Friday 6 October 2023

Brexit has driven the Tory Party mad

I’ve written several times on this blog about the problems that Brexit has caused the Labour Party. More recently, it has become increasingly obvious that it has had far more profound and damaging consequences for the Tories, and I wrote in some detail last February about how ‘Brexitism’ is eating Conservatism. Now, although Labour continues to agonize about not alienating leave voters in the ‘Red Wall’ seats, it is beginning to craft some kind of post-Brexit stability for itself. Whereas Brexit has driven the Tory Party mad, as their party conference this week made abundantly clear.

The two things are not completely separate, as illustrated by the Tory Party’s thuggish Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson. A former coal miner and long-time Labour Party member, who also served as a Labour councillor, his early political heroes (£) were Arthur Scargill, Dennis Skinner and Tony Benn. Now a Tory MP and GB News presenter, he is not just ferociously pro-Brexit but a cartoonishly ‘prolier than thou’ populist, espousing the predictable litany of ‘things we’re not allowed to say’, from supporting the death penalty to telling asylum seekers to “f*** off back to France”.

So, to the extent he represents a certain segment of the traditional Labour core vote, he is indicative of part of the problem Brexit poses for Labour. But Anderson’s greater significance is that he fits perfectly into the post-Brexit Tory Party alongside those, from Jacob Rees-Mogg through to Suella Braverman, with whom he might otherwise have little in common. At the same time, there’s really no discernible difference between his beliefs and those of the Reform Party, as illustrated by his cringingly fawning ‘interview’ of Nigel Farage on his very first GB News show.

In one way, there’s nothing new about this. Populism has always brought together certain kinds of far-right and certain kinds of far-left people. What is new is what it has done to the Tory Party, and at the heart of that lies Brexit.

Farage and the ‘UKIPisation’ of the Tory Party

There are multiple dimensions to this, and they are interconnected and difficult to put into sequence. Perhaps the first of them is that, in using the referendum to outflank and marginalise UKIP, the outcome of the vote has ironically been to ‘UKIPise’ the Tory Party. That started to happen even before the 2017 election and has solidified since, so that by this week, as Lewis Goodall of the News Agents remarked, “you could have been at a UKIP or Brexit Party conference”.

That seems to apply not only to its grass-roots membership but to many, perhaps most, of its MPs, with almost all ‘remainers’ having been pushed out before the 2019 election. With them, the more socially liberal wing of the parliamentary party has also been very significantly eroded. That matters electorally, because those MPs, the David Gaukes and the Dominic Grieves, represented a certain kind of Tory voter the party is now liable to lose, potentially threatening its ‘Blue Wall’.

Yet, also ironically, the UKIPisation of the Tory Party has failed to reduce the fear its leadership has of the threat it faces from UKIP’s successor, the Reform Party, and especially the threat it would face if Farage returned to lead some version of that party. The Tories ‘getting Brexit done’ has by no means got rid of the Farage threat. That is partly because, inevitably, he spearheads the idea that Brexit has been betrayed by the Tories. It’s also because he and the people he represents will always depict Tory positions, especially on immigration and asylum seekers, no matter how extreme, as not going far enough.

But what is feared by the Tory leadership is loved by many, perhaps now most, within the party, including those jostling to take it over from Sunak, and the not unrelated seething mass of groupuscules advocating various versions of New and True Conservatism including National Conservatism, Common Sense Conservatism and Conservative Democracy. For them, Farage is not an external threat but a welcome friend. Hence the warm welcome he got at the conference, which apparently – no sniggering at the back, please - he attended in his capacity as a "journalist". Indeed, the Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie observed that “party members would choose him as leader if they could”.

That may be unlikely to happen, but Farage clearly, and correctly, sees himself as a significant player in influencing the party’s direction and its future leadership, which he opined was “the real debate this week”. That framing of the conference was in itself an act of hostility towards Sunak, as was his  enthusiastic endorsement (£) of Liz Truss’s approach to economic policy. Yes, it’s astonishing that anyone could think that, but Truss herself certainly continues to do so (£), as, presumably, do the “huge crowd”, which included Farage, who came to hear her speech to the conference fringe, given less than a year after her ignominious downfall.

Farage, whose political instincts are as acute as they are malign, was right about the central theme of the conference, and it wasn’t Sunak’s announcements about there being extra trains on the Dullchester to Snoreham line in ten years’ time, even though these dominated the reports of his less than visionary speech. It was, as Sam Coates of Sky News put it, “the existential questions about what the next iteration of the Conservative Party stands for”.

That Farage is now openly playing a role in these questions, inside the party he left in 1992 and has tormented ever since, may also seem astonishing. But to many in the current party he is not a torment but an inspiration. So is the GB News channel he fronts, as Priti Patel aggressively asserted at the Conservative Democratic Organization’s dinner before dancing with him, the would-be Princess to his irredeemably ugly frog. For that channel is now the mouthpiece for what the bulk of the Tory Party, quite as much as the Reform Party, believes in, and its studios are awash with Tory MPs interviewing each other.

The enemy at the top

To the New and True Conservative Jacobins, the enemy is neither Farage nor the Reform Party, it is Rishi Sunak and the remnants of moderate or even vaguely pragmatic conservatism. It is a curious fate for Sunak, a fiscally conservative Thatcherite, not to mention a supporter of Brexit. When he became an MP in 2015 that put him towards the right of the party. Just seven years later, the new Tories regard him as a ‘globalist’, even a ‘socialist’ and, of course, a ‘betrayer of Brexit’, if not a ‘closet remainer’. 

His clumsy attempts to placate them – from his new-found scepticism about the Net Zero agenda, to his insane embrace of the ’15-minute City’ conspiracy theory – have no impact on that. And they will, correctly, see it only as a sign of his weakness that he accepted the possibility Farage might be allowed rejoin the Tory Party, and as a further humiliation that Farage immediately rebuffed the idea (though, interestingly, he hasn’t entirely ruled it out for the future).

