Boris Johnson’s Tories have become a right-wing sect

Boris Johnson, House of Commons. Image: screengrab

JVL Introduction

Peter Oborne has had a distinguished career as a political journalist working among others for the Daily Mail and the Spectator as well as being chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph, from which he resigned disillusioned in early 2015.

In recent years many critical articles of his have appeared on openDemocracy and in the Middle East Eye.

Here he takes a look at what the Tory Party has become under Boris Johnson and doesn’t like what he sees one little bit.

Thanks to Middle East Eye for permission to repost this article.

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye on Tue 6 Oct 2020. Read the original here.

Boris Johnson's Tories have become a right-wing sect

The Tory party represents a small section of extreme opinion, detached from the values of ordinary Britons – and yet the country’s future is in its hands

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made his annual conference speech to the Tory party membership – a mixed audience that included a high proportion of bigots.

We know this because an authoritative poll of Tory party members last week produced a frightening result. It showed that more than half are Islamophobes. A mind-blowing 58 percent believe the conspiracy theory that “there are no-go areas in Britain where Sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter”.

Nearly half of those polled believe that Islam is “a threat to the British way of life”. More than a third believe that Islamist terrorists reflect a widespread hostility to Britain among the Muslim community.

Islamophobia problem

It comes as no surprise that the prevalence of these opinions is greater among Tory members who supported Johnson for the leadership last year. For example, 79 percent of Tory members say their party has no problem with Islamophobia; that figure rises to 86 percent among Johnson supporters.

Conversely, only four percent of Johnson’s supporters feel there is an issue of Islamophobia in the Tory party – just one in 25. To use one of Johnson’s favourite phrases: Crikey!

Johnson’s speech will have gone down well with Tory members – and they are the only ones who ultimately count

These harrowing statistics suggest that the Tory party should be regarded as a sect rather than a political party – a sect that represents a small section of extreme opinion that has become detached from the values of ordinary Britons.

The farcical denouement of the Trump presidency in the US has distracted attention from the fact that something horrible is happening in Britain. Johnson’s Tory party has lurched to the right, just like Trump’s Republicans.

Yet, the estimated 180,000 Tory members addressed by Johnson today determine the fortunes of modern Britain. They are the group that elected Johnson as Tory leader in last year’s membership contest.

Chillingly, they will choose Johnson’s successor – if and when he goes. In short, they have the final say over who governs Britain until the next general election is due to be held in 2024.

Leadership contests

However inept, bigoted or incompetent, Johnson can rely on the Tory membership to keep him in office. Even if they turn against him – and there are signs that patience is wearing thin over his inept handling of coronavirus – the Tory membership will choose Johnson’s successor.

Let’s look at the rules. A leadership contest can be triggered in two ways: either Johnson resigns of his own accord, or 15 percent of Tory MPs demand a vote of no-confidence. Either way, the decision ends up in the hands of 180,000 members.

This is a relatively new system. For the first two centuries of its existence, the Tory party made certain that ordinary members were denied any say in the leadership. Arthur Balfour, aristocratic party leader from the start of the 20th century, famously declared: “I’d rather take advice from my valet than from the Conservative Party conference.”

This all changed after the party’s epic defeat at the hands of Labour’s Tony Blair in 1997. The new Tory leader, William Hague, introduced new rules. Instead of MPs choosing the leader, as happened for instance after the departure of Margaret Thatcher, he gave members the vote. Hague saw this as part of “modernisation”.

By an irony of history, it had the opposite effect and placed control of the party into the hands of a tiny, unrepresentative section of the British electorate. Worryingly, there is considerable evidence that, like the Labour Party in the early 1980s, it’s been subject to manipulation and infiltration.

Far-right rhetoric

Concerns have been expressed that entryists from UKIP have infiltrated the Tory party. Former minister Anna Soubry and two other former MPs claimed last year that it had been overrun by the right-wing, “hard-line anti-EU awkward squad”.

Soubry warned: “Overwhelmingly, the majority of associations are being infiltrated by nationally orchestrated entryism, blatantly designed to remove rebel MPs who they label traitors.”

Soubry resigned last year, and I have seen no decisive evidence that confirms her view. But in the run-up to the leadership election last year, 36,000 new members reportedly joined the Conservative Party. Meanwhile, more centrist Tories, such as Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve and many others, have been driven out.

