OBSERVING the Conservative Party’s latest antics is rather like watching water spiralling at ever greater speed down the plughole. Reading of Party Chairman Brandon Lewis’s decision to spend as little on the EU elections as possible also brought the image of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party to mind – Lewis telling Mrs May, who still refuses to leave, that there is no tea.
Of course he may genuinely have nothing to spend: the Tories’ fundraising problems have not got any easier since they were last reported. Yet not to print any leaflets, not to make any political broadcasts, not even to host a formal campaign launch, has to be a historical first for the once great Conservative Party in the run up to an election. It speaks volumes about the nihilism that has set into the party and the denialism that afflicts its leadership. Perhaps Mrs May, supported by Olly Robbins and Sir Mark Sedwill, sees this as the final stage of her pincer strategy designed to force an ever diluted Withdrawal Agreement through the House of Commons before the polling date of May 23.
If so, she’s on her own. Talks between Tories and Labour to strike a deal are said to be on the brink of collapsing. Both sides have said that they are likely to come to an end tomorrow or on Tuesday.
Meanwhile the latest European Election poll (from Opinium) makes the Brexit Party the third most popular party in the UK at 17 per cent of the vote and has the Conservatives trailing 7 points behind Labour. The polling was carried out before the 1922 Committee resolved not to change its rules to get rid of May earlier.
This descent of the Conservative Party into May’s personally choreographed danse macabre appears to be blinding it to the most lethal existential crisis of their history. Perhaps it will take a historian of the party to point it out. This is exactly what Robin Harris does here. On one level, he says no more than we have been arguing for months on these pages, but his pulling together of all the strands of their idiocy, hubris and incompetence, makes for a devastating analysis.
He asks: What is the point of the Party? Without an answer, imminent and irrevocable collapse awaits. The Conservatives have had only one point in recent years and that has been to deliver Brexit:
‘This was never going to be easy. But it was not impossible. The Prime Minister’s shortcomings created obstacles that few could have envisaged beforehand. It was certainly unwise to select a taciturn Remainer rather than a vociferous Brexiteer to take charge. It was catastrophic to choose a leader without their being fully tested on the hustings. Yet to find that someone could have risen so far and yet lack even the rudiments of campaigning skill, strategic instinct or sense of proportion was a shock to outsiders. Worryingly, it also shows how the party insiders, who had the information and the power, have been systematically promoting nonentities.’
No element of the party escapes his lacerating words:
‘At each stage in the Brexit saga, the wider party failed. Most of the Cabinet simply allowed the Prime Minister to get on with it. At each stage of the serial car crash, some figure from the Brexit side was staying on board, so as to slam on the brakes, or possibly throw out the driver, but it never happened. They briefed, they bluffed, and they backed down. Then most of the parliamentary party gave the Prime Minister another year, which has allowed her to turn political failure into constitutional chaos and national humiliation.’
The constituency parties too come in for Harris’s excoriation – only far too late did they start to wield the ultimate weapon of deselection, the only sanction that an MP really fears. So does the 1922 Committee of backbenchers whose upsurge of survival has only been to disappoint. Last but not least in his lambasting comes the Conservative parliamentary party which he says still gives no real sign of understanding the magnitude of this betrayal.
Harris concludes that unless the party now wholeheartedly fights for Brexit, there will be no more Conservatism. To prevent that fate, of course, its first step has to be rid itself of Mrs May.
We at TCW still count the days.
Today is Day 24 . . .