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A split conservative party is another unintended consequence of Brexit | John Harris


C.Onservative MPs have had second, third and fourth jobs for years. From time to time the intersection between the imagination of some public service Tories and their pursuit of money has made headlines. But thanks to an uncomfortable mix of low expectations of politicians, a certain amount of deference, and the idea that Tory’s stinginess was part of the natural order of things, most of those involved were left alone.

Suddenly, however, we seem to find ourselves in one of those political moments when it is less about new revelations than about the immediate realization that what was tolerated or ignored yesterday should be rejected today. Why the shift? The most obvious explanation is Boris Johnson’s self-described act of “crashing the car” in the Owen Paterson case, and how an attempt to change the rules of parliamentary standards highlighted the distorted ethics of dozens of MPs. But there are other reasons – one of which is a big change that is just beginning to be understood.

Two years ago, 107 new Conservative MPs were elected, and their views and positions are starting to have a fascinating influence on Tory politics. Until the Brexit referendum, the Conservative Party was seen more as the permanent voice of the counties and suburbs, speaking for and to those who were either rich or affluent, and millions of others who at least aspired to be. In the past, when the party expanded its appeal, it did so by offering people individual advancement, rather than economic interventionism – most spectacularly when Margaret Thatcher encouraged people to own their meetinghouses through the right to purchase. In this context, when people at the top of the party made money by fair or lazy means, lived just the dream they offered the electorate as a whole – not least in the 1980s when comedian Harry Enfield named a ubiquitous character. invented “Loadsmoney” and the old Tory vision of property democracy was complemented by the brief dream of millions of people owning and trading stocks.

But at some point something very interesting happened. As of around 2012, some adventurous Conservatives (Harlow MP Robert Halfon is a good example) had, in response to the weakening Labor ties, had with some of their old core voices the idea that the Tories might somehow become a new “Labor Party”. , and to re-embrace the idea of ​​an activist state. None of this has ever merged into anything solid. But when Brexit broke politics and seats in the so-called Red Wall fell to the Tories, vague hopes for renewed support for the party in the post-industrial north and the Midlands were suddenly fulfilled.

After Theresa May began to steer her party in a more collectivist direction, this huge election shift was reflected in Johnson’s promise of “leveling” and his apparent belief in government power. But since the prime minister’s policy is emotional and short-term and, due to his own wealth as well as his connections to other donors, he may not have recognized something obvious in retrospect: that the policy of the Red Wall is a profound change, not just in rhetoric and politics, but also in the behavior of the Tory. We are now seeing the results of this oversight. When in solid Conservative seats, when many people feel hostile to the interests and ethics of MPs, you can imagine the so-called filth sinking into new Tory territory like the old Derbyshire coalfield or the Potteries.

Over the past 10 days, this part of the current Tory drama has been playing out both in the House of Commons and in the party’s inner circles. Among the 13 Tory MPs who voted against changing the rules of the parliamentary norms system were the new Conservative representatives from seats like Hartlepool, Scunthorpe and Newcastle-under-Lyme. Mark Fletcher, MP from Bolsover (elected in 2019 to a seat represented for 49 years by Labor’s Dennis Skinner) abstained but later made a frank speech in the House of Commons with the aim of “catching up with some senior colleagues.” the back seats “, who thought she had not yet understood” how this place really works “. His punch line came with compelling disrespect: “I think two years here is more than enough to know the difference between right and wrong.”

None of this has hardened into factional warfare. But there seems to be a growing alienation between the longtime, often complacent MPs who sit in traditional Tory areas and younger colleagues who have the social media age of self-esteem and often practice their conservatism in more sophisticated areas. As an unnamed Tory recently told the Daily Mail, the former class of MPs think their annual salary of £ 82,000 is “the base salary they can build outside of Westminster,” while the latter “all the money in the world.” seasoned Tories are often old-school Thatcher supporters who are skeptical of “leveling” while many of the party’s new MPs were elected on promises that the government would come to the aid of their areas.

The fact that the senior Conservative MPs include many ardent supporters of Brexit – think Paterson, John Redwood or Iain Duncan Smith – gives the story a fascinating twist. When a movement starts a revolution, the victims are often the elders. And so it could turn out in this case: Our exit from the EU was led by older, right-wing Tories, but it has produced a younger cohort of Conservatives whose visions of Tory politics after Brexit are very different from theirs. Where the Prime Minister sits in all of this is a very interesting question: Eating at the Garrick, ingratifying yourself with older, more privileged Brexiteers, and trying to smooth out the Paterson fiasco with the slightest change in the rules on second jobs doesn’t really work in suggesting anyone who understands either the basic leadership or the challenges of his party – nor where its future likely lies.

Johnson should also be concerned about the seemingly dwindling credibility of his “promotion initiative,” symbolized by last week’s broken promises to improve the rail system and the government social plans disproportionately affecting retirees in less affluent places. There is something special about the combination of this story and the jumble of second jobs that reveal the blatant Tory shortage: voices of the working class in the cabinet, any policy that is as strong and totemic as sales law – and even after two years, every real one a feeling for what “ascend” actually means. The usual caveat is that Tory Woe will not bring about a convincing revival of the Labor Party. But a modern political truth seems indisputable. We live in disrespectful, rebellious, volatile times – and although high-ranking conservatives have so far used these currents to their advantage, sooner or later they could get carried away.


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