Is there anyone – anyone at all – who knows what the government stands for? What the Prime Minister believes in? What the Conservative Party is for? For they seem lost, blind as to direction and broken beyond repair.
There’s a political vacuum all right – and it’s not just to be found on the Centre Left.
For here is the lost tribe in British politics – confused as to what it believes, deeply divided and bereft of conviction.
This week marked a grotesque cul de sac on what was called, laughably, a “meaningful vote amendment” – yet another farce in its blundering towards Brexit – or what it perceives to be Brexit.
But who is sure what that means any more? The last-minute compromise agreement at Westminster on Tuesday brought contradictory interpretations the next day as to what was agreed. What was supposedly agreed is not agreed at all.
The rebels (which are now the Remainers, not the Brexiteers) claim they were told the government would offer a new amendment in the House of Lords next Monday that would give parliament the power to prevent a no-deal Brexit. But government sources dispute this and say that it was only agreed to keep them talking. Meanwhile we look on, stupefied by the swamp that Brexit has become.
Why has no deal been reached with the Scottish Government on the return of Brexit powers, and so little time given to Scottish concerns – which so outraged SNP MPs?
Is there anybody – anybody at all – who has mastered the intricacies of the Irish border question, or the customs union (or “New Customs Arrangement”), or the trade arrangements, or where the famous Red Lines can be found, if they can be found at all?
And who is any the wiser as to which is now the front-runner in the bewildering alphabet soup of options trailed before us: CU, CETA, CETA+, EEA or EFTA, Canada+ (or is it Canada++ or Canada+++ ?) or WTO?
Whatever direction the government is headed – assuming it knows itself the direction – one outcome looms ever closer through the fog: a collapse of the Conservative Party.
Who knows now what it stands for? And how many of its grass roots activists and canvassers (those still left) can explain it, let alone campaign for it?
“We’re leaving the European Union” was the robotic parrot cry of the Prime Minister. But what of progress since that vote two years ago to leave the EU? “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” would be a more suitable mantra for her.
The “meaningful vote amendment” (sic) would have allowed Parliament to reject a no-deal Brexit and impose on the government a new negotiating mandate in its talks with the EU. This, said supporters, would have upheld the rights of parliament and democratic accountability.
But that, said critics, would effectively weaken the UK in the negotiations to the point of submission to whatever the EU is willing to offer. It would give the EU no incentive to offer the UK anything other than the worst possible deal. The European Commission could simply hold out for capitulation, as it could rely on the heavily pro-EU House of Lords to reject any deal until the EU got the deal it wanted.
In the wake of the resignation of Philip Lee from the Ministry of Justice, a last-minute agreement was reached after a meeting between Mrs May and 14 Remain supporters centred around Dominic Grieve. But what did that agreement contain? They are convinced that Mrs May gave ground and promised further debate.
Meanwhile, Solicitor General Robert Buckland has played a master hand of obfuscation that would have delighted the script writers of Yes, Minister. While saying the concerns of the rebels would be listened to, he expressed his opposition to parliament giving the government “direction” and suggested that tying the hands of the government would actually make no deal more likely.
Clear? Of course not. Nobody is.
“Meltdown” and “confusion” were among the more repeatable verdicts. Now in all this there is a large element of grand standing: who could be opposed to powers returning to the UK? In defence of the Prime Minister, it could be said she is keeping the government in office through the most artful ambiguity, each side hearing only what it wants to hear.
And how else could she play this, given the hung parliament outcome last June, the presence of powerful Remainers not only on the backbenches but within her own Cabinet, and a House of Lords where 98 pro-Remain Liberal Democrat peers enjoy an influence far in excess of the 5 per cent support of the party voters offered in last year’s general election?
Government is the art of the possible. Mrs May is now attempting the art of the impossible – a feat she can only achieve by putting aside the convictions held by a majority of her own party in the country.
Such is the anger this has aroused that barely a day goes by without the letters page of the Daily Telegraph being dominated by outraged supporters denouncing her in apoplectic fury. A poll carried out last week by the Conservative Woman website asking readers “Should Theresa May quit as Prime Minister” resulted in a resounding 95 per cent vote in favour.
Overwhelming? Only up to a point. In a hilarious retort, a reader wrote in to say the poll should be held again “because I didn’t understand what I was voting for”.
Few inside the party – its leadership and its grassroots activists – can make sense of the emerging chaos, still less articulate a programme on this and other issues such as tax and spending that would resonate with voters.
This is a party that has descended into super fudge – one that blocks the arteries and chokes the heart out of its core beliefs. Not just a lost tribe, but something worse – a party heading relentlessly towards its self-destruction.