5th July 2019
The Conservative Party has long been a mix of ideologues and pragmatists.
The pragmatic tradition was strong – associated with RA Butler and politics being the art of the possible.
Even Margaret Thatcher was far more pragmatic in policy – at least before 1987 – than her fans both at the time and since would admit.
But that pragmatic tradition seems to now be weak.
There are still a few sensible senior Conservatives, even Ministers, but they appear powerless in the face of shouty populism.
Applied to European Union matters, Tory pragmatists once wanted to make things work.
In the 1980s the (in my mind) second most significant Conservative politician of the time – Lord Cockfield – pushed forward the Single Market in a practical and sustainable way rather than through grand design and heady rhetoric.
My January 2017 FT piece on Lord Cockfield is here. In it I said:
“In 1985, Cockfield (with the full support of the then commission president Jacques Delors) produced his famous white paper in a matter of weeks, and so sound and thought-through was its content that it was used as a blueprint thereafter. In 2016-17, the entire government has produced nothing other than platitudes and unconvincing excuses for secrecy.
“The UK may have had a Cockfield to put the single market in place, but it certainly does not have one to take the UK out of the EU.”
This is still the case, over two years later.
Brexit could have been done (regardless of the merits of the idea) but it needed a realistic and unideological approach.
No silly speeches, no daft “red lines”, no loud promises of the impossible just so as to get claps and cheers from grinning idiots.
Instead, Brexit was done in perhaps the worst possible way.
How this came to happen will be a matter for debate and reflection long after the current events are over.
But one remarkable thing is how the Conservative Party which once valued unshowy pragmatism ended up so shallow and ineffective.
And another remarkable thing is that, three years after the referendum, Conservative MPs and members are set to elect as leader a politician who personifies the very shallowness and ineffectiveness of its Brexit policy.
Getting policy wrong is bad – but not learning any lessons whatsoever is arguably worse.
Many people reading this post will not be Conservatives (and may even have Very Strong Opinions on that party).
But I am not (and this blog is not) party partisan: there are good and bad in most mainstream political parties.
My point is that it is sad and unfortunate that the political party which in a matter-of-fact way took the UK into the EEC, drove forward the Single Market, sponsored enlargement, and was a useful brake on the the heady excesses of the EU project, has become such a shambles.
The Conservative Party is no longer about the art of doing the possible, but about the artlessness of promising the impossible.
Thank you for reading me on this new(ish) blog, where I am hoping to blog almost daily.
I expect to be blogging here more often, instead of spending time on Twitter.
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