A Hard Sell

Anyone who has had any truck with UK Tories over the decades knows that large numbers of them are devious, duplicitous, slimy, oleaginous, frankly repellent and utterly treacherous. But it didn’t matter because, when all else failed, their selling point was competence. After less than three years of Theresa May they’re now in the difficult position of having to market a not obviously winning combination of incompetence-and-betrayal.

Thursday’s local elections in England were the first test of this new strategy. The Conservative Party lost over 1,300 seats. To Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party? No. His month-old party was not on the ballot. To Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party? No. Labour managed to lose seats itself, and in fact its share of the vote was no higher than the Tories – 28 per cent. In effect, Theresa May managed to lose to no one. If she were facing no one on Centre Court at Wimbledon, she would still get totaled in straight sets.

The custom among metropolitan party bigwigs after a clobbering in the local or Euro votes is to say that none of these other elections matter a jot or tittle. They’re just “protest votes”. All that counts is the national election for the national parliament at Westminster – because that’s when voters are deciding who actually governs the country. This time round there are two problems with that traditional analysis: First, the central issue for Tory electors is the party’s inability to govern, in the sense of being able to effect the most consequential issue before it. And secondly this month’s European elections are a literal protest vote, pure and simple. The UK wasn’t even supposed to be participating, because it had announced its departure from the EU would occur in March 2019. But March came and went, and the Eurocrats, who are enjoying the implosion of Britain’s reputation as a mature stable democracy, agreed to let the fainthearted secessionist stay in the club for another six months. So whichever Britons are elected to the European Parliament on May 23rd will theoretically be there not to participate in the business of the EU, but just to fill the seats until – on its fifth, seventh, twelfth, thirty-ninth vote at Westminster – Mrs May’s ersatz “withdrawal agreement” finally passes the House of Commons.

Nigel Farage has very cunningly seized the opportunity of an election that has no practical purpose and formed a single-issue party to ensure that Mrs May’s ghastly hollow nothing of a ministry can be punished to the fullest extent. On present polling evidence, he’s on course to do just that.

Aside from competence, the Tories also had a certain reputation for ruthlessness – demonstrated very memorably in their swift, brutal, ingrate matricide of Mrs Thatcher three decades ago. Back when they were still semi-competent they would surely have done as much to Mrs May. But today’s generation of unprincipled bounders have lost their instinct even for low self-serving opportunism. So the “Westminster village” coo and gush about this week’s “rising stars” – like this chap Johnny Mercer. No, not the Johnny Mercer who wrote “Fools Rush In”, “Charade”, “Something’s Gotta Give”, “Drinking Again” and “One for My Baby (and one more for the road)”, but some other chap entirely:

A few weeks ago, Johnny Mercer spoke in Westminster on the future of conservatism. At the end, the audience was asked by the host who should be the leader capable of delivering all this and a voice from the back shouted: ‘Johnny!’ It was his wife, Felicity. She’s not alone in her admiration.

Actually, she is. I know very little about Mercer except that he served honorably in Afghanistan, which ought to be preferable to the PR types of the Cameron era. But all I’m aware of in his post-army life suggests he’s just another modish wanker. In the recent stampede to underbus Sir Roger Scruton, Mercer charged ahead. As Douglas Murray witheringly commented:

Conservative MP (and fellow former soldier) Johnny Mercer declared that sacking Scruton was now a ‘no brainer’ — adding, slightly too revealingly: ‘Let’s not take our time on this.’ Thus did two Conservative leadership wannabes thoughtlessly throw one of Britain’s only conservative thinkers before the mob.

The “no brainer” in the above episode was Mercer: What’s conservative about “not taking our time” before sacrificing one of your own to the Twitter mob? Undeterred by last month’s reflex brain-dead spasm, he’s now done it again. Tommy Robinson is also standing in the European election, and twice in recent days he has had milkshakes thrown over him by “anti-fascists” – the thick kind too, I believe, of McDonald’s-level density. As Rod Liddle says, it’s becoming a thing: “Milkshake a fascist.” On Twitter Mr Mercer gloried in the milkshaking of Robinson under the hashtag “#lovebritain”. Accepting for the purposes of argument the absolute truth of every bad thing ever said about Tommy Robinson, what’s conservative about furthering the descent of competitive politics from the vigorous exchange of ideas into physical assault?

Mercer protests that, c’mon, it’s only milkshakes. For the moment. But he’s so lacking in self-awareness that it’s apparently never occurred to him that, if disliked candidates are fair game for violent protest, the party he seeks to lead would be first in line: Why shouldn’t the incontinent lad in the photo at top right simply turn to the left and re-direct his spray? C’mon, it’s only urine from a few too many milkshakes.

Mercer does not have the temperament of a Tory; he has the temperament of just another airhead Twitter tosspot: Shake, prattle and troll. Is such a man likely to be able to rid the party of its May millstones of treachery and incompetence? Hardly. Mercer managed effortlessly to demonstrate both in his call for Scruton’s sacking.

The Brexit morass isn’t that difficult to grasp: Britain voted to leave the European Union. It has not done so. Worse, it has not done so because Parliament inserted itself into the question, and has attempted to thwart the British people’s answer. That is a crisis for the governing party, and Nigel Farage has calculated that it can be upgraded into an existential crisis. Six years ago I wrote that the electorate had an insufficient choice between three “social democrat” parties (pseudo-Conservative, faux-Liberal, ersatz-Labour). All that’s changed is that the there are now two “social democrat” parties and one anti-Semitic pro-IRA polytechnic Marxist party. And all three are opposed to the biggest single electoral bloc in UK history – the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the European Union. I concluded:

Farage is a close student of the near-total collapse of the intellectually bankrupt Canadian Conservative party in the early Nineties, and its split into various factions. The western-based Reform party could not get elected nationwide, but they kept certain political ideas in play (which moved the governing Liberals to the right) and eventually enabled them to engineer a reverse takeover of the Tory party. UKIP, likewise, is keeping certain important, indeed existential questions in play, and it’s not inconceivable that Farage, who regards himself as a member of ‘the Tory family,’ could yet engineer a reverse takeover of whatever post-Cameron husk remains half a decade down the road.

That was 2013. So we’re half a decade down the road, and I see that UK Tory ministers are warning that we’re now “in Canadian territory“. Well, whose fault is that? As the real Johnny Mercer wrote in “Goody Goody”:

Hooray and hallelujah!
You had it coming to ya.

~Beginning later today, we’ll be observing the second anniversary of The Mark Steyn Club and continuing our celebrations all month long. But the important, critical element of the Club is its members – and we’re very touched by all those who signed up in that first week two years ago who are so eager to re-subscribe they took the plunge for a third season a few days early. I hope to be able to thank many of you personally on our Second Annual Mark Steyn Club Cruise sailing from Vancouver this September. It means an awful lot to know you value what we do here – transient politics, big-picture civilizational collapse, audio fiction, video poetry, live music. If you’ve become a bit jaded by all that, well, we have some big plans for our third year. For more information on the Steyn Club, see here – and don’t forget our special Gift Membership.