Before becoming a columnist at The Times, Matthew Parris was the Conservative MP for West DerbyshireAnna Jennings

Sitting down to interview Matthew Parris, a Cambridge graduate and former Tory MP, I cannot resist beginning with asking that question about elitism: his thoughts on the Ronald Coyne note-burning incident. His refusal to answer is a refreshing contrast to the mainstream media’s coverage: “I think all publicity is good publicity for the occasional nutcase or cruel person, and on the whole the less attention they get, the better.”

We move on to a more general discussion about elitism at Cambridge, and Parris takes a cynical view, explaining that “there will always be an element of elitism in Cambridge, and there ought to be because you do have to be cleverer than other people to get here, and so there will be a consciousness that you are perhaps more capable than the average.” His solution? “What you need to combat is the arrogant social attitudes that go with that, but I don’t think you combat them with any kind of institutional or systematic attempt. On the whole, these people are attention seekers, and so you hurt them most by denying them the thing they want.”

I wonder if, from an insider’s perspective, Parris would also consider the Conservative Party to be elitist. His answer is a firm no – “the Tory Party is not an elitist party at all, and most of its Prime Ministers from the last half century have been drawn not from the elite but from the middle or lower-middle classes.” Parris worked for some time as the correspondence secretary to Margaret Thatcher, during which he established a personal relationship with the Iron Lady, who was herself a prime example of this kind of anti-elitism.

“These people are attention seekers, and so you hurt them most by denying them the thing they want”

However, Parris goes on in a careful, measured tone to explain that the picture isn’t quite so one-dimensional, explaining that “I think the Conservative Party still overly recruits people with an independent school education, too many public school people, particularly public school boys.” This is not an example of the Party being elitist, Parris believes, but he acknowledges the problems it generates: “I think the Party’s bias towards public schools and an independent education not only adversely affects its attitude to education policy, but I think it also somewhat skews the image of the party, in that we’re the way it thinks and feels.”

As any regular readers of Matthew Parris’ columns for The Times will know, he is fond of making predictions for the political future – some which later prove remarkably prescient, others which (as is only understandable in today’s turbulent political landscape) are less right. I ask Parris to explain how he goes about his crystal-ball gazing, and he explains “I do it entirely by hunch, and I try to listen to my own internal voice, which is what you should do. Hear other people, you must take into account what other people say, but you must always just think how does it feel to me.”

He is humorous in his self-deprecation as he continues “what you do need, and which I don’t think I have, is a modest sense of your own limitations, and so I have been very wrong about a lot of things. And I only remember – and other people are only kind enough to remember – the things I’ve been right about.” He concludes, “I did think Remain was going to win, not easily, but I thought they would win.” Didn’t we all.

That established, I push for his predictions on the future of Brexit: “That we’re going to tumble out of the European Union, in a very chaotic and ungainly way, that would be my guess.” A staunch Remainer, Parris is clearly pessimistic on this subject.

“I think it’s going to be very hard for the European Union to present the kind of deal that we could take or leave: there may be no deal”

He goes on to explore the other key possibility: that it isn’t going to be possible for us to leave, not because of our government, but owing to those of the other EU states. “So much has been said about whether Mrs May and her minister will be able to put together a viable package, but little has been said about whether the European Union is capable of putting together a viable package. And you have to remember that it has 27 other members, and they can all veto this.” He finishes, perhaps with a tinge of optimism that this nightmare may not yet happen:  “And I think it’s going to be very hard for the European Union to present the kind of deal that we could take or leave: there may be no deal.”

Whether we succeed or fail in leaving the EU, the future of UKIP remains pretty uncertain at the moment. Parris’ verdict? “I think UKIP is going to die”. But he is quick to follow this by discussion of its afterlives: “I think Nigel Farage and Aaron Banks, his friend, and in many ways his sugar daddy, his funder, those two, they’ll cook something up, and it may be NewKip as it were, it’s going to be a post-UKIP thing.”

Matthew Parris is impressively well-connected, citing his personal conversations with Banks and Farage as giving him insider information on the future of the UK Independence Party. “I think they’re very interested in Grillo’s Five Star movement in Italy, they’re very interested in an internet-based movement. And I think they may even be toying with the idea of not putting up candidates, just being a movement that could sign people up in the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, which it would be hard for either Party to ban as long as this movement isn’t running candidates against official Party candidates.”  He ends, ominously: “We haven’t heard the last of Nigel Farage, I’m sure.”

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