As longtime readers (and listeners, and viewers) will know, I'm very fond of this Milton Friedman line:
I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.
That's what's happening in the British general election right now. Ever since the European Union was conjured into existence by the Maastricht Treaty, half the UK electorate (give or take) has been opposed to it. Yet they had no mainstream party to vote for. Only the upstart UKIP and, for a while, Sinn FĂ©in - the Shinners, to their shame, then deciding that they'd like to get on the Euro-teat with everyone else. Irish revolutionary nationalism, circa 1916:
And Ireland, long a province, be a nation once again!
Irish revolutionary nationalism, circa 2016:
Er, haven't you got that the wrong way round?
Then came Brexit.
Most of the present Tory parliamentary party were not exactly flaming Brexiteers. The present Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, with his usual wily opportunism, was the Johnniest-come-lateliest aboard the Leave bandwagon. The present Prime Minister, Theresa May, was a very sotto voce Remainer. With a few exceptions, it's a caucus filled with "the wrong people".
Yet here they are, doing the right thing. Brexit created the conditions that healed a two-generation split in the Conservative Party - to the point that Mrs May is now running a general-election campaign dedicated to "the national interest" and "standing up for Britain". And, for the first time since the party's matricide of Mrs Thatcher, every elector knows what those phrases mean: not weaselly Cameronite blather about promising to raise the possibility of appearing to get tough with Brussels bureaucrats (before caving in), but something simple and unambiguous - a post-EU Britain, a nation once again. Brexit has re-shaped the political climate in a way that even the usual shifty grubby unprincipled Tories can't help get on board with.
Meanwhile, every other party is pro-EU, and how's that working out for 'em? Despite (or because of) dangling another secession vote in front of their voters, the Scottish National Party isn't getting any traction, and the Conservatives are likely to squeeze out Labour to emerge as the second largest party north of the border.
Wales? There the Tories are on course to finish Number One - something which hasn't happened since 1859, when the Tories, under Lord Derby, won Wales and Ireland, and the Liberals, under Palmerston, won England and Scotland.
What of Labour's old heartland in working-class northern England? On the twentieth anniversary of Blair's New Labour landslide, his successor Jeremy Corbyn presides over a kind of new Old Labour: a bunch of clapped-out Old Labour hardcore leftie policies appealing only to a rump New Labour coalition of modish metropolitans and Muslims. You'll recall that, in the final days of the Brexit campaign last year, the popular Labour MP from Yorkshire, Jo Cox, was murdered. That appalling act ought to ensure something of a large sympathy vote - augmented by the telly celebrity of her successor, the former "Coronation Street" actress Tracy Babin. But The Mail on Sunday reports that even here there are few takers for Corbynism:
Mention his [Corbyn's] name and reactions range from laughter â€“ 'You're joking!' â€“ to mockery: 'He's doolally.'
Occasionally the Yorkshire sense of fair play steps in. 'I don't like the way that Eton chunterer [Boris Johnson] was talking about him. There's no need to be abusive,' one man told me. Would it affect how he voted?
'No, I'm voting Tory,' he responded.
Corbyn seems to be reading Milton Friedman's aphorism upside-down: He's the right person doing the wrong thing. Unlike Blair or Brown or Miliband, he is no more naturally Europhile than all those Yorkshiremen preparing to vote Tory for the first time in their lives. A Labour Party committed to playing its part in the creation of a post-EU Britain might have found some takers on the streets of Batley. But he can't go there, and nor can the leaders of the Liberal Democrats or all those Celtic nationalist parties. They've determined to go down with the wrong thing.
So the anti-Brexit vote is diffused between all the opposition parties, and for the 55 per cent of the electorate (on recent polls) who are pro-Brexit there's only one choice.
Mrs May is not my kind of Conservative, and she's a stinker on free speech and all kinds of other issues, but she's a canny survivor. And she understood, in the rubble of David Cameron's premiership on the morning after Brexit, that we were in Friedmanite territory: The climate had changed, and the wrong people would be forced to do the right thing. And so she stepped forward to offer herself as the wrong person at the right time. It's working for her.
~Our Aussie readers (and others) may be interested to know that the new issue of Quadrant Down Under has a big profile of Mark by John Bloom: "Mark Steyn, Cole Porter and Free Speech."
And join us later today for some exciting news for longtime SteynOnline fans...