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29 June 2022

Michael Howard’s Diary: Why I have no regrets over calling for Boris Johnson to resign

Oliver Dowden standing down as Conservative Party chair was a brave step and I didn’t want him to seem isolated.

By Michael Howard

When is it right for someone who has, for all practical purposes, left the political stage, to openly criticise their successor, especially if, as Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis was entitled to point out, the critic failed to achieve the high office of their successor? That is the question I wrestled with before going public on 24 June with my call for the Prime Minister to resign.

The by-election results were catastrophic, far worse, in the case of Tiverton and Honiton, than the normal midterm blues, and I genuinely think that the Conservative Party and, more importantly, the country would be better off under new leadership. But the tipping point in my decision was the resignation of Oliver Dowden.

After all, who is better placed than the party chair to gauge the mood of both party workers and the wider electorate? Oliver’s resignation was a brave step and I didn’t want him to seem isolated.

I was pleased to see that William Hague also called for cabinet ministers to act and, although that action has not yet been forthcoming, I have no regrets.

[See also: Graham Brady’s Diary: What the press got wrong about the confidence vote, and my very odd kind of celebrity]

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Split statistics

Thursday 23 June was the sixth anniversary of the Brexit referendum. So it is not surprising that the experts should attempt to assess our economic performance since the vote. What is surprising is they seem able to draw wildly different conclusions.

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In the Sunday Times, David Smith compared the UK’s GDP since 2016 with an unnamed group of “advanced economies similar to the UK” and concluded that actual UK GDP was 5.2 per cent smaller than what he called “Doppelgänger UK” – a hypothetical model of a British economy unaffected by Brexit.

In the Sunday Telegraph, Liam Halligan compared UK GDP growth with that of France, Germany and Italy. In each case UK growth was the bigger – in the case of Germany and Italy significantly so.

As someone who voted and campaigned for Brexit, I am naturally inclined to support Halligan’s analysis, but I suppose it all goes to prove the old adage that there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

A cultural perspective

On the evening of 23 June we had the rare treat of a visit to Glyndebourne. It was a beautiful evening and The Marriage of Figaro was exquisitely performed. Those with more operatic expertise (which means practically everyone) may disagree, but I thought the high spot was the magnificent performance of Brandon Cedel as Figaro. Later I read that Angela Rayner had been there as well but, sadly, our paths didn’t cross.

[See also: Angela Rayner’s Diary: “The smear that I am behind Mailgate shows how desperate Tory MPs are”]

Three evenings later, on 26 June, we were privileged to be part of The Josephine Hart Poetry Hour. Founded over 30 years ago by the wonderful and greatly missed novelist and poetry anthologist, it has provided extraordinary insights into some of the greatest poetry ever written. Since Josephine’s untimely death in 2011 the project has been continued and nurtured by her husband, Maurice Saatchi.

That evening we were treated to readings from TS Eliot by Edward Fox, Dominic West, Elizabeth McGovern and Mark Strong. The insights into the human condition they revealed brilliantly succeeded in putting recent headlines into perspective.

Judicial enquiry

Many of those headlines have been focused on the implications of the US Supreme Court reversing its earlier decision in the case of Roe vs Wade. We can all be thankful, I think, that the question of abortion has not been quite as divisive in this country as it has in the US.

But one aspect of the judgement, which has perhaps received less attention than it should, is to highlight the fact that the existence of a written constitution and the supreme power it conveys on the judges of a country’s highest court can have significant disadvantages.

It has become quite fashionable to call for a codified constitution in our own country. But once supreme power is granted to judges, rather than parliament, it is inevitable that close attention will be paid to the political leanings of those judges, as we see in the Senate hearings that take place before judicial appointments in the US. Although many of us believe that what has been described as the explosion of judicial reviews in recent years leaves much to be desired, no one has suggested that our judges should be appointed on the basis of their politics. Long may that continue.

[See also: Is this the end for Boris Johnson?]

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This article appears in the 29 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, American Darkness