Nothing in William Hague’s tenure became him like the leaving it. Within 24 hours of the Conservative Party’s second-worst defeat since the 1830s, Hague not only put the noose around his own neck; he also showed enough public spirit to kick open his own trapdoor, thus depriving his colleagues of an opportunity to bungle yet another attempt at policy formation.
His truest epitaph actually dates from December 3 last year, when The Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley wrote:
“I suppose there may be some Tories who can visualise their party forming the next government, though they must either be inhabitants of the Planet Zog or users of strong narcotics …
“Setting a new record for uselessness as Leader of the Opposition, [Hague] enjoys the distinction of not having won a single by-election. Worse, at Romsey, he managed to lose one of his own safest seats. Hague has confounded those who attacked him as an opportunistic populist by proving himself to be an unpopular populist.”
The outcome in a handful of the 659 member House of Commons constituencies remained in doubt when this issue of News Weekly went to press, but the overall results are clear (see box).
As the table (below) reveals, Hague managed to wrest precisely one seat from a Labour Party bedevilled by the economic effects of foot-and-mouth disease; by the highest crime rates in British history; by endless appeasement of the IRA; by Europe’s worst public transport and education systems; and by a National “Health” Service now little more than a glorified corpse-factory, showing up the efforts of freelance killers like Harold Shipman as the rankest amateurism.
To such readily measured indices of corruption must be added the less quantifiable, but still blatant, evidence that civil society itself – at least in the larger British cities – no longer exists. The days when Londoners could look down on the safety and cleanliness levels of (pre-Mayor-Giuliani) New York are now a distant dream. As Taki’s Spectator column of June 9 noted:
“In the Big Bagel, Giuliani … has pulled off a miracle. His gift to the city and to Bagelites has been a town free of crime, filth and gross incivility. The exact opposite of what happened to London.”
Not surprisingly, Britain’s voter turnout was its lowest since Lloyd George’s notorious “squeeze Germany till the pips squeak” 1918 poll (National Post [Toronto], June 11).
Only two movements can take pride in 2001’s electoral consequences. One is the Liberal Democrat (LD) alliance under Charles Kennedy. Despite policies that amounted to no more than a promise to be a more efficient version of Labour, the LDs picked up six extra seats.
They would have picked up more but for Britain’s absurd first-part-the-post voting system, which exists specifically to perpetuate the two-party stranglehold on Westminster, and has done so ever since the Liberals faded from parliamentary significance during the 1930s. (In 1997 this system enabled Labour, which won only about four thousand more votes nationwide than the Tories did, to gain two-thirds of the Commons’ seats.)
The other beneficiary from 2001 is the British National Party (BNP), which in its platform urges an end to non-white immigration, and which achieved its best electoral performance since its foundation in 1989.
Two BNP candidates standing for office amid the race wars of Oldham (Lancashire) won, respectively, 11 and 17 per cent of locals’ votes. Like comparable hard-right organisations in America, Australia and Continental Europe, the BNP has benefited from the complete intellectual collapse and administrative impotence of mainstream parties.
Meanwhile the punch-drunk Tories seek, not a leader – the very concept of leadership is clearly too “judgemental” and “triumphalist” for the caring-and-sharing brigade – but a stop-gap figurehead.
Having, for reasons best known to themselves, eschewed the option that the United Australia Party adopted after its 1943 debecle (that is, simply shutting up shop and saving themselves continued embarrassment), the Tories are now making noises in the direction of former Defence Secretary Michael Portillo.
The International Express (June 12) quoted Tory insiders as saying that the Opposition Leader’s job was “Portillo’s for the asking”. (Ann Widdecombe, the only other frequently cited candidate, suffers from the dual disadvantage of being a moral conservative and a convert to traditional Catholicism.
Either would suffice to make her Public Enemy Number One for Tory power-brokers who, if they can agree on nothing else, are united in detestation of chastity and “papists”.)
One of Portillo’s few attempts at intellectual respectability was a hymn of hatred (The National Interest, Spring 1998) aimed at, inter alia, the “fascist” General Franco.
His ostensible complaint was the latter’s dislike of parliamentary sovereignty. His actual complaint is likelier to have been Franco’s outlawing of homosexuality.
When still an adolescent, Portillo began an affair with fellow teenager Nigel Hart. This relationship lasted fully eight years, a fact which makes Portillo’s subsequent insistence that he has since remained a monogamous heterosexual seem derisory.
It became still more ludicrous after the ex-lover’s revelation that Portillo cheerfully risked transmitting AIDS through concomitantly sleeping with his own future wife (The Guardian, March 20, 2001).
Welcome to family values, Tory style.
Sinn Fein, etc.)