Theresa May is gone – and Britain is now at the mercy of a small band of barmy Tory members

They are Thatcherite, hostile to immigration and, of course, hugely Europhobic. We are doomed

Sean O'Grady
Friday 24 May 2019 17:03
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Theresa May tears up during resignation speech

There are many people you entrust with your life, vital interests and future. Surgeons. Airline pilots. Financial advisers. Bosses.

How about 124,000 slightly dotty members of the Conservative Party, that stout body of patriotic men and women of famously considered judgement, moderate views and willingness always to “see the other side” of an argument? Especially when it comes to Britain’s future in Europe. That’s 124,000 out of the 47 million or so people that comprise the British electorate – about a quarter of 1 per cent. One in 400 of us will have any say in the election of a new PM at a crucial moment in our island’s story. Some democracy. Now we know what “taking back control” means. Yes, control of the country by a minute Tory clique.

For it is they who will be doing the choosing between the two candidates that Conservative MPs will throw out to a national ballot, after they’ve sorted the frontrunners from among the current 17 to 20 potential candidates. Thus it is that relatively small number of mostly hard-right Europe-hating, eccentric individuals who will be determining who gets into Number 10, leads the UK’s doomed renegotiation of the Brexit deal, and threatens the rest of the country with a no-deal Brexit and the worst recession in a generation.

Yes, them.

Who are they? Well, they are few indeed. Of that 124,000 or so, some will fail to vote. The last time the Conservatives actually had a proper leadership election in 2005, about two-thirds of them did so, when 198,844 posted their ballots and chose David Cameron ahead of David Davis by 134,446 to 64,398 and in due course Mr Cameron became PM and told them to stop “banging on about Europe”. And we know how well all that turned out.

So if the Conservative membership turnout is about 60 per cent for the Tory grassroots, that brings the proportion down to around 0.1 per cent – one in a thousand British adult citizens.

Of those, of course many have already made their minds up that the conference darling, the Right Honourable Boris Johnson MP, is their choice, and they care not what he gets up to in his private life. There will though be a proportion who will be swaying between, say, Boris and Dominic Raab, who is like a smaller, bullet-headed, more intense version of Boris. These Tory membership “swing” voters might be as few as 20,000. In which case, the number of British citizens deciding who our next PM will be about the same as the population of Berkhamsted.

That might not matter, in a sense, if they were a representative sample. We all know that Tory members are anything but. The average age is, according to Full Fact, approximately 57. Nothing wrong with that; but let’s just say BAME and millennials are under-represented. As are Scots, public sector workers, people who live in cities…

Tories are, despite efforts to modernise, wealthy, southern and suburban, in geography as well as attitudes. They are Thatcherite, hostile to immigration and, of course, hugely Europhobic; their ideal read was Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail. In recent months, Conservative associations have also seen an influx or return. Ex-Ukip, Farageist, “Blukip” activists have pledged to expunge their party of Brexit “traitors” such as Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston (before the last two skipped) and replace them with true believers. “Purple Momentum” some called it. Your future, and that of this poor old knackered country, lies in their poor old knackered hands. How did we come to this?

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