As many of his predecessors as Tory leader found, the more Sunak tries to please the extremists, the more they demand. His situation differs from them in two ways, though. One is that the extremists are no longer a fringe group within the party but becoming its mainstream, and include members of the cabinet like Braverman. The other, which is all that is saving him for now, is that even the extremists, such as Rees-Mogg, reluctantly realise that it is impractical to depose him before the next election. 

Clearly these two things point in different directions, but they are both bad for Sunak. If and when he loses the election, of course he will be ousted. But if, by some chance, he wins it then they will continue to attack him, though I suppose if he won by a large majority they might hold off doing so for a few weeks. The True and New Conservatives aren’t going away.

Brexit sowed the wind

The present state of the Tory Party isn’t all about Brexit, but Brexit lies at its heart. It is what started the rampage of populism, with its imagination of a singular ‘will of the people’ and, with that, the hunt for heretics and traitors, the denunciations and the witch-burnings, the suspicion of any hint of a lack of true belief. Hence, to give just one example, former Chancellor Philip Hammond, who, like Sunak, was a hyper-wealthy, almost stereotypical Thatcherite Eurosceptic as well as a spreadsheet technocrat, ended up being accused of “betrayal” for not supporting ‘no-deal Brexit’, and even facing calls that he be “tried for treason”.

Yet alongside such ferocious dogmatism lies the constant disappointment with Brexit. That was always going to exist, but Sunak’s relative ‘pragmatism’ has provided a new excuse for the Brexiters. To them, the Windsor Framework, the climbdown over scrapping all EU Retained Law, the resumption of Horizon membership, and the various other ad hoc accommodations he has made, all feed the Brexiters’ sense, itself the flip-side of their revolutionary purism, that Brexit hasn’t worked because ‘it has never been tried properly’. To take just one recent, but spectacularly stupid, example, the Telegraph’s Tom Harris this week foot-stamped about how “this useless government is destroying the Brexit dream” (£)*.

It is also Brexit which has led the Tory Party to all but turn its back on the business interests that used to be at its core. Boris Johnson’s ‘f*** business’ comment may have been a throwaway remark, but it had a deep resonance. Most businesses, whether large or small, were opposed to Brexit, and many are now deeply concerned about its effects. So, with Brexit the primary test of purity of belief, business is now – not entirely, but to an extent which would have been unthinkable a few years ago – positioned as the enemy. And that is not just for lack of Brexit belief, but for the now associated sins of ‘wokeness’ and being part of the Establishment or ‘the Blob’.

Something similar applies to huge swathes of professionals, civil servants, and just about every established institution including the Bank of England, the judiciary, the Church of England, many charities, and perhaps even the King (£). Like the evisceration of social liberals from the Tory Party, and to some extent overlapping with it, this has electoral consequences because many of those written off so disparagingly were the kinds of people whose interests the Tory Party used to represent and upon whose votes they could usually rely.

The new ‘politics of envy’

Again, this is not just about Brexit but it started with Brexit. Being a remainer is invariably first on the list of features, usually followed by ‘wokeness’ and university education, defining the ‘new elite’. This is the term repetitively ground out by the Conservative populists’ academic cheerleader Matthew Goodwin, himself a speaker at this year’s London NatCon conference, who has made the astonishing social scientific discovery that there are quite a lot of middle-class people in economically advanced societies. Even more astonishing, and apparently deeply sinister, he has discovered that they “live in the most affluent and trendy districts” and  “marry and socialise” with each other (£).

It’s worth reflecting how remarkable it is that, as with the hostility to business and professionals, populist Tories now regard the educated and affluent middle-class in general as being amongst the enemies of the people rather than being part of their core vote. In a similar vein, Suella Braverman’s ugly and depraved conference diatribe against immigration linked opposition to her bigotry and incompetence not just to those who “are desperate to reverse Brexit” but to those rich enough to have “luxury beliefs”, to employ gardeners and cleaners, and to have second homes. It is again remarkable that what used to call itself ‘the party of aspiration’ should now have such disdain for the well-to-do, to the point of regarding them as ‘unpatriotic’. It is equally striking that it now practises the ‘politics of envy’ that it used to disparage.

But this is the true face of the populist Conservatism that is engulfing the Tory Party, with Braverman also having been one of the speakers at the NatCon conference, along with Anderson, Cates, Rees-Mogg, David Frost and other Tory politicians. And it isn’t just about calibrating to different kind of voters from those who have traditionally supported them. It goes right to the heart of how these populist Tories govern, or do when they get the chance.

This was exemplified by the Truss mini-budget which, as I discussed at the time, was not just a ‘Brexit budget’ because it was hailed as one which would deliver Brexit, but because it was constructed in explicit rejection of the institutions and advice of ‘the Establishment’. They had opposed Brexit with their ‘Project Fear’ warnings, but Brexit had been voted for and done anyway. So Brexit morphed into ‘Brexitism’ where almost all institutions and most expertise are suspect. The market reaction to the mini-budget showed the recklessness of that, and very briefly shocked the Brexitists into relative silence. But they have quickly forgotten all that.

Brexitism: a different kind of ideology

It's something of a myth that the Tory Party used to be pragmatic rather than ideological. Thatcherism was nakedly ideological, and even before 1979 there were plenty of Tories who held her beliefs. Nor was Thatcher averse to populism, especially in relation to immigration. For example, her infamous remark about British people fearing they might be “swamped by people of a different culture” was similar to the kinds of things Braverman said this week.

