Today
Fri 17 September 2021

Otto English investigates the MPs behind the Common Sense Group, modelled on the ERG, which seeks to bring the vitriol of Brexit to the ‘War Against Woke’

The problem with common sense, as Voltaire once said, is that it is not so common. One person’s notion of what ‘common sense’ is, might be another’s idea of gross stupidity.

Take the infamous Vote Leave bus. ‘We send the EU £350 million a week’ that 2016 slogan on the side of it proclaimed so, ‘let’s fund the NHS instead’. £350 million is a lot of money and what were we getting in return? Uncontrolled immigration and horrid burgundy passports if the Brexiters were to be believed. So, it was a no-brainer: leave the EU; fund the NHS instead. Good, British, common sense. 

Except, of course, and as even the hardest of Brexit backers must now see – it wasn’t that simple.

Common sense is the politics of Nigel Farage; the reasoning of a bloke with a pint in his hand and three in him already, solving problems with straight-forward solutions while he tucks into a packet of cheese and onion crisps. And, since 2016, the common sense variant of the UKIP virus has left the host and run rampant through the Conservative Party.

Migrants illegally crossing the Channel? No probs. What about Border Officers on jet skis? Worked in Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach. Common sense prevails again.

HGV driver shortage? No biggie. Just cut all the red tape and stop testing whether lorry drivers can reverse.

Common sense is so hot right now that there’s even a Common Sense Group of MPs in Parliament.


The Book of Common Sense

Set up in the summer of 2020, the Common Sense group is backed by 70 parliamentarians seeking to do to ‘wokery’ and ‘cancel culture’ what the European Research Group (ERG) did to our global reputation.

In May, it even published a ‘book’ so that we might learn about its inner thoughts. The eponymously titled Common Sense: Conservative Thinking for a Post-Liberal Age is online and available for free download. It was launched with great fanfare on arch-Brexiter Darren Grimes’ Reasoned YouTube channel as an ‘anti-woke’ manifesto. Fear not – I read it so that you didn’t have to.

There’s nothing novel in putting out a book that sets out your political stall. Mao did it, Gaddafi did it, even Xi Jinping has done it – twice.

And for years, Conservative groups and politicians have been trotting out tomes to shore up their intellectual credibility. Most famously, in 2013, Priti Patel, Chris Skidmore, Dominic Raab, Elizabeth Truss, and Kwasi Kwarteng gifted us Britannia Unchained – a book which argued that the UK needed to be more like Australia and Singapore and that everyone had to work harder for less.

Reasoned on YouTube

“The British are among the worst idlers in the world,” it claimed. “Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.”

Four of the five authors ended up in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet and the Government can’t do anything without name-checking Australia and Singapore so perhaps the Common Sense group looked, learned, and decided that they wanted a cut of the pie.

It’s not all bad. As Professor Tim Bale pointed out in the Guardian, Joy Morrisey’s chapter for the Common Sense manifesto, on the need to “help create a generation of good, meaningful jobs” in vocational training, is fairly sensible, if rather uninspired, stuff. Unfortunately, it makes up just three pages of a 136-page book.

New boys Nick Fletcher and Gareth Bacon make the most memorable and lasting impressions – if not necessarily for the right reasons.


Common Sense ‘Solutions’

Like many others drawn to the Common Sense group, Nick Fletcher – MP for the Don Valley since 2019 and its first Conservative MP in history – is part of the Tories’ ‘Red Wall’ intake.

His piece in the book begins with an attack on Jeremy Corbyn and other left-wing MPs, accusing them of being “people of nowhere” whose internationalist outlook renders them unable “to recognise the importance of place, culture, and community to working class people in Don Valley and across the UK”.

Then he turns to Brexit and mass immigration. According to him, working class people have felt the impact of immigration and particularly EU immigration more acutely than anyone else post 2004 because:  

“It is their streets in which the community disappears, almost overnight. It is their neighbours who suddenly change from families of four to six men living in a multi-occupancy house. It is their jobs which are threatened and their wages which are suppressed by cheap labour from abroad. Yet, any mention of these concerns is dismissed as ‘racist’ by individuals living in their ivory towers.” 

Don Valley is one of 14 constituencies in south Yorkshire and, until 1983, was part of the parliamentary constituency of Doncaster. 2011 Census data for the region shows that 91.8% of the population define themselves as ‘white British’ – above the national average – with just 3.4% defining themselves as ‘white other’. This data is 10 years old, but if it has shifted significantly (and I doubt it) then it has done so since the Conservatives came to power and the EU Referendum that followed five years later. 

Then things turn very sour indeed. Fletcher relates an anecdote about a local man who approached him on the campaign trail and told him:

“How his neighbourhood used to be filled with ordinary families and his six-year-old daughter once played with his neighbour’s children.”

But now:

“The house (next door’s) occupants were several men from Eastern Europe who spoke no English. He was naturally concerned because he could see his community being withered away before his eyes, and his daughter no longer had friends on her street to play with.”

Fletcher’s ‘common sense’ solution to the crisis of children losing playmates when their friends move home is to cap immigration at an arbitrary 100,000 people and restore trust between the Government and people so that “the working class yet again feel that their government truly has control”.


Defeating Wokeism

Gareth Bacon doesn’t fare much better. The MP for Orpington since 2019, his chapter in the book is entitled What is Wokeism and How Can it Be Defeated? 

According to Bacon, Britain is under attack “not in a physical sense, but in a philosophical, ideological and historical sense”. Social media is to blame and something needs to be done. The biggest problem of all is the dreaded wokery.

“Woke ideology has no political mandate,” Bacon argues, because “there is no official woke political party” and so on and so on before ending on an upbeat note: “The destructive, totalitarian, divisive, negative and anti-democratic ‘woke’ ideology can be defeated. It just needs us to have the courage to stand up and fight it.”

The founder of the Common Sense Group is Sir John Hayes, MP for South Holland and the Deepings in Lincolnshire since 1997. This is not Hayes’ first foray into parliamentary groups.

Back in 2005, along with Edward Leigh MP, he co-founded the Thatcherite, Anglican focused, right-leaning, traditionalist Cornerstone Group of 32 MPs and peers whose motto is ‘Faith, Family, Flag’. Its rather neglected website states that it is here to defend the spiritual, patriotic, and social values that undergird Britain’s cohesiveness.

The same vibe infuses the Common Sense group and all the noise that it is increasingly generating.


Britain Uncancelled

Last week, 25 MPs in the Common Sense group launched a campaign called ‘Britain Uncancelled’ and wrote to Boris Johnson demanding that he do more to stamp out cancel culture and that he “take a stand against this dangerous modern hysteria”.

“We must begin the process of reversing cancel culture before it becomes institutionalised and steals a march over common decency,” the letter added. 

Hayes represents the rear guard of old school, right-wing, anti-progressive conservatism. With his knighthood, his CBE, and his 22 years on the green benches, he is the very definition of the establishment – representing the establishment party – in a Government that has led this country for more than a decade.

And yet, as with the other anti-cancel culture outfits popping up currently, he and the Common Sense group members present themselves as outsiders – defending the ‘silent majority’ against elites. In truth, it is they who have launched the campaign and they who are on manoeuvres.

Back when the group first launched, one of its members told the Guardian: “We are ready for a culture war, and we are confident that our policy agenda will help win it.”

I find that very telling indeed. And – frankly – more than a little unsettling.

Otto English’s book ‘Fake History’ is published by Welbeck

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