In the wasteland of principles that is Westminster, Tim Montgomerie has always been an exception. The area is filled with ambitious, bland careerists whose idea of taking a stand (as with most of the commentariat) consists of trying to locate two ‘extremes’ before comfortably wedging themselves equidistant between them. But in resigning from a lifetime’s membership of the Conservative party, Tim Montgomerie has demonstrated that there is still room for principles in politics.
Because nothing has so highlighted Westminster’s prevalence of careerism over principle than the aftermath of the great EU renegotiation charade. In private absolutely nobody thinks that David Cameron achieved anything real with his ‘renegotiation’. Yet in public a swathe of job-seekers in the Conservative party are seriously trying to herald this cretinous fakery as an actual achievement. Consider just one example.
The Conservative MP Nick Herbert launched his career by being a Eurosceptic. Indeed his stepping-stone into Parliament was heading a group that opposed ever-closer union. Now after milling around Westminster for a few years it is announced that he is heading a group of pro-EU Conservatives who will argue that the Prime Minister has magisterially won everything everyone ever wanted out of the EU. Is that because the EU has become an infinitely more admirable organisation over the course of the last fifteen years? Or is it more likely the case that Mr Herbert just wants a better job sometime soon?
It isn’t only a Conservative party problem. Many members of both main parties are currently trying to invent ways to explain how they could back the EU at this juncture when they have been criticising it throughout their political lives. But the problem of dishonesty in the Conservative party is particularly pronounced. As Tim Montgomerie says in his resignation letter in the Times:
If Britain remains chained to Brussels after this charade we’ll be in a weaker position than before. We’ll be the country that made Eurosceptic noises for decades but capitulated when it mattered. The EU’s bureaucracy, courts and politicos will see us as all-bark, no-bite moaning minnies.
All of which is true. And which makes some of the responses to Tim’s resignation all the more surprising. Take the Conservative MP called Guto Bebb. Last night, in response to this principled resignation Bebb tweeted:
Should we care that an US based never elected Tory has resigned?
— Guto Bebb (@GutoBebb) February 17, 2016
The first response to this butter-fingered sneer might be to point out that it is not precisely a fault of Tim Montgomerie’s that he is currently employed by the Times newspaper to cover the US elections. Most people would regard that as a rather good and important position. Of course Mr Bebb did not mention this, presumably because he was using ‘US based’ as a sneer. Mr Bebb, it would seem, wishes to mislead his few followers into thinking that Tim has in fact abandoned the old country. That way Mr Bebb, who is in the process of selling-out his country, can pretend to his constituents that he is in fact still standing up for it.
But here is the bigger problem for the Bebbs of Westminster. It may well be that they shouldn’t care about the founder of Conservative Home, and one of their party’s most loyal and thoughtful members, choosing to leave the party. Just as they may for the time-being not mind taking all those leaflet-deliverers for granted while riding against their core wishes. But one day they may wake up to discover that amid all the high-handed dismissals and principle-free careerism, there is nobody around left to watch their political backs. What a day that will be. And perhaps it will come sooner rather than later.
On those occasions when I’ve had anything to do with the Conservative party’s grassroots it has always seemed to me that they are infinitely more principled and sensible on the EU question than the people they elect to represent them. Tim Montgomerie has just put his country before his party. The Conservative party’s members will soon be given the only opportunity in their lives to do the same. I hope they also rise to the occasion.