Behind the Britannia Unchained Tories

The Guardian has taken a look at the influential Tories behind next month's Britannia Unchained

The Guardian has followed up on the unfavourable reaction to the extracts the Evening Standard published from Britannia Unchained, the new book by a group of five 2010 intake Tories which aims to present ways to radically overhaul Britain for the 21st century, lest we face "an inevitable slide into mediocrity".

Andy Beckett speaks to Dominic Raab, one of the book's authors, about the leaked passages, which revealed the authors think the British are "among the worst idlers in the world." Beckett writes:

When I speak to Raab again after the Evening Standard extract, he says it gave "a skewed and inaccurate reflection of what is in the book".

(For what it's worth, the passage – which goes on to state that "we work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor" – gives a "skewed and inaccurate reflection" of the British work ethic itself, as Chris Dillow pointed out in a response. Hopefully the rest of the book uses actual figures.)

Tim Montgomerie, the editor of Conservative Home, tells Beckett that these five MPs, and the Free Enterprise Group of libertarian Tories whose thinking they epitomise, are the best hope of the party:

"It's a pretty depressing time for the Conservative party, but the thing that gives me hope is the [parliamentary] class of 2010, and all the groups they've formed. Of those groups, the Free Enterprise Group is the group. They're quite spiky in their opinions, but well respected by the Conservative leadership. They are George Osborne's favourites. He has spoken to them. In some ways, it helps him to have them, so he can say, 'I'm not the [government's rightwing] outrider.'"

The whole piece is a thoughtful examination of a certain tendency in the Tory party which is growing in importance daily; until the embargo is lifted on the book itself, it may be the best place to go to understand them.

Britannia Chained. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.