Ian Birrell wrote recently that, in the words of the headline above his piece, “Britain needs a party that proudly champions cosmopolitan values”. A London Party, perhaps?
Multi-party politics, he wrote, perhaps “offers an opportunity for voters dismayed by sneering attacks on metropolitan values and modernity”, before turning his pen to UKIP’s failure to make election headway in the capital:
“The city is younger, better educated and more diverse than the rest of Britain, making it less eurosceptic and less hostile to foreigners. Hardly surprising when one-third of Londoners were born abroad – nor indeed when the capital has been revived as a global powerhouse partly by migration.”
He concluded by asking –
“So who will represent the ‘educated, cultural and young’. Surely there should be one party standing before voters with a sense of optimistic pride in the nation as it is today, not staring back at a mythologised past – and if mainstream parties vacate this territory, it creates a gap in the political market.”
Ian is not alone. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him is Matthew Parris, who wrote at the time of the Clacton by-election that the Conservatives must choose between the Britain it stands for, in his view, and another Britain:
“From the train leaving Stratford at platform 10a, you can see Canary Wharf, humming with a sense of the possible. You must turn your back on that if you want to go to Clacton. I don’t, and the Tories shouldn’t.”
Alongside Ian, too, is Janan Ganesh, who argued recently that “Britain’s great enrichment over recent decades has coincided with its membership of the European project…This suggests that Europe has either served us well or – on the harshest analysis possible – not held us back in any really decisive way.” He continued –
“Britain cannot allow the terms of political trade to be set by the miserabilists, and not just because they are wrong. They also have the capacity to do grievous harm. The real threat to this country is nothing these people complain of – Europe, migrants, markets, London’s encapsulation of all these things – but a political overreaction to the complaints themselves.”
It is easy to see what the manifesto of the London Party – or rather, to be faithful to the argument of Ian’s piece, the Metropolitan Party – might look like. It would be economically liberal and socially liberal. It would be pro-capitalism as well as pro-capital. (Birell’s piece was published in that most cosmopolitan of dailies, the Financial Times.) It would be pro-immigration. It would be Euro-sceptic in the real rather than the usual sense of the word: that’s to say, sceptical of the European project while also being instinctively supportive of Britain’s EU membership. It would be pro-same sex marriage, and other liberal social changes. It would support more housebuilding. It would smile both on centre-right public service reforms and centre-left plans for radical constitutional change. Its core vote would be the young, urban and educated. Its house magazine would be The Economist. Its football team would be Chelsea. Its anthem would be City Lights. Its symbol would be the Shard (caricatured by its opponents with illustrations of Barad-dur). Sneered at by its opponents, it would sneer back.
Now, my purpose today is not to disagree with this new arrival (if you want a first-rate take on why the Metropolitan Party is wrong, read Peter Franklin), but to make a point and ask a question.
The point: Ian, Matthew and Janan are all conservatives. Ian is David Cameron’s former speechwriter. Matthew is a former Tory MP. Janan is George Osborne’s biographer and formerly worked for Policy Exchange.
But I cannot think of a single Conservative politician – or any politician at all – who speaks for the Metropolitan Party. Perhaps Mark Field in the City of London and Westminster. But he is not an enthusiast for the present Party leadership, which is a condition of the new party’s membership. Don’t float the name of Nick Boles. He is a fervent supporter of tougher immigration controls. George Osborne? But he takes the Conservative line on the EU and migration.
The question: why the gap? What does it tell us about the state of British politics?