Times columnists are battling it out. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Clash of the Times titans: Matthew Parris vs Tim Montgomerie

Two of the Times' most prominent political commentators are taking chunks out of each other on the paper's pages.

Oof. On the right, we have Matthew Parris – veteran political columnist and the Times' resident voice of the Tory moderates. And on the, well, even righter, we have Tim Montgomerie – until recently the paper's opinion editor, and founder of the website ConservativeHome. And they're not happy with each other.

In Parris' column on Saturday, headlined "A Tory schism is now all but inevitable", responding to the defection of maverick chin Douglas Carswell from the Conservatives to Ukip, he wrote:

My fellow columnist Tim Montgomerie could not have been more wrong when he wrote in yesterday’s Times Red Box blog that “Ukip voters don’t believe that the Tory leader is serious about the referendum”. The “let’s-get-out-now” brigade in British politics have a very different fear. They fear that Mr Cameron would indeed hold his referendum and win it.

That day, Montgomerie reacted by fulminating on Twitter about how wrong his colleague is:

... and even linked to a piece with an opposing argument praising Carswell, from a rival paper:

Montgomerie then officially responded yesterday to his colleague in the Times' daily political briefing email, Red Box, writing:

Photo: @TimMontgomerie

So then Parris also took to Red Box today to blast his sparring partner:

Photo: @stephentall

This isn't the first time the two right-wing heavyweights have been in the ring together. Around Christmas time last year, they had a battle in the Times online comment section about abortion, after a comment piece on the subject by Montgomerie. Here's the exchange:

Photos: screenshots from the Times online

Talk about Tory rifts.

I'm a mole, innit.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.