I interviewed Steve Richards at the Battle of Ideas for the Quillette podcast. We talked about the General Election, his newfound passion for performing on stage and his recent book on British Prime Ministers. Click here to listen.
On the face of it, today’s announcement by the Remain Alliance that the Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid Cymru won’t be standing against each other in 60 seats looks like great news for all three parties. But take a closer look and it’s clear that the only winners from this arrangement are the Lib Dems.
Under the arrangement – dubbed “Unite to Remain” – the Lib Dems will be given a clear run in 42 seats, the Greens in nine seats and Plaid in seven. In addition, none of the parties will oppose Dominic Greive, who’s running as an independent in Beaconsfield, or Anna Soubry in Boxtowe and Gavin Shuker in Luton South, both running as Independent Group for Change candidates. Yes, I know that adds up to 61, not 60, but that may be because not all the participants in this scheme can count.
Take the Greens. They’ve agreed to stand down in 52 seats in return for being unopposed in nine: Brighton Pavilion, Isle of Wight, Bristol West, Bury St Edmunds, Stroud, Dulwich West Norwood, Forest of Dean, Cannock Chase, Exeter and Vale of Glammorgan.
But the Green Party’s chances of winning in any of those constituencies – apart from Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas’s seat – are vanishing-to-zero. In Bristol West, for instance, one of the Greens’ “target” seats, the party is currently on 17%, while the Labour incumbent (Thangam Debbonaire) is on 38%. And Bristol West is one of only two seats in which the Greens are on double figures. In the remaining seven they are down to single digits – such as Dulwich and West Norwood, where they’re on 6% (compared to Labour on 42%). The reason that has been included, presumably, is because the Greens’ co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, is running in that constituency. (To read more, click here.)
On this week’s episode of London Calling, James Delingpole and I lament the rocky start to the Tory General Election campaign and worry that Greta may be stranded in America. Also, why is season two of Jack Ryan so woke? To listen, click here.
I went to the Battle of Ideas at the Barbican last weekend, a free speech festival organised by the Brexit Party MEP Claire Fox, and listened to an interesting discussion about The Life of Brian. I hadn’t realised this, but the Monty Python film is exactly 40 years old, having been released in the UK on 8th November 1979. The opinion of the panel, which was comprised of comedians and intellectuals, was that its lampooning of rigid, orthodox thinking is more relevant today than ever since we’re in the midst of a new wave of puritanism, albeit one inspired by left-wing identity politics rather than Christianity. After all, what is ‘hate speech’ if not a type of blasphemy?
When I got home I watched the famous debate between John Cleese, Michael Palin, Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, then the Bishop of Southwark, which is on YouTube. It’s worth viewing for the old-fashioned put-downs alone. ‘Now I wasn’t in the least bit horrified,’ says Stockwood, who’d been to a BBC screening just beforehand. ‘People said, “Oh now, Bishop, when you go there you’ll be absolutely horrified,” but I wasn’t at all. After all, I wasn’t vicar of the University Church for nothing. I’m familiar with undergraduate humour. And I’m also the governor of a mentally deficient school and once I was a prep school master so I felt frightfully at home.’
The consensus is that the young Turks got the better of the two elderly Christians – and that was certainly my view when I watched the debate in 1979 aged 16. But seeing it again, I was struck by how callow the liberal pieties of Cleese and Palin sounded. They maintained that the satirical target of The Life of Brian wasn’t just Christianity, but all forms of received wisdom. What they objected to was the idea that we should take anything on faith, particularly a belief system with a strong moral component – and Cleese cited Marxism as another example. Rather, we should resist the gravitational pull of all these doctrines – whether embodied in the Church of England or the Judean People’s Front – and work things out for ourselves.
I believed that 40 years ago, but it’s hard to get around the fact that the rapid decline of Christianity in Britain and America in the intervening period has not led to a new age of enlightenment. On the contrary, we appear to be in the grip of various secular belief systems that are far more dogmatic than modern Christianity. Turns out, the Pythons were naïve in thinking that mankind’s yearning for religious faith was an aspect of our nature we could grow out of. The ebbing away of the Christian tide has left a God-shaped hole in the Anglosphere and it has been filled with something more sinister – a constantly mutating moral absolutism. Its latest manifestation is Extinction Rebellion, but no doubt it will be something even more fanatical and Millenarian in a few years’ time. These quasi-religious movements resemble Christianity in its fundamentalist, pre-Reformation period when it was less willing to forgive heretics and sinners. (To read more, click here.)
