Belfast Telegraph

Voters are fast losing patience with feuding Tories as Brexit looms

The Conservatives are in danger of tearing themselves apart, in a frenzy of self-destruction over leaving the EU

By Chris Moncrieff

Is the Conservative Party coming apart at the seams to an extent that's beyond repair? Never before have the Tories been involved in so much internal blood-letting, turmoil and back-stabbing, brought about by the conflict over Brexit.

Hitherto, the Tories have always been renowned for their party loyalty and discretion, invariably managing to keep any problems they had under wraps.

But now, they're doing themselves immense damage by seeming to rejoice in washing their dirty linen in public, and with a catalogue of resignations. Do they not realise the electorate is fast losing patience?

Theresa May surely has enough on her hands in dealing with the recalcitrant Brussels negotiators, without leading a bad-tempered party more concerned with fighting each other than fighting Labour.

People always say that whatever happens, the Tory Party will always be there. But I am not so sure this time.

The snarling and internal hatred is now so deep-seated that the party could split down the middle to create two opposing factions.

The idea of a Parliament without a traditional Conservative Party may be unthinkable, but it may not be impossible. Party officials need to act fast before disaster strikes.

Is Sir Vince Cable in trouble over his leadership of the Liberal Democrats? He insists there is no such trouble in his tiny parliamentary army, but others think differently.

Cable did not impress his followers when he missed a vital Commons vote on Brexit last week - a vote that, if it had gone the other way (as it very nearly did), would have had a disastrous effect on Theresa May's political future.

Instead, he chose to attend a function with other political figures. But as some have pointed out, his priority is the House of Commons, especially when there is a vote taking place which could have hugely altered the course of political events.

Strangely, the name being put forward by those who would like to see this 76-year-old put out to grass, is that of 35-year-old Layla Moran, who has been an MP for barely a year. However, she had a majority of only 816 in Oxford West at the last election, so she has work to do to build up that fragile majority.

Present deputy leader, Jo Swinson, will no doubt not be amused that Moran's name, rather than her own, is being bandied about. But Moran has impressed her colleagues over her political acumen and ability to mix with voters.

Cable denies the existence of any kind of plot to usurp him - he would, wouldn't he? - and claims everything is running swimmingly in his party.

If Cable was engaged in secret talks to set up a new party, he should have had the sense of duty (and common sense) not to do it during a crucial Commons vote - the long holidays which stretch ahead, for instance. What a plonker.

We will no doubt find out fairly soon. But Cable should beware. The so-called 'nice' party has a long and gruesome history of back-stabbing and smear campaigns.

It is galling enough being lectured at by MPs about the virtues of equality and transparency - their fancy name for open government - but it is a total outrage when the politicians seek to exempt themselves from these 'ideals' and, in fact, set themselves up as superior beings.

What this means is that those MPs facing allegations of fraud over their expenses, or those being accused of sexual harassment, will be allowed to remain anonymous during these inquiries. How very convenient.

The brutal fact is, it is the British taxpayer who is funding MPs, not merely for their high salaries but for their expenses as well. In the private sector, the paymaster has to be kept informed of his employees' expenses and to approve them or otherwise.

So why should not the paymasters of MPs - the taxpayers - be allowed to see how their money is being spent? And given the scandalously cavalier manner in which taxpayers' money was being treated by many MPs, as shown in the 2009 revelations, it's hardly surprising they want to keep things tightly under wraps.

But that is all the more reason why it should all be out in the open, warts and all. Apart from anything else, openness might be a deterrent for those who might otherwise be tempted to fiddle their expenses.

I was about to say that we do not traipse to the polling stations every so often, and shell out vast sums of money, to create a secret society with blacked-out windows. But unfortunately we do.

MPs would do well to remind themselves occasionally that they are our servants and not Higher Beings which I suspect some of them plainly consider themselves to be.

The road to Brexit gets no smoother. It is littered with potholes, U-bends, and every other hazard and obstacle you could think of.

It is also in danger of destroying the party system at Westminster. The Brussels negotiators seem to be squeezing every drop of blood out of the UK and the whole drama has left numerous casualties along the way. None of it a pretty sight.

The irony is that when we first applied to join the Common Market, we were barred. Now we are having difficulty getting out!

The point was starkly made by a correspondent to a national newspaper last week. He wrote: "Are we the only ex-member of the British Empire not to have achieved independence?"

However the arrival of Dominic Raab as Brexit Secretary can be nothing but beneficial to the UK in the Government's struggle to achieve a fair settlement to the problem. Raab is a martial arts man as well as a no-nonsense politician of considerable verve, and should shock the Brussels negotiators out of their smugness, to realise that the UK really does mean business.

Raab won't let them off the hook. A bit of table-thumping wouldn't do any harm.

Belfast Telegraph

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