The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Kill off the false prom­ise of Brexit... or Cor­byn WILL win

- BY LORD HE­SEL­TINE FOR­MER CON­SER­VA­TIVE DEPUTY PRIME MIN­IS­TER Brexit · European Politics · UK News · Politics · Elections · British Politics · Theresa May · Harold Wilson · Jeremy Corbyn · Nick Timothy · Fiona Hill · British House of Commons · United States of America · Conservative Party of New York · David Cameron · One Nation Party · Fleet Street · Angela Merkel · Emmanuel Macron · Turkey · European Union · Billy Garland

THERE were two good rea­sons for hold­ing last week’s Gen­eral Elec­tion, and nei­ther had much to do with ro­man­tic images of cosy walk­ing hol­i­days or the breezy Welsh hill­tops where Theresa May sup­pos­edly con­cluded she must go to the coun­try.

The cal­cu­la­tions were hard-nosed and clear: all the ev­i­dence pointed to an easy Con­ser­va­tive win with a big ma­jor­ity and, cru­cially, a new five-year man­date would have en­sured that Brexit be set in con­crete be­fore the next Elec­tion.

It didn’t work out like that. As some of us could have told Mrs May, his­tory likes to re­peat it­self.

I was there in 1974 when, four days be­fore polling, Prime Min­is­ter Ted Heath’s strong pub­lic sup­port be­gan ebbing away. Harold Wil­son had pre­dicted: ‘We will catch them in the last week on prices.’ He was right.

If Wil­son’s so­cial­ism was bad enough, Jeremy Cor­byn’s brand is in a dif­fer­ent league as his ul­ti­mate gam­ble is with the na­tion’s de­fence, and that only serves to prove how high the stakes now are. So this is a time for truth. For a start we can be clear that this was an un­usu­ally poor cam­paign, crip­pled by the re­verse over what has been branded the ‘de­men­tia tax’ and some un­wise slo­ga­neer­ing. It can be no great sur­prise that Mrs May’s two key ad­vis­ers, Nick Ti­mothy and Fiona Hill, have re­signed.

But more im­por­tant is the fu­ture. This Govern­ment will not last, de­spite all the em­bar­rass­ing talk of sta­bil­ity, cer­tainty,

The Govern­ment won’t last – and ev­ery­one knows it

glossy up­lands and every other deluded ver­sion of an unattain­able to­mor­row.

Be­hind the empty phrases of unit­ing in the na­tional in­ter­est, of serv­ing all the peo­ple, lies old-fash­ioned po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion. Cold-as-ice, hard-as-steel cal­cu­la­tion. Every po­lit­i­cal party in the House of Com­mons will have worked out its own self-in­ter­est, and it is that – and only that – which will guide their ac­tions in the com­ing weeks and months.

It is true that the Govern­ment is not un­der im­me­di­ate threat. It will not col­lapse straight away. Another ex­pen­sive elec­tion does not suit all the par­ties of op­po­si­tion, par­tic­u­larly the Scot­tish Na­tion­al­ists. More­over, the pub­lic are in no mood for it.

Again, I’ve been here be­fore. With such a neg­li­gi­ble ad­van­tage in the Com­mons, the Govern­ment knows that every seat counts, and that every res­ig­na­tion or sud­den death courts dis­as­ter.

‘We are in the by-elec­tion busi­ness, Michael,’ the Con­ser­va­tive whips told me in the 1970s. That is why this Govern­ment will not run its term.

The math­e­mat­ics are barely work­able, yet the prob­lem fac­ing Mrs May is worse still. The coun­try it­self is di­vided by Brexit and there are no grounds to be­lieve that will change.

I have lis­tened to the as­ser­tions that we will re­gain our sovereignt­y, dis­cover new mar­kets and world­wide op­por­tu­ni­ties. I have heard the de­mands backed with na­tion­al­is­tic jingo that we should have new con­fi­dence in our­selves. Yet not a sin­gle fact has emerged to un­der­pin this rhetoric as the cur­rency de­val­ues and in­fla­tion creeps in, skilled work­ers de­part and the com­mer­cial world plans in ever more con­vinc­ing de­tail to re­lo­cate.

And here is another un­com­fort­able truth: the real, un­der­ly­ing frus­tra­tion that in­flu­ences pub­lic opin­ion here, in Europe and in Amer­ica, is the con­se­quence of the aus­ter­ity forced on our cit­i­zens.

It re­sults from their ex­trav­a­gance, from the over­spend­ing of the cor­po­rate world and the un­sus­tain­able lev­els of pub­lic ex­pen­di­ture be­fore 2008. The crash pro­duced a whirlpool of re­sent­ment that ex­ists to this day and the po­lit­i­cal sharks are still feed­ing in it.

There is no easy way out of the cri­sis that faces this coun­try and par­tic­u­larly the Con­ser­va­tive Party. There are so many ur­gent chal­lenges – hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, the short­age of skills, to name but three. The im­bal­ance in our pub­lic fi­nances means there is no spare money to fuel an ar­ti­fi­cial eco­nomic boom.

The Govern­ment is un­sta­ble. Ev­ery­one knows it. And the un­cer­tainty will eat into con­fi­dence. Even our Euro­pean col­leagues can work it out for them­selves! What deal should they ne­go­ti­ate, with whom? In the mean­time,

The crash led to a whirlpool of re­sent­ment

the op­po­si­tion par­ties will wait, har­ry­ing, yes, but with no need to strike un­til the char­ac­ter­is­tic mid-term blues pro­voke the in­evitable pub­lic cry for change.

What, then, should this weak­ened Govern­ment do? Cor­byn is at the gates, a hand­ful of seats away from No 10.

They should re­mem­ber that David Cameron, the only re­cent leader to se­cure a ma­jor­ity for the party, did so with an in­clu­sive One Na­tion agenda. They should recog­nise that every year, two per cent of their tra­di­tional el­derly sup­port­ers move on to be re­placed by two per cent of young and more ide­al­is­tic vot­ers. They should note, too, that the rau­cous pro­pa­ganda of Fleet Street is be­ing drowned in a new world of elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Above all, they should try to lance the Brexit boil.

I be­lieve it is just pos­si­ble – just – that a re-elected An­gela Merkel and a newly em­pow­ered Em­manuel Macron might re­visit the ne­go­ti­a­tions on im­mi­gra­tion.

We are not the only Euro­pean coun­try to feel the po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences, af­ter all. The avalanche of eco­nomic mi­grants, the fraught ne­go­ti­a­tions with Turkey and grow­ing do­mes­tic anx­i­eties mean that Europe as a whole has a pow­er­ful need to find some way of lim­it­ing the scale.

In the mean­time, the Govern­ment could help defuse the is­sue, not through rhetoric, but through what ought to be its pri­mary busi­ness – poli­cies.

First, it should re­move stu­dents from the im­mi­gra­tion tar­gets; they are a valu­able boost to the econ­omy. Sec­ond, it should do some­thing about the ma­jor­ity of im­mi­grants who come from out­side Europe and have noth­ing to do with the EU. Third, the rights of Bri­tish and Euro­pean cit­i­zens to re­main in their present coun­tries of domi­cile – a source of un­der­stand­able anx­i­ety and ten­sion – should be re­solved as soon as pos­si­ble.

There is much spec­u­la­tion about the po­si­tion of Theresa May. But chang­ing the Prime Min­is­ter will do noth­ing to ad­dress the pow­er­ful dy­nam­ics at work in the elec­torate.

We should first con­cen­trate on chang­ing our poli­cies if we truly ex­pect to nav­i­gate the ever more tur­bu­lent world around us.

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