In 2013 I flirted with the idea of launching a ‘Unite the Right’ campaign in which I urged supporters of UKIP and the Conservatives to vote tactically for whichever candidate had the best chance of winning in their constituency. Not a formal pact with the blessing of either party’s high command, but a bottom-up initiative. I was worried that the right-of-centre vote would be so divided in the 2015 General Election that Ed Miliband might end up as Prime Minister.
But David Cameron’s decision to commit to a referendum convinced me a pact of any kind was unnecessary. And so it proved to be, with Cameron winning the first Tory majority in 23 years.
My gut tells me the outcome of this election will be the same. The latest Ipsos-Mori poll had the Conservatives on 41 per cent, Labour on 24 per cent, the Lib Dems on 20 per cent and the Brexit Party on seven per cent, which, on a uniform national swing, gives the Tories a majority of over 200. No doubt the gap between the two major parties will narrow between now and December 12th, but will it shrink by enough to make a similar ‘Unite the Right’ initiative worthwhile? (To read more, click here.)
I know you’re not supposed to review a TV show on the basis of a single episode, but I don’t think I’m going to make it past episode one of the second season of Jack Ryan. Its full title is Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan but it might as well be called Noam Chomsky’s Jack Ryan.
Take the fictional version of Venezuela where most of the action is set. Its economy is in the toilet, the people are starving, and it’s on the verge of becoming a failed state. So far, so accurate. But the reason this Venezuela is such a basket case is not because it’s been ruled by a succession of corrupt socialist demagogues for the past 21 years, but because—wait for it—the President is a far-right populist with bad hair. But don’t worry, kids. There’s a challenger waiting in the wings whose planning to take him down at the forthcoming Presidential election: a middle-aged, female academic-turned-activist who believes in “social justice.” In case that’s too subtle for you, she even looks a bit like Elizabeth Warren.
Jack Ryan season two isn’t just the usual, run-of-the-mill, politically correct Hollywood gibberish like Watchmen. It’s as though the writers and producers have deliberately set out to troll conservatives. What are they going to do for an encore? Set season three in Cambodia circa 1977 and portray Pol Pot as a free market capitalist obsessed with Ayn Rand? (To read more, click here.)
In the latest London Calling podcast, James Delingpole and me discuss Joker, Watchmen, the forthcoming election (hooray!), the Meghan Markle letter (boo!) and the brutal assassination of an “austere religious scholar” in the Middle East. To listen, click here.
It was the second-best piece of news this week after Boris’s Tuesday night victory in the House of Commons. On Sunday, the Observer ran a story about the ferocious in-fighting that had broken out in the People’s Vote campaign. Roland Rudd, the multi-millionaire Chair of Open Britain, the organisation that controls the campaign, sacked four of the directors over the weekend, including James McGrory, the campaign director, and Tom Baldwin, the communications director. This followed a failed boardroom coup against Rudd led by Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson which the Mail on Sunday wrote about the week before.
On Monday, the story got even better. Rudd was due to address campaign staff at the People’s Vote headquarters in Millbank Tower on Monday morning at 9am, but after he discovered that McGrory and Baldwin had turned up to work – in effect, refusing to recognise Rudd’s authority – he refused to enter the building and instead gave an interview to Sky News. In response, dozens of staff staged a walkout and set up shop in the café of the Tate Britain round the corner.
It sounds like the Remain equivalent of the Judean People’s Front versus the People’s Front of Judea, but there’s an important point of disagreement between the two factions. Rudd wants the People’s Vote to stop pretending that it’s campaigning for a second referendum for purely ‘democratic’ reasons – because Leave’s 2016 campaign was dishonest, because the public is now better informed, because people should have a ‘final say’, etc., etc. – and come clean about the fact that it’s pro-Remain. The other side, by contrast, wants to keep up the masquerade. (To read more, click here.)