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Westminster Reflections: Bernard Jenkin MP says despite everything, ‘out’ of the EU is not in doubt

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Westminster Reflections: Bernard Jenkin MP says despite everything, ‘out’ of the EU is not in doubt

Theresa May’s surprise decision to call a general election now looks like hubris.  The voters have not quite ‘put down the mighty from their seat,’ but they have certainly ‘scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,’ to quote from The Magnificat.  As we approach the state opening of the new Parliament, there is an atmosphere of crisis and uncertainty, but this may well pass more quickly than we imagine right now.

The British demonstrated our resilience in response to two horrendous terrorist attacks in the run-up to the election, and last night (at the time of writing) we learned of another similar attack on people leaving a London mosque.  We have got used to the threat of terrorism on the assumption that the police and security services will succeed in forestalling most attacks, but the nature of the threat has adapted to create attacks whose preparation is far more difficult to detect and disrupt. This requires visible adjustments in counter measures, such as additional barriers to protect pedestrians on London’s bridges and higher security at big events like pop concerts.  There will be invisible ones too. The debate about how to tackle online radicalisation (of both Islamist and Islamophobic extremism) has been reignited.  There is real sadness at the state of this conflict behind the resilience, but do not underestimate the dogged determination of British people to carry on regardless, and to respond heroically in the worst possible circumstances.

It served Jeremy Corbyn’s purpose to overlay his own narrative about the failures of UK foreign policy onto these events, effectively trying to excuse Islamic extremism because of western interference in Muslim countries.  This is superficially appealing to those who would like the West to stick its head in the sand and forget about deteriorating international security, but his narrative does not bear sustained analysis.  Al-Qaeda long pre-existed Iraq and Afghanistan, and the roots of this terrorism lie in the disputes within the Muslim world, not in the West.

Mr Corbyn’s supporters in Momentum and in the Socialist Workers Party, if not also Mr Corbyn himself, also tried to hijack the reaction to the horrendous Grenfell Tower Fire.  This has echoes of other major disasters, where the authorities have been stunned by the scale of the disaster and the public reaction of anger (such as after the Paddington rail crash), and the Left has tried to whip up public sentiment for their own purpose.  Have no doubt that the public anger is real.  There have been shortcomings in the authorities’ immediate response, but people will appreciate proper consideration of lessons to be learned for the future.

The real shock to the political system has been the unexpected near success of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn in the election.  The Conservatives got 42.5 per cent of the vote, a vote share that many of Mrs May’s predecessors as Conservative Leader never dreamt of achieving.  It is ironic to recall that Tony Blair’s last 100 seat victory was on a mere 35 per cent Labour vote share (one of the reasons Conservatives remain preoccupied by the need for a boundary review).  A reversion to two party politics in most seats means that you need to get more votes to get an overall majority.  The big surprise was Labour’s 40 per cent share of the vote.

To Conservative election strategists, this appeared to come from out of the blue, though one polling company, YouGov, did predict that if Labour succeeded in mobilising young voters, the outcome could well be a hung parliament.  And this is exactly what happened.

Conservative HQ is in shock, wondering how to respond to the Corbyn-backing campaign organisation, Momentum.  They showered students and other young voters with highly effective ads via social media. Momentum is not regulated by the Electoral Commission and has to make no spending returns after the campaign.  Nobody fact checks their advertising.  Conservatives will need to counteract this new dimension of campaigning, and develop real appeal to young and idealistic voters, who feel burdened by student debts, stuck on depressed wages and excluded from the property market.

By the time you read this, the government is likely to have won the confidence of the House of Commons in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party.  There is strong common ground between the two parties around Brexit, which is what counts.  The DUP are no Brexit faint hearts, so this is likely to prove a far more durable if informal arrangement than you might expect.

And amid all the furore about ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit, it is likely that the principles that Mrs May set out in her Lancaster House speech and in our manifesto will hold.  This is because to ask for more features of EU membership, while still leaving the EU, is the one ask the EU cannot give.  82 per cent of voters voted for a Brexit manifesto.  Labour’s manifesto was also for Brexit, and for good reason.  There is no real appetite to try to reverse the referendum decision to take back control over our laws, borders, money and trade with third countries.  They know that to attempt to do so would be incendiary for British politics.  So the debate about leaving the EU is about the transition to ‘out.’  ‘Out’ is not in doubt.

 

Gervase@aumitpartners.co.uk

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