The Spectator's Notes

The logic behind Theresa May’s late move to Labour

6 April 2019

9:00 AM

6 April 2019

9:00 AM

There is a logic in Mrs May’s late move to Labour. It is the same logic by which both parties, at the last general election, put forward very similar policies about Brexit. They need to stay together (while feigning disagreement for party reasons) to frustrate what people voted for. Just as they both said in 2017 that they wanted to leave the customs union, now both are working to stay in it. It is the same logic by which Mr Speaker Bercow has arranged for Sir Oliver Letwin to become prime minister on roughly alternate days. None of the main players really wants Brexit, but none can really say so. There are differences between them, of course, with some (Philip Hammond, Sir Keir Starmer) actively wanting us to stay in the EU completely and others (Mrs May, Mr Corbyn) preferring to have only non-voting shares in EU plc, but if party enmities can be held back, there is the basis for a deal. What really matters to them is that Brexit should be drained of all power. That is why, having lost on every other fear-based tactic, they are so tenaciously maintaining it in relation to the no-deal option. In a bit over a week’s time, the political establishment’s gigantic bluff against Brexit will be exposed if they fail, so they are coalescing by every possible means to ensure they succeed. It is as if British commanders at Dunkirk had holed all the little ships below the waterline to prove that the policy of appeasement had been right all along. Incredible ingenuity has been deployed to make Brexit terrifying, none to make it work.

Other things are distractions. One is what is satirically called ‘the will of parliament’, which just now resembles the will of Hamlet. Another is the obsession of the Conservative party with leadership contests. The no-deal option is a lusty child, but also an orphan. No leadership candidate dares advocate it full-throatedly because all of them are trying to suck up votes from all bits of the parliamentary party when Mrs May goes. We are constantly warned that Peel’s abolition of the Corn Laws kept the Tories out of office for a generation. True, but the next point, usually not made, is that the repeal of the Corn Laws was a good thing for our country.

If the EU grants us a long extension (and let us pray that M. Macron’s malice towards Britain leads him to prevent this), Remainers are worried. They want the extension, but not the European elections, since there is a real chance that ‘the wrong people’ might win. Ken Clarke, I gather, is working out a plan to head off this unpleasant potential outbreak of democracy. He seeks to persuade the EU high-ups to concoct a new rule by which countries which have already triggered Article 50 but have not yet left would not be allowed to take part. They will surely oblige.

The chief whip, Julian Smith, complains that the present cabinet is the ‘most ill-disciplined in history’. Yes, but by saying so in public, he makes himself the most ill-disciplined chief whip ditto. Two weeks ago, this column noted the failure of almost every placeholder involved in the Brexit struggle to observe the conventions of their roles. Mr Smith is the latest example.

Preoccupied with Brexit, the Conservatives have no time to pay attention to the extraordinary behaviour of their noisy peer, Lady Warsi, whose lust for attention makes her Islam’s Edwina Currie. Every day, she pours out tweets attacking her own party, praising Labour and accusing Michael Gove of ‘Islamophobia’ because he has always been strong in opposing Islamist terrorism. She is reported to be referring her own party to the Equality Commission. In doing all this, she is pushing the ‘moral equivalence’ argument by which Tory ‘Islamophobia’ equals Labour anti-Semitism. One objection to this is of degree: has Mrs May endorsed a crude anti-Muslim mural in the way that Mr Corbyn endorsed a crude anti-Semitic one? More important is the defect in the concept, which is why I put inverted commas round the word. The definition of ‘Islamophobia’ which Lady Warsi wants to impose by law says that it is, as she puts it, ‘rooted in racism’. Islamists long for this definition because they are enraged by the fact that Jews are protected by race-hate laws and Islam is not. There is a good reason for this: Islam is not racial. It is a religion. As such, it must, like all religions in a free society, take its chance of being attacked and reviled. If the government gives Lady Warsi what she demands, we can be certain that vast acres of free speech about the dangers of Muslim extremism will be shut down, and that people who oppose, say, the amplified call to prayer in the streets or the burka in schools will become objects of interest to the police.

My Guardian magazine comes in a wrapper: ‘This pack is wrapped in an entirely compostable material derived from potato starch,’ with detailed instructions on how best to throw it away. (I noticed this just as I was doing so, with the pack unopened.) That is all very well, but what about its contents, and indeed the paper as a whole? Can the mass production of a newspaper, no matter how left-wing, any longer be justified when, if one is to apply the precautionary principle, the risk to the planet may be too high?

In the same issue, the masthead advertises ‘50 reasons to love the UK’. When I saw it, I thought for a moment the Guardian had become a unionist paper. But no, these 50 reasons are all touristic ones for the travel pages. Politically, the Guardian never offers any reasons to love the UK. The contrast is striking.

Walking in a neighbouring wood on the last day of last month, I found many bluebells. ‘In and out the dusty bluebells, who shall be my master?’ The children’s dancing song arose from the hiring fairs in May. Now you could hold one in March.

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