Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
Let me get one thing clear: as someone from a Jewish background, the anti-Semitism infecting Labour fills me with dread, and I have experienced it locally in Harlow. Her Majesty’s Opposition is socialist rather than social democratic – and all Conservatives have a duty to oppose it. So I understand the anguish about Theresa May dealing with Jeremy Corbyn.
Like most Tories, I would rather we had a bold centre-right agenda, making the case for fairer capitalism, enveloping blue collar conservatives, white van conservatives, with DNA Conservatism of lower taxes and the free market. However, when it comes to voting on the EU, we can choose either to vote idealistically or for the least worst option, given the current political realities. Politics must be the art of the possible.
Idealism only works if there is a majority in Parliament to get those ideas through. So when I plan to vote on the fourth Meaningful Vote on Parliament I will take the below – irrefutable facts – into consideration.
- We have to accept that much of Parliament is for staying in the EU, a long delay or a second referendum – all of which I am opposed to. Everything that has happened since the Second Meaningful Vote failed to pass the Commons has been moves towards a ‘People’s Vote’, delay or revocation.
- It does not matter who is Party Leader, whether it be Mother Teresa or Theresa May – the arithmetic of Parliament does not change. Only Tory plurality in the Commons and an arch-Remainer House of Lords. Even were a charismatic leader elected, who managed to unite most of the Conservative Party, this does not change the lack of a majority in the Commons, or the Conservative minority in the Upper Chamber.
- Corbyn is literally a thread away from Downing Street, thanks to the disastrous 2017 election, which wiped out the gains from 2015. We are also unpopular in many parts of the country, because of the painful effects of austerity and the rising cost of living. The Brexit shenanigans have made it worse. We have no majority in Parliament, made worse because of four Tory defections. Three of these defectors have no love of any kind for their old party.
- Whilst difficult to happen, an early general election is not impossible. It is true that MPs have to vote for it, but a few renegade Parliamentarians upset about the handling of Brexit make a General Election less unthinkable than it might seem. DUP support for the Conservatives is no longer guaranteed.
Given the current opinion polls and the anger from the public against the political class, I don’t think that even the most Pollyannish type Conservative would think that an general election would bring anything less than a wipeout at worst, another hung parliament at best.
So when I choose how to vote on the EU deal, my whole purpose will be to avoid these four scenarios, particularly 1 and 2 above – avoiding either a long extension, a second referendum, or not leaving at all, with the possibility of a Corbyn Government.
For these reasons, I don’t care who Theresa May talks to about a deal – whether it is Corbyn or Kim Jong-un. When we next vote on the above, the least worst option may be the only one that avoids 1, 2, 3 and 4. That means getting some for Brexit over the line so that we legally leave the EU.
May met with Corbyn a few weeks ago after the First Meaningful Vote. No one appeared to see it as such a problem then. Indeed, the Labour leader was criticised for initially refusing to talk to the Prime Minister. Rather than get worked up about the talks with Labour, we should be reflecting what the current political realities are – whether we like it or not.
It may be when all this is over (if it ever is) there is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to decide what went wrong; who the guilty men and women are; why the negotiations with the EU have gone the way they have, how the 2017 election was ever allowed to happen – et al. But all that is for another day. The priority now must, must, must be to unify the country, keep the Conservative Party together, stop Jeremy Corbyn entering Downing Street and to retrench, re-inforce and regroup ready for the mighty battle ahead – hopefully in 2022.