Members of the Tory party will soon elect their new leader, choosing our next prime minister in the process. In doing so, they are choosing which form of Brexit the party will force upon the country. The candidates are eyeing up no deal with varying amounts of enthusiasm. Stewart will avoid it at all costs, but most, such as Boris Johnson, are gearing up inflict it upon the country.
It is right that members should elect their own leader, and even the next prime minister, in normal circumstances. But we are not in normal circumstances. We are in the midst of a national crisis. And the reality is that 0.25 per cent of the population are going to be deciding the outcome of that crisis. The mandate is tiny – and the consequences are enormous.
With this in mind, it’s worth taking a closer look at the membership, especially in the context of the Brexit debate. Numbers swelled from 124,000 in August of last year to around 160,000 today – with a concerted effort from Arron Banks and Nigel Farage to encourage the election of a “real Brexit Leader”. In the letter which launched their campaign, Banks termed it a “Conservative Grassroots Mutiny”, and warned that some “extreme People’s Vote MPs ... need to walk the plank, Anna [Soubry]!”.
Because of the mass entryism it has seen over the last year, the party has skewed significantly to the right. Voters who might once have considered joining Ukip (or, nowadays, the Brexit Party – if it actually had any members) are effectively dictating the agenda of the governing party in the UK. Sensible economic policy has been neglected in favour of currying to the demands of these new members, whose overwhelming priority is Brexit.
And there’s almost nothing they won’t countenance in order to achieve it. According to recent YouGov polling, 63 per cent would want Brexit to happen even if it meant Scotland leaving the UK. Fifty-nine per cent would consider losing Northern Ireland an acceptable trade-off for Brexit. A staggering 61 per cent of members believe that “significant damage” to the UK economy would be worth it.
This is what people mean when they say “believe in Brexit”. What’s increasingly clear however, is that similar calls to “believe in Britain” actually mean “believe in England”. Or, even more accurately: “England above all – and England alone.” Most Tory party members live in eastern England, London, the southeast and the southwest.
These consequences are often framed as necessary sacrifices by supporters of Brexit, but it’s easy to argue for sacrifice when you’re not the one losing out (just like it’s easy invoke the Second World War if you never lived through it). More than half of members are at least 55 years old, and 83 per cent fit into the top-tier ABC1 social category for earnings. Triple-locked pensions won’t be affected by a no-deal Brexit.
None of this is a problem for the leadership candidates, who are eager to emphasise how they represent the interests of the party over the interests of the country. But what should cause serious concern in party HQ is that over half of the current members would happily see the party destroyed if Brexit could be delivered. By following the wishes of its new members, rather than putting the issue of Brexit back to the wider UK population, the Tory party will-self destruct. And yet this is the course that almost all candidates are pursuing.
This should make anyone angry. As a young Conservative, it certainly infuriates me. What happened to representative democracy? What happened to talk of the largest democratic exercise in our political history? What has happened to my party?
These entryists don’t represent my party’s past, and they don’t care about its future. They don’t represent the views of the country, and they certainly don’t represent me. We all deserve better – and a real choice – when it comes to Brexit. The only, truly, democratic way to settle the issue is to put it back to the UK at large in the form of a final say referendum.
Ed Shackle is a member of the Conservative Party and the head of growth at Our Future, Our Choice