Conservative MPs Must Find their Political Conscience

Dr Stewart Tolley

Conservative MPs should follow the examples of Burke and Mill and not allow party loyalty or the wishes of the electorate stop them exercising their judgement in the national interest.

One of the defining features of British representative democracy is that members are directly elected to represent the interests of their constituents and the nation. This sets it apart from continental systems of democracy, which tend to use party lists to select MPs, and has allowed British MPs a far greater independence of thought and freedom of action, letting them exercise their own judgement rather than slavishly follow a party line. It is also a key feature of traditional conservatism which is most closely associated with the philosophy of Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is a celebrated figure in the history of Conservative thought. It is therefore rather ironic that very few current Conservative MP’s seem to follow his views on national interest and party loyalty.

Burke was extremely critical of unquestioned party loyalty; something he believed constrained individual judgement. This was especially true when he believed an MP was forced to sacrifice their principles and put the interest of nation below that of the party or their constituents.

As he said in 1779 ‘all acting in corps tends to reduce the consideration of an individual in who is of any distinguished value’.

Burke was the very antithesis of a party drone. He went against his own party grouping in 1790 when he (accurately as it turned out) warned of the dangers posed by the French Revolution. It is interesting that MPs who warn about the dangers of Brexit are similarly maligned.

Burke was also not afraid to vote and speak out against the wishes of his own constituents, on contentious topics such as Capital Punishment, Catholic Emancipation and Free Trade. The last of these in particular
angered his constituents in Bristol to the extent they voted him out in 1780. This was not before Burke had written that this point of principle on Free Trade was so important that he ‘dared to resist the desires of his constituents’.

The Tyranny of Majoritarianism

These debates were going on at the same time as radicals such as Rousseau were writing that a ‘general will’ existed which meant all governments were obliged to follow the tyranny of the majority, no matter how irrational the beliefs of that majority may be.

In our own times, this has now morphed into the ‘will of the people’ which means MPs now feel obligated to ignore their own better judgment for the sake of the government’s interpretation of what 52% of the electorate said in a national plebiscite.

Some ultra-right wing Tories supported an enlargement of the franchise in the Great Reform Act of 1832 precisely because they knew that the ‘general will’ would at that time not have accepted progressive causes like Catholic Emancipation.

In a curious echo of the past, modern populists seem to be embracing increased democratisation precisely because it often produces reactionary responses.

Later writers like J. S. Mill saw this attitude as a form of ‘social tyranny’ where individual critical judgement was sacrificed. Mill as an MP always voted with his conscience, championing causes that were ahead of his time, but few in his party or constituency would support. Most notably in 1866 he attempted to insert an amendment into the Second Reform Act that would have enfranchised all women. It will probably come as no surprise that this was defeated. It took a war to give women the
vote in the UK and not fully until 1928.

Brexiters and populists love Switzerland because of its direct democracy, but it is precisely because of this system that it took until 1971 for women to get the same rights as in the UK. This again shows that MP defying the electorate is often a necessary condition for the national interest.

In Mill’s time governments were routinely defeated, normally 10-15 times a year. Voting along party lines mattered little; in 1850 it was as infrequent as 37% for Liberals and 45% for Conservatives. However by 1903 it was 88% and 83% respectively.

Entrenched Party Loyalty as a New Norm

Entrenched loyalty has now become the established norm. Much of it has to do with a more sophisticated operation of party whips. These
can often be coercive and arbitrary and often it is a result of a leader’s own hobby horse or preference.

Ian Duncan Smith should have allowed a free vote on allowing gay and unmarried couples to adopt but decided to impose a three line whip in 2002. Big figures like Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo rightly led a rebellion against this decision. Famously John Bercow sacrificed a high profile position in the shadow cabinet.

When a government or party impose an irrational diktat on their MPs or when an MP feels that the direction their party and country is heading in is wrong, it is only right that they speak out and vote according to their conscience. It is easy to forget that the largest rebellion since the Corn Laws was over the invasion of Iraq, when 137 Labour and 16 Conservatives MPs defied their whips to vote against what they rightly saw as a bad policy. Many MPs have already done the same over Brexit and
they should be roundly praised for having done so.