But Brexitism is ideological in a different way, by being detached from almost any commitment to reality or truthfulness. Thatcherites had ideological positions, for example on the privatisation of nationalised industries, but there was nothing fantastical about them. Those industries existed and, rightly or wrongly, it was possible to privatise them, as the Tories did. The claims Tories made for what that would do for their efficiency, or cost-effectiveness, or investment may have been flawed, and the flaws may have flowed from their ideological assumptions about markets and the state. But they were not delusions or lies in the way that characterised Brexit, for example in the denial that it had any implications for a Northern Ireland border, or the assertion that post-Brexit trade with the EU could be frictionless. In this sense, Brexitism, unlike Thatcherism, is a distinctively post-truth ideology.

Likewise, every single budget under Thatcher – every budget under any Prime Minister of any party, for that matter – was ideological, but Truss’s ‘true Brexit’ mini-budget was ideological in a different way in its refusal to accept the realities of what it meant. That was demonstrated not simply, or not so much, in its formulation as in the response to its consequences, which Truss and her supporters still ascribe to Establishment plotting rather than market sentiment. And this detachment from reality now goes right down to such things as the ridiculous claims from the Environment Secretary Claire Coutinho that she has put a stop to a ‘meat tax’ that never existed.

Even Sunak engages in a degree of this post-truth Brexitist ideology, including the ‘no meat tax’ calumny. More importantly, in his conference speech extolling the pragmatism and honesty he claims to bring to politics, Sunak quite brazenly lied about the benefits of Brexit, including making the absurd suggestion that it has boosted UK economic growth, for which there is not a shred of evidence. There’s no surprise in that, as no Tory leader can speak the truth about Brexit, but it shows that Sunak has little interest in addressing the concerns even of Tory voters, of whom a not negligible 29% think leaving the EU was a mistake, 38% think it has been more of a failure than a success, and just 22% think has been more of a success than a failure. The ‘Brexitists’ certainly don’t have any interest at all in doing so.

Is populism popular?

Indeed, at one level, it seems as if the Brexitists no longer care about winning elections, and all that matters to them is ideological purity. But, though there may be an element of this, I think the truth is more that their ideological purity leads them to believe that it offers a route to winning elections. They see the Conservatives’ current weak position in the opinion polls and refuse to recognize that it derives from voters’ gradual disenchantment with Johnson and sudden disenchantment with Truss. So they conclude, according to taste, that if Johnson had stayed or if Truss had toughed it out then their poll ratings would have risen. And, now, they urge Sunak towards ‘true Conservatism’, certain that it will be popular and, if the election proves it not to be, waiting to ascribe that to him not going far enough and not being a true believer. At that point, they will install a Braverman, or some other New and True Conservative, in the expectation that this will bring them to power again in 2029.

In short, I think they have mistaken populist policies for popular policies, especially given the changing demography of the electorate. The core reason, again, is Brexit. It was the moment when the longstanding populist belief that they speak for ‘the silent majority’ seemed to be vindicated, and they saw further vindication in the 2019 ‘get Brexit done’ election. Indeed the Tory MP Miriam Cates, who is one of the NatCon’s rising stars, explicitly locates British National Conservatism as emerging from these two events. It is a massive over-reading, and over-simplification, of those votes, and especially of the narrow referendum victory, but it gave them licence to claim ownership of the ‘will of the people’ and to depict their opponents as ‘enemies of the people’. It made politics toxic and, in the process, they poisoned themselves.

Of course, perhaps their analysis is right, and when they get their New and True Conservative Party it will prove wildly popular, or at least popular enough to deliver an election victory in 2029. That could be especially likely if they face a Labour government which has been lacklustre or worse. Certainly there is no cause for complacency, and still less for amusement, about what is happening to the Tory Party. In his weekly Guardian column, Rafael Behr, touching on many of the themes I’ve written about in this post, rightly concludes that “there is something disturbing about a regime that is too ridiculous to trust with power yet too powerful to be written off with ridicule”. That will continue to be true even if, as looks increasingly likely, they lose the next election and become completely taken over by Brexitist populism, if only because, even out of office, they will have much media backing.

However, the difference between my analysis and that of the populists isn’t just about the content of the prediction. It is also about a difference that goes to the heart of the irrationality of Brexitism. That difference is that if they prove to be right then I would accept that my analysis was proved wrong. But if I prove to be right then, without a shadow of a doubt, they will deny that their analysis has been proved wrong. They will say it just means that it wasn’t true ‘True Conservatism’ and insist that the answer is to do it again, but this time properly. Exactly as they do of Brexit, the ultimate source of the madness that now afflicts them.

 

*This headline was later amended to the less punchy one of “The Government risks destroying the Brexit dream”, but the original lives on in the URL.

53 comments:

  1. Thanks Chris, another great article. My family and I were lucky enough to escape the consequences of Brexit for New Zealand in 2017, but far from "never looking back" I've retained a keen interest in what has been happening in my native country. Your blog posts have been invaluable in helping me understand what has happened.

    Everyone has their own theory about Brexit and mine is that if the UK had switched to a proportional voting system in 99 as planned in the Blair / Ashdown pact, hard Brexit would never have happened. UKIP might have got into power and we might even have left the EU, but the way PR forces compromise would have led to the sensible Norway / Switzerland style relationship without the oosioning of politics.

    Now living in a country which had the Westminster system but has had PR since then, it's very clear to me that far from enabling extremists it prevents them getting hold of "elected dictator" power as the Tories / UKIP have done.

    It also seems to encourage a more grown up and realistic politics, and produce better politicians. The rules of any game determine how it is played *and who wins*.

    Sadly I can't see it ever happening in the UK. Traditional Labour killed.it in 99 and Blair wasn't prepared to spend his political capital on it, and if Labour gets a convincing majority they'll be so preoccupied with dealing with the carnage the Tories have left them they won't think long term about what happens if / when the Tories finally come to their senses.

    I don't remember a blog post from you on this subject but would love to see one one day if you have time.

    Thanks again and keep up the good work.

