Conservatives feel the need for renewal

Conservatives feel the need for renewal

By ANTONIA FILMER | LONDON | 13 August, 2017
British PM Theresa May
Activists are now looking to the backbenches for a challenger to the stale state of Conservatism.

The UK Parliament is in recess, but the machinery still turns. Conservatives’ efforts are exposing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s infatuation with President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela. In spite of Labour MPs calling for Corbyn to support democracy and not dictatorship, Corbyn has failed to condemn the regime and its ruinous policies. Corbyn’s token has been a statement condemning the violence on both sides and “of the security forces that have been killed by people on the streets”.

This week, Corbyn, the popular campaigner, embarked on a summer road-show to marginal seats. After the students’ fees fiasco, he wants to keep his credibility with the young Corbynistas. Labour is preparing for an earlier than scheduled election; all the talk about deselecting less left-wing MPs has dried up. 

Philip Hammond has dropped in the popularity polls, probably due to the baffling remarks he made to the French newspaper Le Monde about “unfair competition” with EU, proposing not to cut UK taxes and regulation “unfairly”, post-Brexit. Experts say trading regulations have to be adjusted to dovetail both services and goods to fit with new partners; experts say cutting business rates, customs duties and VAT would boost UK’s competitiveness. At the moment, Hammond (a Remainer) does not seem to be giving a competitive advantage to Britain, which, after all, is the whole idea of Brexiting.

Theresa and Philip May have been vacationing in Italy. David Foroni, the pianist in a Lake Garda hotel bar, played God Save the Queen as he observed the Mays. May and the British guests respectfully stood and sang the anthem’s lyrics. According to a Conservative survey, May’s esteem in the public eye and among party members has risen slightly; at the moment, the top three Cabinet favourites who jostle for the number one position are David Davis, Michael Fallon and Michael Gove. But there are also calls for a fresh face. The Tories are tired of Toryism, which doesn’t work. Activists are not looking for a Tory version of Jeremy Corbyn, or a new incarnation of Margaret Thatcher. They are looking to the backbenches for a challenger to the stale state of Conservatism. Their eyes alight on the cerebral and humorous Jacob Rees-Mogg, who, although outwardly does not look like a moderniser, he may be the Renaissance man needed for Conservatism. Rees-Mogg joined Twitter in July, tweeting in Latin “Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis”, which, roughly translated, means “Times change, and we change with them”. It is typical of Rees-Mogg, a history scholar, to take his inspiration from the past and add a contemporary twist. On Instagram, Rees-Mogg is cleverly building up a picture of himself as a man for all seasons, as in the play by Robert Bolt: “A man of principle, envied by his rivals and loved by the common people and his family.” Rees-Mogg has the very British qualities of self-deprecation and rebellious sincerity which have developed his cultish following. An arch-Brexiteer, this week he claimed that legally the UK owes the EU nothing. Politically, he has endurance and increasingly his quirkiness is being appreciated.

Theresa May is still in a weak position. “Tips” on how May can seize authority, are being offered via mainstream media. May’s former advisor Nick Timothy, in a clean shaven debut in the Telegraph, presents his arguments about the degeneration of social mobility, the decline of young home-ownership and his ideas of the dangers in free-market capitalism. Reputedly, Timothy will also shortly begin another column in that other bastion of the conservatives, the Sun; it is unknown if these newspapers support his ideas or are giving him the rope to properly put an end to his ideas, which after all failed to win the June election, but will inspire internal debate and renewal.

New ideas are certainly needed as Damian Green, Secretary of State and effectively the Prime Minister’s deputy, recently said at the Bright Blue Think Tank conference on social reform that the Conservative Party had to “think hard, work hard and change hard”, particularly for the 18-35-year-old metropolitans. He said, “The modernisation of the Conservative Party needs to start now.” Green is still trotting out the noble but hackneyed Theresa May slogan, “A country that works for everyone”. But “everyone” is now immune to the good intentions this encompassed.

George Freeman, MP, is pro-actively innovating. He is inviting a group of circa 200 Conservatives committed to grassroots renewal to a September summit of thinkers to plan a 2018 Ideas Festival, so far spanning literature, philosophy and culture.  It remains to be seen who grabs the agenda for the renewal space in the months to come.

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