Toby on Tuesday
By far the greatest ever of Malton’s MPs was the author, orator and statesman Edmund Burke. He had two abiding themes. The first was that you could only govern with the wholehearted consent of the people, always stressing how vital it was to go with the grain of the electorate. The second was that, if societies were to survive, they needed to be continually adapting and adjusting to new challenges. And when I was studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford two generations ago now, I founded a debating society named after Edmund Burke as a jollier and less self-regarding forum than the Oxford Union, which seemed to be stuffed with political careerists. I was the first president. And where this is relevant is that a few years later I was followed both by Theresa May and her husband Philip. Now, Rosa Prince has just published her new biography, “Theresa May –The Enigmatic Prime Minister.” And in it she writes, “May made more of an impression at Oxford’s second debating club, the slightly less rarefied Edmund Burke Society, where the themes of the debates were more humorous in nature. In her last year at university, she was the club’s president, overseeing proceedings while wielding a meat tenderiser in place of a gavel...At the start of his second year, Philip succeeded May as president of the Edmund Burke Society.” And as Prime Minister, Theresa May has often quoted Burke, so the lessons of all those years ago were well learned. For by single-mindedly colonising UKIP’s defining policies on Brexit, grammar schools and the rest, and combining them with an aura of quiet competence, she has succeeded in throwing both UKIP in the Labour Party into disarray. Last week’s two by-election results were masterstrokes of raw political positioning by the Conservative Party and it would be churlish to say otherwise. The Conservative Party now holds a chain of seats from coast to coast across the very North of England, while a weakened Jeremy Corbyn still leads the Labour Party – perfect for the Prime Minister! The new political landscape is clear, UKIP defined it but in so doing let others win the prize. But that’s politics!
So the new political landscape is clear. In many ways, the social, economic, security uncertainties of our times resemble those of the 1930’s. With looming trouble across Europe and growing financial insecurity, the global threats abound. And the 1930’s saw the predominance of a National Government in which the defining figure was the reassuring presence of Stanley Baldwin, winner of three General Elections. And what Theresa May is now seeking to do is to emulate Baldwin’s National Governments with her theme of ‘One Nation Conservatism’. The other day she readily agreed to become patron of the Stanley Baldwin Statue Appeal to raise the funds for a statue to his memory in his home town in Worcestershire. And she wrote, “Stanley Baldwin should be recognised as one of the most significant figures of twentieth-century politics. It was he who coined the phrase ‘One Nation’ to describe that fundamental aspect of the Conservative approach to politics, and he put it into practice with important social reform...As the Prime Minister of a One Nation Conservative Government, I am delighted to hear of plans to erect a statue in his honour in his birthplace and former constituency of Bewdley.” What Theresa May, always cautious and measured, is seeking to achieve is a successful Brexit negotiation over the coming two years, the implementation of the new boundary review to remove Labour’s advantage in the size of constituencies and then a Conservative/National Government landslide in 2020, thereby emulating Baldwin’s own success. Her themes will be competence, reassurance and carrying out the will of the electorate in effecting what have been UKIP’s policies. So the defining question must be, “So where does all that leave UKIP?”
My own belief is that UKIP must now fulfil the role of that other defining figure of 1930’s politics, Winston Churchill. The outsider, the pariah, excluded from the national debate and the airwaves of the BBC, he was seen then as an old-fashioned warmonger in a nation that wanted peace and comfort. Where Baldwin was restful, Churchill offered no soporifics. However unpopular, he warned of trouble ahead and the need to prepare for it. And that is precisely what I believe UKIP must plan for now. It won’t help us to win by-elections, but it can ensure that we serve our country well, just as we have done for the past 20 years and more. Brexit must indeed mean Brexit and we must become a trading, maritime nation again. As the terrorist threat grows, we must have full border controls sooner rather than later. To demonise Donald Trump is pure folly. He is a true friend to Britain, yet we trash him for seeking greater border checks while refusing to criticise Angela Merkel for inviting over a million “migrants”, including countless terrorists, into a Europe with open borders. We demonise Marine le Pen, who is only asking that France should enjoy the same liberation from the EU project that we in Britain are achieving under Theresa May. Holland, Italy too are seeking to reclaim their national democracies and we should recognise and welcome this. And we should deny those with British passports who go to fight with Islamic State in the Middle East the right simply to return here and spread their poison. And our Overseas Aid budget should be used instead to address issues of national security, not least the issue of foreign criminals who fill our jails while their countries of origin refuse to receive them back.
None of this is reassuring or comforting, but is essential for our national survival. So just as Churchill was vilified during the Baldwin and then the Chamberlain years, but was vindicated by history, so UKIP must now be prepared to follow the same lonely path, offering no comfort but instead the great prize of rescuing our civilisation, just as we have always done!
Until next Tuesday!