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    1. Thanks, Chris. Glad you like the blog. You're right that I haven't really written on that subject, I suppose because the focus has been consequences rather than causes of Brexit.

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    2. It's interesting that Naomi Smith is making the comparison with the Canadian conservatives experience. The echoes are worrying and I fear if Labour doesn't embrace PR the UK will never get to a sensible relationship with the EU.

      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/oct/06/tories-nigel-farage-preston-manning-canada

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    3. I left London for NZ 20 years before you, but in the end it was modern Britain that left me - as I described here last year: https://grenow.substack.com/p/a-sense-of-place

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    4. Thanks Gareth. I have similar feelings - I haven't actually been back since leaving but I do feel the speed at which the country left me has been dizzying. I was 24 when Blair was elected and (Remainer cliche alert) watched and attended the 2012 Olympics certain I was going to raise my kids in the UK. For all its faults it still felt "Great" in many ways.

      But the shock of 2016, and quickly realising it wasn't going to be a sensible compromise soft Brexit meant even though we only came here for an adventure it quickly became home as we watched the chaos unfold.

      NZ's not perfect but I'm so glad my kids are growing up here. Looking forward to voting in the second fair election of my life next Sat as well.

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    5. Brian Withington11 October 2023 at 14:21

      I just wanted to agree on the critical importance of electoral reform, the great domestic policy failure/missed opportunity of the Blair years. First past the post encourages parties that are too broadly based for the public good, with all the associated risks of entryism and internecine warfare, as a substitute for openly distinct party identities and allegiances. See especially the takeover and corruption of the Republican Party in the USA, and the embedded institutionalisation (by both main parties) of voting district gerrymandering as a key means of entrenching political power. Of course, some variant of PR might still not have prevented Brexit, but I would like to think it would have encouraged a more mature approach to politics and governance that might have avoided (or at least mitigated) the rush to such a stupidly designed “one-shot” binary referendum. UKIP voters, amongst others, had been woefully under-represented in Parliament thanks to the FTP electoral system, but ironically have now ended up disproportionately influencing the near capture of the Conservative Party.

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  2. Thank you for your continuing helpful analysis of Brexit and Government.
    In the matter of untruths I find the continual assertion of a landslide victory in 2019 one of the big lies as it seems it was really just a very clever manipulation of a relatively small number of votes in marginal seats. But how much should we fear this in future?

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  3. Excellent as usual.

    Sunak is indeed following in the Post Truth tradition of Brexit.

    He claimed in his speech that Brexit had cut red tape by £1 billion.

    Industry has already rubbished the claim.

    https://www.tradeandbusiness.uk/news/sunak-faces-business-backlash-after-claiming-brexit-is-saving-businesses-money

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  4. Absolutely magesterial analysis. This is fundamental reading and I thank for it.

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    1. Brilliant analysis. I almost want to conclude that the tories are trashing everything so they can expand the (not a nice term) underclass until it's big enough to win them an election. Too cynical?

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  5. Thank you for this analysis of the populist take over of the Conservatives. I now feel like I can begin to understand how Liz Truss can claim the markets and the money men which were the cause of her downfall were somehow "socialist" even though they used to be the kind of institutions Conservatives worshipped. I guess if "the remainer establishment" is your enemy, it is easy for one set of words for what you see as your opposition to slide towards another. So maybe Truss is not simply deluded, but is making her world view make sense in the only way she can.

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    1. Thanks, Paul. I think as you imply that psychology is as important as politics in this

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    2. I think there's something that I notice about people who hold extreme positions and people with conspiratorial thinking - and especially those people who are both.

      They assume all their opponents are the same and are conspiring with each other. This is where you get people from the anti-Israel extreme left saying that the Israeli government and Nazis are all working together, where you get people incapable of realising that Starmer and the far left hate each other's guts.

      And the Brexitists are absolutely of a piece with this. Everyone against them *must* be working together against them, so it's the socialist, liberal, remain, establishment. Oil companies and green activists ganging up on the poor Brexitists.

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  6. Brexit is to these populists what WWI was to the Nazis. A betrayal entirely the fault of their enemies. Like that war, Brexit is in many ways more useful to them as a failure than if it had been a relative success.

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  7. Great article and an excellent analysis as usual. I think it is important to keep reminding that the 'failed Brexit' that Farage was complaining about a few weeks ago, has been an sinister experiment managed by a Brexit-clown Government with an 80 seat majority. Labour should focus on this argument and hammer the Tories day and night with it.

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  8. Thank you for another interesting read. It still surprises me that these Brexit cheerleaders are not asked more often why, if it was all such a great idea, nobody else has left. Now, more than ever, the desperation to prove it was worthwhile, is acute, leading to ever more absurd contortions. But surely this simple proposition is all that needs putting to them?

    The closest I have ever had to an answer is basically the same tired old exceptionalism; that Britain’s economy is ‘different’. Or that it’s a ‘services economy’, as if most other advanced economies are no such thing. It’s high time this nonsense was put out of its misery. It is to be hoped with British media’s newly rediscovered interest in fact finding, that this may happen.

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  9. Chris, you predicted from the very start that the cries of Brexit “betrayed” would come. And you correctly identified that the narrative of betrayal both lay behind Brexit and would be focused by how it unfolded. It’s been profoundly unnerving to live through a period where the problems were predictable, predicted, and yet could not be avoided. Thanks for helping your readers understand and anticipate each twist.

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    1. Thanks, Josh, I appreciate that. Though I should say that I certainly wasn't the only one who predicted it!

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  10. Assuming the Conservatives continue on their present trajectory might the Lib Dems have an historic opportunity to seize the centre-right ground with a pro-business, pro-Europe, one nation pitch?

    I appreciate they are to the left of that place now but a lot of what they want to achieve they still could as leftie-tories re-homed.

