PETER HITCHENS: Tribal voting is stopping us getting leaders we need 

PETER HITCHENS: Tribal voting that is stopping us getting the leaders we need

By-elections are such useless guides to the future. I used to report on them all the time in the Thatcher years, and the one I remember best was at Darlington in March 1983, where Labour’s high command secretly hoped to lose in a close fight.

Had they been defeated, they were poised to launch a putsch against their then leader Michael Foot, a delightful, kindly but hopeless and doddery old thinker whose curtain of white hair, walking stick and unconventional overcoat (wrongly mocked as a donkey jacket) had doomed him to defeat at the fast-approaching General Election.

Had Labour’s candidate, Oswald O’Brien, lost, Foot would have been swept aside in a rapid coup, and the formidable old heavyweight Denis Healey would have replaced him. 

One of the plotters, the late Gerald Kaufman, once told me all the details of this plan. Now everyone involved is dead, I am free to speak.

Who knows what would then have happened in that summer’s General Election? Healey was nobody’s fool and one of the best public performers in modern British politics, on TV and on the stump. He would have given Margaret Thatcher a very hard fight indeed.

I always think it is very strange that British voters, for the most part, stick with the two main parties at General Elections. They allow themselves a brief holiday from tribal voting at by-elections

I always think it is very strange that British voters, for the most part, stick with the two main parties at General Elections. They allow themselves a brief holiday from tribal voting at by-elections

But it was not to be. Oswald O’Brien, thanks to a series of accidents, unexpectedly won. Healey’s backers swore and broke crockery in frustration. 

Foot stayed, Mrs Thatcher cruised to an easy victory. After which the Liberal Democrats, as they are now, started winning by-elections all over the place, and it didn’t mean a thing.

I always think it is very strange that British voters, for the most part, stick with the two main parties at General Elections. They allow themselves a brief holiday from tribal voting at by-elections. And of course the EU referendum was mainly about Labour voters finally deserting their old loyalties and voting to leave.

But usually, when General Elections come round, back they all go to their tribes.

In France, by contrast, the two main parties of Left and Right which existed ten years ago have now almost completely collapsed.

Millions of conservatives have switched to Marine Le Pen, two inches to the left of fascism, and millions of socialists now vote for the howling Leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon.

When the General Election comes, most voters will troop back to their tribal banners, and send the usual suspects back to Westminster, writes Peter Hitchens

When the General Election comes, most voters will troop back to their tribal banners, and send the usual suspects back to Westminster, writes Peter Hitchens

I don’t like either of these characters. French politics have always been more violent and wild than ours. But I am amazed that the Tory and Labour parties have survived so long, given the way they let down their supporters. 

That’s why I always thought Labour were entitled to choose Jeremy Corbyn as their leader. Why shouldn’t Left-wingers have a genuinely openly Left-wing leader to vote for? And why shouldn’t he stand as what he was, rather than pretending, as most Labour leaders do, to be safe, moderate and harmless?

Likewise, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Tories (who do not as far as I know have a single conservative policy) were replaced by a proper patriotic pro-family, pro-education, anti-crime party, careful with the public’s money and reluctant to panic, that defended us from our enemies, kept the country free and independent but stayed out of foreign wars? But no.

When the General Election comes, most voters will troop back to their tribal banners, and send the usual suspects back to Westminster. Where they will let us down in the usual way.

 

One of the three main exam boards, OCR, has cut poems by great writers – John Keats, Thomas Hardy, Wilfred Owen and Philip Larkin – from its English literature syllabus. These giants have been replaced by work from ‘exciting and diverse’ poets. 

I have never heard of most of these. An OCR bureaucrat said the change ‘demonstrates our ongoing commitment to greater diversity’. But it doesn’t. Removing classic poems from the approved list reduces diversity. Another few years and there will be almost no doors into the past. Everything will be so multicultural that there will be no actual culture at all. 

 

More police uselessness on e-scooters

My colleague Jake Ryan has had a foretaste of e-scooter danger and police uselessness of a sort I think will soon be very common.

He was walking down London’s Regent Street when a teenager on an e-scooter came swooping and swerving along the pavement at 15mph, scattering pedestrians to left and right. Jake was faced with a choice between throwing himself out of the way, being hit, or trying to stop the lout. He says: ‘I put my hand out to stop him at his chest level. He went flying off and unfortunately crashed into a couple of pedestrians.’

Amazingly, nobody was actually hurt. The illegal rider seemed subdued and only mumbled a protest. But two police officers, who witnessed at least part of the incident, were totally uninterested. One asked vaguely: ‘They’re supposed to turn off automatically when they’re doing that, aren’t they?’ 

Well, maybe they are, but this one didn’t, and you might have thought they would act. The Met Police said: ‘Where officers see rental e-scooters being ridden on pavements, they make decisions based on each situation and they respond proportionately.’ What response will be ‘proportionate’ when the deaths and serious injuries to old people, blind people and small children start to mount up?

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