A cautious Eurosceptic Welcome for Mrs May's Agreement

The completion of the first stage of the negotiations for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union was bound to cause controversy.  The nature of such a process was that compromises will be made. The question for those of us who want to leave is whether we can accept them. Are they compatible with regaining control, the central argument of the Leave campaign.  I have been deliberately slow to come to a conclusion because there is inevitably noise and spin around the fifteen page document that has been issued as well as differences of interpretation from the participants.  Each of the three areas is important and to some extent interlinking, so it is worth looking at them in turn.

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Defeats and defects

A week ago, for about seventy-two hours, Theresa May seemed to be in charge. At last, she had produced  a route march, which appeared to be acceptable to the Europeans and to her own Party. At a purely tactical level, there had been progress, But that was last week, for three days.

When it came to Wednesday evening's vote, no-one was in charge. The Government was faced by a number of related difficulties. First, there are the MPs who hate Theresa May, mainly because she sacked them from the Government. Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan are the obvious examples, especially Mrs Morgan. In his desire to promote more women to the Cabinet, David Cameron made her Secretary of State for Education. Parliamentary Secretary would have been quite high enough. The over-promotion went to her head. Her self-knowledge has never recovered.

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Conservativism and Ideology

In the summer of 1975, the new leader of the Conservative party, Mrs Thatcher, presided over a seminar held in the Conservative Research Department. In his book ‘Thatcher’s People’, John Ranelagh, who worked in the Department at the time, recounts how one of his colleagues attempted to present a paper that argued that  the “Middle Way” was the pragmatic path for the Conservative party to take, avoiding the extremes of Left and Right’. However, “before he had finished speaking… the new Party leader reached into her briefcase and took out a book. It was Friedrich von Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. Interrupting our pragmatist, she held the book up for us all to see. ‘This’ she said sternly ‘is what we believe’ and banged Hayek down on the table.”

The hapless ‘pragmatist’ was my 25-year-old self. And I still remember the next thing that happened with painful clarity. Mrs Thatcher glared at me wrathfully and said: “Dermot, I don’t know if you believe in Freedom, but I do.” It sounded like a career death sentence.

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A Prime Minister, a Pantomime Horse and a Piss-up in a Brewery

Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make silly. In normal times, the spat over Philip Hammond's transport arrangements would just have been an amusing embarrassment: a chance for the Opposition to enjoy five minutes of gentle teasing. These are not normal times. The disagreement over the unpaid plane bill will confirm an increasingly deep-rooted impression of a government mired in chronic incompetence: of as much coherence as the two halves of a pantomime horse, when both actors were drunk.

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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.

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