The pro Paterson vote in the House yesterday was an outcome entirely consistent with these times. We knew that we were in trouble when it became clear that any challenge to the hegemony of the Right would not be tolerated in Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party. Any opposition in the ranks even from distinguished parliamentarians like Ken Clarke or Dominic Grieve would be crushed. What Theresa May once called the “Nasty Party” re-emerged as the new normal.
The rebels this time are small in number but high on principle. Contrast them with those who are no more than lobby fodder – not least the 2019 first elected cohort. Mr Paterson was a standard bearer for the powerful vast majority of Tory MPs who follow a populist, nationalist line at all times. He spoke an extraordinary brand of claptrap but the backbench sheep baa-d in approval.
Labour is polarised within its parliamentary ranks and in the country in a way that the Conservatives appear not to be. The debates are shouty and not very edifying but at least they are there. There is little debate among the Tories but maybe – just maybe – this issue will change that. Will an opposition to the ERG norm emerge? Will a leader to challenge Johnson appear? I’m not holding my breath but it’s possible.
The One Nation Tories of yore may not all be dead, just sleeping. The Party I observed over the decades had its eccentrics and its Enochs. But it was generally lead by pragmatic centre ground moderates. Even the blessed Margaret had her Willy.