I have a real problem with the term ‘Tory rebels’. Because it’s questionable, to put it gently, that either of these words apply to the Conservative Party MPs who are threatening to side with Labour and the Lib Dems in tonight’s parliamentary battle against no deal. They don’t sound much like Tories. And rebels? Do me a favour.
Phillip Hammond, Ken Clarke, David Gauke, Phillip Lee and the others — the ‘Gaukeward Squad’, as some refer to them — pose as valiant insurgents against Boris and his overreaching executive. The media madly flatter these pretensions by talking up the MPs as the bravest politicians in living memory.
They’re referred to as the ‘rebel alliance’, as if they were Luke Skywalkers facing down Darth Vader. The ‘Remainer rebel alliance’ is growing, we’re told, conjuring up images of khaki-clad heroes meeting in a secret bunker to devise their plan to defeating Boris and his goons. The rebel alliance’s every move is reported in detail by excitable Remainers desperate for Brexit Britain to be saved from its own stupidity by a motley but principled crew of do-gooders.
In close competition for the top prize for ridiculous self-flattery is the ‘Stop The Coup’ brigade. These Remainers and Corbynistas – who are now largely indistinguishable from each other, which we all knew would happen sooner or later – have been taking to the streets in recent days to rail against Boris ‘the dictator’ and his dastardly ‘coup d’etat’.
Their language about Boris is unhinged. Anyone in possession of a dictionary or a moral compass will know that Boris has not carried out anything like a coup d’etat, or resuscitated the dark days of the 1930s, as some Labour MPs have claimed. What an insult to those who lived through genuine Nazism and other forms of dictatorship to compare our era of free, open discussion about the EU with the jackbooted illiberalism of the past.
But there’s a reason the Stop The Coup lobby exaggerates Boris’s behaviour — because it helps them look like daring, sexy rebels. Like an ‘insurgency’, as the increasingly breathless Paul Mason puts it. Ken Clarke, Corbynistas and the entire clientele of Waitrose coming together to form a rad insurgency against dictatorship — hmm, I’m not buying it, are you?
These people’s heated, self-aggrandising language is cynically designed to do one simple thing – to disguise the truth that it is they who are the foot-soldiers of the status quo, the defenders of unaccountable power, the enforcers of political conformism, not Boris. They aren’t revolting. On the contrary, they are doing everything within their considerable power to crush a revolt. The Brexit revolt.
There is nothing brave in what the ‘Tory rebels’ are doing this evening. In fact, intentionally blocking Brexit strikes me as the least brave thing you can do in British politics right now. It’s risk aversion, cowardice, stick-in-the-mud short-sightedness. We all know that their agitation against no deal is really a continuation of their agitation against Brexit itself. All these so-called Tory rebels are Europhiles. It isn’t ‘crashing out’ of the EU that horrifies them – it’s the prospect of leaving the EU in any fashion whatsoever.
They claim to be putting country before party, yada yada. There’s an extreme arrogance here: their presumption is that they, in their infinite wisdom, know what is in the interests of the country. All of it, and everyone who lives in it. And so it falls to them and the leftish parties they will side with to dilute, stall or thwart Brexit despite the fact that 17.4m of us voted for it. They know better than us, you see, these brilliant rebels.
The question you should always ask self-styled rebels is, ‘What are you rebelling against?’. ‘What you got?’, was Marlon Brando’s famous reply in The Wild One. The Remainer alliance’s reply, if they were being honest, would be: the public. Theirs is not a rebellion against power or dictatorship or even Boris himself – it’s a rebellion against us, the people, or at least the millions and millions of us who voted Leave.
It’s a counter-rebellion. Brexit was the revolt; every action taken to thwart it is a counter-revolt. The Tory / Corbynista / middle-class alliance against no deal and in favour of extending the EU’s oversight over how or whether we ever leave is a reactionary effort to crush Britain’s genuinely rebellious, punkish spirit that found such clear expression in the vote for Brexit.