The PM reveals his moral bankruptcy

Published by The i paper (3rd August, 2020)

One of the most powerful political advertisements of recent times was released last month in the United States. It took Ronald Reagan’s passionate words on eve of his landslide election four decades ago – a fabulous expression of a “shining city on a hill” nation standing for compassion, freedom and unity – and ran them over disturbing images of Donald Trump’s America. The contrast could not have been stronger between an optimistic leader whose greatness grows as time passes and a misanthrope who shrinks daily in office as he devastates his country both nationally and globally.

This brutal political message came not from rivals on the left, but from Republicans tapping into Reagan’s idealistic conservatism as a warning against backing Trump. Four years after their party was grabbed by a preening and incompetent reality television star, internal factions appalled by his divisive misrule are finally shaking off their shell shock and fighting back for their beliefs. “Never Trump” has moved from being a movement of a few dismayed individuals into a potentially disruptive force in this year’s presidential race.

How different to Britain. Tories remain so spellbound by Boris Johnson’s populist takeover of their party that they remain silent as he trashes their values, drives out talent, allows an unelected adviser to run amok and displays ineptitude with fatal consequences amid the pandemic. Yet every now and then comes an act that should cause any decent Conservative to stop and ponder what has happened to their party – and one such moment came last week with Johnson’s despatch of some pals and paymasters into the House of Lords.

These nominations are always controversial, of course. Successive prime ministers prove again and again the desperate need for constitutional reform in our country as they let party donors buy access to Parliament, underlining the corruption that stains Britain as we lecture other nations on such matters. The Upper Chamber is a symbol of political bankruptcy, especially when used so consistently also as a retirement home for political cronies at taxpayer expense.

Much attention has focused on the Prime Minister bestowing a peerage on his own brother. While ethically wrong, Jo Johnson is at least a serious figure who adds real substance to the House of Lords. But who really thinks the newspaper owner Evgeny Lebedev, gilded son of a KGB spy turned billionaire businessman, should rule over the rest of us even if the Prime Minister does enjoy his company? Or that there are not thousands of citizens – artists, carers, doctors, teachers, scientists – who would contribute far more to the work of Parliament then another time-serving MP such as Sir Henry Bellingham, whose career in the Commons left so little trace?

But consider the case of Claire Fox, who illustrates the corrosion being caused to the Conservative Party, just as Trump is damaging the Republican brand. Here is a person who carefully built a career as a “controversialist” by exploiting media frenzy for divisive outrage and shocking opinion. This ensured she first became a fixture on the bumbling BBC, then briefly an MEP by riding on Nigel Farage’s coat-tails. Now she has been rewarded by fellow Brexiteer Johnson with a peerage, lifetime membership of the country’s finest club and attendance “expenses” of £313 a day.

Fox poses as a defender of free speech, prepared to say the unsayable, yet much of what she says is simply unspeakable. She emerged as part of a small Trotskyite splinter group called the Revolutionary Communist Party that discovered the value in constant contrariness and ended up indistinguishable from hard-right ideologues. She helped run their magazine called Living Marxism, which had to shut down after it accused ITV journalists who exposed some of the worst atrocities on European soil since the Second World War of fabricating their evidence. This cabal was so desperate for attention that during the Iraq War  it did not just oppose the foolish misadventure but rooted for Saddam Hussein against British troops.

After the 1993 Warrington bombing, which killed two children and left 50 casualties, it defended “the right of the Irish people to take whatever measures are necessary in their struggle for freedom”. No wonder Colin Parry, that dignified father of a 12-year-old boy murdered in the abhorrent attack, condemned her peerage and lack of apology as something that ‘offends me and many others deeply.’

In her self-styled guise as a freedom fighter, Fox once defended the right of the pop star Gary Glitter to download child pornography against snowflakes who think that such depravity only fuels the abuse of minors, (although she later said she sees paedophilia as ‘disgusting.’) She supported a reggae singer’s right to encourage in song the killing of gay men. She argues in support of climate deniers, does not think we face a climate emergency and has, of course, attacked multiculturalism.

There is a dreary predictability to these sort of contrarians. It is no surprise to see Fox’s hypocrisy in accepting a peerage despite having joined a party defined by its fight against unelected bureaucrats and claiming to oppose the House of Lords. Once again, we see self-justification by a supposed crusader against the establishment when a posh title is dangled before them. Yet for all the revulsion at seeing this figure handed a peerage, perhaps ultimately she deserves credit for achieving so much advancement from a few offensive opinions.

But anger should be directed at her new patron Boris Johnson – along with all those Conservatives who stay silent as their values are trashed before their eyes.Imagine their fury if this were a Labour appointment. It is worth noting that Munira Mirza, another former member of the repulsive Revolutionary Communist Party, is already installed in Downing Street as an influential aide. Now the prime minister sends Fox to the Lords. It seems bizarre to me the modern Tory Party would wish to be associated with someone who once defended child porn or with people who were prominent in a party that promoted terror. Or is this now their shining city on the post-Brexit hill?

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