Why the Corn Laws and Brexit foretell a grim Tory future | Letters

Readers respond to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s comparison of Theresa May and Robert Peel and Larry Elliott’s piece on Labour’s failure to win the hearts of low-wage Britain

It’s been a long time coming, but decision day for the Conservatives is finally upon us (Soft Brexit is the cabinet’s only option, 5 July). A tumour on the far right of the party, which should have been extirpated many years ago, is threatening to fully overcome its host. Rees-Mogg is correct when he states that “the Conservatives are toast” if they renege on their manifesto pledges to leave the customs union and single market as there definitely will be an electoral cost to this betrayal. But the real question is whether a hard Brexit will cost the Tories even more votes.

Brexiteers should heed the ever louder warnings from businesses in the country: the downsides from a hard Brexit are becoming more concrete, more real and will materialise a lot sooner than the new El Dorado Brexit Britain ever will. As the epitome of an Englishman, Rees-Mogg may be very well versed in the stiff upper lip, but in this era of instant gratification, his contemporaries may not have the stamina to last the full Brexit race and they will not be as forgiving as they have been until now. Either way, Conservatives are toast for the next 10 to 20 years. Radical surgery on the right side of the patient is the only option available now.
Antero Touchard
Madrid, Spain

• Normally when Jacob Rees-Mogg says something it is prudent to disregard it. His comments about Theresa May splitting the Tory party over Brexit as Peel did over the Corn Laws in 1846 (Report, 3 July) deserve to be taken a little more seriously. Mr Rees-Mogg has a history degree from Oxford and he is certainly correct that Peel did cause a rift in the mid 19th-century Tory party. The purpose of the repeal of the Corn Laws, as Marx noted in a speech made in Brussels in January 1848, was to reduce the price of bread, not to help workers but to allow factory owners thereby to reduce wages and make more profit. Mr Rees-Mogg certainly agrees with that. Peel’s aim was to rebalance the Tories as a party of the ruling class away from landed interests and towards industrialists. Theresa May is no Peel, but no doubt she has some idea of reconfiguring the Tory party to marginalise the hardline Brexiteers who don’t represent the interests of the modern British ruling class. No doubt this is what Rees-Mogg is really complaining about.
Dr Keith Flett
London Socialist Historians Group

• Jacob Rees-Mogg issues a historical warning to Theresa May about splitting the Tory party over the UK’s future relationship with the EU, referring to Robert Peel’s decision to repeal the Corn Laws, which had kept food prices high for the urban working class and benefited the landed aristocracy. But, unlike May, Peel was brave and right and ushered in free trade and economic growth which we still benefit from today, even though he paid the price of losing power. Rees-Mogg and the Brexiteers he leads represent an outdated view of England that is on the wrong side of history, just as his Tory aristocratic forebears were on the Corn Laws. Another parallel worth noting is that the Anti-Corn Law League was largely progressive and urban-based, like today’s remainers.

Steve Flatley

• Larry Elliott claims that Theresa May will go down as the worst prime minister of the postwar era (Labour: win the hearts of low-wage Britain, 5 July). Then he cites the role of Margaret Thatcher in closing mines and factories in the north and Midlands and the continued deindustrialisation under succeeding Labour governments. Add to this the failure of all governments to deal with the gig economy and Cameron’s pursuit of austerity in a time of economic stagnation and the calling of the EU referendum, with its totally inept campaign to remain, and one has a long list of worst PMs. And that is without going back to the time of Anthony Eden.

Previous leaders were guilty of deliberate policies which failed the country. Theresa May is the recipient of the problem of Brexit and of leading a party with characters of the like of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Is Elliott suggesting that a Labour government led by Corbyn or anyone else would have solved Brexit and would now be dealing with areas such as the future of the NHS? The 2017 election was one to lose and let the other side sink (as looks likely) or swim.
Brian Thomas
Marden, Kent

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