Tuesday, September 27, 2016

From the Grass Roots - Brexit


(The author is a member of the Conservative Party.   The views expressed are personal ones and should not be interpreted as the views of COPOV or of any of its other members)


It is now nearly three months since the British public voted to leave the European Union albeit by a margin of less than 4%.  As one who had voted ‘Remain’ I was somewhat surprised by the outcome but not that disappointed as my ‘Remain’ vote had been cast with no great conviction and only on the principle of ‘better the devil you know that the devil you don’t’. I was never really enthusiastic about economic, monetary and political union and the retention of the pound as a currency was one thing I think the Blair government got right. The loss of sovereignty and the continued mass migration to the United Kingdom from other European countries obviously had a big impact on those who voted ‘Leave’  and no effective answer to these concerns was given by the ‘Remain’ camp. Coupled with the extraordinary claim made by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer that if we left the European Union each family would be £4300 worse off each year only served to confirm the suspicion that the figures could not actually be verified and were being used as a scaremongering tactic.

From the outset it was quite clear that the losing side would cry ‘foul’ and not accept the result. So it has proved. The ‘Remain’ camp talks about having a second referendum; that it is not binding on Parliament but only advisory. It has even been claimed in some quarters that because 28% or so of the electorate did not vote at all they must be satisfied with the ‘status quo’ and thus support remaining in. Another absurdity is this statement from a voter: ‘I wanted to remain in but as I thought ‘Remain’ would win I voted ‘Leave’.  What part of Brexit do these people NOT understand?  Many on the ‘Remain’ side are now banking on a ‘fudged’ renegotiation of the minor concession David Cameron gained last March.  Others are hoping that the conditions for leaving the European Union will be so complex and difficult that in the end the government will weakly cave in and concede that ‘Remain’ is the only realistic option. For the writer the most depressing indictment is that many in the ‘Remain’ camp believe that those voting ‘Leave’ were stupid, did not really understand the issues because they were elderly and had by voting as they did somehow robbed our young people of their future. They need to be reminded that our parents and grandparents fought in two world wars to secure the freedoms we now have and enjoy today. From May 1940 to June 1941 this country and its then empire (assisted by the lend=lease arrangements with the United States of America) stood alone against Nazi aggression and fascist aggression. The original Common Market came about in the mid nineteen fifties so as to prevent France and Germany going to war with each other again. After the United Kingdom joined the then Common Market in 1973 the subsequent referendum in 1975 confirmed our intention to remain within a block of nations trading freely with each other. Economic, monetary and political union were, as far as the writer remembers, seldom if ever discussed or fully explained. It saddens the writer that these days so many are ready to belittle the achievements of the United Kingdom over the centuries and regard themselves primarily as European rather than British.  BREXIT MUST MEAN BREXIT.  Surely it is better to have a complete break and not to get involved in a messy compromise over the single market and border controls?

We need to get on and trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty but only at a time suitable to us and when it is clearer as to what the future holds. Obviously we will need to reassess our trading position but there will be many countries, including some in the E U who will be glad to negotiate trade agreements with us. Freed from the shackles of the bureaucratic European Union who knows what the future might hold? And as the great American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in an entirely different context: ‘We have nothing to fear but fear it’.

The election of Theresa May as Prime Minister and leader of our party solely by Members of the House of Commons will again have brought into question the role of party members in the selection of the leader. When on the 24th June David Cameron announced his resignation as Prime Minister it became quite clear to the writer that we could not have three months of electioneering and jockeying for the position of leader and thus Prime Minister. It would have been completely impractical given the volatility of the markets and the uncertain future after the referendum vote.

While the result was conclusive the majority was not overwhelming. The sooner a new Prime Minister was in Number 10 the better. As a party member the writer was quite happy to leave it to the Members of Parliament who knew better the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. This is not to suggest that party members should have no say in the election of the leader but maybe different rules should apply when the party is in opposition. The Conservative Party loves to be in government and M P s will quickly remove leaders who have lost their confidence or who are not considered Prime Minister material – as Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and Iain Duncan Smith found out to their cost.

The question of restoring grammar schools has reared its ugly head and it caught the new Prime Minister ‘off guard’ at a recent Prime Minister’s Question Time.  If Margaret Thatcher was anything she was certainly a ‘conviction’ politician. If Theresa May believes that grammar schools should be restored in parts of the country then she should say so and not fudge the issue. She might be guided by her Chief of Staff who the writer understands went to a grammar school in Birmingham. The writer attended a famous grammar school in South Wales from 1958 to 1966. There were two streams ‘A’ and ‘B’ but the gulf between the two was enormous. The ‘B’ stream had the poorer teachers and many in the ‘B’ stream left with few Ordinary level subjects and some none at all. The writer is convinced that many of those who did not pass the eleven plus examination and thus went to the secondary school could have done as well, if not better, than many of our ‘B’ form collegues. Indeed a number of those who were transferred from the secondary school did very well and went on to study at university. It would be fair to say that in primary school everything was geared to the eleven plus examination and little was done to prepare those who were not fortunate to pass the exam for the wider world and a non grammar school education.

If grammar schools are to once again become part of the education system then it would seem important to lay down certain criteria.

a)      The parents in a particular area must overwhelmingly support it – say 75% on a turnout of 75%

b)      The parents must be made fully aware that some children might not get places

c)      Proper arrangements should be made for those pupils who do not get places; they should not be classed as failures but given as much opportunity to fully develop their skills and talents in other fields.

The most important thing is the child.  Every child has been given a talent and a good teacher will recognise this talent and try to develop it.  No two schools are exactly alike – whether they are public, grammar. comprehensive or church. The writer believes in diversity not conformity. Many of the writer’s friends who did not go to grammar school have been successful in their particular field and done well for themselves and their families. And they have skills that make the writer envious on times.

Finally some thoughts on David Cameron’s controversial resignation honours list. Despite the expenses scandal six years ago nothing much has really changed. Following the practice of previous Prime Ministers chums and cronies were as usual rewarded.  As well as Harold Wilson’s ‘lavender’ list from 1976 we have this gem from when Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister and in July 1962 sacked one third of his cabinet.

On the resignation of Mr. Maclay as Secretary of State for Scotland.

‘You i.e. Macmillan would like to recommend him for a C H (Companion of Honour) Now and a Viscountcy later at a suitable time’

(‘Yes he agrees’ Macmillan wrote by the C.H. ‘Yes it’s yours at any time’ he (Macmillan) scribbled next to the proposed Maclay Viscountcy)

(Extract from ‘The Prime Ministers’ by Peter Hennessy Chapter 5 Page 76)  

In terms of balance Theresa May’s Cabinet is one of the best in the history of the modern Conservative Party. The overall parliamentary majority is very small but even the most pro EU fanatic on the government benches would be foolish to rock the boat at this critical time. Outside London every English region voted ‘Leave’ ,17 of the 22 Welsh counties voted ‘Leave’, I million people in Scotland voted ‘Leave’  and many in Northern Ireland also.  Theresa May has been given her mandate. She must act upon it.

19 September 2016