Charles Moore

Who are the real swivel-eyed loons in the Tory party?

Who are the real swivel-eyed loons in the Tory party?
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‘No great surprise’ headlined the BBC television news on Tuesday lunchtime. The BBC does not admit it now, but it has been extremely surprised by Boris’s success, as have most senior Conservatives. They wrote him off at least twice — first when Michael Gove stabbed him after the referendum; second, when he resigned from Mrs May’s Cabinet. His triumph confounds mainstream conventions about how to get on in Tory politics. It is partly to do with his personal qualities — his charisma, and even more, the attribute, visible in all the top-rankers, of mental and physical resilience. Over the years, I have often known Boris waver and hem and haw his way out of trouble, but I have come to understand that this is essentially tactical. It conceals utter determination. Shortly after he resigned in protest at Mrs May’s Chequers plan last summer, I had lunch with him. Amid the usual merriment, abstracted pauses and moments of gloom, he suddenly looked at me and said: ‘I’m going to win, Charles.’ Because he spoke with perfect seriousness and at the low point of his public reputation, I noted this well.

The other reason for Boris’s victory is the logic of democracy. It has to be endlessly repeated that our democracy cannot retain trust unless the result of the 2016 referendum is implemented. All politicians who deny this come to grief. True, this does not automatically mean no deal: there are imaginable deals which would respect the result. But Mrs May failed because people realised that what she was offering was not really leaving at all. Logic therefore pointed to a leader who was a Leaver, and had risked his career in the referendum. That meant Boris: one does not think of Boris and logic in the same breath, but there it is.

Which leads me to wonder about the diehard Remainers who resigned before they were pushed. One tends to believe in the devilish cunning of the people one disagrees with, and so I have assumed that the Philip Hammonds, David Gaukes, and Alan Duncans are acting with unity and subtlety. Perhaps they are about to announce a merger with the Liberal Democrats, Sir Keir Starmer and Yvette Cooper; or something. But if my logic is right, it could be that these people have gone slightly mad. Ever since the 1960s, pro-Europeanism has been the prevailing belief-system and the right career move for rising Tory politicians. This law seemed to survive everything — Mrs Thatcher’s later years in office, the fiasco of Black Wednesday in 1992, even, Mr Hammond seems to have thought, the referendum result itself. The new logic, however, makes Brexit the expedient choice as well as the principled one. Which leaves the Remainer rebels in the uncoveted role traditionally occupied by Tory Eurosceptics: that of swivel-eyed loons.

This article is an extract from Charles Moore's Spectator Notes, available in this week's magazine.