Of course the great issue for our times, Brexit, is not the Iraq War or the French Revolution. However, it is just as contentious and despite its vocal supporters there is no clear popular majority for a specific type of Brexit. This means that it is imperative for MPs not to follow a nebulous and ill
defined ‘general will’ but to vote with their conscience rather than their party or constituents. In an ideal world, parliament would allow a free vote to reverse a policy that is clearly not in the national interest. However, populist politics got us into this mess so it is now expedient that we harness it one last time to get out of it.

Only another referendum will be perceived to have the legitimacy to
overturn the previous decision. Hopefully MPs will speak out in greater numbers to back a people’s vote, especially as like the Iraq War, there is beginning to be a strong belief that the public have been similarly hoodwinked. Boris’ bus and Fox’s easy promises is the dodgy dossier of the current parliament, MPs must take the courageous decision to not allow a similar act of folly again.

Dr Stewart Tolley is the Chief Historian of “The Past  – Bringing World History Alive”, as well as Secretary of the Northamptonshire Branch of the European Movement and the Academic Officer of the Young Conservative Group for Europe.

A Former Leave Voter’s Call For A People’s Vote

The call for a People’s Vote is not just supported by those who voted Remain in 2016, as the following guest article from a former Leave voter explains. Enticed by a free market vision of an open “Global Britain”, Simranjeet Riyat describes why the vision of Brexit now being delivered is the opposite of what he voted for.

Our Brexit Fallacy and How We Must Move Forward

Simranjeet Riyat


Just over two years ago, I reluctantly made the decision to vote for Britain to leave the European Union. I have regretted that decision severely. I’m a 22-year-old adult, I need to take responsibility for my actions and admit I was wrong. Hopefully, inside this article, you’ll have a full accounting of my thought process during the referendum, why I changed my mind and what I believe Britain and the European Union must do to heal the divisions caused by the process.

Before I expand any further, I want to emphasise a crucial point. I am not a xenophobe, nor am I someone who subscribes to the nauseating phenomenon of nascent populism that has emerged globally within the last 4 years. I am a first generation immigrant, born in East London to parents who migrated from India in the early 1990s. I grew up with many friends of different backgrounds. I take pride in a diverse Britain. I am emphasising this because I will commonly be referring to the principle of ‘possibility’ in regards to Brexit. I have talked to people who are xenophobic and/or populists. This crucial sentiment of ‘possibility’ is important to understand how disparate the Brexit supporting coalition at the time was.

When the referendum campaign began, I started off as a reluctant remain supporter. I was reasonably satisfied with the renegotiations that the Cameron ministry had secured with the European Union, however, I had no affection for the bureaucracy that ran the commission. Like most people in the UK, we were constantly being told about the inefficiencies within Brussels and the occasional ECJ ruling that may be antithetical towards British interests. The commission was never our friend, rather a group of technocrats (or Eurocrats as was a common saying) that seemed determined at all opportunities to hinder innovation.

At the approximate time of the referendum, the EU was not doing well. It was plagued by lethargic economic growth and seemed to hobble from one political and economic crisis to the next. The EU-Canadian free trade deal seemed to take an excruciatingly long time to conclude due to some holdovers within smaller countries. However, I knew that staying within the economic block, of which we had been a part of for 41 years seemed like the sensible thing to do.

Now, before I get onto what was the main catalyst for me changing my vote, I think I should at least provide an additional bit of context. I was best friends at the time with an ardent leave supporter. His main claim to leave was regarding the argument of sovereignty. He specifically said that he didn’t care about the economic damage it would cause. We had several long discussions about Brexit and its philosophy. His passionate conviction to leave was much stronger than my tepid desire to remain and I slowly started to sympathise with his views. Now we are no longer on talking terms, let alone friends, having fallen out over something completely unrelated to Brexit.

