FLC127, Annual Reflections on the Quisling Right, Sean Gabb, 30th September 2004
Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet
Issue Number 127
30th September 2004
Annual Reflections on the Quisling Right
Last August, before going off to the Slovak Republic for a holiday, I was approached by some active members of the United Kingdom Independence Party. They asked me to use such contacts as I had to get a message to Michael Howard, urging him to end his official ambiguity about our membership of the European Union. I will not say whom I approached, but I have been on friendly terms for some while with a Conservative Member of Parliament who is in turn on friendly terms with Mr Howard. So I arranged a meeting, and drafted the memorandum reproduced below for his attention before the meeting.
I am writing this Memorandum in advance of our meeting of next [date removed], so that you can have reasonable time to think about the points that I have been asked to raise, and also perhaps to consult with others whom you think it appropriate to make aware of our meeting.
I am directly representing a group of energetic and influential UKIP activists in the South West of England. I do not think I am in any sense representing the leadership of UKIP. Indeed, the nature of the points I have been asked to raise indicates that my principals are the activists alone.
While I agree with the analytical parts of this Memorandum—I am even to some extent responsible for them—I am simply explaining the threatened action in response. I have some authority to negotiate, but this is over details should there be agreement over principles.
How the Conservatives Hope to Win the Next Election
It seems that the Conservative strategy for winning the next election is to say and do as little as possible between now and polling day. There is reason to hope that the actual Labour vote is on the verge of collapse. The ethnic minorities will not easily be persuaded to vote for a Government that they believe went to war with Iraq for oil or Israel or white domination of the world or whatever: here I will say the truth of these and other conspiracy theories is less important than their possible effects on voting intention. Many of these people will not vote at all. Some will vote for the Liberal Democrats. Some may vote for their own ethnic parties. The white working class vote is also crumbling. These people are beginning to realise that they have had nothing out of a Labour Government that is more interested in allowing their home districts to fill with non-white immigrants and in continuing the Tory drive for economic rationality. They also are likely to drift away from Labour—to the Liberal Democrats or to the BNP or simply into not voting at all. Middle class Labour supporters are also unhappy. They are unhappy about the war with Iraq or the attack on civil liberties, or the direction of economic policy.
On the other hand, the Conservative vote, while smaller on a full turn out, seems actually much firmer. There is a venomous hatred of the Government within the conservative movement that may have had no equal since the years before the Great War. Conservative voters are far less likely than Labour to stay at home.
This being so, it makes sense for the Conservative leadership to say and do the barest minimum needed to bring out its traditional supporters. Anything more than this risks giving the Government an opportunity to scare its own supporters back to voting for it.
This analysis may be wrong. Perhaps the Labour vote is less soft than supposed. Perhaps the Conservative vote is less hard. Even so, it seems at the moment that the Conservative leadership has accepted the analysis, and is setting its electoral strategy on that basis.
What Would a Conservative Government Do?
Here the problem begins. If the Conservative leadership were considered at all trustworthy, most conservatives would accept the strategy. Conservative activists would get on with canvassing and recruiting. Contributions would flow in, and the Party would ready itself for a big, unified push. The vague talk about repatriating powers from Brussels would be taken as a promise to withdraw from the European Union. Contradictory talk about public service reform would be taken as a promise to dismantle the New Labour power bases.
But the Conservative leadership is not trusted. Rightly or wrongly, many within the conservative movement look on the Conservative Party as a systematic fraud. It is accused during the past two generations of having deliberately lied its way into power. Promises made in 1959 and 1970 were cynically broken. The Thatcher and Major Governments did deliver to some degree on economic policy, but did nothing conservative on any other issue.
Most importantly for our present purpose, it was a Conservative Government that took the country into the European Union, and Conservative Governments that embedded the country deeper into the European Union. On every occasion between 1972 and 1992, we were told what we now know were the most shameless lies.
Because of all this, the Conservative leadership is widely distrusted within the conservative movement. Its statements are subjected to the sort of scrutiny that the small print gets in a film rights contract. Not surprisingly, the carefully balanced statements in which Mr Howard specialises are received either with open scorn or with deep suspicion. In 1979, Mrs Thatcher could make a vague comment about "swamping" in a television interview and destroy the National Front as an electoral force. Today, nothing Mr Howard says about Europe has anything like that effect on UKIP.
