Little to choose between Tory leadership contenders in sham fight

Posted By: July 13, 2019

Patrick Murphy.Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, July 13, 2019
The most appropriate setting for the Tory leadership contest might be at today’s sham fight in Scarva.
Despite the bluster between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt over who should be Britain’s next prime minister, there is essentially no political difference between them. Their protracted debates and campaigns are a sham.
Both are public school-educated and Oxford graduates, both are remarkably right wing in their thinking and, most importantly, both intend to use the culture shock of Brexit to transform Britain into a Trump-style society. Prepare yourself for the post-Brexit world of enhanced austerity.
You might argue that there are personality differences between the two men, and you are right. Boris has too much personality and Jeremy does not have enough. But while holding the post of British foreign secretary, for example, both men’s policies were identical.
It is true that Johnson insulted more people than Hunt. He compared Francois Holland, then French president, to a prisoner of war guard. He spoke of turning war-torn Libya into a thriving business center, once they had “cleared the dead bodies away” and he described Donald Trump as a liberal, which was an insult to most people.
As the current foreign secretary, Hunt is more diplomatic, but his policies are the same. Both men suffer from the post-imperial delusional syndrome in that they believe Britain is still a world power.
Hunt, for example, warned China last week that if it did not honor its agreement with Britain over Hong Kong, “there will be serious consequences”. He does not appear to have noticed that Britain’s 146,000 military personnel are somewhat outnumbered by China’s two million defense forces.
Both men have supported the sale of British armaments to Saudi Arabia. The weapons have been used mainly for airstrikes in the civil war in Yemen, which have killed an estimated 18,000 civilians so far.
The arms supplies, which were recently declared unlawful by the UK’s Court of Appeal, have generated £4.7 billion in income in the past five years. Last year Britain sent £120 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen. How very British. (It was a bit like Queen Victoria visiting Ireland to raise Irish spirits, two years after the height of the Famine.)
However, it is Johnson’s and Hunt’s shared beliefs on social and economic policy, which cause the most concern, especially here in The North. To say that both men are Thatcherite would be an understatement.
While much of their debate is focused on foreign policy, including Brexit, their largely hidden agenda is about identifying and claiming Conservative core values – a sort of mythical political purity, which is seen in this country in the DUP.
Boris is claiming the high ground on this one, jumping in to lead what others have formulated and opening up a 48-point lead on his opponent in the process. He leaves it to others, mainly Liz Truss and Dominic Raab, to expound his philosophy, which was reflected in a 2012 party document, Britannia Unchained (an ironic title, in view of the amount of chaining the British empire, did).
Many of these views are reflected today in the party’s Free Enterprise Group (of which Karen Bradley is a supporter). Although extremely Thatcherite, it has a different style to Mrs. T. She blended economic liberalism with British patriotic sentiment. So she packaged rail privatization, for example, as a move to make Britain great again.
This new lot of Conservatives just want what Truss has called, “a nation of Airbnb-ing, Deliveroo-eating, Uber-riding freedom fighters”. (I am not sure I know what that means. I wonder if she does.)
The sad thing is that our economy and society here in The North require significant government intervention and Johnson’s plans to reduce the role of the state will cause considerable hardship. Further austerity will affect all of us, including those at the sham fight in Scarva.
But the problem today, as always, is that in Ireland we tend to focus on the wrong sham fights.