An open letter to Grant Shapps: will you suspend Traditional Britain from the Conservative Party?

Just as Iain Duncan Smith suspended links with the Monday Club in 2001, so David Cameron must now take action against the far-right group.

Dear Grant,
 
It is with some alarm that those of us in the centre ground of British politics learnt this week of the existence of the Tory fringe group Traditional Britain. Today's Independent reports that the group’s vice chairman, Mr Gregory Lauder-Frost, campaigns for "traditional" values in the Conservative Party. You might be aware that he has caused deep offence with his recent comments about Doreen Lawrence: "we do not feel there is any merit in raising such a person to the peerage. She’s a complete nobody. She has been raised there for politically correct purposes. She’s just a campaigner about her son’s murder."
 
It is also reported that Mr Lauder-Frost believes that anyone living in Britain not of "European stock" should be offered "assisted voluntary repatriation" to their "natural homeland." I know you will find these views as offensive as I do. I am, however, shocked that such views are still alive in what I hoped was a modernised Conservative Party.
 
Secondly, I am sure you will agree that Traditional Britain, as a group, holds deeply offensive views. Its Facebook page calls for minorities to return to their "natural homeland" and refers to respected ethnic minority British MPs from the Labour Party and the Conservative Party as "Nigerian" and "foreign".
 
You will recall that the Monday Club held similarly offensive views and that in October 2001, Iain Duncan Smith was forced to finally suspend it from the Conservative Party. Do you agree that now is the time for David Cameron to show some leadership and suspend any links between the Conservative Party and Traditional Britain? Will you go further and make it absolutely clear that membership of the Conservative and Unionist Party is incompatible with membership of Traditional Britain? I know this will be difficult for you. Under your leadership of Conservative Campaign Headquarters, alarms bell apparently failed to ring when one of your backbenchers made enquiries about this group. As you know, that backbench MP subsequently spoke at a Traditional Britain dinner.
 
All of us are also aware of the plummeting Tory membership and I appreciate that you won’t want to lose yet more members on your watch.
However, I genuinely hope you will agree with me that these outdated and offensive views should have no place in a modern, mainstream British political party.
 
I look forward to your response.
 
Best wishes,
 
Jon Ashworth
Conservative chairman Grant Shapps speaks at last year's Conservative conference in Birmingham. Photograph: Getty Images.

Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South. 

Getty Images.
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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.