The Prime Minister was correct to seek the facts on Dr Fox before making a judgement. Dr Fox himself decided to resign as he reflected on the facts that were emerging about his case. The Prime Minister need not worry about the “backlash from the right” that the media have been trying to create as the next phase of this story. The right accepts the Prime Minister behaved sensibly in a tricky situation.
I have never felt right-left is a particularly good way of analysing modern UK politics. It is, however, preferred by many in the media, so let’s try and shed some light on it. To me the one big division in modern UK politics is pro and anti EU, the division between those who want the EU to do more and more, and those who want it to do less or want out of it altogether. This cuts across right-left and across party. The unifying characteristic of those the media call the “right” is that they want a lot less EU or want out altogether. There are many more Eurosceptics in the Conservative party than in the other two main parties. They are joined in this by figures on the “left” as well. The Bennites in Labour have the same view as the Better off outers in the Conservatives.
The “right” of the Conservative party are perhaps best defined by who they vote for. They are the MPs who voted Graham Brady in as Chairman of the 1922 Committee. The establishment wanted a different candidate. The party choose a Eurosceptic, who also believes in selective education, lower taxes and other such causes. This election showed that the “right” has the majority in the Parliamentary party. That same majority in an earlier Parliament had voted for Iain Duncan Smith as Leader. Some of the “right” voted for David Cameron as Leader in 2005, believing him to be a Eurosceptic too.
The “right” was not keen on a Coalition government. It did not want the issue of the EU blurred by Lib Dem enthusiasm for it.The “right” would have preferred a looser arrangement possibly followed by an earlier election. In the first Cameron Cabinet the “right” felt it only had three clear champions, Liam Fox, Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson. The Home Secretary has been giving Criminal Justice powers away to Brussels. The Foreign Secretary put through the expanded External Action Service and keeps saying now is not the time to sort out the EU issues and demand powers back. In areas like energy, environment and business we are effectively governed from Brussels for much of the time.
The “right” saw that Liam Fox was determined not to let the EU take any more powers in defence matters, and to keep the UK as free as possible to make its own decisions. They saw that Iain Duncam Smith and Chris Grayling are trying to get more control over UK benefit and migration policy.
There are other issues for the “right”. The right would like more cheaper energy, disliking the global warming ideology. They see the EU as a major obstacle to commonsense on fuel. They are very strong supporters of the deficit reduction policy, and want this to be primarily achieved by spending reductions. They would like to have more cuts in selective areas, starting with the EU budget.
The right felt the old Cabinet grossly under- represented their strength and views. The reshuffle does nothing to correct that feeling.
So how does the “right” feel about the new Cabinet? I will have a better view next week when Parliament is back. The “right” has no ill will to Justine Greening: nor does the “right” think she has been pushing for a more muscular approach to EU negotiation. Now she is in the Cabinet MPs will be watching to see if she will take up the cause.
It will also be interesting to see if she wishes to redress the anti road transport and motoring bias in modern transport strategy, and to see how she tackles the highly contentious HS2 project. The BBC today were saying that Mr Hammond was a “safe pair of hands” at Transport. That’s not how the right saw him. They were very disappointed by his failure to end the war on motorists as promised, by his refusal to back more private sector investment in transport, and by his repeated defence of HS2, a very expensive project which many would like cancelled or deferred until the national budget is in good shape.
Meanwhile, at Defence, there will be new concerns about how robust the government will be when dealing with the constant drift to more EU control.