Nick Cohen

May’s head on the block

This time the old snob-mob alliance will not hold

May’s head on the block
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Understand what this government is trying to get away with, and think about how it is trying to get away with it, and you will see it is reconstituting the oldest and dirtiest alliance in Tory-history: the alliance between snobs and mobs.

I accept it takes a while to see our new rulers for what they are. Theresa May represents the dormitory town of Maidenhead. Although Eton College is just a few miles down the Thames valley, she could not be further socially and intellectually from David Cameron’s public school chumocracy. As for inciting mobs, what more ridiculous charge could I level against her? May seems to have no need to incite anyone. The far left has destroyed the opposition so thoroughly it will take Labour a generation to recover. A Conservative party that officially wanted to keep us in the European Union, then lost the referendum and its prime minister and chancellor, is nevertheless so far ahead in the polls it would win a landslide if there were an election tomorrow.

For all her apparent dominance, May’s cynicism and folly is forcing her to turn-brutish. She is going for a hard Brexit, which the majority of the Commons does not support, whose consequences were not spelt out to the British people, and which May, her Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Chancellor Philip Hammond do not — if we take at face value their public pronouncements during the referendum campaign — believe in.

The referendum mandated the government to take Britain out of the EU. That was all. Voters did not say and were not asked whether we wanted to stay in the single-market or customs union. We did not say and were not asked whether EU citizens should be left in fear of being wrenched from their jobs and, in many cases, their new families. Nor did we say we wanted a hard Brexit at the 2015 election. On the contrary, the voters returned a Conservative government whose manifesto declared: ‘We say yes to the -single market.’

May doesn’t care. Like Charles I, she is trying to rule without Parliament. She is-graciously allowing MPs to ask questions about Brexit, but telling them they have no right to decide on the terms of our departure. All that matters is that she has decided, like an absolute monarch, that the referendum was all about immigration. The only way to stop free movement is to abandon the single market and in all probability the customs union too. The know-nothing Tory papers cheer her on with asinine adulation. David Davis, who began his career as a Hampden and is ending it as a Strafford, assures the impotent Commons they need not worry about the plans of their betters because there will be ‘no downside to Brexit at all’.

You only have to look at the plummeting pound, or listen to increasingly frantic business leaders, to suspect those words will haunt Davis to his grave. Somewhere in her mind, Theresa May must sense the coming job losses and fear the naive euphoria cannot last. So she summons the old Tory-alliance of snob and mob to keep a potentially hostile Commons in line.

At the Tory conference she contrasted her plain and honest self with those condescending elite politicians, who look down their well-bred noses at the public’s patriotism and concern about crime and immigration, and cannot understand why 17.4 million voted to leave the EU. Just to rub their dainty noses in the dirt, Amber Rudd proposes that businesses be forced to declare how many foreign workers they employ, like making harlots wear scarlet letters, and Jeremy Hunt warns foreign doctors needlessly cluttering up the NHS that their days in Britain are numbered.

If a few more Poles are beaten up because of their British nationalist postures, who cares? Only liberal elitists whine about the post-Brexit thugfest.

The snob-mob alliance is as old as the Tory party is. In 1780, patriotic Protestants incited the Gordon riots against the Whigs who favoured Catholic emancipation. From Randolph Churchill in 1886 through to F. E. Smith in 1914, Tory leaders incited Ulster Protestants to riot, and at the Curragh, the British army to mutiny to stop the Liberals giving the Irish home rule. In living-memory, Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech-incited skinheads to attack Commonwealth immigrants. The snobs’ enemy and the mob’s target have had different names but they are always the same group: Whig aristocrats,-Gladstonian liberals, champagne socialists who in their elite arrogance thought that Catholics should have equal rights and immigrants should be treated with respect.

It has worked before, but I don’t think the alliance will hold this time. Certainly, we once had a liberal elite. But by definition, a true elite is in power. Liberals aren’t in power, a British nationalist elite is, composed of-politicians so disreputable they don’t even believe in the patriotic pap they pump to their cozened followers.

I wish Amber Rudd luck in lecturing others on elitism, when this working-class heroine was not only the ‘aristocracy co-ordinator’ for Four Weddings and a-Funeral, and a director of offshore companies in the Bahamas tax haven, but was educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College (although not well enough). In the name of the people, Rudd, like May and Hunt, is now playing with race politics and damning as elitist 16 million voters despite sharing their belief four months ago that we should stay in the EU.

The hypocrisy of the Tory elite will not destroy the alliance. Gullible mobs will always follow hypocritical snobs, but not if they fear they will lose their jobs. That fear is yet to spread to the right of politics, or I would say to the bulk of the population, but you can feel it coming.

All the government’s bombast flows from the relatively quiet economic summer we had after the Brexit vote. Like George W. Bush, when he declared ‘mission accomplished’ after the Americans rolled into Baghdad in 2003, cocksure Tories are full of-unwarranted self-confidence. It will shatter if the pound keeps heading for parity with the euro, and a nation with huge sovereign debts finds that the Treasury’s predictions of the tax take slumping are accurate. If jobs start going, if inflation and the national debt start rising, if the bond markets turn ugly, voters will demand that MPs intervene, and the sensible majority in Parliament will be only too pleased to oblige. May will then learn that, for all our faults, we are a parliamentary democracy, and that politicians who treat parliament like Charles I risk meeting the fate of Charles I.