MITCH BENN: Brexit is no Tory sob story

PUBLISHED: 12:20 22 June 2019 | UPDATED: 12:20 22 June 2019

Mark Francois MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, also a member of the European Research Group (ERG) seen at Westminster College Green. Picture: Ian Lawrence X/Getty Images.

Mark Francois MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, also a member of the European Research Group (ERG) seen at Westminster College Green. Picture: Ian Lawrence X/Getty Images.

2018 Getty Images

MITCH BENN on watching a video by the campaign supporting Boris Johnson's (currently swaggering) effort to become leader of the Tory party and prime minister.

British Conservative Party politician Boris Johnson gives a speech. Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFPBritish Conservative Party politician Boris Johnson gives a speech. Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP

I find myself in a philosophical frame of mind, so here are a couple of interesting hypotheticals for us to ponder:

Firstly: would it be possible for the Conservative Party as we know it to cease to exist?

Secondly: would it be a bad thing if the Conservative Party as we know it were to cease to exist?

I asked myself this question the other day as I was watching a video circulated by Back Boris, the campaign supporting Boris Johnson's (currently swaggering) effort to become leader of the Tory party and prime minister.

Mark Francois issued a bizarre challenge to anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray on his way to support Boris Johnson's leadership launch. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA ImagesMark Francois issued a bizarre challenge to anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray on his way to support Boris Johnson's leadership launch. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

The video featured everyone's favourite outraged wheelie bin and celebrated Peter Glaze tribute act Mark Francois, which immediately raises some questions of its own; with the best will in the world, of the words which spring to mind when contemplating Monsieur Francois (as I understand he prefers to be addressed), 'genius' is not one of them. Nor indeed are 'wise', 'sensible' or 'coherent', so the fact that he's being trotted out to dispense sage advice on the leadership contest suggests either that the smarter Tory MPs are keeping their allegiances as vague as possible, the better to curry favour with the eventual victor (in case its isn't Boris after all), or that the camera crew were asking someone else's opinions when M. Francois video-bombed them (having first found a box to stand on).

Nonetheless, the precise wording of M. Francois' endorsement was very telling: he says that he demanded that Johnson guarantee that should he win, Britain will leave the EU on Halloween "come hell or high water" and assures the viewer that Johnson assured him that this would indeed be the case, because "otherwise the Tory party is finished... That swung it for me".

Because otherwise, "the Tory party is finished".

Not because it's in the national interest, not because either M. Francois' constituents or the public at large will reap any benefit from it, but just because otherwise, all together now, "the Tory party is finished".

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To which the obvious response must be "You do know you said that out loud, right?"

Now on the one hand, it is true that this isn't a normal political campaign, but an intra-mural election between Conservative MPs in which only paid-up Conservative Party members will get a vote, so among the actual participants in this contest one might suppose that concern for the survival of the Conservative Party is a given. And indeed M. Francois is not alone in expressing this sentiment (that Brexit must happen or the Tories are doomed); both Jeremy Hunt (whom one would have thought rather cleverer than this) and Dominic Raab (whom one would not have thought rather cleverer than this) have made similar statements.

But the problem - and the reason this may come back to bite the Tory party on its pinstriped ass in due course - is that they're saying this where the rest of us can hear them.

I've discussed at length how the Conservative Party's great strength is also its Achilles heel: its smug assumption that it's the natural party of government; that non-Tory administrations are not merely undesirable but aberrant, and that as such whatever puts or keeps the Conservatives in power is, by definition, in "the national interest", however much damage it does to the actual nation.

But the Tories currently find themselves polling at around, indeed sometimes under, 20% support. This means that around 75-80% of the electorate - who maybe don't get a vote in this election, but who definitely will at some point in the possibly non-too-distant future - are hearing Tory politicians opine quite blithely and openly that the only thing that matters right now is the continued well-being of a political party they don't support; that their own futures, and their children's futures, matter less than making sure that the likes of Mark Francois get to hold onto their jobs.

And I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking, well, if the sole purpose that the Conservative Party now serves is its own self-preservation; if it exists now not to protect the welfare of the British people at home or the standing of the British nation abroad, but merely - as its leading figures proudly proclaim - to perpetuate its own existence, would it really be that big a deal if the Tory party were "finished"?

Because just at the moment, by its own admission, that's the only purpose it does serve. We don't even need it to peddle imperialist nostalgia or to provide a spurious veneer of intellectual coherence and social acceptability to ignorance any more; we have the Brexit Party for that now.

The Conservatives may be the oldest political party in the UK, but so were the Whigs once. Things change. Parties rise, and indeed, parties fall, even venerable old ones.

If the only thing the Conservative Party is interested in "conserving" is itself, maybe it's time it stopped bothering.

Meanwhile, we Remainers are regrouping for a summer of action (good; I was worried we were losing the momentum, if that's still a word we can use). And I can't help but feel that "if Brexit doesn't happen, the Conservative Party is finished" isn't a notion which is going to trouble that many of us. Indeed, it might just give us all the motivation we could need.

Resist.

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