What ultimately made me change my mind, was a debate held by my university where Anne Milton was hosting, whilst Anna Soubry faced off against Douglas Carswell. Throughout the debate, I didn’t agree with Ms. Soubry’s arguments to remain. She emphasised the most negative ( and as I later understood, realistic) talking points from the Remain campaign. Mr Carswell, however, provided an extremely optimistic picture of Britain post-European Union. He emphasised how we would be able to immediately secure a free trade agreement with the European Union whilst being free to pursue Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) at our own prerogative – which meant we could enter into an FTA with the United States, ASEAN, potentially enter the TPP – whilst keeping the existing trade relationship with the EU. We would have immigration from across the world of workers who were diverse but highly skilled. Essentially it was Global Britain.

The idea was incredibly appealing to me at the time. This is now where I hark back to the theme of possibility. For me, Brexit was the opportunity to have more globalism, more free trade, to integrate ourselves further within the global economy. I imagined a Britain with even more immigration from workers in the fields of science, technology, art, finance. With my finance and technology background, I imagined it would be easier to do business with countries across the globe. At the same time, we would remove ourselves from the bureaucracy of the ‘unelected cabal’ of the European Commission. Europe was a mess, its prospects at the time seemed dim. We were part of a quasi-federation which didn’t know whether it wanted to be a Super-state or an economic union. Mr Carswell also raised two questions which I erroneously subscribed too.

  • Would you vote to join the European Union today if we weren’t part of it based on how different it has become since 1975?
  • Why does Europe not have its own Silicon Valley?

That debate and those two questions were enough for me to change my mind. So four weeks later, I voted to leave. The polls were deadlocked so I had no idea what to expect, though I had reasonable hope my side would win. Lo and behold we did.

In the ensuing months, it seemed that I had made the right choice for the most part. The country had a cabinet that seemed to want to deliver a Brexit that was essentially Global Britain. The EU-Canada free trade deal teetered on the verge of collapse because the parliament of Wallonia remained intransigent on it. Donald Trump was elected President, he promised that Britain would be “front of the queue” for any FTA.
For the first few months this made Brexit seem like a boon for the country, and then it all changed…

My vision of Brexit clearly was not the vision of Brexit that others shared. Where I wanted free trade, others wanted protectionism. Where I wanted more immigration, others wanted nativism. Where I wanted cooperation with the European Union, others wanted hostility. The rise in racist incidents was extremely troubling, giving light to a more ugly side within our society. The countries of the European Union naturally need to protect their own interests, to expect them to capitulate towards all of our demands would have been fanciful. Like I mentioned before, immigration was not a concern for me, the volume of data supported claims that EU immigration was beneficial to the country.

It took me until roughly this time last year to realise that what I had voted for was not going to be delivered. I felt I had been lied to. Plain and simple. Or perhaps I hadn’t been lied to, rather I had simply voted for something neither I nor anyone truly knew.

Once more I talk about the possibility, for me, I saw the opportunity to transform the UK into a further services economy, based on finance, technology, and entertainment. For others, it was a chance to double down on an outdated products market, restore dangerous tariffs and impose a foreboding and xenophobic immigration system. Often the refrain of “Get rid of the foreigners” was said. I also realised the answer to one of Mr Carswell’s questions: That Europe doesn’t have one singular Silicon Valley, because it has multiple smaller ones.

As the negotiation process drew on, I did not anticipate the complete incompetence of Her Majesty’s Government in negotiating with itself on its ideal of Brexit and then carrying that over to towards the European Union. We now stand on the precipice of crashing out of the European Union and reverting back to archaic World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

The fact is plain and simple, the reality has changed. Leaving is now the de-facto position of the government, they will have no deal. Leaving without any agreement and the economic impact it would have was never part of the leave platform. The cabal of hard Brexiteers in parliament, the European Research Group (ERG) and their amendments have essentially made it such that the EU will reject anything from our side, due to the asinine nature of their demands. Even if by happenstance an arrangement could be reached, it would inevitably be tantamount to colonial status giving us one of the worst possible arrangement for Britain’s future, save for leaving without any arrangement.