This helps explain why the Tory party has turned its back on the rule of law, preferring the far-right rhetoric of Home Secretary Priti Patel in her speech this week, where she promised to put a stop to the “endless legal claims” from refused asylum seekers.

As polls show, it’s becoming more and more evident to British voters that Johnson lacks the qualities required to be a national leader. Yet, on Tuesday, he was addressing his core supporters. Thanks to the pandemic, the usual whoops of applause and laughter were missing.

But Johnson’s speech will have gone down well with Tory members – and they are the only ones who ultimately count.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Comments (10)

  • Steve Griffiths says:

    What’s the judgement of history? No idea John. But if there’s a thread of justice left, Peter Oborne, former Chief Political Commentator of the Daily Telegraph, will be seen as a hero of Britain’s threadbare democracy. He defended Jeremy Corbyn and threw it all away. Worth many, many sheep.

  • Jack says:

    And these are the people, coupled with a few foolish left wingers in the Labour Party, who have given us Brexit, which will prove to be one of the worst cases of self inflicted harm ever to hit the UK.

  • Dr ALAN MADDISON says:

    If the majority of Tory members are Islamophobes, with a prevalence higher than in wider society, but fewer than 5% of Labour members are antisemites, with a prevalence lower than in wider society, the question is why the latter ‘non-story’ has dominated the media for 4 years.

    That the noble fight against antisemitism was hijacked to manipulate voter opinion against Jeremy Corbyn is obvious, that many in politics and the media participated is undeniable, but has ignoring the fight against Islamophobia also been driven by the political objectives of the same ‘anti-Palestinian equal rights’ groups?

    This complicit extreme right Tory sect will continue to inflict harm and seed divisive racial hatred on British society unless more journalists find the courage to speak out, and the Labour leadership finds the integrity to put an end to their shameful collaboration.

  • steve mitchell says:

    Tell me Steve – who is John? What is this about sheep.? He called out the despicable treatment of Corbyn. A character assassination that reached depths of crude inhumanity previously unplumbed Every honest journalist should have done the same

  • Graeme Atkinson says:

    An excellent article, albeit from a conservative standpoint.

    It confirms the view that the Tory government is a a gang of deranged extremists led by a bone idle, narcissistic, oaf and appeals to everything thing that is vile and prejudiced in the (English, in particular) electorate.

    Obviously, entrists in the Tory party are treated differently from “entrists” in the Labour Party.

    “Ours” are witch-hunted and expelled on bogus allegations and trumped-up charges. Theirs are listened to with reverence by leaders constantly scratching around for their next reactionary, anti-working class gimmick.

  • Gregory Douglas says:

    Jack’s comment is inappropriate.The fact that the Right have exploited the Brexit issue does not diminish the arguments of some Socialists that we should not belong to the Capitalist organisation of the EU.

  • Emma Gaiger says:

    Good to read an article which gives a
    true factual picture of what is actually going on.This is what I call journalism from an exemplary journalist, Peter Oborne.

  • RH says:

    When I read Peter Oborne, I realise how rare a phenomenon is real journalism now – replace by a highly privileged scribbling class that can hardly get out of bed in order to add to the pile of ‘churnalism’ (pace Nick Davies).

    Remember, it was the conservative Oborne who first called out the power of the Israel Lobby in a ‘Dispatches’ programme for Channel 4.

  • DJ says:

    Gregory Douglas. Brexit was and still is a right wing issue. Lexiteers failed to grasp this during the referendum. People didn’t vote to leave to oppose capitalism. Their vote was an expression of anti migrant sentiment and British or to be more precise English exceptionalism. The Brexit vote has weakened the left not strengthened it. Those on the left who supported Brexit were guilty of wishful thinking that somehow it would advance the class struggle. The issue now is how to fight against the worst effects of Brexit, with or without a trade deal with the EU.

  • While shocked by the northern vote for the tories I was not very surprised. The wrecking of those economies,destruction of jobs and services and liveable daily lives was inflicted by labour and tory governments over years. It was probably a mixture of rage, hope desperation and cynical disbelief plus a desire for some sort of national power and influence…….. I’ve worked in those communities and saw what happened to them from the Steel and Miners strikes onwards. They have been wrecked. As for the left’s belief that the vote would spark a socialist revolution what is there to say…?

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