Europe may yet destroy the Tory party

What Lord Heseltine really told the Limehouse Podcast

The frothing mouths on the hard right of the Conservative Party have been spitting out their Christmas Pudding. Michael Heseltine’s head is being demanded on a plate. His crime? In an interview with our show — the Limehouse Podcast — The former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister said that in his view, Brexit would be even worse than a Labour government — and to be clear, his idea about what a Labour government might achieve was not positive.

A Conservative politician saying that a Labour government would be damaging would hardly be considered controversial in normal times, but the interview has sparked outrage from the hard right of the Tory party, with the Bow Group demanding that Lord Heseltine is kicked out of the party. For the bluekip faction, Heseltine’s gybe must have been particularly painful, for he is saying that Brexit will be worse than their wildest nightmares — Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. Norman Tebbit, not someone usually taken with moderation has really leapt off his tree — suggesting that Heseltine is some sort of foreign agent, questioning his loyalty to Britain.

But if the Conservatives care about the future of their party they would do well to ignore the squeals coming from the swivel eyed ideologues and listen to the warning Lord Heseltine is trying to give his colleagues. Brexit may yet come to destroy the Tory party.

The will of the people

Ever since the referendum both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have treated the result as sacrosanct. The will of the people must not be challenged — both Labour and the Tories have committed to delivering Brexit.

But as we motor towards the cliff edge, the realities of post-EU Britain are being demonstrated to the public more clearly than the Remain campaign was ever able to during the referendum. Our NHS will not be getting £350m a week — instead it will be more like another £350 on our shopping bills and a series of large ‘divorce’ payments.

Many are starting to learn a little more about world trade too. Surprisingly, the reason we don’t have global free trade is not because no one ever thought of it before Liam Fox. Trade deals are hard, and involve accepting hard compromises, something which the hard-liners that make up the Brexit elite are fundamentally incapable of.

There is no trade deal in the world that is better than the deal we have with the European Union, and the ‘red lines’ set down by the government in our negotiations with Europe means we are unable to negotiate anything like it for the future. We are fast heading to a world where the UK, a once great trading nation, is about to move to the margins of the global trade system.

As reality bites the public are starting to go cold on Brexit. The latest opinion polls put Remain clearly ahead. Lord Heseltine, in his interview on the Limehouse Podcast, predicted that as we get closer to Brexit, that margin would only increase.

But if the public start to believe that this has all been a terrible mistake, how does the politics of this play out?

The politics of an exit from Brexit

In recent weeks we have spoken to two Tory grandees on the Limehouse Podcast, Lord Heseltine and Ken Clarke, both of whom believe that it is inevitable that Labour will abandon its support for a hard Brexit at some point in the future. Ken Clarke said that although Jeremy Corbyn was in his heart a supporter of a hard Brexit he simply didn’t have the backing of his party on this issue.

So far the Labour party has managed to keep this tension under the surface by their policy of strategic ambiguity on Brexit. That policy has largely involved telling their supporters that the Tories are making a disaster of Brexit, whilst supporting that disaster (and the Tories) in the House of Commons.

Ambiguity is becoming increasingly untenable, and if Labour does at some point start to remember that they are the opposition and begin to oppose, what then happens to the Tories? If they continue to allow themselves to be led by the Brexit extremes of their party, they will quickly find themselves defending a policy that almost everyone else, including the public, has abandoned. They will be in the absurd position of telling the people that they are only carrying out their will, when the people will be willing them to stop. Under those circumstances, the next election will not look pretty for the Maybot.

That was the point that Lord Heseltine was making in his interview with Will Porteous Blythe.

The Tories have been here before — and it wasn’t good the last time

The 2017 General Election demonstrated that British politics is highly volatile. Theresa May managed to turn a twenty point lead in the polls into a hung parliament in just six short weeks. In the circumstances of a Labour opposition opposing Brexit, and a Tory party heading enthusiastically towards the Brexit cliff, many traditional Conservative supporters might well do the thing that their leaders seem incapable of and put their country before their party.

Let’s not forget — Lord Heseltine has seen this all before. Not long after he deposed Thatcher and John Major won his surprise election on a razor thin majority, the Tory party started to self destruct — fighting over Europe and mired in a series of sex scandals. In 1997 they were almost wiped out, and went into a long period of opposition. Twenty years later, the party of government for much of the 20th Century has only once had a majority in parliament — in a parliament that lasted just two years.

Heseltine’s words should not be taken as him having any sympathy with Labour, but rather a fear that Brexit hard liners like John Redwood could yet finish the job they came close to completing in the mid 1990s — destroy the Tory party from within.