Once again, this was not remotely close to what I voted for. If I had known the outcome we were heading towards, I would have voted emphatically to remain. With my work in finance and technology, alongside my future plans. Leaving the United Kingdom to pursue my efforts, would be more preferable than living within the confines of an isolated island that inflicted no-deal upon itself by its government.

So now, I believe that as the terms of our departure for leaving the European Union are becoming clearer it is time to for us to have a referendum on the final deal, whether as a nation we truly want to leave our political and economic partners for the void of uncertainty.

Earlier, I mentioned one question Mr Carswell asked: “Would you vote to join the European Union today, based on how different it is when we joined?” That question I realise now was irrelevant, because joining a political union is vastly different from staying part of one.

So now I’d like to ask the question, would you vote to leave the European Union today based on how different the circumstances are when you voted to leave in 2016. For me and many others, I suspect that the result would be a “no”.

I know that to suggest a referendum would be billed as heresy to the democratic principles we pride ourselves on in the west. However, the notion that the ‘will of the people’ is immutable as they learn more information, is preposterous, arrogant and dangerous.

Was it a betrayal of the will of the people to hold the 2016 referendum when the people had chosen by an overwhelming margin to remain in 1975? Was it a betrayal of the will of the people to suggest that in the event of a remain victory, leave groups would continue campaigning for a withdrawal? Is it a betrayal of the will of the people, now that polls show the people would prefer a referendum to hold one?

We must resist the overwhelming noise from the likes of Nigel Farage or Jacob Rees-Mogg. Whilst I can admire their conviction in doing what they earnestly believe, they are simply wrong in what a hard Brexit will entail. In truth, their ideal version of Brexit will cause undue harm. When Mr Rees-Mogg says we may not realise the potential of Brexit for 50 years he says this because he is indifferent to the damage it will cause the public. Mr Mogg and the likes of the ERG will be fine, we in the public will not.

I would go so far to argue that if they succeed in their efforts, in establishing a hard no deal Brexit. Mr Farage, Rees-Mogg and the hard Brexiteers will have succeeded in doing what General Bonaparte or Kaiser Wilhelm II or any of Britain’s historical enemies had failed to do. They would have subjugated Britain and damaged it irreparably.

No one should feel ashamed to change their minds. Most people that voted for Brexit did so because they legitimately felt that they were improving the future of Britain. Instead of animosity, a reasonable dialogue should be made for people such as myself that evolved their position and the millions that are on the fence about it now. I also realised, that Ms. Soubry and her arguments were entirely correct. She presented realistic facts. I wish I had believed her.

A referendum will most likely be a close affair. I believe that Brexit did have one advantage, it laid bare the soul of this nation and of the European Union. The European Union has echoed repeatedly that we could cancel this entire sordid affair and resume like business as usual. The truth is, in the event of remaining, we won’t have fully resolved the longstanding issues that led us to initially leave, neither will it solve the ascendency of populism in European Union’s constituent states.
We must do more. We must reform Europe…

In the event of remaining, Britain needs to take a leading role within the European project. No more half in and half out uncertainty. We must fix the problems that we have within Europe, instead of cowering behind exemptions we must see further integration as the opportunity to shape the destiny of Europe. In the most recent meeting between European heads of states, Chancellor Merkel praised our contribution, lamenting her regret that we were leaving. Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands has expressed a similar sentiment regarding our departure. We have proven that when we have a vested interest in Europe, when we care about the direction of this union, we can push in a direction that aligns with our interests and values.

I’d like to state that if there was any political party that most aligned with my views, it would be the Freie Demokratische Partei or Free Democratic Party (FDP) in Germany. I truly believe that by employing the values of classical liberalism to maximise social and economic liberty, our peoples will be given the opportunity to succeed based upon their merit. This could be a model for a reformed European Union.

The most pressing change we can fix is that of the European Commission, we have within our power to make the President of Europe an elected position. Conceivably, we may one day have a candidate from Île-de-France against a candidate from Bavaria debate in front of a studio audience in Warsaw in English.

