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Good morning. We had two speeches yesterday. Speaking at the Liberal Democrat conference, Ed Davey gave the short version of his party’s major arguments in the coming general election (our write-up is here). Suella Braverman’s speech to the rightwing think-tank American Enterprise Institute sought to entrench herself and her bona fides with the Conservative party’s rightmost factions and tendencies. Some thoughts on all that in today’s note.
The Lib Dem song
Most people don’t have the first clue who the leader of the Liberal Democrats is. Indeed, most of the time, people forget the Lib Dems exist. This is one reason why the party tends to get a boost in the opinion polls in the run-up to local and general elections, because the party’s profile increases and a combination of tactical voters and voters with a natural affinity for the Lib Dems start to show up in the opinion polls.
Apologies if all of the above seems obvious, but it’s a big part of why Ed Davey’s speech yesterday was the way it was. Essentially everything he does has to serve both as an argument for the Lib Dems and as an introduction to him personally. So yesterday he told the story of his own personal hardship alongside some decent gags about the Conservative party’s approach, all as part of his message: “The Tories are tired, voting Lib Dem is how you get them out, I’m a decent guy who you can trust and rely upon.”
I think he did a very good job at this, but in many ways, the important test will be how he comes across when he has to do the same to a much larger and more engaged audience as the election gets closer and the Lib Dems start to enjoy a greater share of the spotlight.
Between the lines
Suella Braverman gave a speech yesterday in which she said: “Hey! If you’re on the right of the Conservative party, remember, I am the candidate for you. Don’t forget that every single thing you don’t like about the government’s handling of the small boats issue is the fault of Rishi Sunak, not me. The liberals you despise can’t stand me. Vote sensibly, vote Suella in 2025!”
At least, that was the subtext. The text can be read here, but I think it’s a mistake to try and analyse the speech as a serious or coherent argument, because I don’t think that Braverman is trying to make one. Take, for a moment, Braverman’s attack on multiculturalism.
Uncontrolled immigration, inadequate integration, and a misguided dogma of multiculturalism have proven a toxic combination for Europe over the last few decades.
Multiculturalism makes no demands of the incomer to integrate. It has failed because it allowed people to come to our society and live parallel lives in it. They could be in the society but not of the society.
And in extreme cases they could pursue lives aimed at undermining the stability and threatening the security of society.
We are living with the consequence of that failure today. You can see it play out on the streets of cities all over Europe. From Malmo, to Paris, Brussels, to Leicester.
There isn’t, and never has been, a shared approach to integration in Malmo, Paris, Brussels and Leicester.
To give you a flavour of that difference: the European People’s party fought the 2019 European elections with a manifesto that talked extensively about the importance of Christian values and that “Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are holidays we all share”. Throughout the continent, it said, the presence of a “church in every town and city” was crucial to the preservation of the European way of life.
That’s not an approach that the Conservative party has taken, or one that Rishi Sunak — a practising Hindu — or Suella Braverman — a Buddhist — are going to put in their manifestos anytime soon.
Paris and Leicester sit at opposite ends of two radically different approaches to integration. You can have all sorts of arguments about which approach is best (personally, I’m with Janan Ganesh: it’s the UK’s). But you can no more claim there is a shared outlook on integration that unites France and the UK than you can say that a shared economic approach united the US and the Soviet Union.
But the purpose of this speech isn’t to make a serious argument about what approach is best or what integration model the UK should follow — it is to get some headlines with the words “Suella Braverman says multiculturalism has failed” and other words to amplify the home secretary’s “tough” approach to immigration.
The same is true for the argument on refugees, in which Braverman insists that gay people facing persecution across the world have a legitimate right to flee, while simultaneously saying that they shouldn’t. And, I would add, claims based on people’s sexual orientation made up just 1.5 per cent of the 74,751 asylum claims lodged in the UK last year, according to Home Office statistics. This is, again, about getting headlines which show a “tough” approach and good write-ups by her supporters’ club in the party’s media.
Braverman has managed something quite remarkable, politically speaking, during her time as home secretary. Unlike every post-Brexit occupant of the post, she has managed to avoid having her own leadership hopes damaged or destroyed by the challenges of irregular migration. Part of that is Rishi Sunak’s decision to take on such a big role in talking about the small boats issue. While Priti Patel’s party leadership hopes suffered, Boris Johnson was able to escape much of the damage over small boats. While Sajid Javid’s leadership prospects dimmed, Theresa May was able to float loose of the issue. Sunak has made small boats his problem, and not just that of his home secretary.
Another part of it is that Suella Braverman has managed to do a very effective job of winking to the Conservative party’s right flank. It’s why she starts out in a very powerful position in the next Tory leadership election — a contest which in so many ways is already under way, and which may prove to be a destabilising subplot at Conservative party conference next week. And one thing that this conference will tell us is how deep Braverman’s base of support among the party faithful is, and who, if any, in the Tory party’s left and centre is willing and able to mount the case against her.
Now try this
I’m very grateful to George Parker for letting me cadge a lift back to London after the trains from Bournemouth were delayed. In addition to being very generous, George has great music taste.
Among other things, we listened to Lana Del Rey’s Norman F***ing Rockwell!, a record I love more and more every time I listen to it, and Joy Crookes (recently interviewed by Michael Hann) whose debut record Skin continues to be one of the standout new releases of recent times.
Top stories today
UK greenlights North Sea oilfield | UK regulators gave the go-ahead to Norwegian company Equinor to develop its Rosebank oil and gas project in the North Sea, in a controversial move sparking immediate objections from climate campaigners.
Compromise talks over HS2 | Andy Burnham, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, has said he is open to a discussion with ministers about delaying construction of the northern leg of the UK’s High Speed 2 rail line if the government commits to building an east-west route.
‘I am Marmite’ | Susan Hall is the Tory candidate in the London mayoral election next year. Though Hall was previously little known and the capital is commonly viewed as a Labour city, a poll this month suggested she may be within a whisker of victory in the contest in May.
Ducking cover | At least three requests by London’s Metropolitan Police for outside help to cover for depleted armed response units have been rejected in the past week, highlighting the severity of a crisis at the force after hundreds of officers surrendered their firearms.
Farmers ‘scared to invest’ | The UK government is under fire over the troubled rollout of its latest post-Brexit farming subsidy scheme, as the country grapples with the challenge of balancing green targets with food self-sufficiency.