Within much of the conservative movement, it is a firm presumption that a Conservative Government would not withdraw from the European Union, and that it would achieve so significant alleviation of the evils that underlie the desire for withdrawal. The most that is expected is for Mr Howard to bring back a piece of paper bearing the signature of Herr Schroeder himself.
This is more than a suspicion. I have been shown an e-mail set by mistake from someone close to the Conservative leadership. This says:
This is much, much more to this than ineptitude. What we have seen over the last week is the evidence of a Tory plan to present the party as if it was prepared to take on EU issues, while the real agenda is to do nothing at all. This is a quite deliberate and calculated deception, designed to fool the electorate and sideline UKIP. They are not prepared to listen to advice because they already have their own agenda, and do not want to hear anything that contradicts it.
I cannot reveal the source of this e-mail, but it only fuels suspicions that rest on other grounds.
The Kamikaze Strategy
Like any other party, UKIP has a bureaucratic organisation. Those within this look partly to the advancement of defining principles and partly to the maintenance of their own incomes and status. Had the Conservative leadership been more trustworthy on Europe after 1997, the UKIP bureaucracy would never have emerged. Now that it has emerged, there is nothing the Conservative leadership can do to dissolve it this side of a general election. It is committed to putting up candidates and trying to replace the Conservative Party, and it will continue with that regardless. There may be contacts between the Conservative and UKIP leaderships, but I fail to see how there can be any grounds for agreement between them. The two parties are competing for the same voters, and any success for one is seen as a loss for the other. They are in the same position as the Labour and Communist Parties between about 1935 and 1955. There may be an overlap of ideology between them, but this is less important than the ambitions of the competing leadership and organisational structures.
This being said, UKIP relies on a large activist base that is outside its necessarily small bureaucratic structure. These are not emotionally committed to UKIP. They are mostly disgusted Conservatives, who remain with UKIP because they believe it is the only way of showing support for withdrawal from the European Union.
With every circumstance in its favour, UKIP cannot replace the Conservative Party at the next election. It certainly cannot win a general election. It almost certainly cannot get a single candidate elected. With just its bureaucratic structure, UKIP is a largely harmless organisation—rather like the Socialist Labour Party that Arthur Scargill leads.
It is the activists who matter. If they continue to believe that a victorious Conservative leadership would sell out on Europe, they will put their backs into a strategy the effect of which is to keep Labour in power. They will support UKIP candidates in all those Conservative seats which they believe are losable. In particular, they believe that Oliver Letwin is vulnerable.
I emphasise the word "losable". They do not believe it is likely that they can secure a UKIP win in any of these seats. Indeed, they are considering urging people to vote for the Liberal Democrats in some places. They will also allow themselves to be used by a pro-European media to highlight the Conservative divisions on Europe. Their intention is to deny the Conservatives a majority. They prefer a Labour Government that we all accept is the enemy to a Conservative Government that will continue Labour policies but with a weaker opposition. This may be a deeply misguided strategy, but it is their current intention.
How to Destroy UKIP
The activists whom I represent have no love of UKIP as an institution. For them, as said, it is simply a vehicle for advancing the cause of withdrawal from the European Union. If they can be persuaded that supporting the Conservative Party is more likely to advance this cause, they will drop UKIP and rejoin the Conservative Party.
To make them do this, however, it is necessary for the Conservative leadership unambiguously to say that it will consider withdrawing from the European Union. This is not something to be done via unattributable briefings, or via some minor figure in the leadership whose words can later be clarified out of existence or otherwise disowned. It must be from Mr Howard himself—best of all as part of his conference speech, or at least as an answer to an interview question. My principals do not wish to specify wording - after all, Mr Howard is an experienced lawyer and politician—but they do look for something like this:
Of course, as I have repeatedly said, membership of the European Union is in British interests, and I would not wish as a Conservative Prime Minister to act on any other basis. That is why I promise to work so hard to put our relationship with our European partners on a more solid and mutually advantageous basis than it so far possesses. This being said, if British interests and membership of the European Union cannot be fully reconciled, then it would be the obvious duty of a British Prime Minister to look to British interests.
This can be followed by whatever media briefings and clarifications may be thought appropriate. But nothing less than a public statement by Mr Howard will be accepted..
I do accept that making any statement similar to the above would entail a rejection of what we perceive as the present Conservative strategy. It would turn the coming general election into a referendum on membership of the European Union. It would set much of the Establishment and the broadcast media against the Conservative Party. It would reconfigure the geography of British political debate as profoundly as Joseph Chamberlain's speech on tariff reform did a hundred years ago. This would be an unmapped geography with many as yet unknown dangers. But it would bring the definite advantage of ending all divisions within the conservative movement. Most obviously, it would destroy UKIP as a political threat to the Conservative Party.