To become more efficient and for the European Union to reach the aspirations of its citizens, we must seriously consider fully integrating. We cannot allow the European Union to remain this quasi-state. If I was ever privileged enough to talk with Président Macron, I’m sure he and the movement he started would be the most receptive to transforming the European Union.

To list every conceivable reform would take too long. So I’ll end with this. The European Union has improved the lives of its citizens through being part of it. The aspirations of its people depend on living within a system that can respond to its needs. We must integrate more to thrive, where we can together create a union that can set an example across Earth to promote our sacred values of liberty and rule of law to provide justice and tranquility for all.

This is an edited version of an article originally published on and reproduced here with kind permission of the author. We would also like to thank the team at RemainerNow for the excellent work they are doing in publicising the views of people who had voted leave, but now support the call for a People’s Vote.

Report on the YC4PV Inaugural Meeting

The inaugural meeting of Young Conservatives For A People’s Vote – was held on the Thursday 30th of August, 2018, and we are very happy to report that is was a great success.

Attended by leading young campaigners from various groups, it saw the formalisation of the steering committee for YC4PV, as the youth wing of the #C4PV campaign, and we agreed on its founding aims and principles.

Following a briefing on the plans and message of the national campaign, we had an open discussion of how we could best contribute to this by engaging and motivating other young people to support the campaign for a ‘People’s Vote’ on the final deal.

We set out our goals and message, clearly and concisely. We agreed that we had to transcend the old Remain/Leave lines of the 2016 EU Referendum, and promote the fact that democracy keeps moving forward, and dismiss notions of it being static. Following the referendum, so much more has come to light which we did not know before, and it is our belief that every citizen deserves to get a final say based on what we know now about the possibilities of our future relationship with the EU, regardless of how anyone voted in 2016.

We also put forward our belief that future generations should continue to have the freedom and flexibility to work and study throughout Europe.

We encourage all those who share our belief that young people in the UK should have a say on what will affect them more than older generations to become involved in our movement. It is our future that is being negotiated, so let us play our part in shaping it.

This group is to be open to anyone under the age of 30, regardless of whether they are party members or not. We are already well-established on Twitter and plan to set up other media channels soon. Please get in touch if you want to be involved – and sign up to join us!

Thank you for reading,

The YC4PV Committee

(Charley, Daian, Ed, Ivan, Izabella, Liam and Rebecca)

C4PV – A New Campaign For Giving The People A Say On Britain’s Future In Europe

Welcome to the new C4PV campaign!

We are delighted that you have found us and we hope that you will join us to spread our message that the people of Britain deserve a final say on whether the reality of Brexit reflects their wishes for change in our relationship with Europe.

While government interpreted the 2016 Referendum as a clear mandate for leaving the EU, it has not been able to obtain any consensus on what our future relationship with the EU should look like. On the contrary, competing visions on the implementation of Brexit have left the country and party divided with no clear majority for any of the visions being offered:

  • The ERG and its allies on the hard left seek a No Deal Brexit, which would decimate several sectors of the British economy. Even its proponents admit that it would take decades to recover from this – a fact that means a loss of mandate from those who voted Leave for economic reasons.
  • The supporters of the Chequers proposal or EFTA-like options are criticised by both those seeking a hard Brexit as well as those who believe that staying in the EU is in our best interests on the basis that is means a total loss of influence – the opposite of “Taking Back Control”.
  • Those seeking to stay in the EU argue that it is the option that already presents the best compromise – being in our economic interests and allowing Britain to continue to have a leading say in EU matters, yet lacking a majority mandate in 2016.

We believe that everyone has to admit that these 3 basic positions are irreconcilable, and that we cannot go ahead with one or the other without the informed consent of the electorate.

Moreover, whilst surveys indicate public opinion has shifted, only one poll can give us a truly accurate picture: a vote that lets the people say whether the Brexit being presented now meets their wishes.

We call on all conservatives to support us in the campaign for a People’s Vote on Brexit. Please sign up as a registered supporter or donate what you can to help us realise our campaign.

A placard at the People’s Vote march in London on June 23, 2018. Photo credit: Jonathan Grosvenor