January 2022 Week 4 Right Wing Watch newsletter from Left Foot Forward
The fallout from the Partygate scandal continued into another week, with the Prime Minister trying to steady the ship as many backbench Tory MPs considered whether to push him overboard.
The Government’s response was to launch ‘Operation Red Meat’, a metaphor which suggested that Tory MPs are akin to wild animals who periodically need a carcass or two chucked into their enclosure to stop them tearing each other to pieces.
Ideas floated over the weekend included freezing and then ending the BBC licence fee, which was confirmed by Culture Minister Nadine Dorries, much to the Speaker of the House of Commons’ dissatisfaction – another instance of important policy being announced online instead of in Parliament.
Other proposals included relaxing all Covid restrictions and drafting in the Navy to push back migrant boats in the channel, which Navy sources told The Times would be illegal, and The Guardian said was unlikely to happen.
Cracks appear in the Tory Red Wall
These kneejerk proposals were not enough for one Tory MP, Christian Wakeford, who had already expressed unhappiness with his party’s actions by calling the MP Owen Paterson a particularly forceful four letter expletive as Tory MPs were whipped to vote to change the rules so Paterson could avoid suspension.
Wakeford crossed the floor during PMQs on Wednesday to defect to Labour. Cynics might also suggest that Wakeford’s majority of 402, (the third most marginal Labour target seat in the UK) may have played a part in his defection.
Wakeford also cited threats by whips to withdraw funding from his constituency as a reason for his defection, saying “I was threatened that I would not get a school for Radcliffe if I did not vote in one particular way… This is a town that has not had a high school for the best part of 10 years.”
This came after Tory MP William Wragg accused No 10 of blackmailing backbenchers who had considered calling for a vote of confidence in the PM, suggesting that they were being threatened with having taxpayer funding for public services withdrawn.
This intimidation and threatened removal of funding reveals what has been obvious for a long time during 12 years of Tory rule, that areas which do not vote Conservative receive less funding per person for public services. Forcing councils to cut budgets redirects a lot of public anger towards local councils, thus performing a neat divide and rule trick that helps keep the Tories in power.
You might even see in such tactics what Michel Foucault called the ‘boomerang effect’, whereby Imperialist methods of control used in the British Empire have come home to the metropolis. But I digress. Back to the ongoing Tory implosion!
Authoritarian legislation grinds on
The Conservative Party’s ongoing implosion rather overshadowed other stories both inside and outside Parliament. On Monday, the Government lost votes on 14 amendments to the Police and Crime Bill, including some they had added on after it passed the Commons which would have made protest tactics used by Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion illegal. Read my analysis here of why the Government’s defeat was surprisingly large.
The vote-suppressing Elections Bill was also back in the Commons this week. Under the Bill, voters will be forced to show ID to vote in person, which the Tories say is intended to stop voter fraud, something that is practically nonexistent. Surely it couldn’t be that they want to make it harder for 11 million marginalised people without a passport or driving licence to vote?
Outside Parliament, the Government cancelled a cross-channel energy cable between the UK and France which would have been built by Aquind. Major 1990s Russian businessmen Voktor Fedotov and Aleksander Temerko, both now British citizens and Conservative Party donors, were involved with the company, Fedotov a major shareholder and Temerko a director.
Both men have donated around £700,000 to the Conservatives, and as such, are probably somewhat miffed by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s decision to cancel the contract
In other comedy news, you’ll be pleased to learn that GB News has announced a panel of comedians for its late night newspaper preview show, Headliners, produced by ‘Titania McGrath’ and ‘Jonathan Pie’ writer Andrew Doyle. Chortle reports that “Doyle said that although the show is populated by comedians, it was not designed to make fun of important news events.” Sadly, I imagine I’m going to have to watch this cultural artefact at some point, so please @ me your condolences.
So just like last week, the UK right wing, and especially the Tories, are in a bit of a pickle. Should they stick with Boris Johnson, whose poll numbers are in the mud? Spectator editor Fraser Nelson thinks so, calculating that if the Tories ride out Partygate, the fickle plebs might forgive him as the economy rebounds with the end of Covid restrictions.
This seems like wishful thinking to me. There is a cost of living crisis about to hit as huge rises in energy bills start in April, with Reuters saying the average household energy bill is likely to rise by £2,000. Inflation is running at 5.4%, and this uncertainty is causing turbulence in global markets. In the UK, further rule changes resulting from Brexit are adding to the cost of living and supply chain crises.
If the UK right wing thinks that public anger at the Government will simply evaporate, they may be in for a nasty shock.
John Lubbock leads on the Right-Watch project at Left Foot Forward