Though she was the only candidate not manifestly unfit to keep watch on a public toilet, I groaned when Theresa May became Prime Minister. She had been a dreadful Home Secretary [Tell me about it!]. In the Referendum, she had formally supported the Remain side. There was reason to suspect, given its abbreviated manner, that her appointment was some kind of Plan B by the Conservative Party establishment to ignore the will of the people.
I have just watched her speech to the Conservative Party Conference. As these things go, its wording was unusually transparent, and its delivery neither patronising nor robotic. It supports an hypothesis I formed shortly after her appointment, and that I have so far seen little evidence to overturn. This is that those parts of the British ruling class represented by the Conservative Party have decided to risk an almost complete break with the European Union. This may not have been something they wanted before the Referendum, but is something that they have now decided is most congruent with their interest. I will explain.
First, leaving the European Union unites the Conservative Party. This has been split since at least 1970, and the split was largely between the Party leadership and its membership and normal electorate. It became apparent when Edward Heath forced through the European Communities Act 1972. It contributed to the Conservative defeat in 1974. Without ever closing, it became less of a wound during the high days of Margaret Thatcher, but worsened again once she began her decline after 1987. It may have ruined the Major Government. It certainly contributed to the internal chaos that allowed the rise of Tony Blair to go uncontested. It did much to keep the Conservatives out of government before 2010.
Looked at overall, the June Referendum gave no decisive answer. But, looking past the Celts and the ethnic minorities, the English voted to leave by two thirds to one, and there was almost no class difference in the voting. We remain the largest group in the United Kingdom, and we are the people who are most inclined to vote Conservative, even if only occasionally. The Party and electoral arithmetic were obvious. The Labour Party was already damaged by losing the 2015 election and by its choice of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. The Liberal Democrats were pretty well destroyed. The Celtic nationalists could be ignored or faced down. Let a Conservative Government take us out of the European Union, and an almost accidental and perhaps a brief advantage given in 2015 might become as total and continuous as the Whig ascendency after 1714. Set beside this opportunity, the desire of certain business and administrative interests to remain in the European Union was of little weight.
Brexit will disapoint “Anglosphere” nostalgics:
[M]y fear that leaving the European Union would make us at once into a total satellite of the United States may be obsolete. I have no time for the Heath Government, but accept that part of its agenda was to counterbalance the influence of America. Since then, many of the most articulate Eurosceptics have been less interested in British independence than in strengthening what they call “The Anglosphere.” This explains much of my own disenchantment with Euroscepticism after the Iraq War. But the magnetic pull of Washington had its climax between the second term of Bill Clinton and the first of George W. Bush. Since then, that pull and American influence in general has been in decline. I have no idea who will win next month’s election in America. But I doubt if America will be quite the overpowering master in future that it has been.
For this reason, we can expect Britain outside the European Union to act at least some of the time in British external interests. This will not involve the almost total isolationism that I would like. There will be a continued strutting about at the United Nations, and British servicemen will continue making trouble in already troubled parts of the world. But I no longer fear that we shall become an American satrapy.
The Alt Right chnages the game:
I remain alarmed by what our own Government may do to us. Theresa May was a bad Home Secretary who continued the drift to despotism that began under Margaret Thatcher. On the other hand, if specifically libertarian arguments retain as little appeal as they have ever had in my lifetime, the sudden prominence of the Alternative Right is cause for hope. Its own agenda, if not libertarian, is less despotic than that of the present Establishment. Even otherwise, the few decades that separate the decline of one order of things from the entrenchment of another tend to be an age of relative freedom. The Alternative Right is an entirely American fashion as yet. It has barely any counterpart in this country. But, in almost every sense, we wear American clothes, and I am no longer so ready to believe that Britain outside the European Union will become a nightmarish Airstrip One, with state barcodes in every wallet and revolving an equally lunatic hate campaigns.
Cautious optimism. A very English attitude!