Over the next few days the membership of the Conservative Party will receive their ballot papers and over the next few days they will select their leader and everyone else’s Prime Minister. On the 25th July we will all know who this will be as if we did not already.
The contest so far has been anything but exciting. Both candidates in spite of their stylistic differences occupy the same ground politically. Apart from an absolute certainly Boris, to probably certain’y Jeremy, our exit from the EU is just a matter of biding our time till the 31st October this year.
Both candidates reassure us that they are of the people, One Nation Tories and the custodians of all our best interests, that neither stands up to close scrutiny matters little. One Nation Toryism as a political creed is as extinct as the feudal system. Like the variety of socialism embraced by the current Labour Party, it belongs to history or perhaps more realistically, to mythology.
Boris, in a speech made as Major of London in 2010 declared himself a One Nation Tory but added the caveat that he believed that it could not be achieved by taxing the rich. He boldly declared that the rich had a duty to the poor but that effectively it was them who decided whether to honour it. We can see how effective that philosophy has been by the still increasing wealth gap between them.
Jeremy Hunt has now made his gesture to One Nationism in his pledge to re-legalise fox hunting. This has of course thrilled working families all over the UK and dry cleaners are reporting a huge rise in orders to clean out the smell of moth balls from hunting pink long trapped at the back of the wardrobe. Together Boris and Jeremy offer a One Nation world of tax cuts for the rich and sports for the privileged. We have yet to see the detail on how this new brand of One Nationism will improve the lives of a Brexit weary British public.
For a brief and no doubt chaotic three months, either Jeremy or Boris have to get us out of the EU. Since we know that there will be no more negotiations and that the parliamentary position has not changed, we must wish them the best of luck. Their survival as PM and the Conservative Party’s survival as government depends on achieving this goal. Any attempt at backsliding will bring them down before they have had time to move into Number 10.
On the optimistic side, let’s say they do extract us from the EU without too much pain, it is not beyond the possible. Let’s look beyond the 31st October to the delivery of One Nation Toryism post Brexit and the delivery of all the other promises that go with it.
Let’s look to retaining employment rights post Brexit. Both candidates say they are One Nationists, if so then employment rights will stay. Only the nastiest alt-rightists and the stupidest populists want to remove rights that have benefitted both the individual and businesses alike, not to mention the nation as a whole. Real One Nation Tories will support them because they are a One Nation ideal.
Let’s look to health and safety and product standards legislation. Like the positive employment laws, much of this originated in EU law. Fewer people are killed and seriously injured in workplace accidents than ever before in our industrial history. Our food and our household goods are far superior in quality, quantity and diversity than ever before. Our cars are cleaner, safer and more comfortable. Consumers have more rights than ever before.
If any ideas are the legacy of Disraeli’s vision and One Nation Toryism then it is these ideas that protect us all and make our nation stronger, fairer and more prosperous.
Now a word to the wise for our two candidates. One Nation Toryism is about protecting the people in the nation, not some silly abstract idea of a nation. Patriotism is about looking after the people, not waving a flag and standing up to ‘Johnny Foreigner’. Strong government is about leadership not ideology.
The next Prime Minister has his work cut out. The position of the EU has not changed, the position of the UK Parliament has not changed, and as far as we can tell through the smoke and mirrors of our press and media, the position of the electorate has not changed, but the latter group soon might do.
Take away those employment rights in the name of free trade or deregulation and there will be disaster. It was not Mrs Thatcher’s anti-one nation form of conservatism that broke the power of the unions on its own. It was law, much of which came from Europe that gave rights to workers, that even the most militant trade unions could ever wrest from the bosses.
Neutralise the health and safety law, water down product quality law and there will be a backlash that will make the poll tax riots look like a Sunday afternoon picnic.
The pundits continue to predict an economic catastrophe after Brexit. Economic difficulty there may be, but it can be mitigated by sensible policy and fair government. Continue down the populist hard right path and economic disaster is a certainty. Deregulate in the name of ‘taking back control’ and control will be worthless. Lower standards in the name of competition and standards will be lowered everywhere. Take away hard won rights and those who lose them will take them back by force.
Whoever wins this leadership election will have to lead the country as one nation or watch it fragment into the factionalised variety that it was in the 1960s and 1970s. If they want the UK to remain as one nation, they will have to convince Scotland and Northern Ireland that they mean it, or the UK might become several nations very quickly indeed.