Back in 2012, when the world was young and David Cameron was in his pomp, I used to write a blog for the Daily Telegraph. The deal was that I was the paper’s token left-of-centre voice, most of the other contributors, with the notable exceptions of Daniel Hannan and the redoubtable Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, being old-school Conservatives, and high Catholic to boot.
I was not given an easy ride. The comment trolls, in those days, hunted in packs. I was eviscerated on an almost daily basis, though, like Prometheus, I was able to regenerate overnight in order, each day, to relive the torment.
It was great fun while it lasted. But first the blogs disappeared, then the trolls (wisely) were banned – sent back to the underworld whence they came.
The sole long-term survivor from this era was Norman Tebbit, the one-time Chingford Skinhead, who over the years had morphed from his role as the Conservative Club bouncer to everyone’s favourite right-wing Grandad – a cross between John Junor, the folksey but half-crazed former editor of the Sunday Express, and ex-Vice President Dick Cheney. Tebbit these days is the official safety valve for elderly Tories. He says the stuff the rest of them can’t – not in public anyway. And in this capacity, having matured like a ripe Camembert, he continues to give us his “considered” opinions on the inadequacies of just about everyone in politics, left right and centre.
Writing in the Telegraph this week, he expresses the view that “sensible” Labour voters are disgusted by both Jeremy Corbyn and Angela Eagle. This will come as no surprise. His main target, however, in a diatribe in which he harks back to the days not just of Margaret Thatcher, but of Churchill, Attlee and Bevin, is Theresa May, for whom, it turns out, he has no time at all. She may say Brexit means Brexit, but that is not nearly enough for Norman. He wants the foreign Johnnies of Brussels to be told exactly where they can stuff it.
“Mrs May,” he fumes, “who campaigned for the United Kingdom to remain a part of the European Union and lost, will now go to Brussels and tell Herr Juncker that she made a mistake and that really she wanted to leave. Indeed, she will have to tell him that the deal which Mr Cameron brought back from his negotiations earlier this year was not, as she thought at the time, a proper acknowledgment of the concerns of the British people, but a grudging and inadequate response to our needs.”
You might think that in spite of his regard for Andrea Leadsom, whose “natural pride in her family” and opposition to gay marriage he clearly shares, Tebbit would at least acknowledge that our new PM has now got it right on Europe. But no.
“[Those with whom she must negotiate] will know, as we all do, that Mrs May is convinced our future lies in Brussels, not Westminster.
“She will have to persuade both us here at home and the bankers, investors and business people across the world that although she signed up to Mr Cameron’s ‘Dodgy Dossier’ predicting all the alarming consequences of Brexit, she knew all along it was little more than a scare story.”
He concludes: “Mrs May is now set to become Ukip’s greatest recruiting sergeant.”
Talk about the pot calling the kettle ironical! During the heyday of Tebbit’s blog, at a time when the Trolls were practically 100 per cent Ukip, Tebbit did more than any other Tory (Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless included) to promote the views of the Faragistas. Oh, he lamented the necessity of his calling. He genuinely wished that the true flame had not passed from the Conservatives to the populist right. But week after week in his blog, he incited the mob to do whatever had to be done to keep Britain out of the EU. While he himself, he assured us, could never betray his party, he fully understood that others had to follow their conscience, even if it meant toeing the Ukip line.
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They loved him for it. Norman was their darling.
And now, even before she enters Downing Street, he has the nerve to accuse Theresa May of being a traitor and an appeaser – in effect (as he suggests) the Chamberlain of Brexit.
Well, Norman, we’ll see. It is perfectly possible, even likely, that May will not find a perfect way to bind up Britain’s self-inflicted wounds. Who could? If you hit your foot with a sledge hammer, you are bound to walk with a limp. But she is going to Brussels, not Munich, and she will carry with her the nation’s best wishes, not their contempt. Couldn’t you at least give her a hundred days before demanding her head on a platter? You gave Thatcher 11 years after all.