Michael St George, the weekend editor of TheBackbencher.co.uk, responds to Toby Youngs ‘Unite the Right’ campaign.
I have huge regard for Mr Toby Young. I identify strongly with his robust classical liberalism, consistently expressed in the face of prevailing metropolitan left-liberal orthodoxy. And I bow to few in my admiration for his role in the vanguard of the Free Schools movement, liberating education from the dead hand of State mediocrity.
But in his Unite The Right! post in these pages on 16 October, arguing for ground-up, constituency-level pacts between Conservatives and UKIP in 2015, I believe he is profoundly wrong. Not on narrow electoral terms, but on more fundamental, conceptual, terms: because you cannot, by definition, unite the Right when one of the to-be-united movements barely qualifies for inclusion under that label.
Mr Young appears to base his argument, not wholly, but certainly mainly, on the premise that irrevocably securing an In-Out EU Referendum is the overriding concern of UKIP supporters. That is partially true: but crucially, the premise also understates the numerous policy differences between UKIP and the Cameroon-Conservatives in other areas which mitigate against any such pact being tenable for UKIP-incliners. However, let’s stay with that Referendum issue for a few paragraphs.
Helping to return “a Cameron-led government, committed to an in-out referendum”, goes Mr Young’s thesis, is the surest way to bring that Referendum about. Really? I’m extremely sceptical that this is the case, because, as I wrote over at Backbencher in January about his Referendum Pledge, Cameron’s leadership, on the EU referendum issue, has been characterised by trying at all costs to avoid conceding one. That it was finally wrung out of him, not from any pluralist convictions, but from fear of UKIP’s surging electoral appeal, is glaringly obvious.
He tried in vain to impose a three-line whip against a mere non-binding motion for one in October 2011. His January pledge was so hedged about with qualifications that it unravelled within hours. It turned out to dependent on both (a) being elected in 2015 with a majority, and (b) negotiating a substantial repatriation of powers from the EU, both of which are, to say the very least, highly unlikely. And he subsequently hinted, in an under-reported interview with El Pais in Spain, that he would not honour an Out vote, even were that to be the Referendum result.
An examination of the Parliamentary measures reveals just as much sleight of hand. The much-vaunted “referendum lock” contained in the European Union Act 2011 provides for one in the event of further EU treaty change – yet, as we have seen with budgetary amendments or banking union, the EU is adept at enacting far-reaching constitutional change without forcing on member-states the inconvenience of obtaining electoral consent. It also mandates one in the event of substantial further transfer of powers – but leaves the assessment of just what constitutes that to, yes, Cabinet discretion. How reassuring.
Finally, the Wharton Bill now going through Parliament. As astute observers have noted, while specifying the holding of a referendum before the end of 2017, it appears to contain no provisions for implementing the result of that referendum, should it be an Out vote.
I’m no anti-foreigner, xenophobic Little Englander. But I do passionately believe that the sovereign nation-state, governed exclusively by its own democratically-elected legislature, is the largest polity whose citizens can feel sufficient mutual-identification that they are prepared to accept internal fiscal transfers and abide by laws governing them all. And that, ignoring its egregiously collectivist economic and fiscal leanings, the EU, which from inception has deliberately designed its governance structures to supplant popular consent in favour of unelected, self-appointed, unaccountable technocratic elites, is anti-democratic, profoundly inimical to, and viscerally contemptuous of, the sovereign nation-state.
It is, I hope, the nuanced nation-state patriotism derived from study of the philosophies of Roger Scruton and Thierry Baudet, rather than any xenophobic, aggressive strand of nationalism. Yet Mr Young’s exhortation for a Cameroon Conservative-UKIP pact asks me, in effect, to place my trust in a Prime Minister on record as dismissing me as a swivel-eyed, racist, lunatic, fruitcake for holding such views: and one whose own performance over conceding a popular vote on EU continuing membership is marked more by a reluctant, grudging acquiescence than by anything else. I think not.
But ignore the EU issue, and look at other policy areas. Mr Young asserts that supporters of both parties believe much the same things on important issues, and disagree only on relatively trivial matters: “the narcissism of small differences”. Once again – really?
Take just one of the examples of important issues which Mr Young cites – free speech. Mr Cameron, let’s recall, is the Prime Minister who sent the hapless Oliver Letwin un-chaperoned into midnight negotiations with leftist politicians and the leftist pressure group Hacked Off, emerging with proposals for the first state licensing of a free press in 300 years. The Prime Minister who, instead of rejecting such an illiberal measure out of hand, embraced its embodiment in a Royal Charter, thereby dragging our apolitical constitutional monarchy into the arena of grubby politics. UKIP’s Nigel Farage, on the other hand, resolutely sets UKIP’s face against any degree political intrusion or oversight on a free press whatsoever. This is fundamental difference of principle, not minimal variation on otherwise similar policy.
Or take other, more economic issues – and Mr Young’s implied criticism of the UKIP accusation that policy differences between the three formerly main parties are negligible. Well, aren’t they? The reality surely is that there is very little difference between the Cameroons & Ed Miliband’s Labour Party: far, far less, in fact, than both like to pretend.
Both are committed to a heavily centralised, bureaucratic, relatively authoritarian state: to an economy where at least 45% of GDP is accounted for by state spending: to the continuing debasement of the currency to the detriment of the prudent rather than the reckless: to deficit/debt reduction and public spending programmes whose differences are so minimal as to be almost within the rounding errors: to the maintenance of onerous growth and job-creation-inhibiting business regulation: and, worst of all, to slavish obeisance to demonstrably flawed Green energy policies which, as we’re now seeing, will threaten energy sufficiency while dramatically hiking its costs. The only real argument and difference between Lib-Lab-Con is about whom their commonly-accepted, homogenous, centre-leftist state should be run by: the visceral, tribal, class-envy levellers, or the patrician, condescending, noblesse-oblige paternalists. Theirs are indeed the real narcissism of small differences.
Yet Mr Young suggests that UKIP voters should ignore all these only cigarette-paper thin differences, and attempt, against formidable psephological barriers, to return to power a Prime Minister who gives every indication of preferring, rather than a majority administration where his despised, off-message backbenchers and grass-roots activists could not be ignored, another coalition with the wretched LibDems. In the words of one who truly was of the Right: No, No. No,
There is a way, though, that the laudable aim of Unite The Right can be achieved, But it means ridding the current Conservative part of the putative unified movement of the personalities and policies of the left-inclined centrists who belie the “Right” label: in other words, the Cameroon claque of metropolitan “modernisers”.
There will be an opportunity in 2014. Although still, in the terminology of Lord Ashcroft, a UKIP-incliner (with reservations about, for example, inter alia, some illiberality of social policy, insufficient economic rigour, and reluctance to acknowledge the need for drastic structural reform of the NHS) it certainly wins the “least bad option” contest by a mile. But I’m also not so unrealistic as to imagine that a Parliamentary majority, or even substantial minority, is in prospect for 2015.
A thumping victory in the 2014 Euro-elections, however, is. That’s why I’ll not only be voting, but actively helping, UKIP, in the hope of inflicting such a profound drubbing on the Cameroon-Conservatives that the party will look into the abyss, conclude that sticking with the Cameroons means certain defeat in 2015, cast them adrift and capitalise on what would then be far greater coincidence of views with UKIP. That way, Unite The Right! can be achieved practically, and maybe permanently, not just theoretically and temporarily.
Michael is a freelance writer and commentator, from the small-state, low-tax, free-market libertarian perspective. He abhors all manifestations of Leftism, whether economic, cultural, Green, Islamist, or Eurofederalist. He tweets as @A_Liberty_Rebel