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    1. Interesting point, I have wondered why the Liberals are so low key at the moment. Even if I disagree with their approach I can see why Labour are avoiding antagonising either Brexiters or Remainers by appearing to take sides since they know the make up of the constituencies they need to win back. But the Liberal Democrats are in a different position, if they are not to be squeezed by the other two parties they need the public to understand what they stand for. What you say would resonate with a lot of "soft" Conservative voters, and having a stronger pro-environmental stance would increase their chance of gaining from tactical voting by would-be Green supporters. But they seem scared to say they stand for anything at all.

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  11. Terrific stuff, as always. But I think it's worth noting what Tim Bale said in the Guardian this week: “There’s a yawning gap between how these people are seen in that party bubble and how they’re seen outside. I think that, to some extent, speaks to the power and the influence of the party in the media. Although it’s not hermetically sealed, a lot of Conservatives live in a world or an ecosystem which is dominated by [right-wing] media outlets, and therefore they get their views about what people think from there, rather than lived experience or polling. Rationally, you’d think MPs could read the polling and see that Truss and Braverman are absolutely toxic. They have the reverse Midas touch". What this reminds me of is the final days of Thatcher. Her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, shielded her from most negative press comment and showed her only the glowing eulogies (of which there were many). But most of her cabinet colleagues realised that she was becoming increasingly unpopular with the country, and sent for the men in white coats (sorry - grey suits). However, now it is the dominant faction of the party that is living in the press echo chamber/hall of mirrors. Much of the British national press may be a national disgrace and a bizarre aberration in journalistic terms, but if it leads to Tories into self-immolation they could be seen as having done us a big favour (the problem being, though, that the may also bring the country to its knees in some kind of Braverdammerung).

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  12. I didn't see Tim's piece and can't find it but, yes, I agree which is why I think the populists are mistaking populist policies for popular policies. OTOH I may bee too complacent - I was struck by a piece by Naomi Smith in the G today on how things could develop in the UJ based on parallels with Canada: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/oct/06/tories-nigel-farage-preston-manning-canada

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    1. It wasn't a piece, but a quote in https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/oct/04/the-astounding-return-of-liz-truss-why-do-so-many-tories-still-love-the-failed-leader

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  13. Another week and another solidly fantastic article from you, Chris. I normally do not congratulate others on their work like this in case it comes across as fawning. In this case, I'll make an exception.

    Constant cries of ''Brexit betrayal'' and "We have not got Brexit yet", stem from the very fact no one, esp on the leave side gave an example of what Brexit should be.

    Hence, the fact that whatever version of Brexit is agreed under the quick succession of Tory PM's since 2016, it can easily be rejected as not Brexity enough, even if it means leading Brexiters contradicting themselves on a regular basis. All because Brexit is whatever its backers claim it to be, and not what anyone defined what it should be.

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    1. Thank you, and it's not 'fawning' in any way. Writing this blog is a huge labour, and it is nice when people express their appreciation of it.

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  14. Labour wins the next general election. However----as the Conservatives are well aware---the measures needed to dig the country out of the almighty mess Labour inherits are so unpopular that they are lucky to even last one term. The Conservatives are then back in power in a few years time.
    What if Labour adopts this strategy...? "In these difficult times we need a House of Commons which fully represents the electorate and the nation to deal with the mess because we are all in this together.
    We propose to hold an emergency election within two years under Proportional Representation in order that all views get represented in the House of Commons in proportion to the number of people holding them. We realise that the Conservatives will get more seats than they would have got under FPTP but that is a price worth paying for a truly representative House of Commons to tackle the country's immense problems."

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  15. Thank you, Chris. Great stuff as always. One thought I pass on, prompted by the mention of Farage's future. Another blog I read is that produced by Richard North, former head of research for UKIP. He , perhaps surprisingly has a low opinion of Farage, saying that the only talent he found Farage to have was the ability to criticise effectively. He was completely incapable of producing, indeed was opposed to any attempt to provide any vision of what a post-Brexit UK should do. Of course Farage may have been acting on behalf of shadowy people pulling the strings behind the scenes, but, if taken at face valueTories by way of leadership or management skills.

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    1. If the Tories are anything like the Republicans here in the US, avoiding providing details is the point. Giving your opponents a position to attack is a weakness, and as long as the voters are happy with the shadow, there's no need for substance. They will, at all costs, avoid defining what "real" Brexit would entail as long as possible.

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  16. Apologies - correction of last line 'if taken at face value he would seem to offer little to the Tories by way of etc.'

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  17. I voted by post in 2016 and went on holiday to Madeira. When the vote went the wrong way the only control I could have was not to leave Europe myself so I bought a home before returning to the U.K. to sell everything. I have not been disappointed.

    There are several benefits of leaving Brexit Britain for a new life in Madeira:

    1. Climate: Madeira enjoys a mild and pleasant climate throughout the year. With warm summers and mild winters, it offers a comfortable living environment for those seeking to escape the unpredictable weather in the UK.

    2. Natural beauty: Madeira is known for its stunning natural landscapes, including lush green mountains, picturesque villages, and beautiful coastlines. The island offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming, and exploring its unique flora and fauna.

    3. Quality of life: Madeira consistently ranks high in terms of quality of life. The island has a low crime rate, excellent healthcare facilities, and a well-developed infrastructure. The pace of life is generally relaxed, allowing residents to enjoy a more laid-back lifestyle.

    4. Cost of living: Compared to many parts of the UK, the cost of living in Madeira is relatively affordable. Housing, utilities, and groceries are generally cheaper, allowing individuals to stretch their budget further and potentially enjoy a higher standard of living.

    5. Tax benefits: Madeira offers attractive tax incentives for individuals and businesses. The island has a special tax regime known as the International Business Centre of Madeira (IBCM), which provides tax advantages for companies operating in various sectors. This can be particularly beneficial for entrepreneurs and professionals looking to establish their own businesses.

