Staraya Russa. About two thirds of the way from Moscow to St Petersburg, in the historic Novgorod Oblast, once the eastern outpost of that much preferable European union, the Hanseatic League. Beautiful cathedral square, lakes and forests, timber-clad museum where Dostoevsky wrote The Brothers Karamazov. There’s a rather grand house for sale — about 5,000 sq ft, five beds, nice garden — for £143,416. From where I’m sitting, as terrified Tories insist the polls are narrowing and Magic Grandpa is within inches of winning, you’d be mad not to. From where you’re sitting, too, a little later in this awful week, if the Tories were right to be terrified. Staraya Russa. No infantile gender wokeist faddism there, believe me. No genuflections to the identity politics maniacs. No jihadis. No hipsters. No Rebecca Wrong-Daily or Diane Abbott or Barry Gardiner.
Income tax? You’re wondering about income tax? Go on, have a guess. Top rate, 13 per cent. Even as a non-resident, it’s 30 per cent. And I’d be a resident. OK, there’s Vladimir Putin instead of Abbott and Gardiner. But I am beginning to warm to the Asian model of democracy, a velvet glove enclosing a claw hammer and perhaps a small phial of polonium-210. The Asian model of democracy vs European liberal democracy: the tyranny of the majority vs the tyranny of the elite. For me, it’s a very close call. And you can have a nice big house for a third of the price of a shared ownership studio flat in Tower Hamlets.
Because whatever the outcome — and you have a distinct advantage over me here — this election has proven beyond all reasonable doubt that the system we have is not working, and has not been working for some years. The campaign was enlivened by members of the Labour, Conservative and Brexit parties urging people to vote for parties which they were opposing, a remarkable occurrence. Ian Austin and John Woodcock, former Labour MPs, even told voters they’d be best off voting Conservative. Prior to the campaign, MPs from both of the major parties fissioned off to form their own ineffectual little bubble of dissidence, the Independent Group for Change. Other Labour MPs jumped ship. John Mann has now become the government’s anti-Semitism tsar; Kate Hoey almost boarded that rapidly sinking (and only ever temporarily expedient) ship, the Brexit party. A former Conservative prime minister, John Major, and a former Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, have urged people not to vote for the parties they once led.
Meanwhile, working-class voters in the north-east of the country will have trooped forlornly to the polls to vote for the Conservatives, the consequence of a desire to ensure Brexit was done and dusted as well as, perhaps, a justifiable antipathy towards Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour party now geared towards representing the affluent liberal middle-class, especially in the south. But what choice did they have? They did not agree with austerity and are not hoodwinked by its sudden demise. They do not trust the Tories and they do not trust Boris Johnson — but their response when asked was: who else do we vote for? It was either vote Tory or not vote at all.
This should all tell you that the current alignment of political parties is fractured beyond repair and that, even more so than before, an enormous tranche of voters have nobody they can confidently put their trust in. More evidence of that came with the formation of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, which swept all before it in May’s European elections. And yet that party too is hopelessly fractured, riven as it is between former Ukip members and former Conservatives on the one hand, who are committed to basically Thatcherite economic policies, and Lexit lefties on the other — Mick Hume, Claire Fox, Mo Lovatt and so on — who are most certainly not. And so a whole bunch of the former Tories jumped ship when Boris Johnson had secured his deal from the EU and refused to contest seats, while the lefties remain convinced that one shouldn’t trust the Tories but have no interest in the Brexit party whatsoever beyond securing our withdrawal from the European Union. Whatever the question, the Brexit party is not the permanent answer to this political crisis and nor was it intended as such.
By the same token, nor is Brexit itself the cause of this fracturing within our major parties and among the electorate, even if it has been useful in bringing it all to a head. The fault lines now within the country run on a different axis to the old left-right divide — but we have a liberal establishment and ultra-liberal broadcast media which cannot bring itself to recognise that there are debates to be had over immigration, gender politics, identity politics, radical Islam, freedom of speech and so on. Those issues, they believe, are already sorted and so, to a degree, the House of Commons goes along with them. But they are not sorted at all.
There is a genuine outrage — beyond London, it has to be said — about a liberal overreach which is totalitarian in its implacable resistance to debate and, for many, patently absurd in its shibboleths. People who are appalled by the shrill debate over transgenderism, the benevolence we show to terrorists who want us all dead, the divisiveness of racial politics and the impositions, especially upon university campuses, on the right to express a divergent view. Many of those who share this sense of alienation from the elite may also be in favour of a more equitable economic system. And they are weary with our interfering and frankly murderous liberal evangelism abroad. Who, in this new parliament, represents these people?