The aftermath of a round of elections is the traditional stomping ground for the more conscientious sort of Parliamentary dissident, and true to form Justine Greening has given an interview in today’s Times.
In it, she warns the Party that it shouldn’t be pleased at merely fending Labour off – and just barely that, in Wandsworth – in its flagship London councils, which is undoubtedly entirely right, before turning her fire on her Brexiteer colleagues.
Greening levels two main charges: first, that Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg are being gung-ho about the economic impact of Brexit because their personal wealth insulates them from the effects; and second that they are trying to ‘wag the dog’ by harrying the Prime Minister towards a hard Brexit.
Obviously Greening is no longer bound by collective responsibility and is free to say what she likes, but these criticisms are not entirely fair.
First, her attack on Rees-Mogg overlooks one of the most salient features of the week’s election results, which is that it is Brexit which is allowing the Conservatives to advance in working-class areas in the north and midlands where they have struggled previously. This has an electoral cost, of course, as the loss of three councils to the Liberal Democrats amply illustrates, but it is nonetheless inaccurate to portray all Tory Brexiteers as Rees-Moggian plutocrats who are alienating worse-off voters.
Second, the Brexiteers of the European Research Group aren’t really doing anything to influence Theresa May that the continuity Remainers – the blue wing of the so-called ‘New Tribe’ – are not also doing in a less practised fashion.
Indeed, Greening herself signals that she may rebel against the Government over Brexit (it is, after all, “above party politics”, which presumably includes party whips) if MPs aren’t given a free vote on vital Brexit questions. Giving MPs a free vote on the biggest issue facing the Government – one that it produced manifesto commitments on, at that – would be highly unusual democratic practice, to put it mildly.
It’s a stretch to denounce one side’s efforts to set the Government’s course whilst claiming the other side’s are somehow ‘healing’ and ‘unifying’. The Brexiteers try to maximise their leverage, and the Europhiles theirs. That’s the game.
What this illustrates is how pressing is the need for Theresa May to find some way to press forward on this question. Delay may postpone a reckoning in Parliament, but it is allowing the different factions with the Party more space to hone their methods and entrench their positions.