    6. Cultural experience: Madeira has a rich cultural heritage, influenced by Portuguese, African, and European traditions. The island hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year, showcasing its vibrant music, dance, and cuisine. Immersing oneself in this cultural experience can be enriching and rewarding.

    7. Access to Europe: Despite being an autonomous region of Portugal, Madeira is part of the European Union. This means that residents have the freedom to travel and work within the EU without restrictions. It also provides access to the EU healthcare system and other benefits associated with EU membership.

    Overall, leaving Brexit Britain for Madeira offers the opportunity for a more relaxed lifestyle, favorable climate, lower cost of living, and access to a vibrant cultural experience. These factors, combined with the island's natural beauty and tax benefits, make it an attractive destination for those seeking a fresh start.

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    1. On October 19th I will be speaking at the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce at the Pestana hotel Chelsea Bridge

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  18. Super article as usual, but has any thought been given to the misuse of postal votes. It is alleged that 1.1 million of them were not counted in 2016, and this article post 2019 GE also gives food for thought. https://williambowles.info/2020/03/09/did-labour-really-lose-for-this-reason/
    In both cases, the postal voting was managed by IDOX , which had arch eurosceptic and right wing tory Peter Lilley in charge. Could this mean that the referendum and the 2019 GE are invalid.

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  19. "Sunak’s announcements about there being extra trains on the Dullchester to Snoreham line in ten years’ time"
    Shades of John Major's Cones Hotline!

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  20. Excellent as usual. My only complaint is your sloppy equivalence of far left and far right populism. Skinner, Benn and Scargill were not far left populists. Skinner was a part and parcel of the Labour Party when there was a large manual labouring working class, and not at all untypical of Labour party MP's at the time on the left of the party eg Eric Heffer. Scargill was perhaps slightly more to the left of some contemporary Union leaders but not much. And Tony Benn was a socialist albeit it from an aristocratic background but not a populist. Back then the Labour party was more representative of a unionised labour movement than it is now. But none of that makes the characters involved "populist" . It's a term of limited use because it's so malleable and rolled out with such gay abandon by commentators. You column forced me to do some digging and came across this as a useful characterisation

    "Given that “the people” is seen as honest, whereas “the elite” is portrayed as fraudulent, populists are prone to claim that nobody has the right to bypass the popular will. This has important consequences for the type of government that populist actors support in both theory and practice. They favor what is most often termed minimal or procedural democracy, defined as popular sovereignty and majority rule. At the same time, they have serious problems with liberal democracy, most notably minority rights, rule of law, and separation of powers (including independence of the judiciary and the media)"
    https://wrdtp.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Mudde-and-Kaltwasser-Populism-in-Comparative-Perspective.pdf

    It's the most useful definition of populism I could find. If for the moment we accept it then: it doesn't describe Benn - very much the parliamentarian; it doesn't really describe the left of the Labour Party in the UK at any time - (what significant force on the left has pursued the by-passing of Parliament?); or not supported the separation of powers or not supported minority rights. I guess I just think the excessively use of left and right wing populism confuses rather than clarifies. Right wing populism you so accurately describe in the Conservative Party IS characterised by the people vs the elite, natives vs foreigners, attacking separation of powers (judicial attacks). Left wing populism in the UK ? I'm struggling to identify it. Unless being a trade unionist an internationalist, an anti-racist and a socialist makes you a left wing populist ? Does it? If it does then you risk encouraging on the left exactly the same kind of behaviour as you abhor on the right. And the term becomes useless. Trumpism/Borisism/Peronism is a thing and I know it when I see it. Who are/were the left wing populists in the UK?

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    1. Thanks very much. I agree with all you say, except that you are wrong to think I was suggesting that Scargill, Skinner and Benn were populists (though I can see why you read what I wrote that way, and the fault was in my writing). What I meant was that the early influence of those three on Anderson shows that he was influenced by the far left (maybe you don’t even like the ‘far’ – I won’t argue – let’s just say the left).

      My subsequent reference to far-left populism was partly a reference to Anderson himself, and people like him, who have joined forces so enthusiastically with the populist right, but, also, just a general observation about how, historically, populism has combined elements of left and right.

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    2. Brian Withington11 October 2023 at 15:04

      I think the definition of “left wing” populism is an interesting challenge, and the equivalence of left and right in the post slightly jarred for me too. I guess one example of such populism might be a frustration at the courts being used to block a popular mandate for change (cf GLC’s “Fare’s Fair” campaign being overturned by Bromley Council’s legal challenge in 1981). As someone who enthusiastically voted for the Labour platform that included Fare’s Fair, I recall being particularly incensed by what I felt to be a right wing establishment fix on behalf of an affluent Tory Council (and vengeful central government). I expect FDR may have encountered some of this resistance when promoting the New Deal in the US, too.
      Another sort of “left wing” populism entirely might be appealing to a class of voters who may have traditionally voted Labour but are “socially conservative” (a polite term for anti-immigration, anti-woke and pro-hanging), but I’m not sure that label works at all.
      Maybe it’s not even helpful to try to distinguish between left and right wing variants and just call it “populism” wherever we find it. (Although sometimes like with the GLC it’s also popular for a “good” reason!)

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  21. Yet another brilliant post, Chris, full of highly quotable wisdom. I do sympathise with you having, as part of your research, to watch the tragicomical double act of Farage and Anderson, or to read the extraordinary bilge of Tom Harris and other Telegraph pundits. What I found truly galling was watching Nigel Farage lecturing the public about the importance of teaching children critical thinking. Does the man have no sense of irony?

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  22. Thanks, Peter. It's certainly a constant eye-opener - useful, though, I think, to try to understand what these people are thinking. I take your question to be a rhetorical one!

