Loyalty in Politics

Loyalty in Politics

Loyalty in politics

Brought up to believe in the values of the British Tory (Conservative) Party, I went through the normal rebellious stage in my ‘teens and believed that Labour was the Political Party of the future. Working in the 1950’s to help Teddy Hulton establish Europe House I slipped back into the old family mold. At one point I was even viewed as a potential Tory candidate for parliament but lack of funds and the need to feed many children soon put paid to that. Thank goodness.

Those were the days when the Party Whip’s Office decided most of what happened in the House of Commons. A Three-line Whip (instruction on how to vote underlined three times) resembled the ‘six-of-the-best’ you had received from your House Master at school for misdemeanours however small. You defied the Whip’s instructions at your peril. Actual withdrawal of the Whip left you stranded, politically speaking, as on a desert island – free but powerless and starving.

If Brexit has done anything good it has shown that some politicians have rejected the shelter of the party whip and spoken – and voted – their minds. Not that I think they have suddenly become more high-minded than ambitious, but the realigning of loyalties mixed with some inevitable opportunism has shown that democracy, creaky and volatile as it is, can work better than perhaps we thought. To make it work even smarter we need it to be more positive and more creative.

Watch the Speaker of the House of Commons in Britain. Speaker Bercow is not my favourite person but I have to say that he has handled the Brexit debates with an astuteness that has astonished me. Allotting airtime to different views is especially difficult when you don’t know what those views actually are. Even more so when they don’t know themselves. And so far, with the possible exceptions of the Prime Minister and Kenneth Clarke (about to retire), few have.

Mrs May’s consistent posture borders on manic, as though she had been brought up on a game that you cannot lose without losing your life. In her case it is not her life but her job that is so precarious. Ken Clarke has been steady throughout, occasionally wagging his head in that gesture of despair only the old can perfect. I think retirement for him will be a book a month. Written.

The rebel MPs all know what they don’t want but cannot make up their minds what they do want. It’s really very simple. They don’t want the chaos that is about to erupt but on the other hand chaos is what makes Ministers and allows the brightest – or, rather, noisiest – to float to the top. Backs to the wall the British understand. It allows them to replay Churchill’s finest hour speeches.

The world has enough challenges without us British having to create new, demanding ones for ourselves. The loyalty needed now of British politicians is to the future welfare of their countries’ citizens, not to the most vote-catching mob-rallying call of an imitation Trump. The fondly-named ‘ditch’ (aka Atlantic Ocean) is a little wider than the English Channel. Trying to bridge the former when unable to bridge the latter seems at best to be foolish, at worst, incomprehensible.

One day I’ll write the last word on Brexit. But not yet. This pony has a few furlongs to go before it collapses and expires.

Let’s just hope and pray the riders don’t thrash it to death.

It’s not what their Whips are for.