A Philippic. Time to Save the Future
So what is actually happening? At a superficial level, British politics seems to becoming steadily more febrile. Sexual tittle-tattle, challenges to the PM, hard Brexit/soft brexit/no-one appears to know what the devil is going on Brexit: everything is confusion and farce. We have to remind ourselves that this is a formidable country, and take comfort from Adam Smith's dictum: that there is a deal of ruin in a nation. But let us attempt to look below the surface and try to interpret deeper realities.
A most pessimistic narrative is in play. It has been well expressed by Steve Erlanger of the New York Times. He is incredulous at the mess we are making of our affairs, so read him if you want to feel defiant, despondent, dyspeptic - or combinations of all three. His view is widely shared both by British remoaners and by the Euro-nomenklatura. The latter are watching British events with appalled fascination. They have never understood why we voted to leave the EU, and to be fair to them, no-one has provided an explanation. In its absence, they are tempted to conclude that we have committed an act of criminal lunacy and that it is part of a syndrome. A Prime Minister who has all Angela Merkel's charm but none of her steel , a Leader of the Opposition who is a Marxist, a Foreign Secretary who is a jackanapes - and then there is sex. The French have always tended to regard us as a nation of prigs, puritans and perverts (again, not mutually exclusive) and the recent nonsense has confirmed them in that view. Who can blame them? In a difficult and dangerous world in which we now have Brexit to negotiate, we only seem interested in who stroked whose thigh ten years ago. No foreigner - even one who wishes us well - could be blamed for deciding that we have lost contact with reality: that Britannia, who formerly aspired to rule the waves, is now content to sink giggling beneath them: that this once great nation has decided to embrace decadence.
How do we prove the contrary? First, there is one legitimate excuse for our recent misfortunes: individuals' political fate. The combined age of David Cameron, William Hague and George Osborne is little more than 150. Time was when all three of them who have been in leading Cabinet roles, which would have transformed the Cabinet. As it is, faced with one of the gravest challenges in peace-time history, we have what may well be the weakest Cabinet ever. Cabinets full of able figures are not always successful; think of 1841, 1966 and the Liberals after 1910. But there has to be a bedrock of weight and brains. The present lot, deficient in both, have the ideal leader to highlight their qualities. How on earth did Theresa May ever become Prime Minister? She is deficient in personality, intelligence, and vision. Indeed, what on earth took her into national politics? Ken Clarke has said that she could have been a reasonable constituency chairman. That is a charitable assessment.
So we have a government with barely enough resolve to stumble and dither, faced with an opposition whose leading figures would be more at ease refighting the battles between Stalin and Trotsky than with anything akin to sound economic policies. As a result, there is the frightening prospect of a withdrawal of public consent from the political process, leading to social unrest. Many will retort that this is not the British way of doing things, and at least from the late Nineteenth Century onwards, that used to be the case. But can we go on like this, with a government so pitifully below the level of events: a government which has ceased to be worthy of the name? For this is no longer a government. It is a betrayal.
Yet there is an alternative. The Tory party is the true national party or it is nothing. Modern Toryism came into being in response to Jacobitism and Bonapartism. It can claim a share of the credit for guiding Britain through the political, social and constitutional conflicts of the Nineteenth Century. It enabled Lloyd George to become a great war leader. Although Churchill's relations with the Party were always ambivalent, from 1924 onwards, it was the only party he had. Then there was Thatcher: nothing ambivalent about her.
Today, the Tory party is beset by an infuriating contradiction. Again I am repeating myself. My excuse: some points are important enough to require repetition. The government may be exhausted. That is not true of the lower Parliamentary ranks, which contain several plausible Prime Ministerial candidates, for now and the future, plus an encouraging number of potential senior ministers. These characters are good to inspiring - because the are full of energy, intellect, passion and fight. Between them, they could transform British politics and banish Corbynism to where it belongs: the Marx memorial library.
At the risk of embarrassing the individuals concerned, it is time for Richard Benyon, Graham Brady, David Cameron, William Hague, David Lidington and Tom Strathclyde to come together, work a tactic for May-exit, move forward from the travails of the recent past and save the future.