Richard North, 26/05/2019  
 


Since the referendum in 2016, this blog has been devoted to charting the progress towards Brexit – not that we've seen much of that. The very last thing I want to be doing, therefore, is to chart the ins and outs of a Tory leadership race.

It may be a cliché, but watching paint dry is far more interesting – and that is without the slightest hint of exaggeration. As an amateur model-maker, having only recently resumed a boyhood hobby, I am a fairly new convert to modern, water-soluble acrylic paints, which dry within minutes to a consistent, predictable finish.

The painting is the final stage of what might be a long, difficult build, and it really is something akin to magic to see flat, two-dimensional parts emerge as a three-dimensional representation of a complex machine, redolent with history and past achievements – such as the Saracen armoured personnel carrier pictured above (with over a hundred separate parts).

A fascinating aspect of the human psyche is how we can compartmentalise our lives, so that different, entirely separate aspects can assume huge personal importance, even though they may be entirely trivial and inconsequential when compared with other parts of our lives.

Thus, when not fully engaged with Brexit, or building up my collection of scale models (my aim is to build 100 separate types of tank, from the First World War to the present day, a museum in miniature of the development of this fascinating machine – and much harder than you might think), I am engaged in a prolonged war of attrition against the local population of cats.

It is a feature of certain parts of Bradford that you get whole rows of houses without gardens, front or back, and such is our immediate neighbourhood where Mrs EUReferendum and I are the owners of a house with a garden – one of only three in the street so blessed.

A significant proportion of the householders of the other houses, however, have decided to acquire pet cats - I've identified at least twelve in close proximity. I don't know what passes through the minds of their loving owners when they let their cats out after a period of confinement, and what they think their little darlings might be doing when they make a bee-line for our garden.

Suffice to say that the stench of a communal cat latrine, the flies and the risk of bringing these unwanted gifts into the house if one is unwary enough to tread on them, is not something that fills me with unalloyed joy. Take twelve and multiply by 365 and that is the scale of the problem that confronts us. It is long since I have enjoyed the smell of fresh-mown grass. The scent released by the action of inadvertently running the mower over the accumulated deposits is not one about which any poet would rhapsodise.

So far, I have spent a small fortune on ultrasonic cat deterrents, which actually do work, except that the buggers find gaps in the coverage and sneak behind them to make their daily deposits.

By dint of purchasing multiple units and plastic mats akin to beds of nails (called prickle strips), augmented with mesh fencing to protect vulnerable spots, we have managed to bring the problem down to manageable proportions. The flower beds are now largely clear, with considerably less damage from feline digging activities.

However, we still have one persistent offender which seems to be immune to all our devices, and insists on gifting us with a glistening turd each morning, deposited strategically in the centre of the lawn. Unsurprisingly, we call this creature Boris.

And it is there that my two worlds collide. In political terms, this is precisely the equivalent of what Mr Johnson is doing in the Tory leadership race, the one difference being the applause he gets from the feeble-minded for his efforts.

But what we are also seeing is the emergence of a new pitch for this foul creature. On top of his pledge to take the UK out of the EU without a deal at the end of October, his supporters are telling us that "Boris the turd-giver" is the only man who can stop the combined threats of Corbyn and Farage.

I've always wondered, incidentally, why the Telegraph is so keen to publicise the exploits of Farage, when Johnson is so obviously their man. Then it suddenly occurred to me that it makes absolute sense to talk up the Farage threat if you can then position your man as the saviour. Hence the paper seems to have adopted a "promote Farage, get Johnson" strategy, which has some MPs holding their noses and pledging to back the turd-giver.

For all that we've been there before, and once again we can call upon the experience of history to illustrate the point – with the added bonus of having the naysayers squealing with indignation.

That illustration, of course, comes from Germany of the 30s, where the rise of the Nazis in Germany was treated by foreign observers – not least Neville Chamberlain – as a bastion against the growing threat of Communism and, therefore, the lesser of two evils. Even the Vatican fell into this trap so that, while it had a strong record for excommunicating foreign statesmen for transgressions against the Church, it never took any formal action against Hitler.

In this context, there are those who are very ready to deploy the "slippery slope" argument – something we've seen recently with the use of tactical, political milkshakes. And, while it has long been considered the right of every Englishman to express his displeasure of politicians by the use of such devices, we are now sternly cautioned that it might be dairy products one day, but this could so easily lead to acid-throwing the next.

If we are to buy into this argument, it is indeed a very slippery slope to support politicians not for their intrinsic merits, but for what they might prevent. "Elect Johnson – stop Farage" might have a certain appeal, but it allows the intrinsic character of the "blocker" to be discounted, on the premise that some greater good is being achieved.

Here, it would be the ultimate in betrayal – to resort to an over-used word – if MPs were to opt for the turd-giver, purely on the basis that it might protect the Conservative Party from the assaults of Corbyn and Farage, thus elevating the party to a status way above the national interest.

But then, that highlights the ultimate obscenity of this contest. In its first phase, we have the very MPs who have made such a pig's ear of Brexit now charged with defining a shortlist of two, from which the party leader will be chosen, then to become prime minister.

In the final stage, it will then be for 120,000 or so party members to pick from the two candidates selected for them. And, if the "Stop Boris" campaign gets its way, this will not include their person of choice.

Even then, the membership could be deprived of any choice if, as is being discussed, one of the two finalists withdraws from the contest immediately after selection.

On the other hand, if the members are given a choice, they should be acting in the national rather than the party interest. But, depending on how one would define the national interest, it could be argued that the Conservative Party members are uniquely unqualified for that task – notwithstanding that there will be little debate as to what constitutes the national interest.

It surely cannot be right that the fate of the nation is to be determined in such a manner, while the rest of us are forced to look on, as powerless spectators. This must be the very last time a prime minister is chosen by such means.

For Mr Corbyn, though, the answer to this dilemma is easy: there should be a general election. Yet, this mindless response neglects several important factors. Firstly, general elections embrace a multiplicity of issues and it would be entirely wrong to interpret any result as a mandate for a particular line on Brexit.

Secondly, in general elections we vote for constituency MPs, not prime ministers. We, as an electorate, have no power to ensure that the person we vote for by proxy will actually be the leader who makes the decisions. The political parties who choose the leaders owe no allegiance to the electorate at large, and are not obliged to act in the national interest. As we are seeing at the moment, the coming prime minister will not even have the figleaf of an electoral mandate.

Thirdly – and peculiar to this particular situation – with the closeness of the two main parties and with the complication of the Farage Party, there is no certainty that a general election would resolve anything. We could just as easily end up with a hung parliament where the end result is an unstable coalition which is not able to decide anything.

That, to some, points us in the direction of another referendum, which at least has the merits of being focused on the issue at hand. But even if there could be any consensus on the question(s) to be asked, the outcome could be just as inconclusive as the votes in parliament.

When it comes down to it, there is no substitute under the current system for parliament doing the job for which the MPs are paid – making decisions which then allow government to perform its functions. And, whatever the manifest failures of Mrs May, we have reached this crisis point because parliament has not done its job.

The irony here is that Mrs May resigned as prime minister because she was unable to convince parliament to do what was necessary. A new prime minister is unlikely to have any better luck – and especially if, as seems likely, the wrong person is chosen for the wrong reasons.






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