There is a reason why Rishi Sunak’s last-ditch immigration proposals turned out to be a defanged, neutered variant of the policies advocated by Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick, who rightly resigned in protest. The Tory Left-wing caucus is too large, too petulant, too intent on political hara-kiri: it was prepared to veto any genuinely novel thinking.
Even the modest reforms that Sunak actually agreed to may turn out to be too much for the One Nation caucus, despite the cautious welcome it gave the plans last night. Left-wing Tory MPs are convinced that they have the moral high ground, and are ready to gang up with Labour and damn the electoral consequences.
Jenrick, who put principles before power, is a considered, thoughtful politician convinced that Sunak’s plan won’t deliver what Tory voters are rightly demanding. This is why the Government may well be doomed. Unlike Jenrick, too many Conservative politicians dislike their own voters, a sentiment increasingly reciprocated by a conservative electorate enraged by the Government’s betrayal of their values and interests.
Dozens of Tory MPs – they are often quite open about it – are embarrassed by the suburban attitudes, the quiet patriotism and the cultural conservatism of Tory Britain. On most issues, they disagree with those they pledged to represent, and generally find the views of much of Right-leaning Middle England to be cringeworthy, especially on immigration.
The Prime Minister is far from blameless, having mobilised Leftist Tory MPs to force out Liz Truss, but he is stuck trying to hold together a party that has degenerated into an unmanageable, ungovernable coalition of irreconcilable ideologies.
The Tories are pathologically divided, almost comically so, seeking to be the home of centre-Left technocrats and genuine Right-wingers, social democrats and free marketeers, anti-car eco-warriors and petrolheads, supporters of national self-government and lovers of international bureaucracies, advocates of “net zero immigration” and those who believe that a net 745,000 a year is still too low, supporters of Israel and apologists for Hamas, opponents of the woke ideology and devotees of critical race theory and extreme trans activism.
All parties are heteroclite, especially in a first-past-the-post, two-horse system like the UK’s, but this ideological incompatibility has gone too far. It is preventing the Government from reflecting public opinion. We live in an increasingly politicised world: the culture wars are real, and too many Tory MPs are on the wrong side.
For years, this subversive minority – probably at least a third of the parliamentary party on a bad day – has found more in common with their more centrist Labour and Lib Dem MP “colleagues” than with the “Tory Right”, party activists and the broader Conservative electorate. They tend to hold Red Wall and lower-middle-class voters in the greatest contempt, assuming them to be easily connable oiks. To describe such politicians as useful idiots for the Left would be too kind; they are the Left.
Even though they supposedly represent the Conservative Party, their icons and heroes are invariably “progressive” – Tony Blair, Greta Thunberg, Barack Obama. The causes that exercise them, if there are any, tend to be either ultra-local, statist-technocratic (tweaking tax credits for the film industry) or cretinously Left-leaning (cutting prison sentences, continuing the rush to net zero or allowing gender self-recognition).
These Left-leaning Tory MPs have too much respect for credentials and pseudointellectual “expertise”, and too little for common sense or traditional values, which they dismiss as irrational and “low status”. Even when they do believe in some conservative or classical liberal principles, they are defeatists who think such ideas are “on the wrong side of history”. Wokery can’t be defeated, merely slowed down, they argue, just as the West assumed socialism was inevitable in the 1960s.
These renegade MPs suck up to outlets such as the BBC, better to relate to their dinner-party companions, who tend to be other members of the new, “high-status” ruling class. They spend much of their time on Twitter, or if young enough, on TikTok, lapping up nonsense. They are hooked on Left-wing podcasts that reinforce their insularity, their sense of comradeship with “rival” politicians and lull them into believing that their progressive views – often held by just 10-30 per cent of the electorate, almost none of whom vote Tory – are the mainstream and everybody else are extremists.
Their electoral strategy has been simple: shower the Tory base with cash and other perceived goodies – in the form of the triple-lock pension, massive increases to NHS spending, Covid handouts and frozen planning laws – and hope that it doesn’t notice when it is betrayed on every other issue. It might have worked once, but no longer.
The One Nation Caucus counts some 106 Conservative MPs, refuses to leave the European Convention on Human Rights and doesn’t want to repeal the Human Rights Act. Most of its members have accepted the Blairite legal revolution, and are in fact substantially to the Left of where New Labour was in the late 1990s on tax, immigration, welfare, and law and order.
The One Nation position is clear: it believes Conservative governments “played a vital role in creating and protecting the ECHR as well as the Refugee and Torture conventions”, and the group not only holds these treaties “dear”, but sees them as a fundamental part of “protecting the UK’s democratic legacy”. Such a vision is incompatible with a more conventional interpretation of British conservatism, but it has now been implicitly accepted by Sunak and James Cleverly.
The Supreme Court judgment on Rwanda demonstrated that Britain, under current treaties, cannot lawfully control its borders. The principle of non-refoulement reigns supreme. The choice is thus either the status quo promoted by the One Nation folk (tweaked slightly by Sunak), and political oblivion, as Braverman warned yesterday, or a Brexit-style disentanglement from international treaties that no longer work.
Tragically, Sunak’s approach will satisfy nobody, and won’t change the country noticeably before the election. This disaster is on the Tory Left: they have declared war on their own voters, and will be held responsible for the catastrophe about to engulf the party.