revealed to me that the old Labour working class vote was going heavily for Leave. Once this was clear, I was sure that Leave would win, and immediately wrote this ( as well as taking a small bet with a pro-Remain colleague, and saying to everyone that I knew that I was now sure Leave would win. Columnists have a duty to make judgements of this kind publicly, as well as to take clear positions).


As I had already said that I did not expect Leave to win in columns and postings earlier this year, had never wanted a referendum, refused to vote in it myself because I believe in Parliamentary supremacy, feared that such a vote would not get us out, did not and do not trust the leadership of the Leave campaign,  and feared that it might cause a constitutional crisis, my feelings were mixed. I had to concede that I had been wrong about the chances of a victory for Leave, which is never much fun.  


I was delighted that the Remain Campaign and its self-satisfied and snobbish supporters were going to receive a slap in the face with a wet haddock. I was, and remain, concerned about how this will eventually work out. Readers of my column and blogs will have seen my articles on this.


LP: The establishment Vote Leave are beginning to pivot/triangulate already on their campaign promises. Dan Hannan is talking about retaining free movement of labour (as opposed to people) and ‘that we want a measure of control.’ This is very different, and certainly not as snappy as ‘Take Back Control’. Should we be surprised?


PH: No. The Leave campaign was from the start a very odd coalition, and the most conservative people in it are the Old Labour working class voters who rightly feel betrayed, morally and economically, in global multicultural liberated Britain. Many of the campaign’s supporters are Thatcherites, economic liberals, globalists and committed free traders who have no principled objection to open borders. I think the actual outcome of these events may fall well short of what many Leave voters hoped for. This was predetermined when such people as Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson, Michael Howard, and Michael Gove placed themselves at its head.


LP: Winning the referendum is a very different thing to making Brexit a reality? How do think this will pan out?


PH: Prepare for surprises. If I were the EU leadership (and we must assume they are intelligent and cunning), I would begin with a ‘hard cop’ routine, of aloof resentment, with hints of menace. Then, when enough silly panic had been spread in Britain (this is what the Bad Losers’ Alliance – which has now replaced the Remain Campaign – are now working on, very hard) they can come up with a new offer, which at the very least keeps us in the single market and requires a large contribution from us, and at the very most requires either a new referendum or the endorsement of the public in a snap election.


LP: You say in your column in The Mail on Sunday that Brexit is an opportunity for new political party, with social conservatism at its core. How can this happen?


PH: It is a remote possibility, but there is an opportunity for it, if those in favour of independence (sorry, I hate the expression ‘Brexit’) demand a swift general election, in which candidates are required to state their preference on independence versus continued subservience.


Such a demand would divide the major parties so completely, and would with luck dominate the campaign completely, that it could force the realignment of our party system. What we need, roughly, is one party taking the Polly Toynbee view, and a rival party taking what you might call the Peter Hitchens view (the real divide in this country).  This has for many years been my aim, and I still believe it is the only hope for this country. I haven’t had much luck with it so far, as it is too simple for most people to understand, and too easy to do for most people to want to attempt it. But perhaps the swampy mess caused by this unconstitutional referendum might persuade enough people that it is in fact a good idea.


LP: Will you lead it?!


PH: I am an ageing, lazy, home-loving scribbler with no political experience and a dislike of compromise. I shouldn’t have thought I was well-suited to such a job.


LP: It seems David Cameron was the true liberal metrosexual to the end, crying in 10 Downing Street, after his resignation speech. For, me this sums it up – totally self-indulgent to the end? In fact on BBC News you did take some delight in knowing aides to David Cameron were crying as the results came in. Of course, if any of them had travelled past Oxford they might have seen it coming. How did they get it so wrong?


PH: They never intended to hold a referendum. It was a promise made on the assumption they would not win a majority, and they could claim to have been forced to abandon it by their coalition partners. The Tory manifesto, full of absurd promises, is strong circumstantial evidence of this . But even stronger is Mr Cameron’s decision in 2013 (the Electoral Registration and Administration Act) to alter voter registration in a way that would damage Labour, particularly by making students less likely to register, in post 2015 polls. Of course this also affected the pro-EU vote. The last-minute panic extension of voter registration showed that this had been a grave mistake.


LP: The Conservative party will have the mother of all leadership battles. I predict that having removed one liberal, slimy, old Etonian another liberal, slimy old Etonian will take his place. It is like they are made in a factory somewhere?


PH: I think they’re all miserable enough without us needing to be rude about them personally. Surely, the really fascinating question is this. In 2003, after the media-backed putsch against Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory Party replaced him in EIGHT DAYS, choosing Michael Howard as a unity candidate. This was done to save the Tory Party. Surely at this moment of alleged national crisis, when Mr Johnson plainly has an unchallengeable mandate, they can do the same rather than waiting around till October. The rules haven’t changed since 2003. Why don’t they?


LP: It is a pretty depressing state of affairs, to wade through all this slurry, if in the end we remain in the EEA, we retain free movement of people, and we have another Blairite Prime Minister. Are we masochists?


PH: No, but we are suckers for an appealing short cut. In my experiences, short cuts are seldom as short as they claim, and often don’t get you to your destination at all.  Ukip was a short cut which led nowhere. So may the referendum be.


In a country governed by Parliament, the only way out of the EU is the way by which we entered it in 1972 – through Parliament (not, as David Dimbleby seems to think, following the confirmatory plebiscite in 1975). A majority in Parliament has to pass an Act to leave (interestingly the Act taking us in was passed by a cross-party coalition, which never stood as such for election, on that programme), and a government committed to leave has to pursue the negotiations and reforms which result, probably lasting for ten years. For this, we need a national party committed to that to stand in an election and win it. Which is where I came in.

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