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Two cheers for Rishi

Is the time ripe to 'Get Brexit UnDone"?

What a week it’s been.

For aficionados it is always a thrilling moment -that exciting time of ultimate transition. Especially when the woman in the job has been so dire and such a disappointment. And we were in for a big surprise, indeed out of the blue shock,when it finally happened. Not the bloke who we were all expecting but a re-tread – a repeat performance. Yes. Arms akimbo, streaming light, David Tennant became the ‘new’ Doctor Who, our once and future Time Lord. Thankfully no such alarming regeneration featured in the Tory leadership.

Instead, although we didn’t need more drama, West Enders, like a soap opera desperate about its ratings, tried to bring back the old villain everyone thought had gone for good. Johnson tried to make himself the star once more comeback. He misjudged the audience. I never believed Conservative MPs would be quite so daft but the Scoundrel made it all about him for a couple of days, before ungracefully leaving the stage making grumbling noises, saying “I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024 …

I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time” a warning that is he is lurking in the undergrowth watching and waiting for Sunak to fall flat on his face.

Which is why I am giving two cheers for Rishi. Well, maybe one and a small noise at the back of the throat.

First cheer :

Unalloyed delight that Britain has its ’s first ever brown Prime Minister. Amid all the rubbish a huge positive. Second cheer : it’s good to have the markets reassured and a modicum of stability return. It’s a huge relief to witness the binning of Liz’s sub-Thatcherite crazy, chaotic experiment in creating Singapore on the Thames, complete with the sort of 21 century Victorian values which were fast making paupers of us all.

Many let out a similar sigh of relief that the Scoundrel failed to be granted custody of his old wallpaper. But be warned : he can suffer moments of intense focus on his own destiny with the right encouragement, and he’s now is dangerously reunited on the backbenchers with his plotters in chief Jacob Rees Mogg and Pritti Patel. Sharks restlessly patrol these waters, waiting for the scent of blood. They may not have to wait long.

For starters, obviously the economic climate is globally grim, and about to get grimmer here after the corrective budget. Few battered and blistered by the chilly headwinds emanating from Westminster will relish being lectured on tough, belt tightening times, by a man richer than the Royals, a former hedge fund manager worth a cool 730 million. Watch the polls and the streets.

Then the new prime minister has shown a worrying lack of political nous. That may sound strange given his carefully engineered, rocket boosted rise to the highest office in the land. But as Chancellor he was both ham-fisted and thin-skinned when it came to spotting very obvious dangers from Green cards to car borrowing. He’s a Treasury man with a financier’s brain which should be reassuring but may spells trouble ahead; the PM may not resist interfering with the less experienced, but nailed firmly in post, unsackable guy next door at number 11. They could turn out to be a classic double act, but this relationship is always fraught (Cameron/Osbourne the only exception that springs to mind) and there’s all the makings of tears before bedtime.

Even more worrying : it seems he doesn’t really care much about other departments if the reshuffle is getting anything to go by. It had to do two jobs --be a Cabinet of all the Factions and the Cabinet of all the Talents. These two aims are, currently, of course irreconcilable. Cleverley could conceivably grow into the job. The really reckless, hapless, and horrific attempt at a factional balancing is the rapid rehabilitation of Suella Braverman, after the most perfunctory purgatory in the entire annals of woke liberal justice.

It was of course a clumsy gift to the opposition and a bit of a blow for the Cabinet Secretary who sacked her in the first place. The hoo-ha about a security breach is deeply embarrassing but rather frothy. This apparent rationale for her resignation/dismissal was cover for a two way political knifing. Her real crime ? Opposing what might have been Liz Truss’ only sensible policy as PM, a more liberal immigration regime.

Her viciousness toward refugees is deplorable, her plans to make tofu a class A drug laughable (maybe I misheard that one) but her implacable desire for a rigid immigration system is a worrying symbol for Rishi’s big missed opportunity.

For there is a golden opportunity, to coin a phrase, “to get Brexit UnDone”. Not to reverse the referendum, but to

make baby steps towards a softer Brexit, exploring access to the single market. The sort of thing May tried, and the Scoundrel ripped his party in two to stop.

Yes, Rishi was one of the first of Cameron’s MPs to declare for Brexit. Yes, in his summer leadership campaign he made the pointless and expensive promise to scrap all EU laws by the time of the next election - and even produced a rather silly video of a look alike shredding of such legislation to the tune of the ‘Ode to Joy’ new. But he was never one of the hard-liners who caused Theresa May problems and he voted for her various compromises. Surely the time is ripe to put common sense above dogma ?

Just about all pretence that Brexit makes economic sense has been abandoned. Because it was never about that in the first place, except for fans of the failure that was Trussenomics. The time is ripe in terms of the public mood and ripe politically.

In 2016 Osbourne’s ‘project fear’ failed on many fronts but primarily because his sole argument was lacklustre and unglamorous. It wasn’t just like comparing apples and pears but pineapples and rhinoceroses. Warnings about macroeconomics failed to translate into increases in the price of pasta, and looked weedy and unheroic compared to misty aspirations wrapped up in concepts like Sovereignty and Nationalism. Add to that an inchoate howl of rage against the establishment and general desire to put a brick through globalism’s shop and the result – well, we all know the result.

But the Times they are A-Changin - not in a good way, its true, but as Bob also used to sing ‘you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows’. ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ should be back in the driving seat. But there is one area where Sovereignty and Nationalism converge in hard policy terms which played a huge part in the 2016 result. Immigration. There’s a lot more to write on the ironies and history that subject but I’ll keep it for another time, save to say it was about to be a big fight on the right and the ditch Braverman briefly choose to die in, before her recent resurrection. Who knows what private assurances and conversations have been had, but the unforced error of her rehabilitation suggests Rishi has already ducked a confrontation with the hard liners -with all the implications for the Northern Ireland protocol, relationship with the EU and indeed our economic future. Long before he earns that third cheer, Rishi may be hearing boos and jeers.

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