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  23. Thank you for your blog. I enjoy (for certain definitions of 'enjoy') reading it each week.
    One thing that seems to be overlooked in a lot of discussions right now in the context of the upcoming General Election is about turnout. The 1997 election was a landslide at least in part because the Tories stayed at home (rather than bring themselves to actually vote Labour) and the 'populist' tack is being taken *not* to "attract new voters" (because it clearly won't) but in an attempt to get the right-wing base to actually come out to vote. It kind of worked in 2019 (when Farage engaged in that 'standing down' gambit) and there are probably enough seats where it will matter to stop the election being a complete wipeout.
    That doesn't mean it might not misplay badly - it does seem that the tactics are not shifting opinion much - but if they can get a few more percent to turn out, then it will have been vindicated as a strategy.

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  24. Has Brexit driven the Tory Party mad? Or was it mad already and was this what caused Brexit?

    Euro-scepticism always contained illogical ideas, and these became accepted as normal through constant repetition and the failure to push-back against them.

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    1. The UK is a medium-weight power. It would benefit from a rules-based international order. It would benefit from following the rules and trying to ensure everybody else followed the rules. The stuff about Global Britain is a coded way of saying "why do we have to follow all these rules?"

      Margaret Thatcher was the chief architect of some of the most important rules, those of the Single Market. Some of her disciples preferred the cartoon image of Thatcher getting her own way by being very stubborn, but this was mostly an illusion.

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  25. Excellent post as aways, Chris. I really enjoy reading your weekly blog and will make time to read it and click through the links. As a keen student of everything Brexit I concur with everything you say. But I do notice in your writing a reticence that seems to afflict the majority of the UK pundits writing on this subject, a reticence that we in Europe don’t suffer from; which is calling a fascist a fascist. It strikes me that in the UK there seems to be a belief that a fascist is someone who speaks with a clipped foreign accent and wears a Hugo Boss uniform, but when the fascists wear tweed and swig pints they suddenly can’t be fascists. They’re “populists” or Brextremists”, but the sad truth is that Brexit was an entirely fascist project, promoted for years by a known fascist, and that whichever government would jump on the Brexit bandwagon would have to employ fascist tactics in order to get Brexit done. This post in particular says as much, but without using the actual word. I’ve noticed that people in Britain are quite keen to call Marine LePen a fascist, and quite rightly so, but in the process forget that even the Brexit party could not sit in the same group as them in the EU parliament, being even more extreme.

    As some commentator has already pointed out, having a PR system would probably have averted the worst of this. What happens in Britain, especially now it has left the EU, is, what I call, political metamerism, where every Tory leader does an imperceptible step to the right to try and distinguish themselves from their opponents and the whole narrative slowly drifts to the right when suddenly the whole country has shifted to the right, still believing that the Tories are a centre-right party. This is also called the Overton window, but it doesn’t explain the mechanism as well as metamerism does. Where the EU was useful here is that when Cameron had to take his Tories out of the main centre right block in the parliament, people should have paid attention and realised how far the Tories were sliding to the right. That virtual anchor has now been lifted and the Tories have indeed become UKIP, which already was a fascist party.

    I’d be keen to know why, when you have described in detail all the fascist rhetoric that has been employed to get Brexit done and all the fascist views now espoused by GB news and certain (ex) cabinet ministers, we can’t actually call them for what they are? Wouldn’t that just be simpler and then people will know where they stand? Inventing new terms for them makes them sound acceptable whereas if we called them out for being the fascists they have become, we can clearly say “No pasar├ín”!

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    1. I think you are right that the public in the UK did not appreciate the implication of Cameron removing the Conservatives from the "club" of centrist (but on the right) parties in the European Parliament: he was signalling a major change from what the Conservative Party had traditionally represented.

      As someone who is not a member of any Party - but philosophically very far from the current Tories - I think that the only viable future for the Conservative Party is to split between the "Sensible Conservatives" and the "would-be Fascist Conservatives". But that requires them to be in opposition.

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    2. I agree, but the better mechanism would be PR. That way the Tories can split into traditional centre right and fascist, but equally Labour can split into green/left and socialist. The PR system has forced people together into "broad churches" that never should have been in the same club.

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    3. Brian Withington11 October 2023 at 15:43

      Of course, getting PR (which I support) would require the Conservatives to be in opposition and for a very long time, too. Labour currently has no stomach for it and in its defence it would doubtless argue that it has many other priorities for its time and political capital. This is where I think some form of long-term Constitutional Convention operating outside of but reporting to central government (and the public) might be a way forward. See also the Citizen’s Assembly, also adopted in Ireland, that examined abortion law. I hope we can all agree that a rushed yes/no referendum is NOT the answer …

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    4. Thanks for your kind words. You are right, I hardly ever use the term 'fascist'. Reading your comment, I did a quick search of the blog and found it appears a few times, though even then often as 'fascistic' or 'proto-fascist'. The short answer to your question is that I think it is an important and powerful term that has been diluted by over-use, and I want to reserve it for rare use to preserve its power, at least in my own writing. And whilst of course I agree that fascism doesn't just come with jackboots etc, I don't think that it is applicable to many of the key actors in Brexit and I most certainly wouldn't agree that "Brexit was an entirely fascist project".

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    5. The reluctance to use terms like "fascist" or "far right" does seem to be a particularly English thing. Although I agree with Chris G that it's dangerous to over use these terms and dilute their meaning, it is something of a pattern in English politics.

      "The Troubles" is I feel another example of this. In any other comment this would have been described as an "armed rebellion" or "low level civil war". A less troubling but still telling example is the use of "expat" rather than "immigrant".

      I feel a lot of this is about ethno-centrism - because this is "Great" Britain and the Greenwich meridian of democracy from which all others must be judged, things can't be as bad there as they are elsewhere and the language reflects that.

