Theresa May should stay
The latest ConsHome survey proves – if proof were needed - that Balfour was right when he declared that he would sooner take advice from his valet than from a Conservative conference. It also reminds us that left to its own devices in May 1940, the Conservative party would have installed Lord Halifax in No 10.
There are people who believe that we can simply stop the European Treaties applying to the United Kingdom in March 2019 without any significant lasting harm – and even advantage. However this is only an act of belief and hope.
Why the Chequers plan must be supported
There are only two alternatives to simply stopping the Treaties applying and disrupting our economic and trading relations with our nearest neighbours.
The first is to remain a contracting party and stay in the EU, which means withdrawing the Article 50 notification and address the political problem of quite openly going against the narrow majority in the referendum. The second is to have an association agreement with the EU.
The Chequers proposals are a basis for negotiating an association arrangement. A substantial part of what is proposed could be obtained by agreeing to maintain in force Part 2 of the existing EEA Agreement (providing for free movement of goods but not services or people). The UK is a contracting party in its own right to the EEA Agreement and it is arguable that if the UK leaves the EU then owing to quirks in its wording Part 2 would continue to apply to the UK but Part 3(providing for free movement of workers and services) would not. There are a number of areas where we would need further agreements – for instance to replace EURATOM, to avoid dislocation of the financial markets and to prevent then UK becoming a safe haven for every rapist, drug dealer and money launderer on the continent.
Theresa May is to be applauded for devising something that might in practice work and prove acceptable to most of those who voted Leave and most of those who voted Remain.
Lessons from history
The Conservative Party would at this stage be wise to remember a little of its history. The party that emerged from the smoke and shot of the Corn Law battle was, as Disraeli observed, based on Protectionism and Protestantism.
While the Conservatives were able to become the largest party in the Commons, they were only once able to win a majority on their own that century; the Salisbury governments relied on Liberal Unionists once Gladstone had irretrievably split the Liberals over Ireland. And it rapidly had to abandon Protectionism – after, as Disraeli graphically put it, “the country positively pissed on it”.
In 1963, had Conservative Home existed, it would doubtless have found little support for Lord Home (as he was until after he became PM) to succeed Macmillan; yet the Party loyally rallied round him when he became its leader in October 1963. Far from winning the overwhelming victory the polls predicted in 1963, Wilson only narrowly scraped home in 1964.
Labour is inherently weak
Today’s Labour party is a shadow of the mighty force it was in the ‘60s. The great industrial unions no longer wield power in the land. The shadow cabinet is almost entirely unknown – and those that are known often for the wrong reasons. Mr McDonnell combines the least attractive traits of Mr Callaghan and Mr Healey – without having the hugely impressive war record that earned both respect from Conservative MPs and workers alike. Mr Corbyn may have the electoral appeal to younger voters of Harold Wilson but is surely discredited by his inability to recognise anti-semitism as the evil that it is.
A successful future is on offer
If the Conservative Party comes to its senses and rallies behind Theresa May she will be able to show M Barnier that the EU has to negotiate around the Chequers proposals or risk a disastrous no deal. If she achieves an agreement with the EU, that should in the months between now and the general election allow reconciliation between Leavers and Remainers. A united party should trounce Labour in 2023.
In the following Parliament, we can hold an election for the next leader. There will at that point be a realistic possibility that the election can be run with a modicum of decorum and recognition that the great causes tied up with our party must not be put in danger by faction.
If the party now rallies to Theresa May's support, future generations will have much to thank Theresa May for in finding a formula that enabled the referendum to be given effect without huge and unnecessary damage to our country and our party.