By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
As you read this some local members of the Conservative party, believed to total about 500, will be gathering at the Culloden Hotel, others online, to attend the so-called ‘leadership hustings’ here. It is entirely appropriate that they should do so for a number of reasons.
First, and most pertinent, like the runaway favourite in the contest, Liz Truss, they too are delusional. They obviously think they’re in another country, Britain, which elects Conservative governments. Still, the latest proconsul inflicted on us, clearly a noted expert on geography and constitutional matters, actually does think the north is, as he told BBC, “part of Great Britain”.
It highlights the absurdity of the process. Conservative members here believe they can influence what the Conservative party does. This delusion is despite the fact that over 60 per cent of the members in Britain would be happy to be rid of the north. Given a choice between the Brexit they want and shedding the north they think Britain should leave.
The members here are also deluded in their belief they can influence Liz Truss about the dreaded protocol. The reality is that in this matter Truss is a prisoner of the European Research Group (ERG), the 70-strong party within the Conservative party, a collection of wingnuts and crackpots. Think of Andrew Bridgen MP who insisted on BBCNI’s angry man’s radio show that he was entitled to an Irish passport because anyone in England is because of the Common Travel Area. Duh. Then there’s Nadine Dorries, so flaky the ERG threw her out. As for Rees-Mogg, minister for herding Brexit unicorns, the very sight and sound of him confirm all the foregoing.
How did they get where they are? Conservative party members selected them and voters in English safe seats elect the Conservative candidate automatically. Don’t be surprised. After all in 2013 a senior Conservative – the Daily Mail said it was David Cameron – called Conservative party members “mad, swivel-eyed loons”. Ergo ERG members are authentic representatives of those same people only ten years older. The Conservative party doesn’t manage to recruit any younger members.
Liz Truss has surged into the lead by telling these people what they want to hear despite her nostrums being a recipe for ruin. Poor Sunak was deluded into believing that if he lectured members on financial rectitude and sound economics they would be convinced by his arguments. They aren’t. He has avoided talking about the protocol so far partly because no one in England (where the vast majority of members live) cares, and partly because Liz Truss would outdo him in Brextremism on the issue with crazy threats to confront the EU and guarantee even more economic damage. However, the protocol will come up this afternoon and you can be sure Truss will regurgitate all Johnson’s lies about protecting the Good Friday Agreement. In reality she has been wrecking it by carrying out the actions the ERG has insisted on and which incidentally they insist on its DUP dupes also obeying.
Truss will be talking to people who represent no one here, any more than she or the current proconsul does. Conservatives here got a derisory 0.7 per cent of the vote in the 2019 general election and a microscopic 0.03 per cent in May’s assembly election. By a curious coincidence the overwhelmingly right wing UK Conservative party membership is 0.03 per cent of the 47.5 million UK registered electorate. Those are the people, mad, swivel-eyed loons or not, Truss is out to satisfy. Don’t make the mistake of thinking she’ll get sense when she becomes prime minister. She’s not a free agent. It’s true she’s unpredictable, ‘crackers’ as one Tory commentator said, or “a human hand grenade that blows up everything she touches”, according to Dominic Cummings.
Nevertheless, if she tries to deviate from the extreme positions on the EU that she has adopted the ERG will dump her as they did Theresa May.