Meet the Columnist: 5 Things We Learned from Philip Collins, The Times Columnist

Friday 01st February

The Times Columnist, author and former chief speech writer to Prime Minister Tony Blair, Philip Collins joined us at Pagefield this week to discuss the merits of a new centrist party, Theresa May’s Brexit deal and Jeremy Corbyn’s unrelenting grip on the Labour party.

Sam Postlethwaite draws out some of his most eyebrow raising observations and insights – here are five things we learned:

1. The Prime Minister will get a deal

Collins expressed a great deal more sympathy with the Prime Minister than many of his colleagues in the commentariat, sharing his view that her negotiating blunders are insignificant in the context of the impossible task she is having to deliver.

But Collins still expects May to survive and get a deal. Once this happens, he believes May should announce a date for her resignation; providing an opportunity for her successors to audition and giving the Conservatives a good shot at winning the next (scheduled) UK General Election in 2022.

Who would Collins like to take over from May? He believes Ruth Davidson – “a smart, attractive, kickboxing lesbian: a counter-intuitive Conservative” – would be a good fit but more realistically thinks it will be a member of the Cabinet…“someone we’ve heard of but wish we hadn’t”.

2. A centrist party would do well, given the right circumstances

British politics is stuck, according to Collins, and needs a new configuration. Enter Collins new proposed party and the premise of his new book Start Again: The Democrats, for whom he’s suggested the slogan, “take back control”.

The one flaw Collins has identified in his blueprint is the absence of a compelling leader. Lacking an Owen, Rodgers, Williams or Jenkins, Collins name-checked Chuka Umunna, David Miliband and, with a wry smile, Gary Lineker as potential candidates. Launching the party in the aftermath of Brexit and with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would also greatly help its prospects, he explained.

3. Politics is cyclical, until recently

The 2017 election was of particular interest to Collins, who pointed out that it was the first in which the incumbent government won while living standards were declining. It was also the first election in which income and occupation did not indicate party preference.

Under normal circumstances the Tories should have lost. The cycle dictates that Labour governments come in and spend too much and then the Conservatives take over and spend too little and so on ad infinitum. Corbyn seems to have broken this cycle – showing in Collin’s view how unelectable the party really is in its current form.

4. A long way to go for Labour

It’s been almost a decade since the Conservatives first assumed power via a coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats, and Collins believes Labour still has a long way to go before wrestling back control.

Describing Corbyn as “worse than Brexit”, Collins shared his surprise that more Labour MPs haven’t quit the party. Paradoxically, it could be Brexit that’s holding the party together, as the fight to stay in the customs union becomes more important and more immediate than any intra-party scandal. In the absence of a David Miliband-led coup, Collins believes an expected, inglorious defeat at the next election is the only chance Labour has of relinquishing Corbyn’s grip on the party.

5. Politicians aren’t getting worse, politics is getting harder

Collins ended on a positive note by challenging the prevailing wisdom on modern politicians. The current parliament is often described as the worst of all time but this is an unfair judgment for Collins. It’s not that politicians are getting worse…it’s politics that is getting harder, faster and more open to scrutiny than ever before. We’ve always had career politicians, who’ve seen more of a PPE curriculum than they have the wider world, but we mustn’t forget that these professional politicians are responsible for some of the greatest advances in British history.

An interesting perspective on the current challenge for the Prime Minister, who’s been tasked with realising 17 million different reasons for leaving the European Union while uniting a party which houses both Anna Soubry and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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