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Guest Notes

Conservative notes

12 January 2019

9:00 AM

12 January 2019

9:00 AM

Lefty Tory Brits

Arriving in London for a posting at Australia House during the dying days of the Blair government, I was told by our astute High Commissioner at the time that a thing to bear in mind was that Britain was much more left-wing than Australia. The vestiges of Britain’s establishment – The Daily Telegraph, The Spectator, the dry end of the Conservative Party, the few Tory-aligned think-tanks like the Policy Exchange, the Pall Mall clubs – continued to loom large in London. But they weren’t the way of the future.

Thatcher and Blair, a Labour leader in lockstep with George W. Bush, were exceptions.

Tory and Labour policies barely differed over putting the EU project at the heart of British policy, the sanctity of the NHS, punitive death duties and climate change. Both mouthed multicultural pieties and had soft policies on asylum-seekers, including no detention while claims were assessed – meaning that by 2004 there were around 300,000 failed asylum-seekers and their dependants in the UK.

Similarly, Theresa May’s government has come across for much of the time as soft-left Liberal Democrat, in Australian terms barely to the right of our Labor Party.

Home Secretary Javid has again highlighted this in his response to the arrival of over 200 asylum-seekers on the English coast since November.  He’s talked tough, making the obvious point that those coming from France can’t be genuine asylum seekers. Yet after a long history of illegal migration across the Channel, efforts are only now underway to secure agreement with the French to accept their return.


Moreover Javid’s message is more equivocal than at first it seems: asylum-seekers who arrive by boat from France will still be able to make asylum applications in the UK; the goal will be ‘to increase the number of returns’.

The impression the Home Secretary leaves is that increased numbers of British vessels in the Channel will provide an improved ferry service for the people smugglers and that only some of their clients will be returned to France. When it comes to border security, the May government resembles the Rudd and Gillard governments more than it does that of Tony Abbott.

On Brexit, the shambles since the June 2016 referendum reflects the fact that a Remainer was put in charge of negotiating the divorce proceedings. The EU has offered Britain a sensible solution, a free trade agreement based on the one it’s negotiated with Canada. It would maintain free trade in goods and extensive provisions on services while Britain would exit the Customs Union, allowing it to strike its own free trade deals. Brussels insists the deal would require a new customs border between the UK and the Irish Republic. But any extra procedures could be carried out away from it – the way Germany checks arrivals by road from Austria. Until a year or so after the referendum the UK and Irish governments were working on new border arrangements on these lines.

Theresa May’s failure to seize the EU offer is probably related to her preference for advice from the famously pro-EU Whitehall machine to that of former Brexit ministers David Davis and Dominic Raab. Astonishingly, May lobbied the EU to ‘let’ the UK remain in the Customs Union and Single Market if no other deal is agreed when the post-Brexit transition arrangement concludes at the end of 2020. Given that the EU-Canada free trade deal took eight years to be finalised, May’s deal looks like a plan for the UK’s perpetual entrapment by the Eurocrats.

May’s capitulation to radical identity politics agendas is another sign she is not leading a government which is in any real sense conservative. She has pushed to scrap the safeguards in Tony Blair’s Gender Recognition Act. This would do away with surgery or living as a member of the preferred sex for a substantial period of time. Instead, self-identification will be enough for the law to recognise a biological man as a woman, so allowing access to women’s public lavatories, changing rooms, refuges and prisons.

But surely a Conservative government would give priority to giving proper resources to the police and armed forces? Well, no. Last year, due to endless cuts, police numbers were the lowest since 1985 – clearly contributing to increased crime.  As to the armed forces, Britain in early 2018 wasn’t able to deploy a single submarine. The Army has been reduced to less than half its Cold War strength of 163,000. The RAF has been reduced to half the size it was 25 years ago.

David Cameron, supported by May, judged it was more important to ring-fence spending on overseas aid. In 2011 his government passed legislation committing to annual spending of the UN-mandated 0.7 per cent of GDP – higher than the other large European economies and about three times what the US, Canada, Australia or Japan spend.

The legislation means that as Britain’s GDP growth figure each year is confirmed, aid money needs to be shovelled out the door to meet the 0.7 per cent commitment. And so it is that British taxpayers in 2016 gave £46.9 million in aid to China – which has just become the first country to land a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon – for schemes including improving dementia care and a schools programme to encourage children to consume less salt.

Mark Higgie was Australia’s ambassador to the European Union 2014-17 and earlier served as Australia’s representative to the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee


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