      It reflects a sense of superiority and exceptionalism that as many people have commented empowered the Brexit vote and what happened afterwards. Because this was a "great" country that had done great things, surely it couldn't be making a catastrophic mistake with Brexit. The 27 other countries that broadly thought EU membership was a good thing must be wrong, because they're not "Great" Britain.

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    6. pt 1/2
      Thanks for the response, Chris Grey, as well as Chris B. From my experience I heartily agree with Chris B’s observations, especially about the “Troubles”. In the 80’s, when I lived there, there were two civil wars in the UK, which were euphemistically referred to as “the Troubles” or “the miner’s strike”, but in both cases the government of the day unleashed military might on a section of it’s own population. It even went as far as putting gagging orders on political leaders in a way most Brits would find abhorrent if another country did it, saying nothing of the arbitrary policy of internement which led to hunger strikes and the death of an MP, Bobby Sands. All conveniently forgotten in British political discourse, as much as the fact that it was Britain, not Germany, who first used concentration camps on a civilian population. So to somehow imagine that fascism is beyond the reach of British politics is, from my point of view, pure whitewash.

      As to my comment that “Brexit is a fascist project”, it obviously needs a bit of clarifying. First of all, the EU is the ultimate anti-fascist institution. It grew from the rubble of the second world war with the sole aim of preventing what happened ever happening again. In that sense, it has been 100% successful in that there have been no wars between member countries in a region where previously every generation suffered some kind of war or another. Also, only properly functioning democracies were allowed to join, so Spain, Greece and Portugal had to wait until they had removed their military regimes and eastern Europe had to get rid of communism. In that sense, Britain, with its, at best, dodgy democracy, was already a bit of an outlier. Finally, it is constantly and democratically evolving. There isn’t a single international institution that boasts a parliament and can trace a direct line from the coal and steel community to the EEC to the EU. Not the WTO, not NATO, not the UN have a directly elected parliament and a council where every country is equally represented. So naturally fascists will want to destroy it, or, if they can’t have that, have nothing to do with it. Pre-Brexit every fascist party in Europe wanted to pull their country out of the EU, and yes, UKIP was a part of that.

      (I will continue in the next comment)

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    7. pt 2/2
      Enter the British fascist Nigel Farage who has been beating this drum for many many years before. Farage was always a known fascist and nothing he has ever done since has dispelled that. He boasted on TV that he got the BNP to vote for him, funny as fascists only vote for fascists. He used every trick and lie from the 1920’s NSDAP playbook. Let’s not forget that the Nazis were successful in the end because they basically had two attack columns. One was aimed at the Treaty of Versailles, the big betrayal (sound familiar?) and it’s guarantor the League of Nations. The second was aimed at the Jews, the “other, who were held to blame for the rest of Germany’s woes. Fast forward to the end of the century and we find the identical discourse from the lips of Mr. Farage, only now the League of Nations has become the EU and the “other” has become immigrants. Just like in the 20’s he kept this messaging whatever the political situation; selling the snake oil that all that was needed was closing borders and leaving the EU and everything would be fine. Eventually more and more people joined his bandwagon and this resulted in where we are now. There is one more notable indicator of fascism and that is the “F├╝hrerprinzip”, the idea of a strong leader around whom the others can coalesce. There are always various parties bumbling along the extremes of politics, but until they find a strong leader they will never amount to much. This happened in Germany when Hitler managed to unite the worker’s party and the Thule group and a few others into the NSDAP, so Farage, as I said above, managed to get the BNP and other to follow him. Notable that UKIP completely collapsed the moment he left it to form his own fan club in the guise of the Brexit party which wasn’t even constituted in a democratic way, but purely for his aggrandisement. Just because Farage never managed to gain actual power, doesn’t mean he’s not a fascist.

      So that’s why I think Brexit is a fascist project, this doesn’t mean that everyone voting for it were fascists, nor that anyone criticising the EU is, just they didn’t bother to look too closely or were swayed by the emotive twaddle coming from the leave side. Likewise the befuddled Lexiters who kept sharing an old Tony Benn clip where his lordship is clearly confused about what the then EEC is actually supposed to be doing. So yes, in order to get a fascist project done, fascist tactics needed to be employed. The illegal prorogation of parliament being just one example. Again, this does not mean that everyone voting for it were fascists, but that doesn’t make the project any less so, and it is interesting to note that the government that swept in on getting this project done has displayed quite strong fascist tendencies, particularly towards immigration and public dissent.

      Finally let me just point out that fascism is a political stream that has been around long before and will continue to exist in the future. It is no more pejorative than calling someone a socialist, a communist or even a capitalist. But unless we name fascists for fascists, they can claim political capital by hiding behind the other epithets. Call them out for what they are does everyone, including them, a service.

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  26. Brian Withington11 October 2023 at 15:28

    Yet another insightful, well-informed and researched article, Chris. I don’t know where and how you find the fortitude to keep pursuing this issue with such vigour but I (and clearly others) are grateful that you do. In relation to some of this week’s themes, do you detect commonality between the direction of travel of the Republican Party and the National Conservative tendency. An increasing disengagement from economic theory and policy in favour of the politics of “values” and ideological belief almost defined in opposition to the perceived evils of liberal “elitism”. Whilst still perhaps lagging slightly behind (?) on social issues, I would venture that the National Conservatives appear to be going further in their distancing from business interests. I reflect in passing that the National Socialist rhetoric may have been designed to appeal to the ordinary worker and ominously decried the “money men”, but that party always maintained very close ties with the captains of industry.

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  27. Thanks very much. And I agree, much commonality of the sort you describe

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  28. Thanks Chris- illuminating as ever. I guess the question we all have to wait and see is whether a Starmer govt will be bold enough to grapple with constitutional issues that need addressing that ultimately lead to a lot of the structural inequality and feelings of voters that decision making is remote. Eg to extinguish the root causes of the Brexit vote

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