‘Out of the Blue‘ is a recent Central Bylines piece by an ex-Conservative councillor and previous Tory party member, Ian Kirke. It’s a pithy journey from party loyalty to disillusionment, an extraordinary mixture of biography, politics, humour, ethics, cricket and a powerful indictment of a broken system.
Playing by rules
He talks of the values his parents taught him – how the principles of “good responsible government” should be driven by the notions of “being reasonable” and “playing fair”. For Ian, these embody a certain “sense of Britishness”. Anything less, like injustice and dishonesty, is “Just Not Cricket”.
His career as a public servant – from being a policeman where he learned, first hand, the importance of community cohesion and the role of the public services, to getting a law degree – gave him insights into how the constitution works. He eventually became a Conservative councillor, for the most part an experience which confirmed his own public-spirited beliefs.
But he began to encounter individuals who “fed almost exclusively on power and status”. Disillusioned, he nearly resigned as a councillor although he was persuaded to stay for the good of serving the community.
But there was a limit and for Ian, it came when he realised that the Conservative party had fallen into a “a black hole” and had become unrecognisable. He left the party and vowed never to vote Conservative again.
How many others from all parts of the political spectrum feel the same, I wonder?
The politics of dishonesty
When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, lies quickly became the currency of political discussion. The dishonesty and hypocrisy that had been swishing around under the surface of our politics for decades, suddenly burst through into the open for all to see. What happened in Wellingborough illustrates this in microcosm. Wellingborough is Peter Bone’s constituency. In December 2020 , his constituency party sent out a newsletter. It included the following quotes:
- There are lessons that we can learn from Trump.
- A lie can go round the world before the truth can get its boots on.
- Campaigners should view fake news as a technique that ‘crowds out genuine news’ and allows ‘honest politicians’ to be ‘pushed off the front pages.
- You say the first thing that comes into your head. It’ll probably be nonsense, but it knocks your opponent out of his stride and takes away his headline.
A prospective Conservative candidate, Jack Summers, objected to the contents. He later told The Times he had had threatening phone calls from the Wellingborough Constituency warning him that his political career was over if he did not fall into line. He refused and was de-selected as a prospective MP.
This dishonesty compounded the concerns Ian felt over the Brexit referendum and the infamous Take Back Control slogan. Ian’s legal training included EU law, and he told me he realised:
“Our Parliamentary Supremacy (which was always maintained during the UK’s membership of the EU) meant that the UK always had the option to say NO . The UK had the third biggest number of seats after France and Germany. So we had a lot of clout. There was also a seven-year emergency break option.”
So, it appears that we never lost our sovereignty. There never was any loss of control to take back. That was the lie – the lie that the Brexit decision was based on – a lie, which the government admitted to in the White Paper they published a year later.
A vacuum at the heart of things
At the heart of our political life we now have a complete and total moral vacuum. But why should that matter?
It’s worth remembering that human beings are herd animals. Weak individually, we cooperate to survive. Communities are important to us – families, villages, towns, even nations, yet we have one of the most centralised governments in the world. It has tried to destroy the trade union movement, closed endless numbers of libraries and post offices, drastically reduced the power of local councils, given our public services like Health, Education, Utilities and Energy into private hands, diverted public funds into Private Funding Initiatives (PFIs), and allowed exorbitant consultancy fees. According to research, “Current estimates show that in 2018-19, over £300 million was spent by NHS providers and commissioners on hiring external consultants.” Lucrative public contracts were also given to friends and relations without due process.
Among the other evils of Conservative policy, this Conservative government has been destroying the very meaning of the language we communicate with. Honesty, integrity, compassion and tolerance have been so abused we are in danger of automatically associating them with lying. This will not change. Their ideology of hierarchy, elitism, inequality and a return to some previous status quo of authority and entitlement, where power serves the interests of wealth, indicates things will get worse not better.
Their aim is to perpetuate that. There is no reasoning with them so don’t try – as Mark Twain said, “Never argue with an idiot. They will just bring you down to their level and beat you with their experience.”
The challenges ahead
We seem to be facing at least 4 challenges:
Voting system and the need for PR. We need to break free from the incestuous ‘power serving the interests of wealth’ scenario where parties can govern with the support of only a quarter of the voting population. If some kind of Proportional Representation had been used in 2019, The Green Party would have 12 MPs instead of the miserly single MP. If we want to give people a reason to vote, show them their vote really matters then we need some kind of PR.
Constitutional & MP reform. In plain language I mean a job description for MPs that describes what they are in parliament to do. I mean parliamentary reform in terms of a strict code of ethics emblazoned everywhere in both houses – the mission statement: Service to all the people before all else.
Return of services and utilities to the public sector. That means Health, Education, Energy and Transport should be back in the public sector. It also means restoring local power to local councils. It means restoring libraries and post offices to their communities to help rebuild the communities the Conservatives destroyed.
Brexit and our relationship with the EU. The EU needs to know that the UK is free, once and for all, from the grip of a wealthy minority who abused our trust. The EU has faults enough, but, by leaving, we just cut off our nose to spite our face. It was a pointless gesture that hurt no-one but ourselves.
A fight on our hands
But it won’t be handed to us on a plate. We will have to fight for it. Tony Benn knew this very well: “Every generation has to fight the same battles over and over again.”
Whatever it is, we all have to shoulder the burden of this stuff. Fighting battles for the good of the community is part of that. It’s called being an adult.