This week we learned that, in all likelihood, the Kremlin enacted secret plans to support the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump in 2016. How long, one wonders, before evidence emerges of an identical plot to put a useful idiot in No.10?
At the time of writing Covid cases have risen exponentially, to 48,553 cases yesterday, close to the peak of January/February and yet the reopening 'terminus' of July 19th remains in place. Thankfully, the vaccine programme has meant that, so far at least, deaths have remained relatively low and yet both hospitalisations and deaths are trending upwards.
However, for a government that promised to 'follow the science', and employ 'data not dates', this is clearly inconsistent, so why is it happening? The obvious conclusion to draw is that Johnson is pandering to the 'libertarian', ERG/CRG noisy backbench trouble-making wing of his party, as he has done since before he became leader or Prime Minister. Put simply, Johnson is cravenly indulging the worst instincts of his MPs, and jeopardising public health as a result.
In fact, in the upside-down world of the UK's bizarre and anachronistic political system, extremism, irrationality, and mob-mentality tends to be rewarded. From at least 2015 (and likely much earlier), the tail has been wagging the dog. Whereas strong leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were fairly ruthless in crushing the type of people who bring down governments, their successors have signally failed to maintain the kind of party discipline that is cited as one of the supposed strengths of our current system. In fact, one can trace the UK's current woes directly to this failure to manage the party. David Cameron has stated openly that he could not remain as party leader without feeding red meat to the Eurosceptic wing of his party, and this, in a combination of cowardice and poor judgement, meant offering a monstrously ill-designed, one-off, in-out referendum of the most terrifying awful kind. This did for Cameron. Emboldened, the mob then mobilised in earnest for the Brexit negotiations, effectively vetoing any kind of sensible compromise that might have kept the country together. Single Market, Customs Union, EEA/EFTA, Final Say vote, all dismissed out of hand. The contradictions this gave rise to were irreconcilable, and this did for Theresa May, another leader too weak to instill discipline in a party that had tasted blood. Once Johnson had been installed, the torch-wielding MPs met their first worthy opponent, the unelected Dominic Cummings who was far more formidable a foe than any Prime Minister. He promised to purge anyone who got in his way, but having got Johnson elected, the power went to his head and he was soon gone, leaving the PM back at the mercy of any rebel faction. And here we are, every public health decision a half-hearted compromise between the facts and the reactionary anti-lockdown faction of the Conservative Party.
Lest it be said (again) that we spend too much time in these briefings bashing the Conservatives, the very same criticisms can be levelled against Labour. The departure of Tony Blair left a power vacuum in the party. Gordon Brown was every bit as poor a leader/campaigner as everyone had always said, and his election defeat set a series of catastrophic events in motion. Faction-riven Labour could be relied upon to soil its own leadership election, and duly did so, appointing cheery Ed Miliband over his eminently more electable brother David. Having lost another election, Labour doubled down, opening its leadership election votes to anyone with £3 and an internet connection. The result? The entirely accidental election of Jeremy Corbyn. As the story famously goes, Corbyn was nominated half as a joke and half as a sop to the left of the party, in order to 'have a debate'. As Blair advisor John McTernan memorably put it, "Political parties are full of suicidally inclined activists and clearly some Labour members are suicidally inclined."
If we, as Renew, are to provide a viable alternative to the main parties, we must learn from these mistakes and not replicate the internal party systems that throw up these kinds of self-defeating outcomes. From day one, we have sought to do things differently, recruiting people from outside politics and from all walks of life, but that is not enough. If we are to find our niche in the minds of the electorate, it cannot be simply as 'another political party'. We need to be able to demonstrate that a vote for Renew is not just a vote for a challenger or an alternative, it is a vote to rebel against a rigged system. We cannot enter every election ready to apologise for that most dismal of accusations, 'splitting the vote', we need to stand up for a new system that does not reward party loyalty above integrity or expertise and instead rewards independent and creative individuals with vision. This may mean relinquishing some of the paraphernalia of the existing party system, such as the production of voluminous, unread manifestos that are both highly prescriptive and impenetrably vague. It may mean operating more as a decentralised network of independent-minded candidates who are able to campaign according to their consciences, on local issues, but are bound to Renew by public declaration of adherence to a set of core principles and a handful of 'Marquee' nationwide policies.
On September 11th in London, we will conduct our first Renew Conference since Birmingham 2019 and we are inviting all members to join us for a day of frank and open debate and discussion. The last 18 months have been extremely trying for everyone, and Renew has also required deep reserves of determination in order to press on with our plan and to keep looking for new ways to make an impact. This September we go back to the members with a new vision. Save the date and keep an eye on your inbox. Tickets will become available next week.
Have a great week
James and the Renew Team