by Sandra Khadhouri
I have only sometimes voted Conservative, but it has always been clear to me what the Party stood for – tradition, patriotism, prosperity, opportunity, economic strength and robust defence. Not so today. The values of the Conservative party seem lost, as incompatible dynamics compete with each other and threaten to fracture its cohesion. It is a mess but recent murmurings within the party provide hope that there is a way for the Conservatives to reclaim their roots.
Two weeks before the meaningful vote, three former ministers, Jo Johnson, Justine Greening and David Willetts addressed the media with a passionate argument of how the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal betrays Conservative values and risks becoming an ‘albatross around our necks for years to come.’ Jo Johnson, the MP for Orpington, kicked off by outlining exactly how Brexit represented a bad deal for the economy, democracy, the UK’s negotiating position and the union itself.
On the economy, he stressed Brexit damage to every region, the UK’s weakening position as a global financial services hub and neglected risks to services, which constitute 80% of our economy. On democracy, he lamented the loss of our influential voice at the EU table as we become a mere passive recipient of EU policy. Far from taking back control, Johnson complained, the UK would become a colony – even his Leaver brother judged this position as far worse than staying in .
Jo referred to the ‘waffly political declaration’ and one-sided customs territory arrangement which would encourage future pressure from Macron, Scotland and the EU to concede to their demands. And, together with Justine, they discredited every other version of Brexit as inferior to full membership – from Norway for Now, to Norway for Ever, No deal, Canada…
So where does that leave us? How do we get out of this intractable situation and chart a different course, as a nation and political culture?
The MPs’ solutions were clear. In regard to the thorny question of respecting the 2016 vote, they claimed the vote had been honoured and a deal negotiated – but the gap between promises and reality was too great. In fact, the botched Brexit deal had become a distraction from actually solving problems. Johnson labelled the deal an ‘abject failure’ which did not meet the public’s demands: “No-one voted to be poorer, have less control, reduced market access or a weakening of our union.” Even worse for Conservatives, this historic mistake would usher in communist ideologues and a ‘red carpet for Corbyn.’
Justine clearly outlined the viability of another referendum – a People’s Vote – as a chance to see where the balance of opinion lies, now parliament is gridlocked. She deftly suggested answers to the technical questions lining the route to a PV, and the need for clarity and certainty in the run up. And in a unique offer, she suggested the referendum could be an opportunity, rather than a threat – a chance to reintroduce a sense of the common good to public life, business and our entire system, a way to fix our ‘broken politics’ and turn our backs on those sowing the seeds of division. Instead, we finally start to talk about real solutions to problems, perhaps involving her social mobility pledge.
This new constructive dialogue sounds ambitious given the febrile environment in which we now find ourselves. But we must start somewhere in resetting our national narrative. Jo, David and Justine have stepped up to the plate at a crucial time, declaring themselves ready to shape a future Conservative party with like-minded politicians, and take the party out of a quagmire of indefensible positions, crippling contradictions and extreme ideology. From a patriotic point of view, they articulated just how their party can reclaim its true roots and make a clear decision what it stands for. Sensible politicians like them need to start to build a well-rounded aspirational vision of Britain that caters to all its citizens, and paint a place for Britain in the world that not only helps us at home, but fulfils our profound responsibility to promote our collective strength, security and progress within the European and global context.
Sandra Khadhouri is an anti-Brexit campaigner and a supporter of the C4PV campaign