Gerald Warner: Who would want the Tory leadership?

Dr Liam Fox leaves the House of Commons in London. Picture: PA
Dr Liam Fox leaves the House of Commons in London. Picture: PA
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THE political revenant is a phenomenon of contemporary public life.

Formerly, politicians who transgressed in some way and were compelled to resign from office made a permanent exit, in extreme cases retiring to the library with a decanter of port and a revolver, in more minor instances seeking rehabilitation in some other walk of life. Today, any such sensation of shame is alien to our brazen political class, dispelled by their sense of entitlement.

Already, David Laws, whose infringement of the regulations governing parliamentary expenses was so severe as to provoke his suspension from the House of Commons, is back in office, attending Cabinet meetings as an education minister. So we should not be surprised that Liam Fox, who resigned as Defence Secretary when the patronage he had extended to his friend Adam Werritty came under investigation, should now be raising his voice on policy issues and intimating his willingness to return to the Cabinet (decent of him) in what is being interpreted as a bid to assert his credentials as standard-bearer of what is quaintly known as the “Tory Right”.

Fox made some valid points. He rightly called for an end to the ring-fencing of the NHS budget. As recently as 2002 UK health spending stood at £57 billion; by 2015 it will have doubled to more than £110bn. Many health professionals are admirable people, but our admiration for them should not blind us to the defects of the system or the lunacy of the notion that we should treat the NHS as a fiscal black hole into which we shovel exponentially increasing amounts of taxpayers’ money.

The fetishisation of the NHS reached its zenith in the absurd tableau at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, which inexplicably failed to feature staff assaulting elderly patients or leaving food and water beyond their reach.

Fox also has a point when he calls for the withdrawal of foreign aid from certain countries, though he undermines his case when he singles out those nations that do not share our “values” – whatever those may be. His call for “totemic” tax cuts in the next Conservative manifesto comes four years too late. Apparently, Fox is testing the ground to see if there is any prospect of his making a successful bid for the Conservative leadership after Dave keeps his appointment with the hangman in 2015.

The question is: why would he want so delusional a prize? A contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party now is a bid to secure the command of the Titanic post-iceberg. There is no “Tory Right”, at least not within the Conservative Party; the Tory Right now resides within Ukip, its leader is Nigel Farage. Fox displays some degree of awareness of this, but he still misreads the situation. “We need to avoid the trap of attacking either the individuals who represent or stand for Ukip or the voters who vote for them,” he said.

While that is less demented than the ranting of Bunter Clarke, it reflects the enduring Tory delusion that disaffected supporters can somehow be lured back to the party. To this end, Fox is now employing the tired and fruitless argument that it is perverse to vote for Ukip since the resultant slump in Tory support will produce a Labour government that will not award the public a referendum on EU membership. The ex-Tories who intend to vote for Ukip this year and next are perfectly aware of this; it is what they intend. A few peripheral supporters might abandon Ukip at the general election and return to the Tory fold, but they are an insignificant minority.

The Conservative Party is so extravagantly divorced from its natural supporters that it has no understanding of how deep and irretrievable the breach is. As recently as two years ago it might conceivably have been healed, but Dave repeatedly dynamited it until it became a chasm; homosexual marriage was the tipping point. Ex-Tories have no dread of a Labour government: they would rather suffer its agenda from declared socialists rather than from pretended Conservatives.

Dave’s referendum offer, likely to be sunk by Europhiles in the House of Lords, is not to be taken seriously. If it were ever held, the ballot question, the consensus parties, the BBC, the entire establishment would load the scales heavily against exit from Europe. It is preferable to wait for the colonisation of the European parliament by Eurosceptic parties, the meltdown of the euro currency and the implosion of Labour – the last consensus party to collapse – in 2020. If Liam Fox covets the leadership of the husk of the Tory Party which, by then, will not have won a general election for 28 years, his ambitions are exceedingly modest for a politician. «

Twitter: @GeraldWarner1