In closing, I ask you to urge these points to Mr Howard for his urgent consideration.
I submitted this memorandum. We had a long and a personally friendly meeting. But there was no agreement. I was assured that there would be no change of policy and no change of emphasis. The Conservative leadership would under no circumstances talk about withdrawal from the European Union. For my friends in the UK Independence Party—who had almost certainly made other approaches —this was enough. They would begin their wrecking strategy. They would prepare to destroy Oliver Letwin and any other Conservative politician they thought vulnerable.
Now, what I am still turning over in my mind is what I ought to think of all this. Having paid more attention to Mr Howard than usual over the past few weeks, I do believe he has decided on the old Quisling Right strategy. A Quisling Rightist is someone who makes conservative noises—giving speeches that seem to imply promises and giving promises that seem to imply delivery of something important—but who, on achieving office, does nothing to oppose the real governance of this country by the coalition of bureaucrats, lawyers, educators, media people, and business interests who together make up the Establishment, and who are joined by their common benefiting from a large and active state. The function of the Quisling Rightist is the channel dissent away from courses where it might be effective, and to give the impression to superficial observers that a genuine political debate exists in this country. His reward is to hold office and to enjoy status and salaries with a minimum of personal inconvenience.
I do not believe that the Conservatives in government would withdraw from the European Union. I do not believe they would dismantle the politically correct mild tyranny under which we now live. They would compromise with the forces of dissolution, while protesting their devotion to conservative principle, and perhaps while putting real effort into some objective that, while in itself unimportant, could provoke enough heated discussion to make it seem that they were not compromising.
But does this mean that my friends are right? Their strategy is to destroy the Conservative Party as a party of government and to replace it with genuinely conservative party—and in the meantime to keep a continuing Labour Government under some degree of control by threats of direct action. Sometimes I think they are—and I did recommend this before the last election, when I thought William Hague an utterly worthless party leader. But times may now be altered.
On the one hand, the scope for peaceful direct action has been severely limited by the Government. It is currently enacting the Civil Contingencies Bill. This allows the Ministers to declare a state of emergency on any ground that take their fancy. Once declared, this emergency can be used to arrest and imprison without trial and to confiscate property without compensation. I doubt if the present Minister intend ever to declare an emergency to bring an abrupt end to the normal process of government. What I do suspect, though, is that they will threaten the use of emergency powers against the leaders of anything like the great Fuel Protest of 2000—when a group of lorry drivers and other disaffected interest groups paralysed the country for a week. I am told there were plans at the time for the police to arrest every lorry driver on the picket lines and to seize their vehicles as evidence. Charges would be dropped after six weeks or so and the vehicles returned—by which time the drivers would have gone bankrupt. A Civil Contingencies Act as it seems about to be passed would allow much less crude action to be taken against organised dissent.
As an aside, I suppose this is why the Conservatives have so far done nothing to oppose the Bill. They know that it will help them. If Labour cannot be kept under control by non-parliamentary means, the time will not be available for pushing them out of the way during the next two electoral cycles. They will be confirmed in their old position as the mediators of conservative opposition to the Establishment.
But I digress. My other reason to question the strategy is that this is not an ordinarily bad government. It has blood on its hands. Last year, it lied us into a war that was not remotely in our national interest, and in which thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of civilians have been killed. This war has tied us into an apparently indefinite occupation of Iraq. And it has given terrorist groups all through the Middle East an excuse for attacking civilian targets in this country. If the Conservatives are disabled from winning the next general election, it inevitably means that a Labour Government will be elected under the leadership of the most hateful and despised ruler this country has had since the death of Mary I. If these people can win in these circumstances, I tremble to think what they will do next.
What am I to do? And since I doubt if I am the only one in this quandary, what are we to do? If we do elect the Conservatives, we shall not get a conservative government. If we vote against them, we get continued government by murderers.
All I can do is wish my friends well, and for myself seek guidance where I can. Of course, the Conservative leaders know about our quandary. Between now and the election, they will continue to say just enough to tempt us, and rely on Labour to do just enough to urge us on—and their gamble is that we shall turn out like good, obedient citizens and vote once again for the Quisling Right. Such is life.